In the process of defending “militant atheism,” physicist Lawrence Krauss writes something inadvertently revealing:

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking.

What a strange concept of “the sacred” this man has!

For him, something “sacred” is something that must not be questioned and that requires protection. It’s a word for something that must not be discussed. It’s like the only concept of the sacred he has is of the Holy Bible for people who believe it is the literal word of God.

I don’t want to get into a deep theological discussion here, but that’s a very pinched and truncated view of the sacred.

When I think about the concept, I think about something very personal that a person does to put them in a certain state of mind. This could include other people, as a wedding ceremony must, but it is more often something a person does privately. Maybe they rub their rosary beads. Maybe they wash their feet in a very ritualized way. Maybe they wash your feet.

Have you even been to a concert of the Gyoto Monks?

YouTube video

I have.

Whatever it is that they’re doing, it has to do with putting themselves and the audience in touch with the sacred. And I suppose Richard Wagner was attempting much the same thing.

The sacred is something that might be hard to talk about, but no one says you can’t try.

Of course, a zen master might slap your face for impertinence, but sacredness isn’t just some dogma that you can’t question. By definition, dogma is a set of beliefs that can be communicated in words. Those propositions are supposed to at least approximate logical thinking, although when the mind stumbles over something like The Trinity there’s always the fallback that religion isn’t ultimately rational at all and we must have “faith.”

I don’t want to argue about the proper definition of words, particularly when talking about a concept that defies simple description, but when people talk about “the sanctity of marriage” they aren’t generally limiting themselves to thinking that marriage is defined one way (and only one way) in the Bible. The concept is that marriage is a spiritual compact and something that God intended for us. The ceremony and rituals surrounding marriage are meant to reinforce this by allowing us to enter into the sacred and see in the process something transformative.

I would think gays and lesbians would be much less interested in getting married if they didn’t share this sense that marriage is more significant (or, at least, it can be) than some simple contractual agreement. You can see the sacredness and sanctity in marriage without wanting in any way to deny this to same-sex couples.

Or, you can see it as all religious hokey-pokey, signifying nothing and likely to end in misery and divorce.

My point is, a physicist isn’t required to be a cynic about such things.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at