For decades now I’ve enjoyed following the scholarly career and perspicacious writings of the liberal Catholic Intellectual, Hans Kung. His many books include Does God Exist? An Answer for Today (2013, revised edition); Global Responsibility: In Search of a New Global Ethics (1991), On Being a Christian (1984), and various books on Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Kung is known for his ecumenical work in the interfaith spirit of Vatican II, and for writing a document that has been adopted by the Parliament of the World Religions entitled “A Declaration Towards a Global Ethic.” It’s worth reading!
In 2008 Hans Kung published a book entitled The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion. I’m finally getting around to reading it. The continuing dialogue and debate between the domains of science and religion can be approached from various epistemological perspectives. One can science and religion as either compatable or incompatable, non-overlapping or overlapping, corresponding or incommersurable. Kung recognizes that scientific empirical “signs” and religious evocative “symbols” are different ways of speaking about the nature of the real. That is not to say that science does not at times speak in the language of metaphors and analogies (often without recognizing it) and that some religions (not all) do seem to make some empirical claims. Kung knows enough about the leading edges of both domains to offer an informed and constructive dialogue.
His inquiries include questions about the history of the science-religion debate, current studies in evolutionary biology and neuroscience, the mind/body problem, the Big Bang, dark energy and dark matter, multi-universes, and various scientifically speculative scenarios for the ultimate death of the physical universe. He cautions both the partisans of religion and science to avoid the perils of “over-reaching,” and of blurring the lines between facts and presuppositions, narratives and dogmas, information and interpretation, metaphors and metaphysics.
Toward the end of the book I was struck by these rather poetic words that sum up Kung’s spiritual credo:
“I personally have accepted Blaise Pascal‘s “wager” and have put my stake on God and the infinite against the void and nothingness — not on the basis of a calculation of probability or mathematical logic but on the basis of a rational trust. I do not believe in the later legendary elaborations of the New Testament message of the resurrection (conservative Christians would disagree) but on its original core: that this Jesus of Nazareth did not die into nothingness, but into God So trusting in this message, I hope as a Christian, like many people in other religions, not to die into nothingness, which seems to me to be extremely irrational and senseless. Rather, I hope to die into the ultimate reality, into God, which — beyond space and time in the hidden real dimension of the infinite — transcends all human reason and conceiving.
“What child without any special knowledge would believe that the cocoon of a caterpillar would achieve the shining existence of a butterfly, no longer tied to the earth? Of course, I am aware of the abiding risk of this wager in unconditional trust, but I am convinced that even if I lose the wager in death, I will have lost nothing for my life; at all events, I will have lived a better, happier, more meaningful life than if I had not had hope.
“This is my enlightened, well-founded hope; dying is a farewell inward, an entry and homecoming into the ground and origin of the world, our true home, a farewell perhaps not without pain and anxiety, but hopefully in composure and surrender, at any rate without weeping and wailing, and without bitterness and despair, but rather in hopeful expectation, quiety certainty, and (after everything that has to be settled is settled) ashamed gratitude for all the good things and less good things that now finally and definitely lie beyond us — thank God.
“And there will be no more light, and they will need neither the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun. For the Lord their God will shine upon them, and they will rule from eternity to eternity.” (Revelation 22:5)
Well, there you have it, Hans Kung’s claim to an enlightened, a well-founded hope that in the end we “die into the light” rather than into the void and nothingness.
Of course many today in our modern secular scientific age will consider it natural, inevitable and even perhaps tragically heroic that we “die into the void and nothingness,” and that there is nothing to be done but to accept it and get on with the business of life for as long as it lasts. They have no problem accepting the randonness, contingency and capriciousness with which “Mother Nature” (if not a Benevolent Creator) gives life and deals death to her all children. These do not worry about about the fact that life and death both appear to us as “existential absurdities” without any transcendent meaning to make enduring sense of it. Some like Bertrand Russell will speak of the foundation for any future philosophy as one of unshakable despair in the face of the pointlessness of life and the finality of death. Others like the ancient Epicureans will take a more cheerful view, reminding us that we will be there after death comes to us, and so there is no reason to grieve. Still others counsel us to “Let the Mystery Be.”
Still, I am glad that there remain today such cogent and capacious thinkers as Hans Kung who remain convinced and committed to the transcendent hope that we “die into the light.” While in my youth and younger adult years I “converted” from the naturalistic-nihilistic view to the Christian theistic view ( under the influenced by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, among others), now in my “senior years” have become philosophically and religiously “agnostic” on the question of an afterlight. However, I do not look with even an ounce of condescension or contempt upon those like Hans Kung who find consolation and meaning in such a blessed hope. I suppose I now identify with those who say, “Let us hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and Let the Mystery Be.”