Biblical literalism is costing America dearly right now

Michigan gun protestors

For the last four decades, highly respected polls surveying opinions about religious beliefs have shown that between 30-40% of Americans embrace a biblically literal worldview. That belief system embraces the idea that the Bible story with its six-day creation narrative with animals and human beings fashioned out of nothing is more credible than the demonstrable cause-and-effect outcomes of material processes.

The resulting worldview of creationism also insists that every living creature but a few were wiped out in a global flood and that even the continents were tossed around like toys in a bathtub.

Those premises form a stubborn bulwark against multiple scientific principles ranging from plate tectonics to the theory of evolution.

One-third of America

So it’s time to stop and think about that: almost one-third of Americans do not accept science and instead embrace an alternate view of reality based on a literal interpretation of an oral tradition drawn from beliefs first formed some six thousand years ago. And by no coincidence, many of those same Americans hold the belief that the earth itself if no more than 6-10,000 years old. Some still believe the earth is flat, that sicknesses are caused by demons and that humans once shared the planet with meat-eating dinosaurs.

So it’s not hard to see why so many Americans fail to see the Coronavirus pandemic through a factually clear lens. It is preferable in their minds to deny science and medical information out of habit and fear that it could corrupt their minds and lead them away from God.

Cult thinking

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There are entire organizations and even political parties devoted to the propagation and support of the biblically literal worldview. These range from the apologetically driven Moody Bible Institute to the Answers In Genesis “ministry” with its Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, both facilities dedicated to literal depictions of the Book of Genesis and its array of anachronistic characters. It is little more than a cult of denial, but it is enormously popular in a nation where the irony of religious freedom has produced a generation of patently stubborn idiots.

One in three people who walk into those museums buys that information wholesale. They hear it preached to them from pulpits and consume it through multiple media channels from their local radio stations to the megaphone of Fox News, where dog-whistle anti-science rhetoric claiming the falsehoods of science include calculated PR campaigns and scripted attacks on the impacts of climate change and even basic environmental regulations.

The real alarmists

Let’s be blunt: Americans convinced the earth was created in six literal days are incapable of grasping the public relations sophistication of a story such as a piece published on Fox News from the Heartland Institute, who claimed, “Not surprisingly coronavirus alarm has pushed most other issues and concerns out of the news ⎯ much to the dismay of climate alarmists,” said Steve Milloy of the Heartland Institute. “But the alarmists aren’t taking displacement by coronavirus lying down. In fact, many climate alarmists are trying to use coronavirus as a means of advancing their agenda. They are trying to surf it.”

This fearmongering approach is a common tactic that hearkens back to the earliest forms of propaganda employed by the Christian church to keep people in line. The original alarmists were always religious authoritarians. Traditionally it is the threat of life in hell that religion uses to scare people into believing what they’re told, and without question. Today’s religious leaders and politicians have adapted that approach while targeting science as the enemy of God to convince millions of people that even sound medical advice cannot be trusted.

The love of money religiously abided

Toss fears about the economy into the mix and the fearmongering takes on a whole new level of existential threat. It’s easy to scare people with the idea that someone else is trying to take your money. Climate change deniers and now Coronavirus blamers both claim that scientific warnings about these real threats are all about a money grab and/or an excuse for trying to install a worldwide government.

The sick fact is that even our own government is depicted as a threat among those claiming that basic scientific recommendations about disease control and social distancing are an infringement of liberties. That’s how a gang of gun-wielding domestic terrorists wound up inside the Michigan state capitol building demanding a meeting with the Governor. Their version of truth in action was vigilante lawlessness. In one fell swoop, they demonstrated that aggressive denial of science, common sense and rule of law can all be exacted upon society at will. Disturbingly, the President of the United States approved of their actions, instructing the Governor of Michigan to capitulate to their will. Trump knows that to appeal to “his base” he must cater to the most extreme factions with approval or risk having that 30% of cultlike Trump supporters abandon him.

