Sunday, June 04, 2006

Live from Philadelphia on Science and Religion

4 June 2006, "Continuity and Change: Perspectives on Science and Religion" (Metanexus Conference)
This morning finds me not at 208 West First Street in Chico, but in Houston Hall on the University of Pennsylvania campus. (See this link.) Something like 300 participants from 30 countries (I'll get the exact numbers later) are meeting to hear lectures and to generally interact on topics in the dialogue of science and religion. Last night's best moment was a rousing and thoughtful talk by Robert Putnam of Harvard on "Social Capital." A true public intellectual, Putnam dynamically unfolded this notion which emphasizes not what we can save in a bank (economic capital), but what happens when we bond together, when we have dinner parties, when we attend worship, and when we know our neighbor's first name. Social capital, he asserted, is more important for our kids and thus our society than economic capital. (You can find some of these ideas in his book, "Bowling Alone.") Finally, he exhorted the audience of religious and scientific scholars, pastors, professors et al. to work on "bridging social capital," which brings together groups that aren't connected through "bonding social capital." I'd put it this way: it's what happens when people come from east and west, south and north and sit at the Kingdom of heaven.


starrwine said...


Very jealous. I've been meaning to read "Bowling Alone" for months now. I'd love to hear more from the weekend.


GCootsona said...

Putnam was very impressive as a speaker, and it was even more of a surprise to see him not only at this science-religion conference but also on the board of the new "spiritual capital" project.

John said...

Hmmm. Not sure I totally agree. I don't think you can separate these types of capital into their own discreet buckets.

Recently, my wife and I supported some friends with a monetary gift. It was both social and economic at the same time. The "economic" action affirmed the "social" action at the same time.

I often hear the calls for denial and asceticism in a vacuum, and I think we can fool ourselves that money is not really important. But money impacts social relationships and social networks. Money elects presidents. Money feeds the poor.

I see many Christians justify a hand-to-mouth existence because of this ethic. They don't make very much money, so they're unable to give away very much money. The money trickles up, and is lost on the people who need it most. I see other folks limit themselves from valid experiences, from going places god might want them to go, because of an aversion to the potential evils of money.

Money is one of the tools in a Christian's toolbelt, and it can be a powerful one. Let's not denegrate the positive social impact that money can have in the world. This impact may not be uniquely touchy-feely personal, but it can still help meet needs, even spiritual ones.

GCootsona said...

Good point, John.
I think the point of social or spiritual capital is not to denigrate economic capital, but to be sure that we value non-material, and especially non-monetary, resources. I'm not sure what Putnam says, but I would reply by saying that Christians are called to respond to the call to love God and others with all resources available.
Maybe someone else can better clarity Putnam's point...