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.

21 comments:

JamesF said...

A rationale and reasonable write up. Which is why ultimately it won't matter since the ultra religious right is neither of those.

Barry said...

The real issue in my view is their is a growing percentage of citizens (>25%) that are driving for the secular codification of non-secular beliefs.

As a non-Christian, I see it is pretty scary because I know this path can be a slipperly slope. It is also why I have continually preached that the Presidential elections are about the Supreme Court; that is where the lasting impact of a Presidency is felt.

Though I must say this President has done a good job messing things up for the long term in good number of areas; Iraq, deficits, civil liberties, etc. ;-)

Sandi said...

It's apparent you have lived in the DC area much too long & been brain-washed by their liberal media. Quoting John Stewart while discussing this further convinces me!

Becky said...

Wow honey -
and I hope you feel better for having vented that out - I agree
XXoo

Anonymous said...

Scott - I am in agreement with what you have written - the RR presumes a scantity and moral status about themselves, that is immediate hyprocracy. There is no way one can allege to be concerned about others, and at the same time, dismiss their values or points of view.

There is an inherent "we are better than you" attitude with these people, and their supposed concern about religious values borders on cultism - a preocupation with inserting their views and political beliefs into the institutions of this country. It's really all about control and power - and as usual, in the name of religion.

Karl Marx was right - religion in the hands of people like this is, indeed, "the opiate of the masses" and their objective is to drug the unsuspecting with their sanctimonious hyprocracy.

Scott said...

My mother's comments (sandi, above) illustrate my point. It's funny how easily family can push buttons. With the one little comment, she has set me off in countless directions.

It's so easy to paint people into black and white. Fox News and the "liberal media" (by this, I assume she must mean the Daily Show, Reuters, CNN and the Washington Post... my only sources for news) have an interest in labelling people as "liberal" or "conservative." I find this especially true in the "talking head" programs, more than in the regular news broadcasts. By painting someone as "liberal" or "conservative," with one word you are able to create a value judgement about them and dismiss the entirety of their views as inconsistent with your own (and therefore wrong).

However, personal politics and regilion are very much more complex than that. That is what I was writing about.

I consider myself a "moderate" if you must label it. Were I old enough, I would have proudly voted for Reagan; I did vote for Clinton; I am ashamed to have voted for Gore, but I did. I then voted for G.W. Bush, and later was disappointed in him--though I still never would have voted for Kerry.

What are my core values? I believe in personal and governmental financial responsibility, small government, pro-military, welfare that includes "back to work" initiatives, pro-commerce, pro-free trade, and I am severely against government regulating morality issues.

This used to be called a "Regean Republican." But today, I guess it might be a "McCain Republican," or a
"Colin Powell Republican."

I would probably still vote for our current president, but I disagree strongly with some of the policies and antics I have seen. As a taxpayer, a voter and a citizen, I have the right to question this administration--to question it severely and hold it accountable. And doing that does NOT make me less of a patriot!

I bristle at anybody who would have the gall to call me anything less than patriotic or label me liberal just because I dare to question some of the current administration's policies. This is not the McCarthy era, folks!

The term brain washing is also hurtful. But when I think about it, it makes sense to me why she used it. My mother obviously thinks I am a smart boy, but she cannot reconcile the fact that I do not agree with her politically. Clearly, then, I must be out of my head, under the control of something bigger, more sinister. How can an intelligent person have these "liberal" beliefs?

The only solution which fits into her idea space is that I must be brainwashed by the "liberal media", by my wife, by whatever. I can assure you, I am not brainwashed. I am acutely aware of my beliefs, and how they differ from those of others I love. But to dismiss me as brainwashed is insulting my intellect, my wife, and is a brazen over-simplification.

crevo said...

"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."

How is "believing in dinosaurs" inconsistent with the Bible? The bible mentions dinosaurs, as well as about every other civilization to ever occur. There are many historical, non-legendary accounts of dinosaurs throughout world history.

barry:

"secular" is only a preferential category for codification if the philosophy of secular humanism is preferred. You seem to be upset about the codification of religious morality in the laws, but on the other hand want your own religious morality as the basis of legal codification. "Secular" is only a preferred category if God not existing is a presumed fact. If it is not taken as a presumed fact, then neither is the preference of secular versus non-secular motivations of legislative items.

scott:

"I am severely against government regulating morality issues"

I find this amusing. EVERY government law is the government regulating morality issues. I cannot at least off of the top of my head think of a law that does not contain a moral component. In fact, any time you compel someone to do or not do something else, it entails a moral component.

If anyone is interested in the scientific side of creationism (even just out of morbid curiosity), you might be interested in my blog:

http://baraminology.blogspot.com/

Scott said...

crevo:

I don't think believing in dinosaurs is inconsistent with my faith. There may well be evidence in the Bible for them, but I don't know where it is. The Bible can often be so vague that many interpretations are possible. I think evolution, as posed by Darwin, is a reasonably accurate theory of how mankind came to be, and I also believe that it can and has been directed by a larger force (God, if you will) over millions of years.

