From Our Minister – Rev. Tony Lorenzen

“Mystery is the Meeting Place of Science and Spirituality”

Dear Beloveds,

A dozen years ago I read a book by journalist Steve Volk titled Fringe*ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable – And Couldn’t. Volk surveys the work being done to study various area of the paranormal and reports on what we know and what we don’t yet know about phenomena such as UFO’s, ESP, Lucid, Dreaming, Prayer, Ghosts, and After Death Experiences.  The most fascinating takeaway for me has been how unscientific the scientists, skeptics, and materialists are in defense of, well, their belief in science and reason.  In case after case, the people doing the most scientific, controlled studies are supporters of these paranormal happenings.  They are also very modest about their findings.  When studies for the existence of ESP report statistical anomalies above the rate of chance, no one makes a claim that ESP exists, rather they claim we don’t know enough to say what is going on, but something is going on.  Brain scans taken while people speak in tongues show that they are not crazy, nor are they hallucinating, or faking, or just making it up. 

Volk reports on sociologists studying the conflict between skeptics and parapsychologists. What the sociologists found were people they called “scientific vigilantes” who “do not hold scientific degrees but appoint themselves guardians of ‘true’ science.”  Trevor Pinch, one of the sociologists involved in the study, says that the findings surprised him, in that he expected to find the skeptics were correct in their belief that parapsychologists were self-deceived and used shoddy experiments with poor control techniques. “What he found was the opposite: parapsychology researchers took the skeptics seriously, conducting experiments according to methods that kept pace with the most rigorous of the psychological sciences. Pinch says, ‘These were qualified, sincere researchers doing serious work, and they always had to deal with this group of people (skeptics) that were essentially engaged in a lot of name-calling.’”

Each year during the winter holiday season, I see a lot of convicted skeptics and non-religious people gleefully debunking the virgin birth, the star of Bethlehem, the miracle of the temple oil in the Hanukkah story, and various myths from around the world explaining the winter solstice. Don’t be one of these people. Don’t give in to being a “religious vigilante” who doesn’t hold a professional or academic qualification in religion or theology but appoints themselves the “guardian of reason” at a holiday gathering or even a church coffee hour. 

There are many people, including many Unitarian Universalists, who take their Christian, Jewish, Pagan, or other spirituality seriously but not literally and are aware of the inadequacy of the old stories as factual, literal explanations.

The winter holiday season reinforces for me the importance of ours being a religious tradition where science and spirituality meet.  All of us within Unitarian Universalism, even those among us who are theistic or Christian, practice a humanistic religion.  We understand and accept the findings of science, we do not practice or condone magical thinking, and yet we still hold open the possibility that science will discover yet more remarkable things than we now understand, and maybe there will be things about the human condition and our universe that are and will remain – a mystery.

Holiday Blessings,

Rev. Tony