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Why do Christians wear ashes on Ash Wednesday?

File 20180212 58344 dm3re4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Worshippers at Ash Wednesday mass.
AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Michael Laver, Rochester Institute of Technology

This coming Wednesday many Christians will arrive at work with a black cross smudged on their foreheads; countless more will slip into a church or a chapel during their lunch break or after work to receive the sign that tells the arrival of Ash Wednesday, the traditional start of the Christian season of Lent.

As both a priest in the Episcopal Church as well as a historian of Christianity, I’ve come to appreciate many of the liturgies and practices that characterize the modern church and have their roots in ancient traditions. The practice of donning ashes is one of them.

Ashes in Bible stories

In the Bible we are told that when the prophet Jonah pronounced God’s wrath on the city of Nineveh for its “wickedness,” likely because of the worship of idols or “false” gods, the king, in an act of sincere penitence, put on sackcloth and sat in ashes.

God was moved by this genuine act of repentance and spared the city from destruction. This story was meant to demonstrate that God is merciful and heeds true remorse.

This spiritual dimension of ashes is emphasized all through the Bible. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus deplores the lack of concern for the poor and marginalized on the part of the establishment of the day, as he passes through some towns.

He called out the hypocrisy of religious leaders who taught righteousness on the one hand, but lived lives of luxury and wealth at the expense of the poor on the other. At one point Jesus condemned the religious leaders as “whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

When pronouncing these judgments, Jesus makes reference to sackcloth and ashes as a form of penitence.

How the practice evolved

As early as the ninth century the church started to use ashes as a public demonstration of repentance for sins.


Pope Urban II.
Artaud de Montor (1772–1849).

It was only in 1091, however, that their use was ritualized. Pope Urban II decreed the use of ashes to mark the beginning of a 40-day season of Lent, a time when Christians imitate Christ’s 40-day period of fasting. This period is said to have prepared Christ for his three-year ministry that would culminate in his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.

With the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the use of ashes generally fell out of favor in non-Catholic denominations. However, it returned in the 19th century when many Protestant churches entered into intentional dialogue with each other and with the Catholic Church, a phenomenon that is called the “ecumenical movement.”

Today most “mainline” denominations, including Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and others allow for the “imposition” (as called in Catholic and Episcopalian prayer books) of ashes during an Ash Wednesday service. In some churches, the ashes are obtained by burning the palms blessed in the previous year’s Palm Sunday service – a time for Christians to remember Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem days before he was crucified. The resultant ash, depending on local practice, might then be mixed with oil to make them adhere more easily to the forehead.

Modern-day practice

In recent years several churches have put a new spin on the traditional Ash Wednesday service by providing what has been called “ashes to go.” In this new take on an ancient practice, a pastor stands in a very public, often busy, place and offers the ashes to any passersby who wishes to receive them, whether or not the person is Christian.


The pastors at St. John’s church in California provide ‘Ashes to Go’ for those who want to participate in the start of the Christian observance of Lent but are unable to attend a full church service.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Stories abound of pastors providing “drive-through ashes” in which the penitent does not even have to get out of the car. A website called “ashes to go” provides not only a list of global sites at which one can receive ashes in this way, but also has an FAQ section containing advice for churches contemplating such a service.

For a supremely ironic twist on Ash Wednesday, one only has to observe that the Gospel reading appointed for the day is from Matthew, chapter 6. Here Jesus rails against religious hypocrisy by criticizing those whose religious piety is done mainly for show:

“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The ConversationChristians bearing the sign of the cross on their forehead this Wednesday will be sharing a formal practice that dates back over a thousand years, and more than that – in a tradition that goes back much earlier.

Michael Laver, Department Chair, Associate professor, Rochester Institute of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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When Your Morality Squeezes All The Joy Out Of Life

Image via Tumblr

By Marshall Hoffman

Sometimes when I find myself wading in a river with nary a bite I think: ‘If I can’t even figure out where the wily trout is lurking, how can I solve the mysteries of life?’

Every respectable fly fisherman is supposed to be proficient in tying all the right knots. When I try to use my finger to tie the ‘nail knot’ it gets caught every time. The old reliable ‘clinch knot’ somehow becomes a slip knot. Even the so-called improved clinch knot fails me at times. Now what kind of knot do I use to tie the fly onto the tippet? Is it the overhand? No, that’s not secure enough. How about the Palomar? That should hold without weakening the line. Then there’s the surgeon’s knot. It’s all so confusing.

