Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 13: Smashing the Teapot Instead of Drinking the Tea
-MAX BORN (1882-1970), German physicist and mathematician
The uncompromising Catholic Church's blind conviction in a single truth almost costed Italian astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) his life, as highlighted in the Galileo Affair of 1633. That said, Galileo should thank his lucky stars and friendship with Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644), considering that his senior, Italian philosopher and mathematician Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was burned at the stake by the Inquisition for insisting the universe is "in fact infinite and could have no celestial body at its 'center'." Indeed all the spectacular images sent by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Milky Way, other galaxies and even the most distant MACS0647-JD galaxy (13.3 billion light-years away) prove and confirm that Giordano Bruno was right!
More importantly, Hubble images also prove that absolutism adopted by the then Catholic Church—or by any organized religion at anytime for that matter—is preposterous. As argued by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy (2012): "Absolutism is unphilosophical, unscientific, unempirical and contrary to common sense, since it dismisses the solid world of reality with all its wealth and richness as unreal." Now let's review how absolutism through millennia has been proven to be more destructive than constructive.
Ancient people absolutely believed in mythologies that the earth is flat—even supported by elephants or tortoises—and one could actually fall off the edge of the world. Ptolemy's geocentric view—in which the earth is believed to be the center of the universe—was naturally embraced by the Church as it nicely dovetailed with the Book of Genesis. Then Copernicus, Giordano and Galileo came along with their heliocentric views that earth is just one planet orbiting the sun in the solar system. Fast forward to the 21st century: As described by Stephen Hawking in his classic A Brief History of Time, we (at least most of us!) are presented with overwhelming evidence that the earth is but "a medium-sized planet orbiting around an average star in the outer suburbs of an ordinary spiral galaxy, which is itself only one of about a million million galaxies in the observable universe." To put our absolutism and self-importance in context:
Up to date, 1932 exoplanets have been discovered in 1222 planetary systems. For earthlings, this discovery must quite be a spectacular, if not humiliating, fall from grace, perhaps more dramatic than a fall from the edge of a flat earth. This lovely earth—far from being the glorious center of the universe especially made for the chosen people—is now just relegated to an insignificant position as a speck of dust in the infinite vastness of the universe. If physical location reflects significance and importance, then the Solar System's location is downright insignificant, period. Astronomers have calculated that 'our' Solar System is located about 27,000 light-years from the Milky Way's galactic center, in the outer region of the spiral. Indeed the Milky Way itself is only like the size of a dime in the observable universe which contains between 100 billion and 200 billion galaxies—as estimated by astrophysicist Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. We have not even factored in the possibility of parallel universes or multiverse. I don't know whether it's possible for the human brain to grasp how insignificant we are in the universe.
Several ironies are graspable, however. While religion based on dogma has made us arrogant and feel exceptional, knowledge based on empirical evidence has made us humble and feel insignificant. While religion has nurtured rabid absolutism, knowledge has nurtured pragmatic relativism and humility. While religion has made us compulsively obsessed with life after death, knowledge has made us grateful and appreciative of the gift of present life. Even the great Albert Einstein, the most spiritual scientist who needs no introduction, had to revise his original theories several times be it about the static universe, the evolution of stars, or the general theory of relativity that did not factor in the principle of quantum mechanics. (He did it graciously.)
Obviously, our breakthrough revelations in knowledge and science have not been matched by that in belief systems. Most of us are still clinging to Dark Ages' religious dogmas that have been taught since pre-Copernican era. Much like the sun brightness blinds us to see millions of stars that are only visible in the darkest sky, our holy books shackle us from liberation. According to a 1991 International Social Survey Program, 63.17 percent of the United States population still believe in heaven, 49.6 percent believe in hell, and 55 percent believe in life after death. On the other hand, the U.S. —the country of NASA, first class research centers and Ivy League universities—was lowest among 21 nations on knowledge of human evolution (44.2 percent), lower than Poland and Russia.
Kept as hostages by religious absolutism, believers have been busy arguing against each other about what is right and what is wrong, using literal interpretations of same old same old narratives as final arbitrators. Indeed believers—especially in the Middle East, reputed to be the cradle of the great religions—have been waging wars, even jihads, over prophets, idols, dogmas; killing each other in the pursuit of martyrdom points. As expressed by Irish Taoist philosopher Terence James Stannus Gray (1895-1986), better known as Wei Wu Wei: "Disciples and devotees … what are most of them doing? Worshipping the teapot instead of drinking the tea!"
The way I see it, they have been busy smashing the teapot …
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter