TV actor Alan Alda of M*A*S*H fame has just begun his newest career with a timely critique of scientists, physicians, engineers, and others addicted to obscure jargon. In simple terms, he’s revisiting the old saying, “K.I.S.S.” – Keep It Simple, Sam.
On April 26, Alda’s newfound mission of simplifying technical gibberish found a brand new home – at the “Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science,” part of Stony Brook University in New York. The center was officially renamed in Alda’s honor; he serves as founder and visiting professor of journalism there.
According to a recent interview with the Associated Press, Alda says “There’s no reason for the jargon when you’re trying to communicate the essence of the science to the public because you’re talking what amounts to gibberish to them.” For more details on the Stony Brook Center for Communicating Science, go to the Associated Press story on Yahoo.
Alda’s new role at the Center for Communicating Science came about as the result of an eight-year quest to find a university interested in his idea of making science simple. Stony Brook “was the only place that understood what I was trying to say and thought it was possible,” he said.
Why doesn’t religion follow his example?
Scientists aren’t the only ones addicted to multi-syllabic words and confusing, complex language. Just think of some of the key concepts in Christianity: redemption, salvation, resurrection, atonement, repentance. How many church members can really understand these, let alone provide a good, simple “translation” of what they mean?
Alda says that better understanding science can benefit society – physicians can more clearly describe treatments to patients; the general public can figure out what chemicals are really in their food; and government leaders can be better informed when making decisions on funding science and research programs.
Imagine the scenario if religious leaders and teachers followed the same path – putting the lessons of faith into simpler-to-understand terms. There would be better explanations of life, death, heaven, hell, grace, etc. Pastors, professors, and laypeople wouldn’t get so hung up on debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, or what happens in the afterlife. There would be less disenchanted “consumers” out there who felt they were sold a bill of goods by some church that promises the “good life” but delivers hatred, condemnation, corruption, judgment, and hypocrisy instead.
“Ask the right questions”
Going back to the example of scientific jargon, as Alan Alda says, “[people] aren’t going to ask the right questions if science doesn’t explain to them what’s going on in the most honest and objective way.” Substitute the word religion for science, and the story is the same.
Well, maybe not entirely. There are a lot more gray areas and unknowns in faith than there are in science. And mathematicians and engineers have long preferred black-and-white, yes-or-no approaches (even if they turn out to be complicated, convoluted journeys when put down on paper). Not only that, a scientific community that can actually accomplish space flight deserves some credit for turning “black-and-white” physics equations into reality. Many wish the same could be said of theologians, who haven’t quite managed to pull off travel to heaven yet.
But, just as Alda challenges the scientists, perhaps the practitioners of religion need to be similarly chastised and made to answer for their “sins” of jargon. It has to start somewhere. If the general public – the people in the pews, as well as those uncommitted or disenfranchised believers on the edge of faith communities – were given simpler explanations, maybe there would be better questions, and consequently a more satisfying life of faith, for all.