The reason I believe this is more philosophical: If there were no God, and we never got created through "natural" means, there would be nothing. What would be the point of that?

As to the "morality issues": Of course, every law is a morality issue. I'm not stupid, and I'm not looking for anarchy. But in morality issues (issues of tolerance), where nobody is hurt by the actions of consenting adults, the government has no place.

crevo said...

"But in morality issues (issues of tolerance), where nobody is hurt by the actions of consenting adults, the government has no place."

But this assumes too much about whether or not certain actions have societal effects that are beyond what they do with each other consensually.

I agree, _assuming your thesis is correct_, that this would be an excellent boundary for law. The problem being that there is no way to determine where this line is philosophically, practically, or if it even exists at all.

The issues are even more sticky if you allow for the existance of God. Specifically, if God punishes nations as a whole (which all theistic religions I've ever known about believe in this to some degree), then that means that there might never a time when actions only affect the individuals participating.

You can say, "but we can't use God for justification in law", but in doing so, you are either saying (1) God isn't real, and we can only use reality in law, or (2) God might be real, but we have arbitrarily chosen this part of reality to be overlooked when creating law (which is just a weasel-way of saying #1). I say "arbitrarily" because the justification for removing God from the discussion is that it is not a universally accepted idea. However, there are any number of disputed points which are considered when making law -- rarely do people when debating any subject ever agree to exactly what the facts are. Excluding one specific set of disputed facts is, as I have pointed out, just a weasel-way of shoving in #1.

Anyway, if you're up for a good read on some of these and other similar issues, I suggest Phillip Johnson's "Reason in the Balance". I don't think it covers this, specifically, but many related issues.

Scott said...

Wow. I actually have a return customer! Amazing!

crevo:

I appreciate your opinions, and I am flattered that you have been willing to continue this discussion. You seem like a reasonable guy. You are at least willing to discuss this with an open mind, which I appreciate.

Drawing the line between God and law is a very touchy thing, and I guess that's why there's so much debate on this topic. Obviously, the nation's main body of laws was founded upon the Judeo-Christian principles of the ten commandments. I think that is good and proper and do not seek to change it.

To illustrate my point, however, I will use an example. There are conservatives right now who are working to get anti-flag-desecration ammendments added to the constitution. A lot of political capital is being spent on this topic.

My argument is that this is (1) just a political distraction for the sake of vote-getting, (2) at best a lesser priority considering all the other things that need to be done right now, and (3) probably a big violation of the 1st Amendment.

What's more, I think the Rove-machine doesn't even believe in these types of issues, but use them with the sole purpose of voter manipulation.

The gay-marriage issue is another example. For the record, I am not gay. And I am not really even comfortable watching gay couples kiss in public. (No more than I am comfortable watching hetero couples do the same.) But I feel that what they do in their own home is their business. I can see no societal detrement there, but I'm sure you will argue that there is.

MY POINT, however, is that this too was JUST an issue to get out the vote, and it worked brilliantly. Rove was a genius, albeit a dastardly one.

crevo said...

I totally get the idea of politicians using issues as weapons for political gain. A great book on the subject is Tom Coburn's "Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders into Insiders" where he uncovers the lid on the whole Republican con game. The most amusing thing I found in it was where Newt arranged for there to be two different term limits bills, so that they wouldn't have to pass either one of them, but every congressman could say that they voted for it!

Such things are quite disgusting.

But what to do? There is not a party left. The Republicans, with a few exceptions, are neither conservative, nor fiscally responsible, nor working towards social reform (either legislatively or even through the bully pulpit [I prefer the bully pulpit]). The Democrats are even worse. The Libertarians, while I agree with about half of what they want to do, have deluded themselves into thinking that secular humanism is th e common denominator for everything.

I vote for Tom Coburn and Steve Largent anytime I get the chance, but other than that, I feel completely unrepresented by anyone at D.C.

As for gay marriage, there is a lot there and I don't want to spend time on it. My personal take is that I don't personally care what they do together, and I have no idea if what they do together has any affect on the population as a whole (though I think such is worthy of study), but I think that bestowing state-sanctioned _marriage_ on the relationship includes a whole list of legal, social, and moral side-effects which are detrimental.

Of course, the GLBT community is absolutely correct when they point out that the Church has been dropping the ball on marriage for the last 50 years. I just don't think that being stupid in one area is a legitimate excuse for being stupid in another :)

Scott said...

crevo:

Funny... now I've come to agree with you on your last comment--pretty much everything you said.