Trickle-up effect

So we can see how the grassroots belief in biblical literalism and its associated denial of science and truth is costing America right now. President Donald Trump openly embraces evangelicals who deny science and even invent or propagate conspiracy theories that direct blame away from their pet President. All the better to avoid the truth that it was incompetency and delay by Trump right here in America that allowed the Coronavirus to get such traction.

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True to form and in keeping with the “science of denial” common to biblical literalists, Trump at first refused to acknowledge the threat as real (just like climate change) then downplayed its likely spread (though he was informed on a regular basis of the reality of the threat) and has now turned to claim his response has been a dynamic success, when in fact death projections are now reaching more than 200,000 Americans.

The goal now is to outstrip the failure by reframing “success” through the use of denial to convince willing supporters that Trump and team have done a good job. That means preventing any testimony by actual scientists and medical experts at hearings designed to examine America’s response to the pandemic. Just like the Senate’s denial to allow witness testimony about Trump’s corrupt activities in Ukraine, the Republican goal right now is to bury facts under propaganda. This is fascism at work.

LiveScience.com published a fascinating profile of fascism on its website that describes it this way: “Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University in New York who is widely considered the father of fascism studies, defined fascism as “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary, expansionist nationalist agenda.”

Fascism, socialism and the public good

Of course, the parallel need of any fascist government is to find an enemy upon which to direct its ire, thereby focusing the fears of its constituents on that target rather than allowing the facts of its own authoritarian power grab to be known. So the Trump regime and its allies are conveniently trotting out “socialism” as that enemy by depicting social programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and even the US Post Office as socialistically repressive forms of government that must be eradicated. Of course, Trump also eliminated the Pandemic Response Team in 2018 in order to eliminate costs.  This is where belief in a vastly reduced government can have real costs.

As documented on Reuters.com: “In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Beth Cameron, former Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense in the NSC, wrote, “When President Trump took office in 2017, the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense survived the transition intact.

“Its mission was the same as when I was asked to lead the office, established after the Ebola epidemic of 2014: to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic. One year later, I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like covid-19” ( here ).”

Comparable habits

The habits and patterns of denial are so comparable between Trump and the 30-40% of Americans that deny science it is entirely logical to place blame for the spread of Coronavirus on the one-third of the American public that embraces anachronism over science in the modern age. That is proof that biblical literalism is both bad theology and an irresponsible belief system. What God in heaven or on earth would have us choose to disregard or ignore information valuable to the protection of human welfare and even the entire planet? That is a God reduced instead to the petty aims of human selfishness. That is the sin of which Jesus accused the religious authorities of his day, who demanded respect for their country club lifestyle while people suffered in the streets.

These days it is inexcusable to embrace corrupt traditions such as Biblical literalism because it is so easy to find out the facts and know better. Instead, we are being forced to live in an age of lies, misinformation, propaganda and outright fascist attempts to undermine truth in favor of political and religious power in America.

That is the real and original pandemic of untruth with which we’re trying to contend today. Those brutes on the steps of the Michigan capitol are just one illustration of its effects. The other is the painted face and combover lies of a President who can’t face the fact that he’s a fraud, an incompetent, and a bully. That brand of evil threatens to kill us all.

 

 

Coronavirus is proof that creationism is a deadly worldview

Balls

The Coronavirus pandemic is not just a medical and cultural threat. It is also a lesson in theology. The idea that human beings are “specially created” beings that stand apart from the rest of nature has been blown asunder, and forever, by the fact that this virus and many thousands of others are threats to human existence and known to jump from the rest of the animal world to infect us.

So much for the creationist contention that God spares human beings from such humble roots. Our gut bacteria was already proof that we’re biologically dependent and derived from the raw stuff of creation. But this novel disease has put an all-new face on the fact that human beings share our guts and DNA with every other living thing on earth.

