Speakers? corner

Speakers’ Corner in Auckland

Something unusual happened this last fortnight; I was asked to officiate at two funerals in the space of 24 hours. I was asked, in the first instance, because the family had seen me carry proceedings at a previous funeral and assumed I was a celebrant (which I am not.) It was humbling to be thought of that way, but I had to turn them down. The second was much more personal; the mother of a very close friend, a beautiful woman whom I admired.

She died on Monday morning last and at a meeting to discuss funeral arrangements on Monday evening I was a little disappointed when I asked if there should be a religious component to the service and the family said, “No.”

Most women of her era, she was 91, even if not overtly religious would feel, in my opinion, that something devotional should be said at their life’s end; even if only to re-balance their chances of being admitted past the Pearly Gates. I said, “what about ‘The Lord’s Prayer’?” and the family agreed that it might be a good idea.

It got me thinking about the resistance to things spiritual and about the unwillingness of us ‘moderns’ to be seen as accepting anything more than an objective existential reality having a part in daily life or afterlife.

I decided to address this schism in my little talk at the funeral, to consider the similarities, in fact, between faith and science, and to point out, subtly, important areas where theory and theology overlap or have parallels.

I was taken aback, and very relieved at how well the words were received. Very many of those present sought me out afterwards to say how much they had enjoyed it. Some said they found the talk inspirational. I’m so glad I seemed to make a point and at the same time provide some comfort to those very close to the deceased lady without offending the family.

Long story short: I asked them to compare the Christian view of physical existence as a cycle from ashes to ashes, our bodies created from dust and returning to dust, with modern chemistry which tells us that more than 96% of the human body is composed of just four of the most abundant mineral elements on earth: Oxygen, Hydrogen, Carbon and Nitrogen. We are, literally, ‘of the earth’ in our chemical make-up. We are sustained by the earth during our life, and return to the earth at death whether by cremation, by burial, or by simple decomposition in the elements. Christianity does not contradict science in this respect.

I asked them to compare modern physics with metaphysics.

Modern physics states that the universe is complete and perfect. Nothing can be added to it, nor a single thing subtracted. Not one ounce, not one molecule, nor atom, proton, neuron or electron, not even the humblest quark, the tiniest and most ?elementary? particle, can be destroyed. They may be transformed, but never destroyed. They exist forever in one form or another.

The theory of metaphysics in comparison says a living soul can never be destroyed. It may be dispersed, it may be scattered, its individual elements may be lifted and carried by the winds of the universe far and wide, but the tiny, powerful, quintessential elements; call them quirks, if you like, continue to exist. Quarks and quirks, both, may exist forever.

It requires absolute faith in mathematical models to believe quarks exist. Any attempt, so far, to inspect them has led to distortions in their alleged ?behaviour? created by the measuring equipment assembled to measure their responses. This is like how it takes spiritual faith to accept the eternal, even if dis-integrated, soul and the concept of everlasting ‘life’ for each and every component of its construction. Both theories are very similar in those respects and are not necessarily irreconcilable or incompatible.

In truth: ?There is actually no observed evidence whatsoever for either theory. One requires the Lovers Leap of Faith and the other the Fool’s self-assuredness in her or his own design of the universe. We don?t know what we don?t know, and of what we don?t know there is a hell of a lot to learn.

There was a fellow named Einstein, he was actually quite good with physics and mathematics, and he once said:

?We still do not know one-thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.?

Perhaps the theorist and the theologian in all of us should get to know each other more. Who knows? The universe might become a better understood, and even more beautiful, place.

To the memory of Hazel Lindsay: one of the most beautiful souls ever assembled in one place, at one time.