Pardon me, if I see a close parallel between fishing and moral dilemmas. Do you ever feel tied up in knots, by the thunderous negatives of your moral code? ‘THOU SHALT NOT….’ When I was a kid growing up in Sunday school, I often felt that God was a Big Bully who wanted to take all the fun out of life. Everything I wanted to do seemed like a no-no according to my moral code.   As we used to joke: ‘I can’t dance and I can’t chew and I can’t go with girls that do.’  So, I exhausted myself trying to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. After awhile I gave up in discouragement.

Now that I have had more time to read the Fishing Manual, I have discovered that for every negative prohibition in the Bible there are several positive affirmations. For every ‘thou shalt not steal’ there is a ‘thou shalt honor your father and your mother.’

I have found the fishing better, when I have accentuated the positive. The bird nests and back lashes of life seem more manageable when I lubricate my line with a positive attitude. I know I can’t eliminate the negative, nor would I want to. There are times when a decisive ‘no’ is needed to shut the door on temptation; ‘I will not!’ But those uncompromising negatives need not tie us up in knots and squeeze all the joy out of life. The next time you tie your shoes remember they can be snug without binding. I like that figure eight knot, symbol of eternity which holds tight but leaves some breathing room.

The Master Fisherman showed us the way when he summarized the 10 Commandments into two; ‘thou shalt love God with all your heart’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ If we concentrate on those two things, all the rest will fall into place and take care of itself.

Is that good fish philosophy?

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/christianity-articles/when-your-morality-squeezes-all-the-joy-out-of-life-6810174.html

About the Author

Marshall Hoffman Is a retired pastor whose mission is to motivate and inspire believers to love God more and serve him better.  His bible based insights come from a half century of pastoral service.

Since this article’s initial publication articlesbase.com has undergone some changes. We have left the original links intact. 


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Is the Devil God’s Agent?

Illustration of the Devil in the Codex Gigas, ...

Illustration of the Devil in the Codex Gigas, folio 270 recto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Family Foundation

If God is in Control, Then Why…?
By Craig Hill; 295 pages
Regular Price: $15.00

Excerpt from Craig Hill’s Blog ‘Is the Devil God’s Agent?’ published on September 17, 2013.

When you listen to some Christians speak about the tragedies of life, you might conclude that God uses the devil for our own good.  And even if they don’t believe God authors tragedy, they believe He is complacent and allows the devil to do what he will so God can teach us something.

After all, doesn’t Romans 8:28 say this? ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.’

Most Christians want to comfort people who are suffering in the midst of tragedy and devastation.  Optimistically, they look for the good things that God has worked in the midst of the tragedy.  And when they find one, they use it to explain why God allowed or caused the destruction in the first place.

Therefore, it may seem like Romans 8:28 is an appropriate scripture to use when bringing comfort to those who are suffering, and it is.  But not for the purpose of explaining why God ‘allowed’ the tragedy. If you subscribe to that line of thinking, your heart will ultimately blame God for devastation and destruction on the earth.  Why, because this type of thinking takes Romans 8:28 out of context and then contradicts other key principles in the Bible.

Saint Michael and the fall of angels – painting by Johann Georg Unruhe ( 1793 ) – detail: Fallen angel via Wikipedia

For example, 1 John 3:8 says, ‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.’  Destroy is a very different concept from use or teach.  If God were using the devil to teach us something, then He would be in conflict with His own purpose for the life of Jesus.

Craig Hill calls this kind of thinking, backwards theology.  Just because you see firemen on the scene of every fire, does not mean that firemen cause fires. Likewise, God is never the author of the works of the devil, and He never uses the devil to teach us anything.  He sent Jesus to destroy the works of the devil and the Holy Spirit to be our comforter and teacher.

To further gain a true biblical understanding of the interaction of God, Satan, circumstances, and their impact on your life, Craig Hill encourages you to read his book on just this topic entitled, If God Is In Control, Then Why? It will change the way you view God and tragedy on the earth.

