It was three weeks after Christmas and the pastoral staff was going over the feedback we had received after Christmas Eve. We had led four worship services, 11:00 AM (the Early Service), 4:00 PM (the Family Service), 8:00 PM (Lessons and Carols – with Communion) and 11:00 PM (the Midnight Service – with Communion) and the buzz had been positive for all of them – except for the 8 o’clock service.
“We were there for 88 minutes . . . I checked my watch!” was one comment.
“We almost missed our dinner reservation,” reflected another.
Always mindful of the amount of time we dedicate to worshiping the one true God, we hashed this conundrum over for a good fifteen minutes. None of us clergy thought the service went THAT long. Sure there were seven lessons, seven carols, a sermon, prayers, and Communion to fit into the service but an hour and a half? Really?
“Wait a second,” one of us said, “Let’s look at David’s spreadsheet.”
Luckily, there is a member of the church who has kept a detailed spreadsheet of every component of each worship service at the church going back for over thirteen years. (Yes, his name is David). Not only is there historical data going back for over a decade, but there also is a breakdown of how long each prayer lasted on Christmas Eve (Prayer of Confession – three minutes), how long the anthems lasted (collectively 17 minutes) and yes, even how long the sermon lasted (21 minutes). When all was said and done, the entire service lasted an hour and seventeen minutes, not bad for a worship service with all those components. The service started exactly on time, and the postlude ended at 9:17. Additionally, it was not the longest 8:00 PM Christmas Eve service over the last 13 years (that happened in 2015) and it actually fit comfortably within the range of an average Christmas Eve service duration.
While all this data made the clergy feel better about the fact that the service wasn’t 90 minutes long, we only could have arrived at this conclusion (and thus best pastorally responded to the “hey the service was too long!” feedback) without the statistical data, that David provided. His immediate and historical quantifiable analysis was an imperative tool, as we took a look at what we had done, and what we could do moving forward. Progress!
It is in this spirit, the spirit of data and science driven reason and progress, that Canadian born, and current Harvard Professor Steven Pinker writes his fun read Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. While calling out the negative refrain often lifted up in popular culture, that the world is “going to hell in a handbasket,” Pinker makes the counterargument, stating, “I will present a different understanding of the world, grounded in fact and inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment: reason, science, humanism, and progress.” Then spending chapters specifically detailing the progress made in areas like democracy growth, health, and equal rights, Pinker makes his case.
My favorite section detailed the growth of the Environmental movement and how so much progress has been made in that field. “Beginning in the 1960’s, the environmental movement grew out of scientific knowledge (from ecology, public health, and earth and atmospheric sciences) and a Romantic reverence for nature.” Large thanks to women like Rachel Carson and Rosalie Edge, Pinker is then able to make the bold claim that the environmental movement, “made the health of the planet a permanent priority on humanity’s agenda . . . another form of human progress.” Pinker then discusses climate change, pollution, eco-fear, and a myriad of scientifically supported possibilities to drive the world into a “greener” future, one of which is his staunch support for furthering our nuclear power capabilities, despite the fact that global nuclear power use and generation has been on the decline. Throughout his entire book he remains upbeat, optimistic, hopeful, and strives to pull the reader along with him.
And yet, a comment from his environmentalism chapter has stayed with me. Pinker reminds the reader that the dark side of the environmental movement involves dislocation and human suffering. The “dirty secret” he writes, “is that wilderness preserves are set up only after indigenous peoples have been decimated or forcefully removed from them including the national parks in the United States.” The example of Standing Rock, is a poignant example here in the United States. Ultimately, my question for Pinker is what is the final goal of “Enlightenment”? Progress for Progress sake? Progress for Enlightenment’s Sake? While major advances have been made, it is not happening fast enough for many, locally enough for many, and as people of faith, how can we bring about an enlightened outcome that produces both progress and justice?
 Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, (New York: Viking Random House, 2018) xv.
 Pinker, Enlightenment Now, 121.
 Pinker, Enlightenment Now, 121.
 Pinker, Enlightenment Now, 147.
 Pinker, Enlightenment Now, 123.