Friday, December 10, 2010

Creationism-- two possible versions?


If someone wants to approach teaching how human life began on this earth from a Christian perspective, I think there have been two viewpoints. Both originate with the words at the beginning of the Jewish Torah also called the Christian Old Testament:
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light."
The stories go on to explain a simple beginning to human life with a creator god forming man out of the dust of the ground and woman out of the man. The beginning of Genesis actually presents two stories of creation with a different order to what happened when. One would have to be allegory even though some believers claim both are exactly accurate. The essential common denominator in these two versions is that man first stepped onto this earth as man.

The probable allegory of Adam and Eve is much more personal. The couple were to live in a garden where everything was theirs to use except one-- fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and if they ate that, they'd die. God did not explain why this knowledge would be bad. What could they have understood of death?

We are starting this story of man and god with a claim about this god's personality that will be seen again and again. He never gives all the facts to man-- ever. He sets up little possible
traps tests without explaining what they are.

Man, of course, yielded to temptation, was thrown from the garden although he said it was the woman's fault. Great start to relationships between the sexes. It was not enough though for God to toss man and woman out, he makes the snake, who had been the initial tempter, slither on its belly, something it apparently never did before, and there were placed curses on the man, woman and their descendants.

The stories of the people who sprang from their loins continue and show often a perverse nature to this perfect God. He rejects one son's offering while he accepts another; but again was this explained to them beforehand? Apparently not but a blood offering was superior to one of grain? I do not know how Jews see it but Christians justify this by saying it cost Abel more to kill a first born than it did Cain to offer some of the grain he raised. That is more justification than understanding, and it sets a pattern in these stories for how difficult it can be for man to figure out what this God is wanting.

So while Scriptures describe God is the ultimate in loving, he is also shown as being very good at destroying. In other words, man better watch out. Touch that ark and you're a dead man. Men start to work together and they get dispersed. Jonah resisted God's will and found himself in the belly of a whale. Job, who was doing nothing wrong by God's own words, was put through increasing tortures with his children killed to satisfy a test that God and Satan rigged up. The Bible is full of such stories, some where God intervenes and saves and some where He does not.

Finally we come to the story of Jesus where the Jewish story is left behind and we have a new side of God as he comes to earth, born in Bethlehem, growing up to teach men what he wants them to know, and then the goal of it all-- His sacrifice for what Adam did long ago. This becomes another test for the believer because by accepting this sacrifice, by believing Jesus is God, man can be resurrected himself, have crowns in heaven, if he has earned them, and live in a renewed earth happily ever after singing with the angels. And if he doesn't, well that leads to more than the death promised Adam, now it means eternal torture in hell.

Whether a Christian accepts the literal interpretation of the scriptures for the story of Adam and Eve or the exact creation of man, they all start with that opening phrase that God created man in his own image. Even if they take the creation story less than literally, allow for some evolution in there, a Christian will mostly go on with the rest of the beliefs.

Which is where the second view of creationism, called Intelligent Design, comes in where God created everything on earth perfectly to work without a problem. When it doesn't, it's the fault of sin. This belief is that none of what we see around us could have happened without a creator god. These creationists do not accept evolution as a natural process but rather a guided one. Their perspective on man's dominion over earth usually remains the same-- although would not have to.

Those who are not going along with a 6000 year old earth, to deal with the age of the Universe, explain there was a pre-created earth (hence its age in geologic terms) which was destroyed in an epic battle between good angels and God against bad angels putting down a rebellion and ending up with Satan having quite a bit of power on earth as a tester of man. This idea comes out of the Prophets in the Old Testament and is mostly put together as supposition and a way to still have God creating man literally as though a sculptor.

Repeating-- some would say that God did it but he used evolution as his tool. They would also add that a day didn't necessarily mean a day as we consider time. I am not sure where that leaves them on say the Bible version of Daniel and the lion's den or Noah in the whale or so many other stories?

Accepting the story of Creationism for a Christian leads to the requirement of a proper baptism (form of which Christians don't always agree), saying the right words, correct approach to sin, confession, marriage, you name it; and some today believe as they did back then that to go against that god can lead to cities being flooded and disaster raining down on earth. Forget whether the ones being killed did anything or not.

To me, both of these versions of creationism are taking that version of God in the Old Testament and bringing it to today. Look at this god's actions and you see a lot of questions but man is not allowed to question.

This also leads to a belief that man has a right to use anything he wishes upon the face of the earth. It's all his. Abuse it and don't worry because there will be a new beginning after a really rough ending but which will not impact true believers who will be raptured to heaven before the end comes.