About the Book

IF GOD IS IN CONTROL THEN WHY..? deals with that difficult question about the nature of God that plagues the minds of most people. Whether you are a lifetime believer in Christ or you have just begun looking for answers, the question, ‘If God is in control, then why…?’ has probably been one you have heard or asked many times in your life. Craig Hill has gifted insight into God’s Word and an ability to teach through riveting real-life stories. This book brings understanding to the issue of God’s sovereignty and will set your heart at peace, allowing you to trust a just God in an unjust world.

E-book versions for Kindle and Nook for this book are now available. Audio Book is also available.

About the Author

Having a specific interest in ministering to marriages and families, Craig Hill pursued an internship and later a volunteer staff position at the New Life Counseling Center in Denver. He subsequently taught counseling and missions on the faculty of the Marilyn Hickey Bible College. In 1987, the Lord raised up Craig as Senior Pastor of a local church where he and Jan served for seven and a half years, until he was called by God to devote his full-time energy to the ministry of Family Foundations International.

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/christianity-articles/is-the-devil-gods-agent-6848818.html

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Christian Meditation is Like a Shower of the Mind

Candlemas Day

Marianne Stokes (1855–1927) Candlemas Day – Wikipedia

By Rhonda Jones

Each morning, usually before day-break, I tread to my meditation spot, an overstuffed comfy green chair in the corner of my bedroom. Some mornings it’s cold and I just want to hide under my covers, but regardless of the conditions, eventually I make my way to my chair, light a candle, wrap myself in a blanket, set my timer, and close my eyes. For the next 30 minutes I become completely absorbed by God’s word and his presence.

For me, Christian meditation is like a daily shower of my mind. It’s where I can dissolve any fears, worries, stresses, or the onset of negative or toxic emotions lingering near by. During meditation, I cast all of my cares upon the Lord and allow them to diminish in his light, Spirit, and love. To forfeit my meditation practice any one day means that my flesh has gotten the victory over my spirit and now sits on the throne. It is said that how we begin our day is how we often finish our day.

My meditation practice consists of slowly meditating on passages of scripture or inspirational texts. I call this Scripture Meditation. I meditate on the 23rd Psalms, The Lord’s Prayer, The Love Chapter, The Beatitudes and other verses that I have memorized and God puts on my heart. I begin each meditation session with the following prayer that I slightly modified from Psalm 19 of Praying the Psalms by Nan Merrill. It read it as:

‘But who can discern their own weakness? Cleanse me, O Lord, from all my hidden faults? Keep me from boldly acting in error; let my fears and illusions not have dominion over me! Then shall I become a beneficial presence, Freely and fully surrendered to your Love. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart find favor in your Heart. O my Beloved, my strength and my joy!’

During meditation, I slowly graze over the scriptures in my mind, and as I do I sink deeper and deeper into the peace, calm, and presence of God. Each time my mind wanders off in thought, fear, or anxiety, I turn my attention back to my scripture passage, keeping my mind on the Lord. The Bible says that ‘you will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.’

English: A Discalced Carmelite nun sits in her...

A Discalced Carmelite nun sits in her cell, praying, meditating on the Bible – Wikipedia

Jesus tells us in the Bible that we become what we think about or meditate on. Through meditation, we hide God’s word in our heart and that planted word begins to take root and grow a harvest of godly fruit. Each time we return our wandering mind back to the scripture passage, it’s the same as plucking up the weeds that want to invade out mental garden.

The benefits of meditation aren’t generally realized during the actual practice, though dwelling in God’s presence is definitely as added reward. The real benefits of Christian Meditation are realized throughout our day when we find that we are more loving, kind, patient, and compassionate or when we squash thoughts of fear or worry that come to steal our peace and joy. Just like we divert our attention from them in meditation, we do the same as we go about our daily tasks. Through meditation, we learn that we can choose what we allow in our minds. We can choose what we allow to rule over us. Meditation empowers us to ‘cast down every thought and imagination that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.

Paul said that we are a slave to whatever we allow to rule over us. Too many Christians are ruled by the whims of their thoughts. Just like watching a television commercial that tells us we want a Mrs. Smith’s Cherry Pie and we run out and buy one, our unregenerated mind rules most us of. It says stay in bed and stay in bed. It says you’re depressed and we become depressed. It says sin and we sin. It says don’t forgive and we hold grudges. Christian meditation gives us the opportunity to become slaves of righteousness as we continue to hide God’s in our heart and crowd out the voices of illusion and deception. Through Christ-centered meditation, we also experience a deeper connection with God. As our meditation practice deepens we gain a greater capacity to know God, hear his voice, and experience him in a new and real way.

