'New physics' and the struggle for meaningBy Bert Newton
I just finished reading physicist Leonard Suskind’s The Black Hole Wars. Right before that I watched several Nova specials by another physicist, Brian Greene. What I’ve learned blows my mind:
— Time moves at different speeds for different objects. In fact, GPS tracking equipment has to compensate for this phenomenon.
— Space is not emptiness in which matter exists. Space actually warps and bends and has particles.
— Two particles millions of light years apart can respond to each other immediately.
— One theory of the universe says that it is not made up of tiny particles but rather of vibrating strings in 10 to 26 spacetime dimensions.
— Another theory of the universe says that the universe has only two space dimensions and that we are living in a “holograph” that gives us the illusion of a third space dimension.
— The “big bang” did not happen in space and time; it was the beginning of space and time!
This “new physics” led physicists like Paul Davies and John Gribbon to declare that physics has disproven materialism.
Many people of faith will be unfazed by any of this, but I find myself disoriented. I’ve been asking myself why, and I have come to the conclusion that I have been part Christian and part materialist most of my life.
And that has led me to another question: Where did my materialism come from?
Although I could blame the “old physics,” I suspect the problem runs much deeper. I suspect my materialism has a spiritual origin.
The spirit of our society is not just materialist, it is materialistic. In the U.S., a thin religious veneer overlays a fundamentally materialistic culture. This fundamental materialism drives our economic and foreign policy, frequently calling upon a substantially vacuous religious subculture to bless it.
In this milieu of “extreme materialism” (to quote MLK), maintaining any sort of substantive faith becomes extremely difficult.
Faith that merely provides escape from the harsh realities of our world or that reifies dominant culture myths such as rugged individualism or American exceptionalism comes fairly easy for those in our society who want no more than that.
But faith that seeks a more profound purpose and meaning for humanity, faith that seeks deep justice and mercy, faith that seeks to bind us in love to each other and to the earth, forming us into a community of priests who heal each other and together establish a commonwealth of grace, faith that finds holiness among the poor and the outcast, that seeks out that which is most sacred and draws us into simple abundance and extravagant generosity, faith whose strength is made perfect in weakness, that sort of faith finds little oxygen in the smothering atmosphere of American materialism.
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