Sunday, January 25, 2015

Marcus Borg on science and the modern worldview

I was incredibly saddened earlier this week to learn that Marcus Borg has passed away. I met Borg, a great theologian, as an eager high schooler years ago during a weekend of lectures in Spokane, and then his wife preached at my mother's ordination last year. I was more or less a fundamentalist in high school, but it was Borg that put me on a more progressive path after my mom introduced me to his work. That would have eventually happened anyways, but timing and style matter, and I will always be grateful to Marcus Borg. Prayers for his family. Rest in peace, sir, and thank you. You impacted and continue to impact my soul's relationship with the divine in deep and positive ways.
One of my own favorite things about Borg is the way he challenged everyone to expand their worldview. He is best known as a scholar of the historic Jesus, which is an approach that can undermine Christian fundamentalism. However, he also challenged those who rely ONLY on history and science. He did not want to detract from those approaches or their findings, only to point out that alone, they are insufficient. They may reveal more truths than any other methods we have, but some truths remain that they cannot reveal. None of us should limit our worldview, for when we do, we limit how much of our own existence we can truly experience or comprehend. Religious of all stripes and secular of a;; stripe, we would all do well to stay open-minded and hold our truths lightly. We need both science and spirituality.

Many of my friends have shared favorite Borg quotes this week; here’s one of mine. It's from one of his chapters in a book he co-wrote with the Rt. Rev. N.T. Wright:

Modernity is dominated by a secular worldview [that] began to emerge…with the birth of modern science. … It sees what is real as the world of matter and energy, space and time; and it sees the universe as a closed system of cause and effect, operating in accord with natural laws. … It reduces truth to factuality, either scientifically verifiable or historically reliable facts. It raises serious doubts about anything that cannot be accommodated within its framework, including common religious phenomena such as prayer…

In my thirties, I became aware of how uncritically, unconsciously, and completely I had accepted the modern worldview. I saw that most cultures throughout human history have seen things differently. I realized that there are well-authenticated experiences that radically transcend what the modern worldview can accommodate. I became aware that the modern worldview is itself a relative cultural construction, the product of a particular era in human intellectual history. Though it is still dominant in Western culture, I am confident that the time is soon coming when it will seem as archaic and quaint… The change in my worldview has made it possible for me once again to take God seriously. I am convinced that the sacred is real. I see reality as far more mysterious than the modern worldview (or any worldview) affirms. I do not know the limits of what is possible with any precision. To be sure, I am reasonably confident that some things never happen, but I am convinced that the modern draws those limits far too narrowly.