James 4:8 declares, ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.’ Christian meditation allows us to wash away the mental dirt and debris that we pick up each day. It helps us to break the conditioning, patterns, and falsehoods of the world and start each day clean, purified, and centered in Christ.

Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany

Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany – Wikipedia

Some people would never think to miss their morning shower or bath. I know people that spend at least 30 minutes in the shower or until the water turns cold. Then they spend another two hours doing their make up and hair. They wouldn’t dare leave the house until their outsides our fully together. But how much more important is it that we clean our insides from worldly contaminates. To miss this time in silence reverence to God means carrying around these mental and emotional weights for another 24 hours or until I decide to meditate again. I’d much rather wash them away, just like the water takes the dirt from my bodies and carries it down the drain. Starting my morning in meditation frees me from any encumbrances lingering in my unconscious mind. Through Christian meditation, my mind is swept clean and polished with the light of God’s word.

2 Corinthians 7:1 says, ‘Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement that contaminates either flesh or spirit.’ Through meditation, we become the observer of our thoughts and which gives us the power to eliminate those ideas that are contrary to our faith. Mastery of the mind is the only road to true freedom, for it is in the mind and thoughts that all things are created, ‘for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he,’ and ‘a good man out of the good treasure in his heart creates that which is good.’

Jesus said, ‘Come to me all who are weary and of a heavy heart and I will give you rest. Spending time with God in meditation, whether scripture, guided, or mantra, is that place of rest for me, for it is where I lay my burdens at the cross and then cloth myself with the Lord Jesus Christ. Each time I enter meditation I am covering myself in his Word, Presence, and Love. I am dwelling under the shadow of the Almighty. Each time I leave my green comfy chair, I leave cleansed, renewed, and restored and prepared to begin my day.

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/religion-articles/christian-meditation-is-like-a-shower-of-the-mind-4053446.html

About the Author

If you would like to learn more about Scripture Meditation, see Free Scripture Meditation Online Course or get a copy of the Scripture Meditation Tutorial CD that contains a 75-minutes of detailed instructions and Scripture Meditation recording.

Since this article’s initial publication articlesbase.com has undergone some changes. We have left the original links intact. 

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 The $35,000 ‘meditation pod’ showing up at high-end spas makes the hardest part of meditation mind-blowingly easy (businessinsider.com)

 Pope Francis calls for Lord’s Prayer to be altered as current wording suggests God is capable of leading people ‘into temptation’ (telegraph.co.uk)

 Silicon Valley executives are paying thousands to fix a ‘crisis of the soul’ at a luxury retreat – here’s what they’re learning (businessinsider.com)

Mornings (chrishancock789.com)

 Recommend guided ’emotional release’ meditations? (ask.metafilter.com)

 Discovering the ‘four prongs of wellness’ at New Zealand’s most luxurious lifestyle retreat (telegraph.co.uk)


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Pope wants to update Lord’s Prayer

Probably some Catholics think a lot of what I’m suggesting at earthpages is “of the devil” until it gets its stamp of approval from the Vatican. As if people outside that creaky old apparatus can’t think for themselves or, for that matter, in line with what God wants.

Here’s my article Dec 6:


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Religious people have a brain so why don’t some use it?

 

Star Trek – All Our Yesterdays via http://tos.trekcore.com

The title of this article is meant to be tongue in cheek. Obviously some religious people are bright and apply intelligence to their faith and practice. But there is a sector that seems to blindly accept whatever a particular religion teaches.

I met one of these folks last night at church. S/he seemed like a nice person but after speaking with him/her for a while, I automatically tuned out while s/he rambled on with the usual Catholico-paranoido-hypocritico Beware! The world is sending you to hell! preaching.

Walking back to where I had parked, it felt like I had time traveled in a way. I’d just spoken to a medieval person. That is, someone with a medieval mindset. It reminded me of the Star Trek TOS episode “All Our Yesterdays” where Captain Kirk is sent to a planet resembling Earth’s Middle Ages. An unkempt woman hears Kirk speaking to his invisible crewmates through a portal and hisses that Kirk is a witch. Meanwhile, the fearful and rigid male authorities imprison him.

