Sunday, September 1, 2013

Under My Breath

My father was a religious man.
I got you, hon.
Can you hear me?
Jean, can you hear me?
For me, as a scientist, it never made any sense.
Don't go, Jean.
But for the first time in a long time--
Don't go...
--I hear myself pray.
Please...don't let her go...
Under my breath, at first.
Then louder.
- Identity Crisis #4
by Brad Meltzer and Rag Morales

Identity Crisis receives a lot of criticism for good reason. It does a lot of odd things and goes places that just aren't very good in execution. But, honestly, I do enjoy the first issue. It manages to be both sweet and heart-wrenching at the same time. Before it goes off the rails in subsequent issues.

Anyway, at one point Ray Palmer, also knows as the Atom, is trying to rescue his ex-wife from an attack. It's touch and go for a moment and Palmer, a great scientist, allows him to do the unthinkable: he prays.

Kind of. I imagine some Christians would use this as an example that even non-religious scientists really do believe in God. But Ray doesn't clearly pray to anyone specifically. But since I'm a white, middle class American (or maybe I'm lower class at this point), I take it for granted that Ray is addressing the Judeo-Christian deity. But he could easily be talking to Allah, Vishnu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. An atheist would probably make this case, and I would probably agree with them.

I would also agree with the case that this isn't so much an ardent prayer as a lapse in judgement for Palmer. Now, I don't believe all prayer needs to be organized and formal. Indeed, I count much of my own prayer life occurring through ramblings and casual reflection/meditation directed towards God. But for Ray Palmer this seems more like a product of his culture where, in times of duress, it may be as natural for non-believers to cry out to God for help as it is to shout "Oh my God" or "Jesus Christ" as exclamations and expletives. And as a man of science, this appears more of an emotional response than a rational one.

But then, what about prayer and faith is rational? Aren't they actually lapses in reason? Reason would dictate that this concept of God is beyond our scientific capacity to see, hear, and otherwise observe. And that, I think, is a way faith can be understood as. Crying out to a higher power is a concession of our limited knowledge and power over this world. It is the collapse of our hubris. In essence, faith is a vulnerability, and maybe even an admission of weakness.

But, paradoxically, I tend to think of it as a courageous weakness. If the Greek poets taught us anything, it's that hubris can only last so long before it dooms the person. The human species has done amazing and remarkable things. We have mastered the land, the sea, the air, and even walked on the moon. But for as much of the world that we have dominated, we are still subject to the tragedies it bestows upon us at its unpredictable whim.

I don't mean to offend anyone by saying faith is a lapse in reason. But I have grown up being told that Christianity is completely rational and logical. But it is not. That doesn't mean I don't believe it, but that I don't believe it in foundations of reason. Not only because the idea of an all powerful God defies reason, but, really, because of the words of Jesus himself. You know, all that absurd stuff about loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable, and hoping against hope? Yeah, adhering to that would be a complete lapse in reason.

Huh. I'm finding it interesting how so much of Wednesday Theology is relating back to John D. Caputo, deconstruction, and postmodernity.

Plus, you know, Martin Luther didn't really care for reason either.


“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
 —Martin Luther, Works, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148.

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