OWL’S HEAD, Maine — The really big story of the past month ended up as a one-day media splash: the almost certain confirmation of the Big Bang, or inflation theory, of the creation of our universe.
It barely made the front pages before slipping back into space.
But to the extent that this new scientific discovery does indeed "Reveal the Big Bang's Smoking Gun," as The New York Times headlined it, it's perhaps the biggest story of the no-longer-new century.
It's an amazing revelation in many respects. Just the fact that we have a telescope that can see back to "a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth" of a second after the Big Bang is almost unbelievable. This is back to the moment when "it" all began.
As the article explained, "the universe we see, extending 14 billion light-years in space, with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is only an infinitesimal patch in a large cosmos whose extent, architecture and fate are unknowable. Moreover, beyond our universe, there might be an endless number of other universes bubbling into frothy eternity."
As our scientific horizons expand, literally ever further, one question it certainly raises is how much impact it will have on religion?
As has been well documented, Western Europe is moving into a post-Christian era. The US is still more Christian than post-Christian, though our younger generation is less affiliated with a particular denomination than previous generations. One influence to explain this is education in the American South, where in some states creationism and evolution get equal billing as ''theories.''
Ultimately, though, is a process that has already begun. We will be abandoning our traditional Christian belief in the supernatural concepts of Jesus born of a virgin as the Son of God, who was executed and then resurrected.
In its place will be what I term cultural Christianity, a belief not in Jesus’s metaphysical persona but in his actual one as a radical Jewish philosopher, a creature of his time with a moral code based on support for the underdog, but a man not a god.
In this belief system, the concept of a creator God is a metaphor for what we now call the Big Bang.
"Cultural Christianity" is the key. You don't have to actually believe any of it; it's just part of who you are. "Cultural Judaism" for the increasing number of secular Jews is a similar phenomenon.
Religion emerged before science in the pre-dawn era of civilization to explain to an increasingly aware and amazed human race the mystery and apparent order of a world.
Without the wonderment of the daily rising and setting of the sun, the vastness of the night heavens, would our ancestors have created a panoply of gods or spirits, as almost all did, or a single god in the ''modern'' version of Jews, Christians, and Muslims?
Religion supplied the answers to questions too numerous to even contemplate. But now we have the answers, or anyway the key ones, to the cosmic questions that are the root of our existence.
Today, half the world follows the monotheistic religions, whose fundamental basis is the supernatural, which is a response to the need for an explanation.
Where does the Christian, or Muslim, god fit into an eternal cosmos, self-creating and ever expanding?
"Even as our own universe settled down to a comfortable, homey expanse," the Times article explained, "the rest of the cosmos will continue blowing up, spinning off other bubbles endlessly, a concept known as the multiverse."
Science, of course, doesn't have all the answers: "We might never know what happened before" the Big Bang, the Times noted, as it erased "everything that came before it. All the chaos and randomness of the primordial moment was swept away forever out of our view."
But what we do know, as one theoretical physicist was quoted, is "amazing: you can see back to the beginning of time." Which begs the question, what was there before the Big Bang?
Scientists see that as an unanswerable question. There was no ''there'' then as we conceive of space, and no "then" either. Our concept of physical space is irrelevant when talking about pre-existent nothingness — or of billions of universes beyond our own. A void of both time and space, and then the Big Bang.
And if you want to believe that God created the Big Bang, you end up with the same unanswerable questions: Who created God? What was there before there was God? He's eternal. So is our universe. What's the difference?
Religion, and the Christian revelation, retains its hold to the extent we are unable, or unwilling, to grasp the scientific revelations of the last few centuries, and especially the last few decades.
But as education about scientific discoveries spreads, belief in the supernatural and the miraculous, those key elements of Christian faith, is bound to weaken.
The Taliban and other Muslim fundamentalists are on to something: limit education to religious studies because otherwise, religious faith will gradually decline.
I was discussing with an acquaintance my conclusion that the growing contradiction between basic Christian beliefs and science is undermining the influence of religion. He was appalled: "Without religious belief, what will keep us moral?"
That was an important consideration once.
But it's no longer relevant. Religion has done its work. What will be left is cultural Christianity. And that's a good thing. We no longer have to believe in the miraculous elements of our old faith to appreciate and accept the validity of the morality it preaches.
But even cultural Christianity has its limits; many who no longer accept the obvious supernatural elements of Christianity still cling to the concept of a soul that lives on in some spiritual context after we are gone.
How does one reconcile such a concept with evolution? Did amoebas have souls; if not, at what point in evolution did the primates that were our forebears manage to develop one? Or did our biped ancestors, as they migrated out of Africa, pick up souls on the way?
With or without souls, with gods or without them, the world's future can look bleak with global warming and a near 50 percent increase in our population expected over the next half century.
There is, surely, an increased sense of morality and justice inspired originally by religion, and tolerance and fairness as well, which will play to our advantage however bleak the future.
Mac Deford is retired after a career as a Foreign Service officer, an international banker, and a museum director. He lives at Owls Head, Maine and still travels frequently to the Middle East.