This version of life on earth and of God's personality ends with the ultimate revenge on all but the chosen few described in Revelations-- and they might have been chosen before they were born if someone believes in predestination which would mean some might be doomed before they started. That's another of those issues about which Bible scholars disagree.

Anyway if we follow the story of creationism, using the Bible, we see the earth recreated one last time not to be destroyed again because apparently these humans left in perfected bodies have learned their lesson and they can serve God forever in peace.

Creationism and the Biblical stories are philosophy, depict powerful images (even with a Creation museum in Kentucky and soon to be a Noah's Ark theme park); but about zero science other than trying to put down evolutionary ideas. The order they have for how things appeared on earth does not fit what science has found-- but then they don't believe science anyway. There is then no wonder there would be a conflict between science and this way of thinking.

Evolution tells a story and has its own set of lessons. That's coming next.

On a personal note, I should mention I spent over twenty years of my life letting one of those creation versions be mine. I wanted to believe it and I was very much a Biblical fundamentalist who would dismiss anything that got in the way of that viewpoint. I was not only in a group that thought that way but felt that you had to just let go of reason. It was about faith and nothing else. You ignore what doesn't fit or you make it fit.

To be clear, I was never a political religious conservative, always saw that as contradictory to Christian teaching (like I hate any program of help for the poor but love Jesus who said to feed the poor). I also always believed in protecting the environment which doesn't have to be contradictory to the Scriptures. For me, it was a literal belief in what the Bible said. When that changed, it led to leaving organized religion.

I know a lot of very nice Christians who are still fundamentalists and some who describe themselves as potluck Christians which enables them to stay. I liked being part of a church community (both of the churches I belonged to over that twenty some years). I can relate to how that might be easier than leaving, but for me it was all or nothing. When I came to see this just didn't fit with what I saw around me, in humans and in nature, nor what I believed about God from my own experiential experiences (I am not an atheist), personally I had no choice but to leave religions.

I live in a culture where Christianity is very important to many people. This is a culture that still mostly espouses a belief in Christianity as essential to not only live a moral life but to be 'saved'. It is one where running for president necessitates being a Christian and it's more than okay for a leader to not believe in evolution.


Oh and one more point, I didn't leave religion because of what is called backsliding or desiring to live a wild life full of freedom to sin. I know plenty who are comfortable 'sinning' in churches (thanks to forgiveness and the old saw we are all sinners). I think it can be just as easy sinning in the church, maybe more so as outside there is no easy forgiveness at an altar or in a confessional. You have to find that forgiveness inside yourself with no platitudes to comfort you.

So coming next will be what is evolution.

Photo is the Oregon coast, looking toward Whale Cove, December 2010.

10 comments:

Annie said...

Hi Rain,

I empathize with the issues you faced leaving a church you belonged to. I've been leaving and joining various spiritual communities over a long period of time and can relate to the dilemmas involved. On the one hand I am very clear about what I believe and have a difficult time being part of a faith community that believes something quite different. On the other hand I appreciate some of the value of being part of such a community.

Today I am in a rural community and want to learn to sing. The only game in town is the Baptist church choir, led by a very competent and likable choirmaster, who also happens to be a friend of mine. I am learning a Christmas cantata that is full of stuff I don't believe in but is beautiful music, and the other members of the choir seem positively ecstatic to welcome me into their ranks. In fact the whole darn church seems extremely welcoming. But some of the tenets of belief here make my skin crawl. It's a big dilemma for me, I feel like a fake.

As for the Biblical accounts of the beginning of the world, to me it just seems obvious that these stories were never meant to be taken as literal fact, they were stories people told themselves long before there was any "science" to tell them otherwise. Of course the world is amazing and whoever created it must be amazing. How could all this possibly happen by accident, how could it just Be, without some One behind the scenes making it Be? Today we still don't really know how it could have happened, but thanks to the invention of science we are more willing to entertain more ideas about it than simply postulating an All-powerful Being who created this world and planted us humans in it for "His" pleasure.

TaraDharma said...

Once upon a time, I was an avid reader of creation stories from many cultures. It became clear to me then, that Adam and Eve is but one of many many creation stories we humans tell ourselves to explain the inexplicable. For some reason, we are compelled to do that. We have our creation myths, and our myths about floating up to heaven after we die.

I, for one, am quite comfortable with the mystery. We all find out sooner or later, don't we?

Paul said...

