Faith, science, society

19 April 2021
The aim of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Budapest from 5 to 12 September is to meet Jesus Christ, to demonstrate Christian love towards the world and to bring about a lively dialogue between peoples and religions.

In the spirit of striving for interfaith dialogue and cooperation between the church and the scholarly world, Cardinal and Primate Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Reformed Bishop Zoltán Balog, pastoral president of the Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church, Slomó Köves, senior rabbi of the United Hungarian Jewish Community (EMIH) and brain researcher Szilveszter E. Vizi, former president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences sat down together for the first time to exchange ideas on public radio.

The Eucharist connects

A conference was planned on the occasion of the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, at which the outstanding domestic and foreign figures of scientific life would have shared their thoughts on faith, science and their social effects. The event was canceled due to the pandemic. However, the invited speakers sent their thoughts in writing, from which a great book entitled Faith, Science, Society was born. Natural and social scientists, jurists, theologians have covered a wide range of topics in the book, such as: can the existence of an infinite God be proved by ration, is there a bridge between spirit and matter, faith and reason, the immanent and the transcendent world? Is the pandemic a divine punishment? The buzzword of the book is the Eucharist. Despite the rich content of the book, it still points in one direction: listening, getting to know each other, dialogue, believing and thinking about our world, ourselves, among believers and non-believers, followers of various religious and scientific trends.

The participants of the round table sought to do the same in their conversation, looking for points that connect like-minded people of different religions. In the imagination of most of us, God is a growling, gray-bearded man. But what is the image of a cardinal, a rabbi, a Reformed bishop, and a brain researcher about God? Péter Erdő experienced the presence of God even while looking at the sea. The doctor and brain researcher met God while studying the created world in connection with its fantastic orderliness. What does it mean to grow up in a deeply religious family where God is present as an addressable person or just to find God in the midst of atheist parents? Reformed Bishop Zoltán Balog spoke about his experience of God in the former way, while Rabbi Slomó Köves spoke about how the focus of his interest as a child was on how to experience the existence of God in a rational way.

A Hungarian scientist, a monk, who was also watched by the popes

A common denominator has emerged on the question of whether faith and science are paired in the best way of getting to know the world, in the search for truth. Making any of them exclusive has done a lot of harm to the human community. The conversation also recalled the oeuvre of Benedictine monk Szaniszló Jáki, who studied with Nobel Laureate Victor F. Hess as an experimental physicist. Through his desire to know the created world and his theological and physical scientific proficiency, he raised the relationship between faith and science to a new dimension in his writings. He rejected the exclusivity of any of this in the aspiration of getting to know the world. His scientific work was followed with special attention by several popes, and Jáki’s world of thoughts can be considered to be the forerunner of the papal encyclical entitled Faith and Reason, published by Saint John Paul II.

Dr. Szilveszter E. Vizi, pointed out as a researcher in connection with the effect of the Ten Commandments concerning the relations of human communities, that in these, as a result of the development of human thinking, science voluntarily appears as a creative force that changes the world. However, he added, the scientist can get to recognize the fantastic existing order in the world, namely God himself.

The epidemic can open a new chapter in our lives

Of course, there was also talk of the pandemic. Zoltán Balog paralleled the pandemic with the biblical story of the Tower of Babel: both have a global impact and reveal a kind of divine pedagogy, namely that it is time to stop and see where our borders are. Cardinal and Primate Péter Erdő reminded us that in the history of mankind, great epidemics have always been watersheds in cultural history. The milestones did not come about by people drawing the conclusions, but from the fact that the situation changed, which implied many consequences.

Péter Erdő still expects that the situation of the epidemic will teach us to assess. It provides a picture of what is valuable and essential to people. In addition to safety and food, religion was also on the list - highlighted by the debate over church closures in Italy. According to the cardinal, this period provides an opportunity to review our tasks. Will for example the costly trips burdening the environment still be necessary after the pandemic or, in some cases, will video conferences used currently still be used? Szilveszter E. Vizi trusts in an “anti-Babel” response, the epidemic can teach us with regard to the common, invisible enemy that people should act together for the global common good.

Slomó Köves focused on vulnerability and a false sense of security in connection with the invisible danger. He believed we wanted to create the security considered most important ourselves. Mankind once more proved to be overconfident, just like the builders of the Tower of Babel. We draw finite walls, while true security is to be provided by the transcendent infinite.

Photo: Marcsi Ambrus