My wife believes smartly that the gov't should not be in the marriage business at all. From a legal perspective, the gov't should support civil unions (whether hetero, homo, or between a parent and an adult child). This is not some preverse thing, but merely as a legal function to allow rules of property and insurance to accommodate these LEGAL (not moral) unions. The parent/child one is particularly useful as parents become aged and the children become the caregivers.

Then, only churches are in the marriage business, and they can choose to sanction it or not, as they morally see fit.

Again, a bit of a libertarian view, but not likely to ever come to be.

Anonymous said...

I have a problem in trying to say that Adam and Eve didn't exist, because the NT makes a clear family tree of Christ back to Adam. It isn't written as a metaphor or anything else. It's written as a simple historical family tree.

Why trace Christ back to an imaginary man? That doesn't make sense in my mind. Also- you have to deal with the issue of how all men have sinned and come short of the glory if there was no Adam. No Adam- where do you get The Fall? Where do you get the family tree in the OT from Adam to Noah's family? Was Noah imaginary too? Where did you get the post-flood 'races' and languages, and all the rest that goes along with it? Is that imaginary too? It seems like a massive slippery slope that requires you to throw out much of the Bible and proclaim it as fiction...if the very first chapter is fiction, tho it's mentioned throughout the rest of the OT and NT as fact- then what else do you toss out? Was the resurrection a possible metaphor for something else? I just wouldn't know where to stop...what to keep and what to toss out as allegory or whatever.

As for believing Darwinian evolution is a reasonable idea and it was directed by God- it's contradictory. Darwinian evolution is, in itself, completely undirected. There's no rhyme or reason to the flow of life. Life isn't inevitably going from lower to higher or anywhere in between. It's just surviving based on the environment the life form finds itself in. There's no purpose or goal or anything- just survival and adaptations to survive till the sun one day explodes and destroys the earth, end of story.

Directed evolution, by definition, wouldn't be termed Darwinian evolution. It'd be considered theistic- evolution, and would contradict with the purely pointless and undirected survival is the only 'goal' of NDE.

So, that always confuses me when someone says they're a darwinist and a Christian, since the two contradict completely. The Bible, the record we have of God, says that God created, that he was doing so with a purpose. NDE says that life happened on accident and that the variety of life on earth is merely a trillion happy accidents- key word, 'accidents.' Gould (and many others) have always said- if we rewind the tape of history, and played it back, we would never get humans again. If that's the case with Darwinism, then it totally conflicts with the Bible which says that man was God's ultimate purpose. The two just can't fit together in my mind, unless we completely toss out half the Bible as fiction. I don't think I'd ever be able to marry the two, unless I lied to myself and tried to claim belief in two different and totally contradictory ideas.

Anonymous said...

I should also point out- the Bible cleary says that the Book itself is God breathed. Not just parts of it. If only parts of it were truly God-breathed, and other parts were fictions added for some political reason, as you say, then the overall book itself would be fairly pointless, no? Who is in charge of deciding which parts came from God, and which parts are hogwash invented to fool us into some particular dogma?

There'd be no possible way to tell one from the other- and you'd be left with a book that you would say 'half of this is utter bologna, half of it isn't, I'm just not sure which is which.' I don't think that can do us any good. It's not going to be relevant to your life if you believe half or even 1/4 is nonsense and fiction, especially when (as I said), you've no idea which half or 4th is nonsense and which isn't.

Do you abide by all of the biblical laws, even tho you might think some of them were added by hucksters to solidify dogma? What would be the point in following it all if you knew some of it wasn't what God really wanted?

And how is God unknowable? I don't have any sense of that in my Bible. It's made clear throughout that God can be known and has made himself known- primarily thru the Bible itself.

If God is unknowable, then how could you ever claim to know him? If you don't know him, then how on earth would he affect your life at all?

That's the slippery slope I speak of when saying that parts of the Bible are fiction or metaphors, considering you'd never know which parts were which. That causes a major problem in my view.

Scott said...

anonymous:

This is ridiculous. I know Christ, and I try to be like Him. But I don't understand everything about Him, though I strive to. I think it is prideful to say that you know everything about Christ.

Further, you cannot say that everything in the Bible is literal. You are picking and choosing what to believe from it. If you weren't you would be locking your wife and daughters up in a red tent every time they had a menstration, and you wouldn't be eating pork, because it's not kosher in the OT.

Anonymous said...

Actually, that's not true. Christ came and changed the Law. The Holiness Codes don't apply to me, as a Christian.

It's NOT all literal, only the parts that are written as history and the like are to be taken literally. If someone writes down a family tree, and it's composed of historical figures, why would it end with a metaphorical, imaginary man? I can't imagine that it's a metaphor to trace a family tree back to Adam when all the other members of the tree are clearly real, historical people. All true historical characters except for Adam who never really existed? What's the point then of the family tree?

