This past Monday, my co-blogger Adam Frank wrote an eloquent essay about the need to move beyond the linear polarization of the science-religion debate, a formula that is old and fruitless.
I couldn’t agree more.
He suggested that we need to find new ground, beyond the linear dimension; we must rise into a new dimension, so to speak, above the tried debate.
I’d like to suggest that a possible way to do this is to find moral universals that defy the linearity of the science-religion tug of war. Now, I am very aware that the very proposal to find “moral universals” is, to many people, a dead end. Cultural relativists will claim that there is no such thing, that what’s right for some is wrong for others. Case in point, polygamous cultures.
So, to find moral universals we need to dig deeper.
They will not be values that can vary from culture to culture and from time to time, as the idea of marriage. In my opinion, to be effective they must deal with the only universal certainty we have in life: death.
I don’t think dying is welcomed in any culture. Sure, some cultures may see dying as a transition to another realm, or an aspect of an endless existence. Others see it as a heroic act of martyrdom. But apart from raving fundamentalists, no one in good health (physical and mental) will choose to die. So, the preservation of life is, I propose, a moral universal.
Life here is not restricted to humans. Once we realize how deeply our existence depends on the planet that we inhabit, we understand that we must act to preserve all life forms. The moral universal of life necessarily leads to a spiritual ecology whereby we, as the dominant species in this world, act as guardians of life. So, the spiritual dimension that is so important to us humans finds expression in our devotion to our planet and its life forms.
This sense of spiritual connection with Nature is celebrated both in science and religion. From Einstein to Saint Teresa of Ávila, there is universal agreement that the world is sacred in a very fundamental way. Perhaps the success of the movie Avatar is an expression of the growing need to find common ground for humanity based on the preservation of the planet and, of course, ourselves.
People may have other ideas in mind for what a possible moral universal is. But whatever they are, it’s hard to see any more basic than the respect for life and the planet that so spectacularly harbors it.
At least, it’s a start.