Denial still rules

Yet despite this biological threat to human health, there are Christians in strong denial of the dangers posed by Covid-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel Coronavirus. Some pastors have openly defied governmental orders not to assemble due to the risk of spreading the disease. Others claim that their religious freedom is being restricted by orders not to hold public gatherings. Perhaps the belief is that people sitting together in prayer are immune to the disease? But given clear evidence that church is no protection from the disease, it is legitimate to ask if pastors and other religious leaders really care if their congregations live or die? Cynics have questioned whether some of these pastors care more about the contents of the collection plate than the lives of the people in their pews.

Misguided beliefs

It is far more likely that it is the idea of giving up some aspect of religious authority that makes pastors so defiant toward the public safety recommendations issued by government, medical or scientific sources. Among all the perceived threats to orthodoxy, it is religious authority itself to which its advocates so ardently cling and become anxious, angry and resentful when challenged.

John the Baptist and Jesus both dealt with that problem in the religious authorities of their day. Martin Luther later challenged the Catholic Church over its imposition of indulgences and today’s selfish televangelists rake in millions of dollars in tithes and offerings but when a public crisis hits, their voices suddenly go silent, their church doors close, and they look for ways to blame those they hate for the crisis.

But most just hide behind the protection of their personal mansions until it is safe to come out again. In other words, they are theological hypocrites who couldn’t give a rat’s ass or a bat’s wing about the lives of people on whom they depend for their wealth.

Special creation indeed

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Perhaps these religious leaders really are encouraged to flaunt scientific and medical advice based on the biblically literal notion that human beings are “specially created” and somehow immune to a deadly disease that reputedly sprung from the flesh of bat. Instead, creationists console themselves with the biblically literal notion that God molded human flesh out of dust from the earth, and that we have nothing much to do with all that DNA and genetics stuff that connects us to the rest of the world. That’s the worldview of theological hacks like Ken Ham, progenitor of the Answers In Genesiswebsite and its expensive temples constructed to cater to his ego, the Creation Museumand The Ark Encounter.

Supposedly these websites and facilities provide answers to all of life’s pressing questions about the origins of life, including ‘science’ in the name of God. Yet during this Coronavirus pandemic not a word of insight, advice or practical solutions emanate from the likes of Ken Ham and his ham-handed assemblage of quitter scientists. They are all theological and scientific frauds hiding behind a grand excuse to make money on the creationist schtick.

Anachronism and crisis

And people die because anachronistic beliefs have nothing to offer us in the face of a medical crisis. Thoughts and prayers do nothing, or else people would be indeed huddled in churches rather than dying in overcrowded hospitals. Medicine and science works because it depends on knowledge from the theory of evolution to determine how viruses mutate, replicate and transmit from one living thing to another. It takes an idiot to choose wishful thinking over medical cures for disease. Creationism is a deadly worldview.

It is only an egotistically naive desire to feel better than the rest of nature that drives creationists to such selfish extremes. But the Coronavirus isn’t choosy about who it infects or how well they survive. It only does what it was designed to do, mutate and move on. In that respect, it seems like a heartless invention of God to create such killers. If that’s how it works, it is the religiously literal that have the most to answer for, not those who understand that the human condition is an evolutionary function just like everything else in the universe.

 

An honest examination of the abortion issue

It has taken a long time in life to learn some of the family history that does not often get talked about. Mainly, this has pertained to miscarriages. Stillborn children. Lives that did not make it much past the birthing process, or not at all. My mother had two children that did not survive. They had names. But they did not live to use them. The same held true with my mother-in-law. There is a grave for the child to which she gave birth, but did not survive.

This pattern is real, and it is painful. Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral for the daughter of a woman that I have known since she was born 20+ years ago.

All this infant carnage made me curious about how common it is for women to lose children through miscarriage, stillborn or otherwise naturally terminated pregnancies. What I found was stunning.

