(A Parable About Scientism)
--Pastor Jamey Nichols
Within a picturesque mountain valley lived a friendly community of Valley Dwellers. On one side of their valley, and rising higher than any other, stood a mighty mountain whose peak stretched as if to heaven. Climbing to the peak was an idea so grand it was central to the community’s identity. Most Valley Dwellers learned to live out their days on the Plains of Contentment. Rumors of life changing vistas from atop the Great Peak were judged to be fanciful legend. Although the mighty mountain cast its daily shadow across the landscape of every soul, for many its presence was taken for granted.
As far as actually getting to the top—some Valley Dwellers claimed they had. Some said they knew of others who had. Most were doubtful it could even be done because there was no simple Wilderness Road to ease the ascent. The climb, if it were possible, would be steep and horribly narrow. Over the centuries there were those who said they’d scaled it often. Most just lived and died in the mountain’s massive shadow.
Lately however, momentum was growing and many Valley Dwellers became increasingly eager to take up construction along a New Way. The tool had been discovered—or, at least a new way of using it—and for the first time in a long time, the idea of a mountain road was becoming believable. Years of work by many gifted tradesman resulted in a smooth wide swath up the base of the mountain. Valley Dwellers loved walking the path as far as it went, terminating at the worksite where they could admire the gradual, ever increasing progress of those who had become so proficient with the tool.
Now, it was Charlie’s turn. He learned to use the tool with seriousness and determination. This was his time. Valley Dwellers began to believe Charlie had figured out a way to use the tool to actually get the entire community to the top of the Great Peak. Scoffing was soon heard, “And to think, generations believed stories of ancient footpaths. Generations! People who claimed they’d been to the top but without the tool!” It all seemed so absurd now. Traditions about ancient footpaths were increasingly passé. A few Relics still spoke confidently of their existence. They told stories of climbing and of the vistas from the top. Usually, the Valley Dwellers smiled condescendingly each time a Relic spoke of such things. Eventually, Relics were marginalized from the rest of the Valley Dwellers. “After all,” it was reasoned, “even if there were passable footpaths, they would never suffice.” Valley Dwellers wanted a road—a wide road. “If the masses would ever ascend the summit and savor the glorious vistas, everyone needs a shared, easygoing route,” they declared.
Ah, the tool! How magnificent it had become! The notion of working without it was flatly unacceptable. In the wake of enormous and rapid progress, the tool was heralded as key. In reality, the tool had been around for generations. Those whom Charlie learned from knew about the tool as did their teachers. But, it never occurred to them to use it the way Charlie did. In fact, the ancient artisans claimed they used the tool as one among many tools to help navigate ancient footpaths. However, as time went on, tradesmen like Charlie became so skilled all other tools were set aside. No one could have dreamed that one simple tool could rise to religious status, but that’s exactly what happened. And, those most gifted at using the tool—celebrity priests!
In time, progress on the New Way was so expansive that large portions of the community relocated along its edges. Leaving their history in the valley and the rumors of old footpaths, they moved their schools, homes and economic centers so they could spend the totality of their lives within and around the headway. Each new mile of progress became a new mile of real estate upon which to build society. Odd as it may seem, people forgot about the Great Peak they were supposed to be ascending. Valley Dwellers merely reveled in the immediate pleasure of the newest clearings and the satisfaction they had in moving the community “forward.” The new great joy was the sense of progress each time fresh ground was cleared. Valley Dwellers began to forget about their past. Even worse, they lost interest in their future. They fell in love with today and the New Way was no longer rising in physical elevation. On the contrary, it was only getting wider. Sadly, none of this mattered to the Valley Dwellers. They sang Charlie’s praises, coddled their beloved tool and echoed to each other how great things were.
What Charlie and his work crew didn’t realize was that the path was on a calamitous trajectory. It was only be a matter of time and subsequent generations would find themselves at the edge, if not over the edge, of an uncrossable canyon. A few Surveyors suspected this, but their warnings were ridiculed. The work crews, their leaders, and soon Charlie were far too drunk with progress to consider anything else. Their lateral movement masqueraded as achievement. Though they fancied themselves as the clearest of all thinkers ever, they were no longer thinking clearly. “After all,” the Valley Dwellers argued, “who can deny the greatness of all that has been achieved? Brilliant people have dedicated the entirety of their lives to get us this far. We’re making progress every day!”
Sadly, there was no going back. Resolved to move ahead and committed to the exclusivity of the tool, Charlie took his place as leader. The artisans all meant well, but everybody knows where well-intended roads lead. In time, more and more Surveyors abdicated their claims. Words of caution from the remaining few could not be heard over raucous shouts.
“Progress! Progress,” the people shouted! “YOLO!” This was a glorious new era and the tool had brought them to it. In the course of time, the amused masses simply followed wherever the momentum of the New Way took them. Destruction was growing imminent while the people sang and danced to songs of ignorance.
Meanwhile, among the old settlements, bands of happy Relics dwelt peacefully. They enjoyed periodic journeys along ancient footpaths. They sojourned up and down the Great Peak and relished many moments that were truly divine. At certain turns along the way, Relics could look over the edge and see the rooftops of the new buildings far below. They could also see the Valley Dwellers laboring unwittingly toward the daunting canyon crags. It was not an easy thing to watch. Relics cried, but only a little. The glorious vistas atop the Great Peak never left much room for sadness.