Traces of proton-proton collisions events measured by European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experience on May 25, 2011 in the search for the Higgs boson. (FABRICE COFFRINI – AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Render unto science what is scientific, I say.
Atheist, fundamentalist, polite church, synagogue, or mosque-goer — all of us — should celebrate the discovery of Higgs boson as a glorious example of the human mind’s ability to figure things out. Here’s to the smattering of human beings who are very, very smart in the ways of quantum mechanics. The rest of us need only be smart enough to honor you.
The affirmation of the existence of Higgs after 30 years of postulating its existence is a real opportunity for organized religion to get out of its own way. As a person of faith in God — but also a person who is not religious in any doctrinal sense — what, I’d like to know, does scientific affirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson particle — the God particle — have to do with anyone’s relationship with the Almighty? What’s wrong with believing that God is, and still being curious about what’s under every last rock that science can turn over?
A lot of religions encourage followers to think of God as a kind of cosmic puppet master who actually does things independently of humans; a kind of CEO God, whose authority trickles down a religion’s managerial hierarchy. Even some non-fundamentalists I know seem to have a need to think that God can choose to intervene magically in the doings of their days. And while belief in this kind of top-down organization of human existence appears to make these folks feel more comfortable, it does not make them curious, it does not make them well-informed, and, most importantly, it does not make them inhabitants of the real world. Where — if God is — God is most certainly to be found.
I am admittedly a religious outsider. To me, the important part of the Bible, the sacred text with which I am most familiar, is its stories about people; some of whom got their relationships with God wrong (greedy, power-hungry Pontius Pilate), and some of whom got their relationship with God right (most notably, Jesus).
There’s also a lot of other biblical stories to explain things that were totally inexplicable and/or scary a couple of millenniums ago – most famously, how the world got here and how human’s got here and what happens to us after death. To anyone who isn’t scared of reality, it’s pretty clear that science has shown, or is in the process of showing, these stories to be untrue. Except of course, for what happens to us after death. About which we really have no idea.
So the enduring – and very real worth of the Bible – is contained in its people stories.
I and most people I know believe that God, the great Whatever, is in some form or fashion. I, personally, believe that God is an inexplicable, inconceivable something available to partner with me in the living of my daily life; and that when I choose to live within that partnership, I am a kinder, more truthful, more productive person, who is much less given to ego-centric, destructive behavior toward others.
My own belief stops right there. That’s all I claim to know about God. And to me this simple acceptance of God’s existence and availability for partnership with each of us appears to be a core message of most religions.
I acknowledge that, for a lot of people, religion is the most comfortable way for them to make such a connection with God. What I quarrel with is when being religious is seen as the same thing as living that connection.
The biggest challenge of talking about any kind of non-religious, action-oriented faith is finding the right words. Organized religion has so polarized us that all you have to do is mention the word “God,” and folks stop listening and start assuming. Those who are not religious assume you buy the myths; those who are Christians assume you believe that Jesus Christ is the divine son of God.
Back a few paragraphs I pointed out that the affirmation of the existence of Higgs boson is a real chance for organized religion to get out of its own way. If for no other reason than “the elusive subatomic beast’s” nickname.
Leon Lederman, a leading researcher in the field, once dubbed it the “goddamn” particle, because it has proved so hard to isolate. That name was changed by a sniffy editor to the “God” particle, and a legend was born. Headline writers loved it. Physicists loved the publicity. CERN, the world’s biggest particle-physics laboratory, and the centre of the hunt for the Higgs, used that publicity to help keep the money flowing.
It’s a joke, in other words. Which makes it a golden opportunity for organized religion to show it has a sense of humor and can separate myth from core message.
Organized religion must show it has enough faith in the existence of God to rise above silly turf wars with science about the origins of the world, the origins of the species, and climate change. If organized religions don’t, more and more people will turn aside from their central, important message: that with God in our lives (as our conscience, as our partner, as however you like to think about It) we are more useful, less-destructive, less ego-driven humans.