Consider yourself in ten years. What’ll you be like? Will you be as funny, kind, or wise as you are now? Now, as you’re thinking about yourself in 2024, consider one more thing- how connected do you feel to this version of yourself? How real does she or he feel?
I know, it’s hard enough to imagine 2024, especially considering that in 2004 Lance Armstrong was winning his 6th Tour de France, a gallon of gas cost around $2, Colin Powell was resigning from his position as Secretary of State, and thefacebook.com was just being launched. Who knows what 2024 will look like, but regardless of how sci-fi it might be- how strong does your connection to your future self feel?
It’s a weird question. The obvious answer is very connected- “it’s me after all, how could I be anything but connected to myself?” But think about how hard it is to keep new year’s resolutions or how easy it is to procrastinate. These issues, which we all face, have lead psychologists and neuroscientists to explore the relationship between our present and future selves. The converging opinion is that this connection is more tenuous than we initially assume. But, it’s also widely agreed that we can do things to strengthen the connection. And perhaps religion is one of those things. But before speculating about how to fix the connection, it’s worth reviewing the research that says it’s in need of fixing in the first place.
The religious landscape in America is changing dramatically. I’ve written on this before, but the results remain surprising: over the past decade, the number of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated has doubled- rising from 8% in 2003 to 21% today. Something is happening in the tides of public opinion on religion… but what is happening remains open for debate. Why are these numbers rising so quickly?
A recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-profit doing research on religion in American public life, has been tracking how opinions on same-sex marriage have impacted people’s religious affiliation. From this survey it’d seem that same-sex marriage was a deciding factor for many people’s choice to leave their childhood religion. But, as always, the relationship isn’t so cut and dry.
Sometimes I feel like the religion and science police – always patrolling for people messing up. I don’t want to do that because, frankly, I’m all for making mistakes. Any conversation that moves between science and religion is covering treacherous terrain. The only way to do it is to occasionally misunderstand… and then hopefully, and respectfully, keep trying to correct those misconceptions. So I’m really not trying to call people out just for messing up, but sometimes the mistakes are too obvious and disrespectful to not say anything – like David Barash’s recent articles on Buddhism and Biology.
Barash’s articles are an exploration of why Buddhism might be more hospitable to science than other religions. Barash is trained as a biologist, but in these essays he reflects on (and distorts) the history of religion and science, discusses similarities between Buddhist philosophy and ideas from Biology, and then suggests a new way to understand the relationship between religion and science. It’s a bit over-ambitious.
I’m assuming these essays are an effort to promote his recent book: Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science. They don’t make me want to buy his book (and the patronizing title doesn’t help either), but they do give us some great examples of what NOT to do if you’re going to work with religion and science.