When you get into this idea, you get, as I said, the slippery slope, and you get it big time. Who is in charge of saying what's literal and what isn't? If the writer composed text that was written as history, as is the case with Adam and Eve, the flood, and other such events- then it's meant to be taken literally. You don't write history to be taken as anything else but history.


Furthermore- how can you truly know Christ if you can't even be sure what parts of the Bible are from God, and which parts are total bunk added for whatever reasons were mentioned here? Maybe Christ the figure overall was added later by hucksters who wanted to change the dogma...is that not possible when you get into picking and choosing what is and isn't literal?

If you claim that parts of the bible were purposely distorted, added to, subtracted from- then what are you left with? How can you ever possibly begin to know which parts belong under which of the above categories? Maybe some trickster wanted to form a certain dogma and retracted 10 commandments...there are actually 20, and the second set are commandments that you must follow of perish in Hell. Whose to say, with your vision of the Bible, this isn't the case? You can only have a semi-educated guess on what the Bible truly says, what parts are from God, which parts are from hucksters, etc.

I just can't see God allowing His Word to be distorted to a point where you seem to think it is, which means that millions, billions would possibly lose their souls all because some frauds came along and distorted this book and that, added this new book here and redacted from that book over there.

If you took an instruction manual (which is what the Bible is), shredded half of it, added half of your own original work in it that wasn't even factual, then threw it together out of order- you'd say it was a pointless task to ever try to figure out which parts were which. Aren't you left with the same thing if you think the Bible was done in the same similar manner?

Anonymous said...

By the way, I never said I understood everything about Christ. Much of life in general is a mystery, and this certainly goes for Christ as well.

I just find it hard putting the two concepts together. Creating and accidental happenstances, literal and non-literal, and other combos.

It doesn't make sense in my head, and I'm trying to figure it out myself.

daddio514 said...

You know what I love to do? Is blaze up before I have a discussion on religion, and politics. That right there just pissed off 50 percent of my audience right there. Which is okay, because its probably not more that 2 people anyway right now.
According to the Bible Jesus is True Freedom.(in capitals for Jon Stewart. Also in capitals)
Heres what America is missing.
Where is the human touch?(should be in capitals)
The greatest commandment is Love God,#1. Then #2 is love your neighbor as yourself,which is like the first. Which is a hard commandment, especially if you have met my neighbors.
some people are to proud to listen to someone else, or they "know they're right"(in parenthesis). They worry about little things in life that don't really mean much if you think about it.
You cant really change all the things going out in the world. But you can change what your doing.
And its called "cause and effect" its a law that I'm sure everyone can agree on. For every action there is a reaction. If i do something good for somebody around me, then good things will start to happen around me. You do mean things, life isnt going to be so easy.
Life isnt easy anyway, but i'll tell you one thing that gives me happiness besides loving Jesus and smoking weed,is giving somebody something that they need,or helping somebody out that needs it. It's better than fighting over piddly shit that doesn't really matter. Anyway Scott, I can tell you're a thinker, and I hope that my article helps you in some way. Because I should be in bed right now because its 2 in the morning. But instead I'm smoking weed and writing to you. I'm a loser, but Jesus loves me, Halleluyah, Yahoo! Doggie!

daddio514 said...

Hey it said my comment has been saved. Well I'm glad i helped save somebody.

daddio514 said...

I am probably not qualified in any school sense, to be a professional in anything, but I do know that a lot of professionals are full of bullshit, and they dont really know the answer, but they write it down anyway like it was fact,anyway.
Doctors work for the money.
I know big suprise, right?
They dont work to help the public. Do they?
Attorneys.
They're so corrupt its a joke now. Everybody laughs it off while it still goes on, and there's nothing they can do about it. Except the lawers. Do they? What about the media?
And then the media says "a local blogger goes on a marajuana writing binge again,stirring up some local controversy".
no, I'm sure the media tells the truth.
And the media will scream PRINT THAT, and take something way out of context.
"and the media tells the truth. Back to you John."

What happened to human decency? Like not charging $12 a drink.
Vegas used to be cheap.
I hear it used to be like family.
Like a family fun park. $7 dollars for a lemonade.
What happened to caring about the customer?
Being worried about money over people has got us in the mess we are in today.
How bout a little human kindness.
There are people that dont have it as good as us.
"Oh no were in a ressession!" you might reply.
Let me tell you something. At one point in time if you were fat and overweight,you were considered rich. Like a king. Is everyone smart enough to figure that one out?
Be nice to other people. You'll feel better.

daddio514 said...

ONWARD! MY JOB HERE IS DONE! I MUST FLY ON,OFF, ON, NOW, whatever, SPREADING GOOD NEWS TO OTHER SINNERS JUST LIKE ME. NO NEED TO THANK ME.(cue Superman music)(fly off)

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