Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On Religion, Science, Creationism and the Evils of Christianism

Andrew Sullivan is really smart. I've written about his essays before. Mr. Sullivan is a regular contributor to Time, and writes as a devout Catholic left estranged by the antics of his religion's bureaucracy, estranged by the movement of the Christian faith into political camps.

In his latest article, he brings up so many important points which resonate deeply with Becky and I.

He writes:

"Are you a Christian who doesn't feel represented by the religious right? I know the feeling."
Jon Stewart, on the Daily Show, lampoons that there is a War on Christianity (capital W, capital C)! He pines that perhaps there is one day, when we might have a president who is openly Christian, who might wear a cross around his neck, and invoke the name of God in public. One day, a president like this. Or... perhaps... thirty seven in a row?

There is no war on Christianity. It's political hype generated by the news media and political machine in Washington to inflame passions and drive people to the polls. It's garbage. My Jewish friends laugh at the thought of a war on Christianity. How can we begin to claim persecution, by their standards? It's ridiculous and demeaning to them.

Further, this kind of talk only adds fuel to the fire without allowing reasonable discussion. It's emotion in a sound-bite, and leads to more of, "My way or the highway (to hell)." Question it, and you're an unbeliever and a sinner. One might say, an 'infidel'. See where this is leading? The growing eyes-closed, mind-closed religious right are really no different than the Islamic extremists. They're zealots, the whole lot of them. And I can't stand zealots.

The growing trend toward creationism has been really bothering me. It's like the dawning of the New Dark Ages. I can't stand to see intelligent, rational people--people I work with, engineers who have multiple advanced degrees--believing that the Adam and Eve story is verbatim fact simply because it is written in the Bible. They believe the Bible is the infallible word of God.

Now, I consider myself a devout Christian, but I don't for a minute believe that Adam and Eve walked the Earth. I believe in dinosaurs. I see daily evidence for evolution in my own strolls through the woods, through my backyard, through observing what is around me. I believe the Bible is in many places a metaphorical document. And I'm okay with that! It is a collection of stories intended to convey a lesson in morality. Jonah did not actually get eaten by a whale. It is not fact in the scientific terminology. It is a morality story.

And you know what? I don't have to believe it is fact to believe it is important, and that it is relevant. Nor do I have to believe that the Bible is fact to believe that God exists.

Boing Boing has a brief article which cogently describes this ongoing debate between creationism and evolution. Vatican astronomer, Brother Consolmagno, describes the need for balance between science and religion.
"Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism - it's turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do."
I believe that the ability to not know all the answers, and still believe, is the very heart of faith. I don't require the infallible word of God, written in plain paper, black and white, to believe. I would maintain that I have a stronger faith, therefore, than those who require such concrete proof for their faith.

I know that the Bible has been the work of man, not influenced by God at every writing. It is full of past decisions, political and bureaucratic, in the interest of many things--explaining morality, preserving religious dogmas while subverting others, preserving institutions that persist today.

Sullivan writes:
"And there are those who simply believe that, by definition, God is unknowable to our limited, fallible human minds and souls. If God is ultimately unknowable, then how can we be so certain of what God's real position is on, say, the fate of Terri Schiavo? Or the morality of contraception? Or the role of women? Or the love of a gay couple? Also faith for many of us is interwoven with doubt, a doubt that can strengthen faith and give it perspective and shadow. That doubt means having great humility in the face of God and an enormous reluctance to impose one's beliefs, through civil law, on anyone else."
The priest at our local church, Fr. Chris Cunningham, put it very well. In one Sunday sermon, he said (and I paraphrase here from memory):
What is the job of a Christian? How much should I try to impose my will upon you? It is my duty, as a Christian, to explain and evangelize the teachings of Christ. But I cannot make you believe. I can only give you the information and let you decide. When I force my beliefs upon you, I am committing sin. I am being willful, imposing my own will over God's will. God's will is to let each person decide, to have personal salvation.
Think of this the next time you see some hateful person screaming red-faced at a pregnant mother at an abortion clinic, calling her a murderer, when she has no home, no family, no help, and really no choice. How many of them have ever invited that mother to live in their home and help her raise that child?

This level of intolerance has passed from the religious extremist into the political mainstream and has been embraced by the administration and its supporters. I used to consider myself a Republican. I also used to consider myself a religious person. My party and my religion have abandoned me. I do not consider myself a member of the religious right. I despise the religious right. I think Andrew Sullivan sums it up best:
"I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back."
Amen to that.

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