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RELIGION: Pluses and minuses

Theology is the most important subject in the curriculum. It attempts to answer the basic questions: What is life all about, and how should I therefore behave? Unfortunately, religions discredit themselves. Pope John Paul II leaves operations to the curia, and devotes his life to a series of expensive public relations exercises. While the number of nominal Catholics remains the same, its growth is among the credulous people of Africa. In the Western world it has discredited itself by its stress on the miraculous and its rules and priestly behavior in sexual matters

Religions are viewed as a cause of wars, the most notorious case being the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. The Holocaust is past history, the reality is the accession to power of Sharon, one of the most hated people in the world. The Economist (2/10/01) has a picture of him on its cover, with the heading "Sharon's Israel, the world's worry". He is asking for trouble, and we may well get it. One of his backers has built a model of Jerusalem where viewers see the mosques on Temple Mount disappear by a miracle and are replaced with a reconstructed Temple, which the accompanying text vows to rebuild.. The fight over religious sites discredits religions. In India there has been a much publicized fight over whether aa allegedly holy site should be occupied by a mosque or a Hindu temple. Now, following the earthquake in Gujarat which killed 25,000 people or more, there are demands that temples be rebuilt first. This is similar to ritual human sacrifices to please the gods.

In brief, religion yes, religions no. The issues must be faced frankly. Stanfordīs new Dean of Religious Life, Scotty McLennan, favors Universalist Unitarianism. On a bigger scale, the basic issues are being tackled by Sir John Templeton, a remarkable individual born in the small Tennessee town of Winchester, a name which derives from the Enligh cathedral city where I spent my youth. i wonder if Siur Hohn has ever visited it? After an excellent academic record, he made a fortune, which, through the Templeton Foundation, he devotes to solving the basic religious issue described here.

One effort is to promote ecumenism, but the main thrust is to face head on the old conflict between religion ans science, which since the Scopes monkey trial has plagued those Americans who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, which has virtually no support in any other country. This must have had a deep impact on Sir John, since the trial took place not too far from his home town. Nashville, Tennessee is the world's largest producer of bibles, the source of all the trouble. The argument about creation was discussed in a book written by a group of four, headed by Howard J. Van Till and entitled Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation (Eerdmans, 1990).

Two Templeton news magazines were devoted to science and religion: Progress in Theology and Explorations: Currents in the interface of Science and Religion. Both have suspended publication, being replaced by Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology. All serious general libraries should subscribe. The first issue (September 2000) announced that physicist Freeman Dyson has been awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, established in 1972 and worth more financially than a Nobel Prize. It was deemed that this munificence was necessary to give the prize comparable prestige in a society with such reverence for the Golden Calf. Templeton envisages a global spirituality, which is the highest and most important form of globalization. It is for this reason that the first day of our July conference on globalization will be devoted to it.

[Footnote: I don't know what Sir John thinks about the Devil, but there is one in my computer. I use Eudora 4.3, and the spelling check has stopped working. I have tried everything, but I cannot exorcise the devil. Can any computer priest tell me what incantation I should use? God helps those who help themselves, but I can't. Help! ]

Ronald Hilton - 2/11/01