The Third Culture Freeman Dyson

The Enduring Vitality of the More Moderate Kinds of Religions

Here is my not very original answer to this year's question: what is today's most important unreported story?

The enduring vitality of the more moderate kinds of religion. Although the fanatical and fundamentalist versions of religion receive heavy attention from the media, the moderate versions of religion do not. The majority of religious people are neither fanatical nor fundamentalist. This is true of Christians, Jews and Moslems alike. In the modern world, with inequalities between rich and poor growing sharper, governments are increasingly incapable or unwilling to take care of the poor. Organized religions increasingly provide the glue that holds societies together, giving equal respect to those who profit from economic prosperity and those who are left behind. This is true even in such a prosperous and technologically advanced community as Princeton, New Jersey, where I live. Princeton has more than twenty churches, all trying in their different ways to reach out to people in need, all bridging the gap between young and old as well as the gap between rich and poor. Religion plays this same role, holding communities together with bonds of fellowship, among the Arabs of the West Bank, the Jews of Brooklyn, and the African-Americans of Trenton, New Jersey. Religions that have endured for a thousand years and helped generations of oppressed people to survive are not about to disappear.

FREEMAN DYSON is professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. His professional interests are in mathematics and astronomy. Among his many books are Disturbing the Universe, Infinite in All Directions Origins of Life, From Eros to Gaia, Imagined Worlds, and The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet.