Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eastern Religions Are Teaching Science A Few Things, While Christianity Battles Secularism

As Western Christianity comes to terms with the brutal fact it's youth are abandoning it's mainline religions and looking for spiritual sustenance else where, I've noticed that as reasons for the exodus are debated, one reason is always ignored.  That reason is Christianity's historic and continuing adversarial relationship with science, especially when science seems to conflict with doctrine, dogma, and cosmology.  The following excerpt is from a Huffpo article written last summer by Phillip Goldberg and describes the exact opposite approach taken by Eastern religions.

Are Eastern Religions More Science-Friendly?
 Religion comes into conflict with science when it is defined by unprovable claims that can be dismissed as superstitions, and when it treats as historical facts stories that read like legends and myths to non-believers. Other aspects of religion -- what I would consider the deeper and more significant elements -- are not only compatible with science but enrich its findings. The best evidence of this is science's response to the religions of the East over the course of the last 200 years.
As the French Nobel laureate Romain Rolland said early in the 20th century, "Religious faith in the case of the Hindus has never been allowed to run counter to scientific laws." The same can be said for Buddhism, which derives from the same Vedic roots. (This attitude in Hinduism, at least at it applies to spiritual practices, is virtually the opposite of Catholicism.)

Most of the Hindu gurus, Yoga masters, Buddhist monks and other Asian teachers who came to the West framed their traditions in a science-friendly way. Emphasizing the experiential dimension of spirituality, with its demonstrable influence on individual lives, they presented their teachings as a science of consciousness with a theoretical component and a set of practical applications for applying and testing those theories. Most of the teachers were educated in both their own traditions and the Western canon; they respected science, had actively studied it, and dialogued with Western scientists, many of whom were inspired to study Eastern concepts for both personal and professional reasons.

As early as the 1890s, Swami Vivekananda spent time with scientific luminaries such as Lord Kelvin, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Nikola Tesla. "Mr. Tesla thinks he can demonstrate mathematically that force and matter are reducible to potential energy," the swami wrote in a letter to a friend. "I am working a good deal now upon the cosmology and eschatology of Vedanta. I clearly see their perfect unison with modern science." Had Vivekananda lived three years longer, he would have rejoiced in Einstein's discovery of E = mc2, which united matter and energy forever.......

.......The interaction of Eastern spirituality and Western science has expanded methods of stress reduction, treatment of chronic disease, psychotherapy and other areas. But that is only part of the story. Hindu and Buddhist descriptions of higher stages of consciousness have expanded psychology's understanding of human development and inspired the formation of provocative new theories of consciousness itself. Their ancient philosophies have also influenced physicists, among them Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg and J. Robert Oppenheimer, who read from the Bhagavad Gita at a memorial service for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his landmark TV series Cosmos, Carl Sagan called Hinduism the only religion whose time-scale for the universe matches the billions of years documented by modern science. Sagan filmed that segment in a Hindu temple featuring a statue of the god Shiva as the cosmic dancer, an image that now stands in the plaza of the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva.

The relationship between science and Eastern spiritual traditions -- which many prefer to think of as psychologies -- is still in its infancy. In recent years, the Dalai Lama has carried the ball forward, hosting conferences and encouraging research. Western religions would do well to emulate this history. Their historical and faith-based claims conflict with empirical science and probably always will; but to the extent that their practices directly impact human life, they can be treated as testable hypotheses. (There is some of that happening now, especially as regards to the efficacy of prayer in healing situations.)


I think there are a number of reasons that Christianity lags behind Eastern religions in establishing a working relationship with science.  One has to do with an over reliance on the Bible as the final word on God's revelation for humanity.  In some respects Christianity is always looking to the past for answers to the present and guidance for the future, when in point of fact many such answers can no longer be found in the past because the questions are such that they could not have been conceived of in the past.  In Catholicism one of these areas is currently being played out in the realm of sexual morality.  For instance birth control was not an issue in Old Testament times or during much of the Christian era because birthing as many children as possible was a survival necessity. In the current world of some six billion and counting, birth control is an issue because an excessive birth rate is now a real survival liability There is no longer any compelling or sensible reason to maintain God wills that every sexual act be open to procreation, and yet Catholicism still officially maintains just that. 

