I just finished watching a movie called Creation. It is a period piece about Charles Darwin, the man who wrote On the Origin of Species. Warning, spoiler alerts ahead. An intensely emotional film, Paul Bettany plays Darwin, a devoted family man, husband, father and scientist. His brilliant scientific theories conflict with the love he has for his religious wife. Complicating this is his daughter Annie, precocious and intelligent, but sick. I recommend the movie heavily, especially if religion, god, science and where they all intersect interest you.
It got me thinking about that very subject. Here was a man who was at least 150 years ahead of his time. Indeed, a century and a half after his monumental work, there are still educated people in America who believe the Earth was created in seven days. This is not the time nor place to fight against those beliefs, but that is an important point to make.
Darwin’s wife was religious and the movie’s main focus is not on the science or the politics, but on the relationship he has with his wife. In my opinion, it attempts to answer the question of whether a man can have faith, but not have religion. Can two people with fundamentally different understandings of their universe coexist and love one another?
For me, the most touching part of the film was death of Annie, Charles Darwin’s daughter. You see a man crushed. Defeated. In this scene, with no mention nor indication of God, the movie reaches it’s emotional apex. And I think, perhaps unintentionally, the point of the movie was made in that scene. For it portrayed faith in a way which cut it clean of God, of Adam and Eve, of Noah.
There is a difference between faith and religion and I think many people miss this. Religion is a history, a book, a doctrine. Faith is a feeling. Faith is unsubstantial, it requires no dietary restrictions nor weekly church meetings. Evolution and faith coexist. Evolution and religion cannot.
I do not believe in God. I do not believe in an all-powerful entity that sits atop a mountain and peers down at the earth, judging our immortal souls. I do not believe that eating a certain way, or reading a certain book, or saying a certain chant before dinner will guarantee me an eternity of angels and harp music.
But when I see things in this world, I feel faith. These can run from the mundane to the extraordinary. When I see my mother work with children with Down’s Syndrome and autism, patiently teaching them the same lessons over and over, I feel faith. When I see a President stand on a mound of dirt and throw a perfect strike in front of a grieving city and as chants of U-S-A envelop me, I feel faith. When I see my brother and his girlfriend together, whispering in each other’s ear as their fingers intertwine, I feel faith.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about faith is that it requires nothing of us. It does not rap our knuckles with a ruler for trusting in what we see and hear and smell and taste and feel. With faith, the truth of science does not negate the value of our lives. Why do we need to make death more than the decomposition of our bodies? There is still value in the lives we lived.
No, I do not have faith in a god that created this universe and tossed us out of Paradise. However, I do have faith that the value of our time is more than just the years we spend. That perhaps, the god I worship isn’t a man in the sky with a beard. Perhaps what I worship are the moments in life when men and women cause small bits of divinity. Teaching and loving and laughing and tears and games and sadness and brilliance and whispers and held hands.
Religious people have told me of the feeling they get when they are in church or synagogue and they know there is a God in heaven. I have never felt that. But I know what it feels like when I realize I am witnessing a little bit of divinity on earth.