The Ernest Becker Foundation
|The Merger of Science and Religion - A Panel Discussion|
The EBF sponsored five Becker scholars in an extraordinary panel discussion on Nov. 15, 2008 at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. Prior to the evening event the panelists met in an afternoon salon to exchange ideas.
The panel featured five experts:
Merger of Science and Religion
This may prove surprising to those who regard Becker as a dark existentialist. However, a scrutiny of his mature works, written in the last five years of his life before his death at age 49, reveals Becker's regard for the Divine: "I came out of a Jewish tradition, but I was an atheist for many years and I only re-woke to the dimension of the divine gradually, through, what was the beautiful saying? 'It is not the intellect that teaches us about God, it is life that teaches us about God.' "(Excerpt from Keen interview).
Becker was a hard-nosed rational thinker who utilized a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing from cultural anthropology, psychology, and other disciplines. Yet, he also understood that science alone cannot provide meaning to life. Becker thought it a mistake for social sciences to model themselves after the natural sciences. By factoring out the human element, they became reduced to a "narrow empiricism" typified by the controlled experiment.
Rather, Becker argued for the fusion of science and religion. He ranked four levels of power and meaning that an individual could "choose" to live by: the personal, social, secular and sacred. The ideal heroism, the highest level of power and meaning, can only be found at the fourth level, the sacred, the "service of the highest power, the Creator."
In his Pulitzer Prize winning opus, The Denial of Death, Becker again focused on heroism in the final chapter entitled Psychology and Religion: What is the Heroic Individual? He concluded by stating "The urge to cosmic heroism, then, is sacred and mysterious and not to be neatly ordered and rationalized by science and secularism. Science, after all, is a credo that has attempted to absorb into itself and to deny the fear of life and death; and it is only one more competitor in the spectrum of roles for cosmic heroics."
The discussion then focused on the question: how can we be a hero today? The panelists' comments touched on: the meaning of authentic religion; the intersection of science and religion; and the contemporary application of Becker's theory to a much different world today, some 35 years after Becker's death. Joe Scimecca traced the sociological roots of Becker to C. Wright Mills. David Loy compared his interpretation of Becker to Buddhist non-duality. And Dan Liechty highlighted the application of Becker's theory to practical social situations.
The event concluded with a question and answer session. The panelists were not only quizzed on Becker, but challenged to discuss their personal beliefs, and to share their experiences beyond the professional. In summary, a very successful first step in reviving Ernest Becker, who Sam Keen described as "the most unread Pulitzer Prize winner."
- This write up was written by Martin Sawa. Martin Sawa is a member of the Ernest Becker Foundation. He resides with his wife Virginia in Berkeley, CA. Professionally, he operates a commercial real estate business in San Francisco. Personally, he feels fortunate to be able to ponder life's big questions. He supports the ongoing exegesis of Becker's writings.
Reis O'Brien has designed a short comic for the EBF. Reapy: The Littlest Harbinger of Death provides a brief introduction to The Denial of Death and how Becker is being used in social science research today.
This comic is great for students and adults alike. To download a pdf version click here.
Posted on June 30, 2009