I would also postulate another reason for the somewhat adversarial relationship with science has to do with the inherent dualism what is traditionally described as the 'natural realm' and the 'super natural realm'. The two realms are like oil and water in that they seldom mix, and when they do it's more or less random.  Eastern religions more readily see the 'supernatural' as an extension or evolved aspect of the natural, especially in terms of human consciousness.  Their spiritual practices are engaged in specifically to reach altered states of human consciousness from which experiences of the greater reality can occur.  These experiences are more a matter of intentional practiced discipline rather than random gifts of holiness.  They are scientifically repeatable and there are scads of tight scientific studies which show the efficacy of these practices on health and mental wellness.

So how does Catholicism react to all of this?  Lately we're being told that these practices like yoga, meditation, and energy healing are not scientifically valid, but are in fact doors to the occult and an invitation to demonic oppression and possession.  If a person experiences any relief for health problems or mental stress, this is the result of demons not human consciousness potential and certainly not God.  If this wasn't so sad, it would be laughable, but the fact is most forms of Eastern energy healing have been banned from Catholic hospitals at exactly the same time they are being mainstreamed in secular hospitals.

I really believe the main reason for this goes right back to protecting the myth of the clerical priesthood.  It isn't the least bit good for the sacramental priesthood to have lay energy healers actually healing people with what on the surface appears to be another competing spiritual system.  The fact is this is not necessarily a competing spiritual system so much as it's a different conceptualization or explanation for what happens in certain states of higher consciousness.  There really seems to be a universal neural energy pattern for the same states of consciousness irrespective of the religious belief or practice one uses to achieve those states, and the subjective experiences in these objectively measurable states are very similar.  But that's a bad thing for a religious system which maintains it's the only path to salvation. 

I really hope that sometime in the future when Catholicism has finally moved beyond the current theological framework for the priesthood, that our best and brightest can openly contribute Catholic insights into the burgeoning field of human consciousness.  Jesus was all about teaching the path to higher consciousness and deeper connections with God.  It's often very frustrating for me that Eastern spiritual practitioners and Indigenous healers understand what He was teaching better than most Christians.  The things He taught and demonstrated are not Holy Magic, they are scientifically repeatable human abilities and events.  The Christian teachings and attendant life style were intended to produce healthy whole people and healthy whole societies.  Instead, over time,  we have reduced all of this to holy rubrics and holy rituals and now we've lost the interest of our children.  It's time to replace holiness with wholeness before it's entirely too late.

Check this link out for yet another example of systemic unwholeness and unholiness courtesy of Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia.  One truly does despair of this never ending clerical abuse scandal ever ending.


  1. Very interesting diary.

    The mind/body split is very problematic. It is the source of the church's mistaken teachings on sexuality. Sex is evil except under some very limited circumstances. Everyone is expected to be celibate, outside marriage.

    Aquinas was mistaken about the science of life, as were many of his day. He believed life could form from non-living material.* As you have indicated his science of theology looks backward at the revelations and the traditions of the Catholic Church.


    (Or... maybe, given the possibility of cyanobacteria in meteorites, he's prescient.)

  2. There is a tradition of Catholic meditation that is probably every bit as effective as Eastern meditation. But it was never recognized as a means of becoming whole, or curing ills. For the most part Catholics leave that meditation stuff to cloistered orders, right?

    I have long considered the Hail Mary to be a great candidate for healing meditation, especially in the Romance languages.

    Consider the poetry, the use of soothing consonant and vowel sounds, the rhyme and meter of Ave Maria, best in Italian.

    Ave Maria, piena di grazia,
    il Signore è con te.
    Tu sei benedetta fra le donne
    e benedetto è il frutto del tuo seno, Gesú.
    Santa Maria, Madre di Dio,
    prega per noi peccatori,
    adesso e nell'ora della nostra morte.

    If you don't read Italian then listen: In Latin, Schubert's Ave Maria, as performed by Luciano Pavarotti

    Deanna Durbin's version is a classic too: