More reflections after visiting The Clark Institute
As I was publishing Tuesday's post, I felt vaguely uncomfortable that the photographs I was including were not of Monet's (or any other human being's) art, but of "Nature's art." I remembered that when I looked out a window in one of the galleries and spied the pond, I felt more drawn to it than to any of the man-made objects inside. And I supposed that individuals all over the world, of whatever religion (or irreligion) probably respond more reliably to the beauty of a lily pond than they do to any man-made work of art. Respond to Nature, that is.
But do they? Like everything else, Nature leaves it to each of us how to interpret it, how to respond. A friend of mine seems to interpret Nature as obvious proof positive of the existence and benevolence of God (notwithstanding all of the suffering and destruction embodied in Nature's food chain, which she seems to forgive as a mysterious manifestation of the overarching understanding and provision of The Creator, etc.). Others of her faith, equally religious in their own way, interpret Nature as something grand to blow up (if it's in the enemy's territory or has situated within it the appropriate people to be blown up along with the site).
Christians too—and members of all other faiths of course—can respond as my friend does. But certain Christian businessmen (who may be fine Christians on Sunday morning) are more like those other members of my friend's faith the rest of the week...out there slowly blowing up Nature and making people sick or dead by subduing and polluting the planet's hills and streams and water tables and oceans with their smokestack gases and drainpipe effluents.
Some atheists (perhaps scientists in particular) get a thrill from observing and contemplating the grandeur of Nature itself—they may even feel that they're in the presence of some sort of transcendence. Other scientists are more workaday—blinkered technocrats working for corporations whose short-term financial interests they serve for pay. For them there's nothing transcendent about Nature at all, it's just a commodity.
What I'm thinking now, alas, is that there's probably nothing whatsoever that evokes the same response in everyone—not even the concept God. Maybe especially not the concept of God, being man-made as it is. A world religion seems to be utterly impossible. It's the Tower of Babel all over, or continuously. Suppose for a moment that God exists and that God could (and on a particular occasion would) speak to every individual on the planet. Do you think that everyone would hear Her? Or do you think that everyone who did hear Her would recognize that it was God? The Episcopal pastor in Peggy Payne's 1988 novel Revelation wasn't sure that that voice he heard in his backyard was God's or not, and his congregation was quite sure it wasn't.
Nor does a world irreligion (a sort of Sam Harris utopia) seem possible. Science (as a rational, intellectual inquiry) reports its findings continually and is, theoretically, available to everyone. But even if literally everyone did hear the reports, many wouldn't recognize what they were reporting, wouldn't understand them, would find them boring, or, more likely, would reject them out of hand and insist on...Creationism or some other improbable fantasy. They'd continue to imagine in their magical way that there's a Spiritual Something out there performing miracles despite—and in defiance of—the Laws of Nature.
Maybe this egalitarian response is as good a proof as we can get that God does exist, for maybe God is like James Joyce, who said that he took credit for all the interpretations by every Ulysses scholar in the world, whether or not any of them had occurred to him personally.*
Or maybe not. Maybe the egalitarian response is as good a proof as we can get that God doesn't exist. That it's every man and woman for himerself.
* According to Bernard Holland in his July 24 article in The New York Times, "Debussy's Ghost Is Playing, So What Can a Critic Say?"