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Why is science more popular than religion?

Written By | Oct 17, 2016

PETALUMA, CA, Oct. 17, 2016 – According to Krista Tippett, science is in the midst of a “renaissance.”

“Things like the Human Genome Project and the Hubble telescope, which brought amazing images of the galaxy into our living rooms, have contributed to our sense of awe,” said Tippett, creator and host of the “On Being” radio program, during an interview with Jenara Nerenberg. “We’re morphing to this place where science and scientists and scientific ideas are much more celebrated at the heart of our lives together, and everyone’s intrigued by them.”

Religion, on the other hand, appears to be in decline.

This is ironic, says Tippet, given that contemporary scientific exploration of things like awe and mystery and compassion – what Tippet singles out as “an urgent practical necessity” – is rooted in theology.

I suppose in some ways my own life mirrors this trend. Growing up I always thought that biblical teachings like the Golden Rule – “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” – were pretty compelling, if not downright awe-inspiring. Even better, the more I made an effort to put these teachings into practice – to be genuinely compassionate, grateful, forgiving, and so forth – the more natural they became and the better I felt.

It wasn’t until my late forties, however, that I became aware of the extraordinary and increasing scientific research being done linking such qualities of thought with improved health. These days, thousands of people are attending conferences around the world, listening to psychologists, medical researchers, neurosurgeons and neuroscientists echo much of the same advice I’ve been reading in the Bible for the last umpteen years.

How is it, then, that science and not religion appears to have won the popularity contest? How is it, for instance, that a pastor in church extolling the benefits of gratitude can’t seem to attract nearly as many people as someone saying essentially the same thing in a lecture hall at a major university?

Part of the answer might have to do with the increasing number of people who say they feel judged by religion, even condemned – guilty until proven innocent, as it were. There is also the tendency – some might say urgency – on the part of many churches to focus on converting rather than simply inspiring the unchurched as a means of saving the world. And there is the near universal assumption that religion, minus any practical application, just isn’t as credible as science.

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Credibility, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. The problem is, to the degree we accept merely what our eyes tell us is true, we limit our experience. Just ask Copernicus, the man who, despite what his eyes were telling him – and what the eyes of countless millions of others had been telling them – figured out that the sun, and not the earth, was at the center of our solar system.

Three centuries after Copernicus shared his revelation with the world, another scientist of sorts was inspired to look more closely at what everyone assumed to be true about Jesus Christ, particularly the nature of his healing work. While most Christians at the time likely saw these healings as “miracles,” Mary Baker Eddy, a woman well known for straddling the so-called divide between religion and reason, saw them as indicators of “an immanent, eternal Science” that could be appreciated and utilized by anyone, even likening her discovery to that of Copernicus.

“In viewing the sunrise, one finds that it contradicts the evidence before the senses to believe that the earth is in motion and the sun at rest,” wrote Eddy in her primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. “As astronomy reverses the human perception of the movement of the solar system, so Christian Science reverses the seeming relation of Soul and body and makes body tributary to Mind [God]. Thus it is with man, who is but the humble servant of the restful Mind, though it seems otherwise to finite sense.”

Although thoroughly grounded in Christian theology, Eddy’s was a decidedly systematic approach to health and healing, “submitted to the broadest practical test,” as she put it, noting that “everywhere, when honestly applied under circumstances where demonstration was humanly possible, this Science showed that Truth had lost none of its divine and healing efficacy, even though centuries had passed away since Jesus practised these rules on the hills of Judæa and in the valleys of Galilee.”

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Eddy was not out to challenge science as much as she was interested in expanding the world’s understanding of it. “Jesus of Nazareth was the most scientific man that ever trod the globe,” she wrote. “He plunged beneath the material surface of things, and found the spiritual cause.”

I can think of any number of times when I’ve had the opportunity – the privilege, really – to “plunge beneath the material surface of things” and see healing as a result.

Not to long ago, I found myself in significant pain as I tried to maneuver my body into bed. A muscle in my shoulder had become so constricted that it was impossible for me to get comfortable.

As I lay there, feeling a bit sorry for myself, a voice inside my head said, “Love knows no stress, no strain, no restriction.” As simple as that may sound, at the time it felt like a pretty radical idea and was exactly what I needed to hear.

During the prior week, my schedule had become consumed with getting ready for a family visit – preparing meals, cleaning the house, planning activities and the like. And somewhere along the line I think I bought into the idea that eventually I would run out of steam, and that my body would pay the price. While that might not sound all that unreasonable if viewed through a biomedical lens, once I realized this activity was backed-up not simply by good intentions but by my God-given capacity to love, my muscle relaxed and I was able to sleep soundly.

Granted, this still doesn’t answer our question as to why science is more popular than religion. It does point, however, to an intriguing new line of inquiry whose ultimate success rests not on popularity but on practicality.

Eric Nelson writes about the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs. Continue the conversation on Facebook.

Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson’s column “Consciousness and Health” has appeared on a number of national media websites including The Washington Times, The Washington Post, KevinMD, The Houston Chronicle and American Public Media's "On Being” blog. Eric also serves as the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Northern California, enjoys road biking, and is more than happy to chat with anyone, anytime, about baseball.