[WARNING: You may need a special helmet for this one.]
I bought a bike helmet the other day. It reminds me of my hockey helmet when I was a kid. Hockey is an expensive sport: ice-time fees, new equipment every few years, regular out of town trips often overnight, etc. My parents indulged me; and yet, though we had more money than most, every time the style in helmets changed, my teammates all had new helmets, and I still wore the same one, of a boxy, antique European design, well used when we bought it when I was just learning to skate, a style I don't think I ever saw on another Minnesota hockey player's head. It was adjustable, and I never did outgrow it, exchanging it only in high school when I was issued one like everybody else had. I remember that being a relief, though my new helmet was not nearly so safe, and wearing it, I cut my chin requiring stitches a half-dozen times. It didn't occur to me that there was something very cool about my old helmet, nobody else having one like it, that it was made to last; anymore than I was aware of the global consequences of the middle-class consumer lifestyle that made my hockey playing possible, or that hockey helmets are derived from fossil fuels, or that you can make plastic helmets that don't toxify the biosphere.
I haven't been wearing a helmet, biking around the city. I rationalized that I didn't need one, because wearing one wouldn't make me any more aware. I never have worn one, even biking around the neighborhood when I was a kid. I even went over the handlebars a few times. Personally, I think television is more dangerous than city bike riding. But a few recent local incidents have reminded me of the fragility of the human head, and I take all information coming at me as a potential sign.
I recently found a helmet I liked, bright fluorescent green, but I didn't want to spend the $60. The helmet I did buy cost me twenty-five cents. The guy who sold it to me said his teenage daughter was embarrassed to ride with him because of it. It may not be cool from a mainstream, pop-cultural perspective, and it's not likely as safe as the spendier one, but it cost me a quarter dollar, and it's more protection than I had.
I felt like I needed a helmet this week, prowling around HuffPost, commenting on various blogs and articles, participating, as I like to think, in civil discourse, and otherwise trying to generate interest in this blog. I particularly needed it, after commenting on a blog post about the origin of spirituality, by the writer and neuro-scientist Michael Graziano, suggesting that spirituality arises out of the internal chemistry related to social intelligence, the emotions that arise out of our interaction with others. In other words, spirituality having a purely physical origin - and so being delusional, insofar as it supposes the existence of some inherent meaning beyond the physical (that last part is me extrapolating from Graziano's argument.)
For suggesting in my comment that Science has become something like a Religion, I was upbraided with language like this, by an anonymous fellow commenter, gunnerfan5:
How often is this piece of utter idiocy going to be repeated by people who do not have a clue about science? There is nothing of religion in science. It's a method of enquiry [sic], nothing more. The fact you have a computer shows how dependent you are on the products of that method but you use it to carp and whine about the intellectual processes which gave it to you.
This comment of yours is SO stupid and ignorant I am astonished that anyone could write it.
HuffPost didn't publish it, though I did have the opportunity to reply that I was not hiding behind an assumed name. That didn't stop him from saying quite a bit more about me, much of which was published. He was not alone, several others replying to my comment, not much of it positive, hardly a word of it actually apprehending my actual point. I think I have a right to expect critical thinking and the ability to apprehend an argument, especially from those who claim to be versed in the scientific method. But then, we don't really teach critical thinking in America. Nor do we value it. More, we like to take a single word or sentence and extrapolate from it whatever we want, condemning the whole, secure in our righteousness, slowly closing ourselves off to a world of ideas.
On HuffPost, my words are rarely received so viciously as when I dare to suggest that Science is something more than simply a method. More than a method of inquiry, it is also a framework for looking at the world, which is reinforced by our limitless desire for a better life and our insatiability for consumer goods. Scientific materialism, grounded in evolutionary theory, excludes any sense of the divine nature of being. Removing any sense of the divine, it opens the door to the exploitation of anything, at any time, for any reason. It does this because it has supposed itself to be a counterpoint to Religion, and not merely a method of inquiry into physical processes. It has come to suppose itself the arbiter of all understanding, blind to the reality that scientific materialists fall into the same traps of orthodoxy that ensnare the religious, or the ways in which scientific materialism is a kissing cousin to the capitalistic pursuits that are driving the biosphere to the edge of ecological oblivion.
