Friday, September 28, 2007

The Subtle Poison of Gould's NOMA

My kids were watching the film "Facing the Giants" in the car the other day. It's an inspirational sports film with an overtly Christian message shot in Georgia on a budget of $100,000 using mostly amateur talent. Listening to the coach unabashedly use Christian concepts to inspire and motivate his players, I was struck by both the strangeness and rightness of what what was unfolding. The solidity, depth and "rightness" of his Christian viewpoint resonated much more deeply than any standard Hollywood feelgood humanist dialog, but at the same time I thought "in the real world, this coach would be considered a kook and fired on the spot".

Looking into the film online, I discovered that it had done well (eventually grossing $10,000,000 in very limited distribution) while being savaged by the critics. This review from the Austin Chronicle really hit home:

"...its feel-good storyline, shopworn message, and bottomless sermonizing would have played better in Sunday school than on the big screen, which is — let’s face it — Babylon’s turf."

Here is the reality of Life in 21st Century America, the result of the triumph of cultural humanism, as put forward by people like Stephen Jay Gould in his idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA):

"the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)."

I'm sure for many in this country (sadly, even for many Christians) the above sounds not only temperate but fair and reasonable. The catch, as I'm sure Gould knew, is in the way things are divided. Anything dealing with Reality or Truth is the province of Science. The sly assignation of questions of "ultimate meaning" to religion appears to venerate it while at the same time stripping it of any of its intrinsic value in our life. The result of NOMA's tacit acceptance in our culture is that God is put in a very small box. Any reference to Him outside church is now unwelcome, and any reference in the larger culture must honor "equal time" commitments to any and all competing religious views, further weakening its impact. A film like "Facing the Giants" flies in the face of that, and it produced a visceral and negative reaction from secular critics precisely because it chose to ignore Mr. Gould's rules. Well, I'm all for pissing off the right people. Bravo to director and star Alex Kendrick.

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