“Among females who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is roughly 10% to 20% while rates among all fertilisation is around 30% to 50%. About 5% of females have two miscarriages in a row.”

True to these statistics, I know many, many women that have had miscarriages. Some have persisted through these immense challenges in carrying children to term and now have families. Others tried repeatedly and ultimately accepted their chances for a healthy birth were minimized either through biology, advancing age or infertility issues.

Those moments of agony when losing a child may be relatively brief, yet they provide a lifetime of grief. The turbulent experience is like being involved in a shipwreck where lives are lost, like these lyrics from the Gordon Lightfoot song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald:

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours…

Theologians warn us not to question the will of God, nor the love that supposedly abounds in all things. Yet those statistics about miscarriage are a haunting fact of reality. Because it’s true: Between 30-50% of all fertilization results in miscarriage. 

Staggering figures

Women may know this is going on, but many millions more will not. The numbers are still staggering to consider. If 20 million women per year come pregnant, that means between six million and ten million of those pregnancies terminate before or at the moment of birth resulting in lives lost.

This is human biology at work. It is a direct product of the big wheels turning in the process of evolution. Among all living things, fertility is evolved at a rate necessary to sustain the population. In any kind of living thing, the rate of fertility and reproduction must exceed the rate of mortality or the species will die out.

This is what makes it so sad to see the last living remnants of an animal species left on earth. Sometimes the last male or females of a species are incapable of breeding due to age or other fertility issues. Captive or artificial breeding can sometimes rescue species at risk of extinction from these factors. Successful artificial breeding programs have helped species such as the Whooping Crane and California Condor survive.

Fertility issues

This paradigm also holds true for a human couple trying to create a family. Yet the process can turn into a caricature. Fertility treatments can produce entire litters of children, and human fascination with extreme fertility has produced TV shows such as Kate + 8 featuring a woman with octuplets. Yet the extremes of human behavior also includes tragic response to extremes in fertility.

The harsh reality is that infant or child mortality is a real thing whether it is driven by human biology or wrought by human hands. The Pro-Life movement is insistent that the act of conducting an abortion is a sin against God because it takes the life of an unborn child. Arguments against abortion focus on the idea that a child exists from the moment of conception. That would apparently be somewhere in the process from the moment a sperm penetrates a human egg to the point where that egg begins dividing on the path toward creating human tissue.

Arguing the point at which a fertilized egg constitutes a human in existence is difficult. But the raw and gutsy argument must also be made that between 30% – 50% of all fertilized eggs go to waste, as it were, according to natural law.

God the Control Freak

Depending on your belief system, that might mean God is directing the whole process. Which would also mean that God has little reverence for what we consider human life at all. If half of all the human lives conceived in this world naturally get dumped in a wave of blood from the female vagina, then what does the term Pro-Life even mean?

The numbers ratchet up even further when we consider that with relatively rare exception, women menstruate beginning at the age of 10-12 and continue through their fifties or so. With more than 400 eggs stored in their ovaries from birth, women have the choice to breed and turn those eggs into children, or avoid motherhood altogether.

That is first and foremost a woman’s choice. Regardless of belief systems, we are all faced with the reality of free will. Our choices are our own to make. To argue otherwise is to insinuate that God is a control freak and indeed, murders all those real or imagined babies by cause of natural process. Is God really such a murderer? Where does the love of God go when the big wheels of nature keep turning?

Number and rate of abortions

There’s a fascinating website titled numberofabortions.com that ostensibly tracks the rate and number of abortions in the US and worldwide. As of November 2016, an estimated 900,000 abortions have taken place in the US. That is .0027 of the total American population.

The Guttmacher Institute reports statistics on the number of women who are sexually active in childbearing years in America.