Something created the Universe. I prefer to call that something God. I put no limits on God-in fact I can only comprehend God on a very basic level with my finite intellect. It is I who am limited. Creationism and Darwinism are two ways in which human beings view their universe. Did Darwin have it right-perhaps. Do the Creationists have it right-perhaps. I don't take everything in the Bible literally, because some of it flies in the face of my intellect. That being said I use Jesus as my guiding light.

mandt said...

Have you ever read the writing of Teilhard de Chardin ? He was a scientist and theologian. His book: The Phenomenon of Man, made a great impression on my youthful seeking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Teilhard_de_Chardin

Parapluie said...

I am not a Jew or a Christian although I have studied Judaism about 10 years ago. Also having experience making pots on a potters wheel, I have come to be in awe of the insight of creating woman from Adam's rib. His rib to me is like a potter's rib used to shape a vessel. I often imagine myself God-like when I am painting or making something different from what I have ever done before. I am sorry that more people can't just enjoy the Biblical story as enhancement to being a creative human.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Of course there is a lot to cover in this, yet another thoughtful and well written article by you. I took a lifetime to come to the position of an Atheist. In the recent decade science, specifically Stephen Hawking, has come up with a very strong case showing that god is not necessary to have created the universe. I blogged about this here: Something from Nothing.

They say if you want to become a non-believer, read the Bible. In fact there are many ancient texts which tell similar stories and morality tales; the Bible has plagiarized many of these stories, they are not original.

And they don’t make sense. When one reads the contradictory and inaccurate messages in the Bible one has to ask, is this really the best work of an all-perfect being?

Scientist Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project fully supports evolution, for obvious reasons, but is also a Big Loving Daddy God believer. He completely drops the scientific method in his book, “The Language of God” and makes some really astounding leaps of faith. I came away from reading his book with the feeling that he really really really wants there to be a comforting god out there after he dies. Unfortunately wishing really hard for something doe not make it so.

Most adherents to the Bible literacy also have no problem availing themselves of medical technology and science when it suits them. The more I learn the more convinced I become that god was created in man’s image.

On a lighter note about the Bible, watch Ricky Gervais’ video on Genesis.

Robert Hagedorn said...

Do a search: The First Scandal.

Rain said...

I well understand your choice to be in a church for companionship and to have the enjoyment of singing with a group, Annie. We each must make our own choices for what works. I still miss both the churches I once attended. I got to counting it up and it was really 30 years of regular church attending. First the Catholic Church, which I still love the Mass, and then a rural Evangelical Church which had wonderful community.

As best I remember, I have never read de Chardin but am not much for struggling with deep, religious literature these days. If I read it his ideas, it was years back and they were part of a period of time where I read a lot of theology.

I really like Ricky Gervais and will definitely have to see if I can get hold of a DVD of his discussion of the whole thing as it looked very humorous.

Robert Hagedorn, I have seen allegories described for pretty much any of the main Biblical stories with what they 'really mean' and Adam and Eve is no exception. More important to me than whether there is a secondary way to take the story-- pretty much with most of life there always is-- it's where does it take you. Your idea for the allegory would again take you to obey god and I guess don't use birth control? *s* I don't know but what I do know is the end result is very similar for how this is different than a belief in evolution... I hope you continue on with this and see where I take it.

I appreciate all your comments on what can be a difficult topic for people to be open about.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

Annie said exactly what I wish I could say. Well reasoned post, as always, Rain.

wally said...

Living species are not the only things that evolve. Religious doctrine, political ideology, economic theory, and even personal philosophy change over time. No one, at least none of us that have been blessed (cursed?) with a critical mind, hold the same world view as when we were young. The traditional Judeo-Christian view of the afterlife changed over time from Sheol (the place of the dead, both good and bad) to Hades, borrowed from Greek mythology. The dualism of good/evil and material/spirit is Zoroastrian in origin. And now we have American Evangelical Fundamentalists who have morphed the story of grace and redemption into the conglomeration of Social Darwinism, the Gospel of prosperity, Republican politics and free market capitalism resulting in a religion that does not resemble the teachings of Christ. But, in our haste to discard the myths of scripture let’s not swallow every scientific theory that comes our way. After all, scientists are no more intellectually honest than the Christian fundamentalists. Even the theory of evolution has evolved. Most of Darwin’s original ideas expressed by his “Origin of Species” have been disregarded by modern theorists and only the most basic concept has remained. So where did we come from? What’s it all about? Don’t ask the scientists and theologians because they don’t know. I would be undone to find out that the universe had no intelligent first cause. That there was no point to it all. One thing is sure, that it is a place of mystery and paradox.