“The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”
– Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
For thousands of years, people thought of themselves as the center of the universe. People believed that they were the most sophisticated animal and assumed that Earth was the only planet to house life, let alone intelligent life.
Religions encouraged such beliefs. The story of Genesis made humans the pinnacle of God’s creation and center of His plan, as the master of all other life forms. As late as the early 17th century, when Galileo posited that the Earth rotated around the sun, not the other way ’round’, the Catholic Church called him a heretic, banned his books and sentenced him to prison.
Religion appeared vain, anchored in self-absorption, and in opposition to science.
As science became widely accepted over the following hundreds of years, people came to appreciate how small the Earth is in a remote edge of the galaxy. Mankind shifted from writing mythology about Gods in the stars, to scripting stories of alien life traversing the universe. Man seemingly embraced science and eschewed religion.
But people remained equally as arrogant.
Beyond the wave of science fiction books and movies over the past sixty years, sci-“fact” shows like the new “UFO” documentary have considered that aliens from other planets have come to Earth. The guise of awe for the unidentified flying objects at first conveyed humbleness in considering that humans are neither alone nor the center of the universe. Yet that premise fell completely flat. What kind of unbridled arrogance must someone have to believe that in the vastness of space, an alien managed to find earth and visit that one special person. Such remarkable conceit!
A profound faith in either religion or science could mask the same egotism with a different veneer of humility.
Carl Sagan, an astronomer and popular author about space strongly believed in science and of life on other worlds, and also believed in religion. He once said that “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” Despite the appreciation for both belief and science, he nevertheless acknowledged the issue with fundamentalism in his book ‘Contact‘ and how religion and science could be at odds for those with profound faith.
At its worst, profound religion acts as a cudgel, enabling those who believe they speak with divine authority to dictate demands. Deep faith facilitates massacres like the Christian and Muslim crusades as well as the Inquisition.
This stands in sharp contrast in humble faith. Humble religion serves as a guide for people to act towards one another with kindness. The belief in a powerful God who judges people’s seen and unseen actions is designed to shepherd society with humbleness as a check on power.
Faith can act as rein or a weapon. It depends on whether it is embraced with humility or conceit.
Jews have often been accused of arrogance as they believe that much of the bible is particular and not universal. Yet it is a unique monotheistic religion in believing that all people can ascend to heaven: Jews need to follow 613 commandments while non-Jews only need to follow the seven Noahide Laws related to universal morality. That is why Judaism does not try to convert people as their souls do not require “saving.”
Judaism encourages a humble faith in God and science, pursuing both knowledge and coexistence.
The notion that there is a dichotomy between religion and science is widely touted and deeply false. The divide is between profound faith and humble faith. The latter will serve to the betterment of all mankind.
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