  • There are 61 million U.S. women in their childbearing years (15–44).[1] About 43 million of them (70%) are at risk of unintended pregnancy—that is, they are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they and their partners fail to use a contraceptive method correctly and consistently.[2]

Given the known rate of miscarriage in America, the number of pregnancies ending by s0-called “natural causes” each year could be as many as 30.5M. Whether these are known or unknown terminations due to miscarriage or other causes, the numbers are still quite compelling in context with what constitutes our understanding of the relative preciousness of human life.

Beyond the numbers

Again, we must return to the emotional component to understand the harsh costs of these statistics. Women bear the brunt of emotional scars from terminated pregnancies, natural or otherwise. There is a very real effect in having lost a child no matter what stage it occurs in a pregnancy. Some might argue that the effects are far worse the later one gets into a pregnancy term. And yet, who is to determine that for a given women, or her given circumstance?

So the arguments for and against a woman’s choice to have an abortion must take all these factors into account. Yet the one factor that is seldom mentioned, if ever, in the debate over abortion is the natural mortality rate of human conception, the effective rate of miscarriages and stillborn children. All these factors define the context of human fertility and medical ethics surrounding the rate of abortion in America and worldwide.

Blaming Planned Parenthood

Castigating organizations such as Planned Parenthood for conducting abortions is, therefore, an inaccurate reflection of the greater reality with what happens in pregnancy and women’s health in America. Recall the Guttmacher statistics above, and the fact that some 70% of women capable of bearing children in America have inadequate access to birth control. If more women were given access to birth control services to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the rate of abortions could go down dramatically.

And yet, abortion opponents attack Planned Parenthood over the effects, not the cause of unwanted pregnancies. This is truly putting the cart before the horse. Stop and consider the name of the organization in question: Planned Parenthood. Isn’t that a rational notion, that planning your pregnancy is the best option of all?

The wrong blame

It is false moralization to simultaneously accuse women of wanting abortions when efforts to defund organizations such as Planned Parenthood are often led by Pro-Life politicians and their supporters. This is all done on the supposed higher moral grounds that people should not be having sex outside the bonds of marriage. But that is not the law of the land in America. There are no laws in the Constitution suggesting that people cannot have sex anytime or with anyone they want. The Founding Fathers had no interest in such concerns.

So it is a false notion that America is bound by such moral confinements as the claim that abstinence is superior to birth control. The Catholic Church has fought that battle for years, advocating the Rhythm Method as a supposedly moral alternative to wearing condoms or taking birth control pills. And yet 97% of Catholic women apparently ignore dictums of such as patriarchal nature. And why shouldn’t they?

Because if you want to get literal and technical about your religion at the same time, you could make the very legitimate argument that God is the ultimate abortion doctor. If you compare the number of abortions conducted in America each year (about 1 million) to the number of terminated pregnancies directed by God, the ratio is about 1:10 or higher.

What would Jesus do? 

So we should stop with all these Pro-Life claims on religious grounds that abortion should be illegal. Life is much more complicated than the Yes or No option to have an abortion. There is yet another layer to these issues as well. If abortion opponents were to ask Jesus Christ if it was the law that mattered, or ministering to the women who were considering abortion as an option, what do you honestly think the Son of God would say?

It is clear that Jesus never felt that the human race should depend on laws to effect change in the hearts of those facing challenges in their lives, of any sort. Jesus castigated the chief priests of his day over their dependence on law to define moral behavior and gain the approval of God. The same lesson had to be learned again when Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church to emphasize grace over law, thereby launching the Protestant Reformation.

And here we are again in history, fighting the same battles over laws such as Roe vs. Wade that are not borne of religious freedom at all, but center on a woman’s own right to determine the outcome of her pregnancy.

But let’s remember, if you truly believe that God has a say in all this, then you must consider the painful results of so many miscarriages on the lives of so many millions of women. This is the honest examination of the abortion issue.

Because how is it for you to judge that these outcomes are any less painful than the rational choice to end a pregnancy that might have been the result of forceful or desperate circumstances? And who are you to decide what is the more moral choice? To plan parenthood, or not?  Those are not your decisions to make for a woman. Not at all.