Consider that one can not really suggest evolutionary theory has serious flaws, without being cast as a raging fundamentalist in service to a violent God; one cannot reason with such absolute thinking. Within evolutionary theory there are inexplicably radical transformations in the appearance of life at various evolutionary stages, some creatures seeming to arise without precedent. That the DNA molecule and its seeming code could have arisen out of any primordial ooze accidentally, for no reason, strains the boundaries of the absurd. But none of this prevents many scientific materialists from acting as if even the mention of the word divine is a sign of profound mental illness demanding heavy doses of pharmaceuticals, and preferably restraints.
To be fair, the abuse I've taken on HuffPost isn't like being burned at the stake. I don't expect the children of Science to stoop to the kinds of evil the children of Religion have been capable of. Religions, just about one and all, preceded Science in the divesting from the world any sense of the divine, placing the divine in some nether world unreachable, until such time as death - accessible so long as you have done all you have been told to do, including even the slaughter of innocents. Religion not having much to do with the divine, really, but more a temporally derived system of social organization reinforcing hierarchy, or the right of the few to rule over the many.
Science, as a method, is indeed responsible for much of the good that has come in the evolution of civilization, lifting us out of the darkness of religious rule. It has helped awaken us to our place in the Universe. Science is deeply important to our continued evolution on this planet.
As a paradigm to align ones world view, it is limited however. It is subject to both the vagaries of hubris and greed. It has blind spots miles wide. If I say the universal vehicle is consciousness, Science can say nothing, because from a material perspective, it is a statement without meaning. If I say the universe is divine, and you are of the universe, then you are divine, science loses its capital (as does religion), and can only proclaim that it does not know, or that I am simply wrong. And while my only evidence is myself, I can only otherwise offer, that as everyone is divine, then all that has been said and done by humanity is available to us as a guide, to be used in the exploration of that immeasurable infinite inside. Which is as scary for a scientist as anybody else. Though really when you think about it, if I am in fact divine, the point would be to be as clear as possible, as a medium for the flow of energy. The process of opening up isn't always pleasant though. Which is a massive understatement. Though it is equally an understatement to say how much better one feels the more freely energy flows.
I don't know what Science has to say about what, if anything, is emanating out from the center of the galaxy, but I feel something like love. And humor. Like it's being amplified by the sun, and so there's an abundance of new energy available to each of us, right now. To choose to open oneself to the divine is a choice we all have. Few of us know we have that choice, and if we do we tend to think we have to follow a path someone else has defined. As if the only way to express energy is to filter it through some widely accepted, though tired, restrictive, limiting channel. From the perspective that the universe is divine, then the only path that can be yours is the one that leads to and from the internal life. Only you can know the man or woman you wish to be. Only you can truly know who you are and why you are here.
Of course, from most perspectives, that's just crazy talk. But I don't write for those who are afraid of the infinite, or for those who wish to dominate others, or be dominated. I write for the courageous ones who are willing to look inside, so as to look clearly at the world outside, to be clear in this world. And never have times called for a greater need to get clear within oneself, in relation to the biosphere and the culture, in the midst of a profoundly mysterious universe.
And really, saying the Universe is divine doesn't in any way negate the notion that spirituality arises out of the physical, as Graziano suggests. It simply means that the physical out of which the spiritual arises, is in itself divine. Which opens up the physical to infinite possibilities.
Anyway, I've got a helmet now, to protect me on my travels in this crazy world. I was thinking I might paint it copper, maybe stick some hawk or turkey feathers in it. Though I don't invest much energy in standing out for the sake of standing out. I'm fine too, just looking like an idiot who needs a special helmet. Such judgments being for those who do not know themselves.