Can Science Kill God? (Continued)

"Adam and Eve," by Tiziano and Vecelli

My question to Andrew Sullivan was whether specifically Biblical notions like “fallenness” are necessary or even useful in understanding our human condition and bettering ourselves. The term doesn’t map to anything that we know from science about human evolution or the way our minds work. Even terms like “flawed” and “defect,” though not uniquely Biblical, should be used very judiciously when talking about human nature.

The notions of sin and redemption do map to a secular and scientific (biological, anthropological) understanding of human history. However, there is no transcendental grounding for these notions; they involve very real human transactions that can be discussed without reference to the Judeo-Christian god. If God is the community, as Durkheim proposed, then we can remove transcendence from the equation and carry on with our struggles to live in community with other individuals.

The notion of “fallenness” doesn’t help us in these struggles because it requires buying into the whole package of misconceptions such as original sin and expiation through sacrifice.  As animals who know we are going to die, we already have more than enough free-floating anxiety. Why add to it a theology that tells us we are born into iniquity and that our guilt can only be absolved through complete surrender to the will of the community (God) as represented to us by his priests and prophets? What is required by these intermediaries will vary in detail, but it is sure to include observance of ritual, belief in designated myths, and strict avoidance of prohibited behaviors. These are the major role-players in the universal grammar of religion. Needless to say, things can go seriously awry when God’s representatives on earth screw up. (Search this site for “Pope Benedict.”) And that’s where individual autonomy, where it has been allowed to emerge, can serve as an effective counterbalance.

Balancing individual autonomy with community constraints is always a tricky business, but the Biblical theology of fallenness, sin, guilt, and redemption are a huge thumb pressed down on one side of the scales. People in this secular, democratic age are much more self-regulating than ever before, and we may not be doing such a bad job of it considering the challenges. We may ultimately fail, but our chances will be greatly improved by switching off some of our unnecessary internal static about sin and guilt. Spending one’s years feeling guilty about behaviors that are not, by any rational standard, harmful to anyone is a waste of a precious resource: a single human life.

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