And if you disagree, then you should take it all up with your apparently meddlesome and murderous God. Because that is the one you obviously worship.

 

 

Ken Ham the Creationist versus Bill Nye the Science Guy proved a lot about how wrong Ken Ham has the Bible

By Christopher Cudworth

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

It appeared from watching the “debate” between creationist Ken Ham and scientist Bill Nye that Ham wanted desperately to prove science wrong about everything.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the conclusion of the so-called debate. Ham never mustered the ability to answer simple questions that would have proved creationism has any sort of relationship with science. His entire contention rested on the contention that the Bible must be understood “naturally” in order to understand the world. That is, the parts in the Bible Ken Ham judges to be crucial to a literal interpretation of scripture must be abided to the letter. The other parts, such as the “poetry” of Psalms, according to Ham, actually have no real bearing on the role of the Bible as science. Wow. That’s a whopper.

Yet that is the biblical foundation of Ken Ham’s creationist worldview. It begins with a denial of a significant portion of the Bible’s verity. Creationism literally starts with the assertion that not all the Bible can be trusted as fact.

And that’s just the starting point of a confused, frustrating and inaccurate worldview. Ken Ham seems to misunderstand and completely disregard the nature of what Christians call the New Testament. In fact he makes very few references to Jesus in any of his assertions about creation.

He certainly never mentions the methods by which Jesus himself taught by using organic metaphors. In simpler terms, Jesus used symbols from nature to illustrate spiritual principles. That way everyday people could comprehend what he was trying to teach about the nature of God.

But Ken Ham can’t seem to grasp or embrace that style of teaching, about nature, or about science. He prefers instead the literal view of scripture. His motive appears to be focused on leaving no room for interpretation. He is a zealot about that.

Of course that is the very same legalistic approach used by the Pharisees, leaders of the faith in Jesus’ day. He branded them a “brood of vipers” in clear reference to the Genesis depiction of Satan as a serpent.

You don’t have to take that reference literally to get the message. Jesus would not have liked Ken Ham. Jesus would have knocked the Creation Museum to the ground because it is a crass attempt to control the faith and belief of people through legalistic force and deception.

So the truth speaks for itself. Ken Ham is at odds with Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. Ken Ham considers Jesus’ method of teaching with metaphors inferior to his own brand of truth based on narrow interpretations of a book written 2000 years ago, conveyed originally as oral tradition and translated multiple times.

The simpler, more clear understanding that Jesus gave to all those who would listen is not good enough for Ken Ham. Jesus would gladly have accepted the findings of science.

Jesus said God is nature, and nature is God. All things worthy of consideration can be discerned through that simple statement. Anything else is fiction, or worse, a lie about the Word of God. And God is never happy about that.

On why we should all read about faith and what it means to the world

Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

By Christopher Cudworth

Sitting in the admissions office of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago felt right.

A little more than two years ago a young man that had served as our church Youth Pastor had invited me to visit the school. “I think you’d like it,” he told me.

Our conversations as he prepared to leave his position at the church and begin studies to become a Lutheran pastor had centered on ministry to high school students, yet over coffee one morning the topics widened. I explained the process of writing my book, “The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age,” and how it changed the way I viewed writing about, and reading about, faith in the world.

The experience of trying to get an agent for the book had taught me a few things. The theme was the same with every contact. “You’re not a minister. You’re not a college professor. What credibility do you have to write such a book?”

Credibility is important. It gives people a foundation upon which to trust what you write. The process of earning credibility can also challenge the manner in which you arrive at your conclusions.

Regarding Masters

The message stuck with me. Despite the fact that I had spent 7 years researching and refining the book, it was true. I was not technically qualified to write it. Not in the eyes of those who make such decisions anyway.