“Witch… Witch… you’re going to burn, WITCH!” – Star Trek – All Our Yesterdays via http://tos.trekcore.com

That scenario of the Middles Ages, however, is a simplification. Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D. points out that Medieval people could be just as complex as us—despite not having access to computers, the internet and smartphones.

So what is going on with some religious people these days?

We all have pretty much the same sized brain. But apparently there’s a catch. Neuropsychology tells us that some brain regions are more specialized than others. So we develop a greater density of neural pathways in our strong areas, usually at the expense of other less developed areas. Everyone differs here. Some might be strong in abstract thinking, like Einstein. Others in artistic processing, like Picasso.

To be fair, the person I spoke with last night did make me think. Sometimes it’s good to get the Beware of Hell! sermon. It makes us look at ourselves and clean up any areas in need of improvement. If we’re sincere, that is. I know some Christians who are so distasteful or obsessive that I can’t associate with them.

But I digress.

The upshot of last night’s encounter was that I felt like I’m still on track with Earthpages. I imagine some religious persons will see the site as satanic and delving into the devil’s paranormal world. Especially with recent articles like Psi – Good, evil, real or fantasy?

To me, these people are like those stubborn, ignorant characters in Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays.” For some reason they have developed a bigotry-fear complex, and so far haven’t cultivated the knowledge and analytical skills to circumvent it.

I mean, what else would it be?

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Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it

In 1966, just over 50 years ago, the distinguished Canadian-born anthropologist Anthony Wallace confidently predicted the global demise of religion at the hands of an advancing science: ‘belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge’. Wallace’s vision was not exceptional. On the contrary, the modern social sciences, which took shape in 19th-century western Europe, took their own recent historical experience of secularisation as a universal model. An assumption lay at the core of the social sciences, either presuming or sometimes predicting that all cultures would eventually converge on something roughly approximating secular, Western, liberal democracy. Then something closer to the opposite happened.

Not only has secularism failed to continue its steady global march but countries as varied as Iran, India, Israel, Algeria and Turkey have either had their secular governments replaced by religious ones, or have seen the rise of influential religious nationalist movements. Secularisation, as predicted by the social sciences, has failed.

To be sure, this failure is not unqualified. Many Western countries continue to witness decline in religious belief and practice. The most recent census data released in Australia, for example, shows that 30 per cent of the population identify as having ‘no religion’, and that this percentage is increasing. International surveys confirm comparatively low levels of religious commitment in western Europe and Australasia. Even the United States, a long-time source of embarrassment for the secularisation thesis, has seen a rise in unbelief. The percentage of atheists in the US now sits at an all-time high (if ‘high’ is the right word) of around 3 per cent. Yet, for all that, globally, the total number of people who consider themselves to be religious remains high, and demographic trends suggest that the overall pattern for the immediate future will be one of religious growth. But this isn’t the only failure of the secularisation thesis.

Scientists, intellectuals and social scientists expected that the spread of modern science would drive secularisation – that science would be a secularising force. But that simply hasn’t been the case. If we look at those societies where religion remains vibrant, their key common features are less to do with science, and more to do with feelings of existential security and protection from some of the basic uncertainties of life in the form of public goods. A social safety net might be correlated with scientific advances but only loosely, and again the case of the US is instructive. The US is arguably the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in the world, and yet at the same time the most religious of Western societies. As the British sociologist David Martin concluded in The Future of Christianity (2011): ‘There is no consistent relation between the degree of scientific advance and a reduced profile of religious influence, belief and practice.’

The story of science and secularisation becomes even more intriguing when we consider those societies that have witnessed significant reactions against secularist agendas. India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru championed secular and scientific ideals, and enlisted scientific education in the project of modernisation. Nehru was confident that Hindu visions of a Vedic past and Muslim dreams of an Islamic theocracy would both succumb to the inexorable historical march of secularisation. ‘There is only one-way traffic in Time,’ he declared. But as the subsequent rise of Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism adequately attests, Nehru was wrong. Moreover, the association of science with a secularising agenda has backfired, with science becoming a collateral casualty of resistance to secularism.

