Saturday, January 10, 2009

Religion, government, and libertarianism

Ayn Rand writes, regarding the reading of Genesis from the moon during Apollo 8:

"When, from the distance of the moon, from the height of the triump of science, we expected to hear the astronaut's message, and heard instead a voice reciting the mouldy nonsense which not even a slum corner evangelist would not have selected as a text, reciting the Bible's cosmology. I, for one, felt as though the capsule had disintegrated, and we were left in the primordial darkness of empty space."

I find this fascinating. Throughout her writing, Rand portrays Religion and Government as the foes of Reason and Science. Yet in Apollo 8 we have a government program operated (at least in significant part) by religiously motivated people. The perfect counterexample to her premise. But instead of grappling with the contradiction to her fundamental beliefs, she lashes out against religious symbolism in the context of scientific achievement.

Instead of asking herself, "How were religious government employees able to accomplish this feat!?" she is angered that the astronauts were religious when (we all know, I suppose) that the religion to which they ascribed was antithetical to the science they were performing.

Why? And why do so many see science and religion as fundamentally antithetical, despite all evidence to the contrary?

I wonder if it's a failure of religious creativity. That is to say, I wonder if all they know of religion is one particular dogma or set of rituals -- and they do not understand that religion is a fundamentally fluid, creative enterprise. To place "Religion" against "Science" is to implicitly assume that it is impossible to invent forms of religion consistent between the two? One reading of Genesis may be "anti-scientific." But why all readings? They don't seem to understand that there is no unchanging monolith known as "religion" -- but that religion is a fluid, abstract label we use to group an enormous diversity of fluid, creative means of understanding the world.

And they appear to be so stuck in that way of thinking that when they see government, religion, and unprecedented scientific achievement operating in perfect harmony, they feel only anger that the scientific achievement was somehow poisoned by a religious outlook which, ultimately, they do not understand.

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