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September 21, 2006

Hymns to the Milky Way?

From Newsweek:

On the science Web site Edge.org, the astronomer Carolyn Porco offers the subversive suggestion that science itself should attempt to supplant God in Western culture, by providing the benefits and comforts people find in religion: community, ceremony and a sense of awe. "Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way," she writes.

Is this possible to imagine? Might we be -- or might we want to be -- beyond such rites, God-driven or not?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at September 21, 2006 11:05 PM


Please forgive the opportunistic moment here: but I was just saying goodbye to a friend who'd come over for dinner, tonight, on fall equinox (there's a reason for marking this moment in the year): had not seen the Milky Way in such clarity in what must've been years. With my neck craned up and feeling totally outside my screwed up human-imposed temporality, suddenly there was a brilliant quick streak across that stellar space.... unbelievable....to see a comet, with such brilliance (seemed like cheating, almost)... but it *still* didn't make me long for god... that's the difference. Awe, not religion, critical comportment to this moment, short- and long-term....

Posted by: JM at September 22, 2006 12:12 AM

The Science God should have told you, JM, it was a meteor not a comet:)

I think there is a big difference between ceremony and rite. Like the difference between a group of people hugging in joy and a group of people worshiping.

I think many scientists feel just that sense of community and ceremony about science. They live in just such communities. I grew up in one. It is the scientists who are changing the world. And the misuse of science that is ruining it.

I have a song on you can listen to sitting on a server somewhere that is a ceremonial song for Carolyn Porco:

Posted by: Jay Saul at September 22, 2006 1:39 AM

I will listen to your song, JayS, thanks--and thanks for the correction via the science god ;) .

Rite is ceremony that's become hardened into tradition, isn't it? I'm with you, and Carolyn Porco, on the idea of ceremony, but it needs to be continually renewed, living, adapting to the now, rather than celebrating the 'we've always done it this way' -- at least this is how i see it.

Understand your point about scientists engaging in that sense of community and shared awe over their points of study and reflection. I see nothing wrong with honoring the connections that link us positively to earth, stars and each other (as opposed to the negative connections that most religions foster)... when I look at the way the angle and color of light have changed over the lake near my house before dusk it fills me with awe. It's nice to share that sense, sometimes anyway. Wouldn't want to be forced to do so, though, or have to adopt other people's values to do so....maybe that's part of the difference ?

Posted by: JM at September 22, 2006 8:31 AM

A number of years ago I wrote a ritual to help those infected with Yahweh; a good deal of the power comes from appealing to natural processes/forces in the same terminology as theists use in appealing to their god.

Here's the link: http://manygods.org/ceremony/healing/


Posted by: Richard Blumberg at September 22, 2006 10:54 AM

Seize the moment and celebrate your nose.
You can always get behind it, no matter where it goes!

Religion cannot be allowed to dominate celebrations, they know how much people love to dance and sing so they co-opt those celebratory drives into their rites.

We can celebrate that we seem to agree or that we have the courage to disagree or that fall has sprung (meaning our summer is here in Tucson!)

We have to fight for our right to party cause the blessed want to make us believe we have to party with them, in their way. Tradition takes all the fun out of it! It makes it rite.

Posted by: Jay Saul at September 22, 2006 11:02 AM

Only on a blog paralleling someone writing a book on the history of disbelief could there be a link to a song about 'fountains of light' and a link to a ritual for 'those infected w/ Yahweh' :) Happy to be part of this Outsiders' Society (Woolf, _3 Guineas_). Thanks, Richard and JayS, for sharing. They are both pretty interesting. Richard, was the ritual performed? why does the use of theistic rhetoric appeal in the attempt to exorcise 'Yahweh'... a kind of inversion of this rhetoric, is that what you're getting at? JayS: your song conjures something like Rush meets Yes but with a Buffalo Springfield-type vibe...... ;) As the Dalai Lama has said: we need more festivals. Amen.

Posted by: JM at September 23, 2006 1:41 PM

For some reason this brings to mind the "Trekkie-verse" and the rest of sci-fi fandom. It is not uncommon amongst my fellow sci-fi club veterans (a rocket scientist amongst them) to hear praises "sung" to the universe and the complexities of physics. Most of us are also theists, but G-d or no, you have to be in awe at the concepts of quantum intrusions, the quantum hussy, multiple dimensions, multiple universes, vibrating strings, the music of the spheres, etc. not to mention the sheer beauty of a galaxy in formation or a nebula cast in just the right light.
I don't know if science can replace religion while maintaining its integrity, but there's definitely room for celebrating the wonders of the universe. A hymn or two might go a long way towards assisting the less scientifically literate in understanding the beauty of what science has revealed.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at September 25, 2006 9:13 AM

Scientists, as well, have to be reminded that creation is.
Not something that once started the machine.
Is. And the celebration of what is is nature's dance.

We go round and round til the words fall out and only the movement remains. Holy Moly!

Posted by: Jay Saul at September 30, 2006 6:36 PM

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