Turkey provides an even more revealing case. Like most pioneering nationalists, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, was a committed secularist. Atatürk believed that science was destined to displace religion. In order to make sure that Turkey was on the right side of history, he gave science, in particular evolutionary biology, a central place in the state education system of the fledgling Turkish republic. As a result, evolution came to be associated with Atatürk’s entire political programme, including secularism. Islamist parties in Turkey, seeking to counter the secularist ideals of the nation’s founders, have also attacked the teaching of evolution. For them, evolution is associated with secular materialism. This sentiment culminated in the decision this June to remove the teaching of evolution from the high-school classroom. Again, science has become a victim of guilt by association.

The US represents a different cultural context, where it might seem that the key issue is a conflict between literal readings of Genesis and key features of evolutionary history. But in fact, much of the creationist discourse centres on moral values. In the US case too, we see anti-evolutionism motivated at least in part by the assumption that evolutionary theory is a stalking horse for secular materialism and its attendant moral commitments. As in India and Turkey, secularism is actually hurting science.

In brief, global secularisation is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science. The thesis that ‘science causes secularisation’ simply fails the empirical test, and enlisting science as an instrument of secularisation turns out to be poor strategy. The science and secularism pairing is so awkward that it raises the question: why did anyone think otherwise?

Historically, two related sources advanced the idea that science would displace religion. First, 19th-century progressivist conceptions of history, particularly associated with the French philosopher Auguste Comte, held to a theory of history in which societies pass through three stages – religious, metaphysical and scientific (or ‘positive’). Comte coined the term ‘sociology’ and he wanted to diminish the social influence of religion and replace it with a new science of society. Comte’s influence extended to the ‘young Turks’ and Atatürk.

The 19th century also witnessed the inception of the ‘conflict model’ of science and religion. This was the view that history can be understood in terms of a ‘conflict between two epochs in the evolution of human thought – the theological and the scientific’. This description comes from Andrew Dickson White’s influential A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), the title of which nicely encapsulates its author’s general theory. White’s work, as well as John William Draper’s earlier History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874), firmly established the conflict thesis as the default way of thinking about the historical relations between science and religion. Both works were translated into multiple languages. Draper’s History went through more than 50 printings in the US alone, was translated into 20 languages and, notably, became a bestseller in the late Ottoman empire, where it informed Atatürk’s understanding that progress meant science superseding religion.

Today, people are less confident that history moves through a series of set stages toward a single destination. Nor, despite its popular persistence, do most historians of science support the idea of an enduring conflict between science and religion. Renowned collisions, such as the Galileo affair, turned on politics and personalities, not just science and religion. Darwin had significant religious supporters and scientific detractors, as well as vice versa. Many other alleged instances of science-religion conflict have now been exposed as pure inventions. In fact, contrary to conflict, the historical norm has more often been one of mutual support between science and religion. In its formative years in the 17th century, modern science relied on religious legitimation. During the 18th and 19th centuries, natural theology helped to popularise science.

The conflict model of science and religion offered a mistaken view of the past and, when combined with expectations of secularisation, led to a flawed vision of the future. Secularisation theory failed at both description and prediction. The real question is why we continue to encounter proponents of science-religion conflict. Many are prominent scientists. It would be superfluous to rehearse Richard Dawkins’s musings on this topic, but he is by no means a solitary voice. Stephen Hawking thinks that ‘science will win because it works’; Sam Harris has declared that ‘science must destroy religion’; Stephen Weinberg thinks that science has weakened religious certitude; Colin Blakemore predicts that science will eventually make religion unnecessary. Historical evidence simply does not support such contentions. Indeed, it suggests that they are misguided.

So why do they persist? The answers are political. Leaving aside any lingering fondness for quaint 19th-century understandings of history, we must look to the fear of Islamic fundamentalism, exasperation with creationism, an aversion to alliances between the religious Right and climate-change denial, and worries about the erosion of scientific authority. While we might be sympathetic to these concerns, there is no disguising the fact that they arise out of an unhelpful intrusion of normative commitments into the discussion. Wishful thinking – hoping that science will vanquish religion – is no substitute for a sober assessment of present realities. Continuing with this advocacy is likely to have an effect opposite to that intended.

Religion is not going away any time soon, and science will not destroy it. If anything, it is science that is subject to increasing threats to its authority and social legitimacy. Given this, science needs all the friends it can get. Its advocates would be well advised to stop fabricating an enemy out of religion, or insisting that the only path to a secure future lies in a marriage of science and secularism.Aeon counter – do not remove

Peter Harrison

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.