After the oven incident (see last Monday’s post), I took some time to examine the burned out bake element from the range. Clearly a break in the piece led to some arcing like you might get in Frankenstein’s laboratory. By the time I’d arrived on the scene (I always seem to be behind my time), the fire was snaking along the element itself and now that the piece is cooled and removed I was fascinated by the damage it caused. I suspect this is why I leave any electrical repairs to experts. This is dangerous stuff. Interestingly, in the realm of monsters electricity is most frequently associated (in my mind, anyway) with Frankenstein’s creature. Mary Shelley’s novel isn’t explicit about how galvanism resurrected the patchwork human, but it was clearly part of the tale.
Electricity retains a certain element of mystery for some of us. If we stop and reflect on how recent our understanding and harnessing of it is, that further adds to the drama. People have been thinking about and trying to understand religion for thousands of years. Like early electricity, religion involves invisible forces. Of course, lightning and sparks and arcing oven elements can be seen, but seeing isn’t the same as comprehending. We are a curious species and we want to understand. Being inside the situation, however, our understanding will never be complete. We can get a pretty good grasp, a functional one even, but our brains will always limit just how much we can understand.
It should come as no surprise that those of us who chose to study religion are intrigued by mysteries. The divine, the transcendent—no matter what you want to call it—can never be fully understood. Thus the impatience with evangelicals and others who pretend they’ve got all the answers. No, we’re all still attempting to get to the bottom (or top) of this mystery. Like electricity, religion can do an enormous amount of damage. Motivating those who have only a cursory understanding how it works has historically led to debacle after debacle. It has generated wars and perpetuated human misery. Like electricity, when used properly religion has done a tremendous amount of good in the world as well. The thing is, as my bake element shows, we have all come to learn that electricity should be handled by those who know what they’re doing. Ironically, religion has never gathered the same level of respect for the specialists.