Science and religion aren’t always in contention

When I was six, my Father told me God wasn’t real and that religion was a toxic force in the world. He didn’t believe in God, or a higher power of any sort — and he was pretty clear that he wasn’t keen for me to be immersed within any form of religious teaching from a young age either. My Mum, whilst an occasional follower of Christianity, agreed — it was for me to decide when I was older.

I was beginning to understand the world around me until my Father died of an aggressive form of cancer when I was 10. It arrived, as all cancers do, surrounded in a sea of anxiety, helplessness and devastation — and it left suddenly on one Wednesday about six months later, taking him with it. There were no goodbyes or final chats — it was devastatingly final. Such was the swift and unexpected nature of his passing that I wanted answers — and I sourced them from both a psychologist and a priest.

What was notable for me, even then when dealing with my rather infantilised understanding of death and grief, was that the psychologist was methodological, almost clinical, in her analysis and delivery of the facts surrounding my father’s death. He was dead, it was devastating, but it was time to equip me with the tools to handle it. My local priest, on the other hand, provided me with a seemingly different response; the fundamental belief of Christianity fuelled her understanding that I would one day see him again. Sadly, I couldn’t find the courage nor conviction to agree — the atheist had left the building — and it was his intrinsic, unqualified belief that was that. To even toy with the idea that I was to somehow see him again almost seemed insulting to his memory.

For years I viewed the advice I received from those two sources as in contention. Yet, on balance there was far more in common than what differentiated them. After all, they taught me to be honest to myself; to examine my thoughts and accept the reality of life’s tougher periods. They also taught me to talk honestly about how I felt, and look for solutions in the world around me. Yes, you could argue that the respective solutions were different (although you’d be shocked at how much cross-over there is between a bible and a grief handbook), but the fundamental message was universal; talk, be honest, and don’t suppress the reality of what grief does to you. In a world in which we’re often encouraged to bottle up and soldier on (especially young men), such a message is vitally important.

Today, I look for deeper meaning in what others may write off as coincidental day-to-day monotony. It is my own belief system that helps me navigate the world around me — fuelled not only by a refusal to write off our lived experiences as temporary minutiae in the expansive history of the world, but also by a hope that there is something else, somewhere that provides context to the stuff that challenges us and makes us sad. We often talk up the claims that religion and science are in direct contention — nonetheless, the truth is that the two concepts often overlap. In my experience, they both helped me; not only to understand and deal with grief, but also to embrace the world around me, and be forever thankful for the immense privileges I am afforded everyday in comparison to many.

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