At a friend’s urging, I once read a dystopian novel set in a post-apocalyptic era in which the civilized world, or, more precisely, the things about the world that made it civilized, had disappeared. History, philosophy, technology, and the knowledge bases on which they were founded, had all been destroyed.
In this uncivilized world, a religious culture had taken hold. The memory of ancient powers like technology and science had given rise to rituals of worship. Cults had sprung up around these gods, cults with their own symbolism, sacred writings, and priesthoods.
I must say that I slogged through the novel. Dystopian stories hold little appeal for me, and I quickly forgot about this one. I cannot recall its title or its author. Yet it came to mind recently when something I read made me think what great idolators we civilized people are.
Were a militarized electromagnetic pulse to take out earth’s digital libraries and if traditional military operations did the same to all public and private book collections, our descendants might be worshiping their own pantheon of gods. Which ones? The ones people worship today.
In the contemporary pantheon of gods, the deity known as Education is highly esteemed. People attribute great power to Education. John Dewey, Education’s high priest in the first half of the 20th century, claimed that “…education is not preparation for life but is life itself.” Franklin Roosevelt believed that Education’s function was to safeguard another of our great gods, which is frequently invoked today: Democracy.
Education is not alone in the pantheon of the gods. Alongside it, standing tall, is mighty Technology. The far-seeing Jacques Ellul said, “Modern technology has become … the defining force of a new social order.” To technology is attributed the power to “heal” the disabled, save the world from resource depletion, and avert environmental disaster.
Pride of place in today’s pantheon of deities goes to the great god Science. Like Zeus of old, Science is a prolific god that has begotten many children. Anyone who doubts Science’s place in the idolatry of the era, needs only listen to our public officials and celebrities. They are constantly preaching, “Follow the science!” “Trust the science.”
Coming from the Christian faith, this sounds familiar. Jesus repeatedly told people, “Follow me.” He told his disciples, “Trust in me.” Today we are told to follow and trust Science.
It is surprising how often the words, “Science will save us” appear in print. Science will save us from COVID and from climate change. The World Economic Forum even titled an interview with Nobel-winning physicist Brian Schmidt, “How Science Will Save the World.” I suspect these writers don’t realize they are using religious language.
Another deity, whose power is feared by all, is the great god “Economy.” It is invoked by national leaders across the globe. It is a ruthless god and must be placated, else it will destroy the lives of millions and bring down nations. Offerings are presented to the Economy daily. Wall Streeters kneel before it. Fed Chairmen sacrifice billions to propitiate it.
Why is it that the Economy and all these gods collapse when humans stop feeding and protecting them? If they are dependent on humans, it can only mean that they are not real gods at all. Humans made them; they were not made for them. They exist to serve humanity, not be served by it.
Only when these idols have been removed from their pedestals can we appreciate how truly wonderful they are. Once science, education, and technology are relieved of the divine responsibility of saving the world, they can be valued for what they are: glorious expressions of humanity’s God-given intelligence and marvelous tools that can improve human life on earth.
For people who are used to thinking of religion and science as competitors, what I’m about to say might be surprising: I think God delights in science, and in all human expressions of genius that benefit humanity. He is happy for us to delight in them too. He just doesn’t want us worshiping them, for that degrades us and keeps us from the true object of our hope.
(First published by Gannett.)