It’s not enough that your friends call you “courageous” for taking on biblical literalism as a worldview. You must vet your viewpoints in the theological world before tearing away the dogmatic garments of the modern day Pharisees who stand in opposition to so much practical truth.

Simple truths and basic contradictions

Yet it’s a simple fact really. Biblical literalists stand in opposition to the teaching methods of Jesus Christ, who consistently used organic metaphors to convey spiritual truths through parables designed to bring the common mind to faith in God. Ignoring that principle is basically a slap in the face to Jesus. It’s like telling him, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t you know that God’s Word must be taking literally or it has no meaning at all?”

While classic, the old ways of thinking may not be sufficient for a new world. Nor have they ever been.

While classic, the old ways of thinking may not be sufficient for a new world. Nor have they ever been.

Actually the community of believers who take the Bible literally never actually get close to discussing the teaching methods of Jesus. They’re stuck way back in Genesis and a literal 7 days, an Adam and Eve that were transmogrified from the dust of the Earth and a Serpent or Snake who tricks Eve and then Adam into disobeying God’s warning not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Of course we all know the story. Adam and Eve fall for the Serpent’s logic, thereby causing the Fall of Man.

Bad Beginnings? 

Original Sin is the pet concept that emerges from that creation story. But that quick-take worldview ignores a key aspect of the tale. What we miss by taking the story literally is the Serpent’s methodology in tricking Adam and Eve. In a crafty use of the first brand of scripture known to Man, the Serpent engages Eve in legalistic use of God’s own words to undermine her trust in God. Here is how the ploy works:

Christianity is not entirely clear on what the "serpent" really is, or looks like. So how can we take such a creation story literally?

Christianity is not entirely clear on what the “serpent” really is, or looks like. So how can we take such a creation story literally?

The Serpent’s Deception
3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”…

How very similar is this exchange to the passage in Matthew 15 in which Jesus engages the Pharisees over the issue of turning the Word of God into a legalistic trap:

1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 3Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

The comparison between literalism and legalism is given a direct connection to the Serpent in the Book of Genesis in Matthew 23:33, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

It is a sad fact that today’s adherents to biblical literalism are playing the same game that Pharisees played with Jesus so long ago. Yet the pain and misdirection caused by today’s brand of scriptural literalism is just as potent as that depicted in Genesis with deception by the serpent, and just as power-mongering as the Pharisees of the New Testament.

And that is the point from my motivation to attend a school of theology emanates. I believe the most important thing in the world right now is to counter biblical literalism and all its awful consequences. Literal interpretation of the Bible is being used to persecute gays, to resist legitimate science, to argue against the theory of evolution and to undermine political and ethical justice on a broad spectrum of issues.

Reason and Reasons
It’s not about a mid-career change for me, or anything prosaic as that. It’s about finding ways to make the world a better place. Martin Luther changed the world by pointing out the very simple fact that we are saved first and foremost by grace. The new reformation should finish the job of removing all barriers from our acceptance of grace.

Yet we also need to define what it means to exist within and attend to the Kingdom of God. How we understand the nature of that “kingdom” is crucial to our stewardship of creation. The dangerously ironic consequence of a worldview founded on biblical literalism is the attitude that nature and all of creation is essentially a disposable tool of God, one that has no purpose other than our own somewhat greedy sustenance and no other significance than as a temporal stage between Creation and Armageddon.

Challenges

We can do better than old ships and sails of theology. And we should.

We can do better than old ships and sails of theology. And we should.

We need to challenge this fatalistic worldview at its very roots. That begins with the misinterpretation of Genesis as a literal document. Yet it also extends to our regard of scripture as a wholly inerrant document. It simply isn’t, that way. Any faith dependent on that premise is brittle, frail and sad, thus requiring a defensive posture to sustain.

The book of Romans 1:20 contains a telling point of scripture, one that reveals the idea of organic fundamentalism, the key understanding that nature itself, and our metaphorical understanding of it, holds keys to our comprehension of God and all that we read in scripture:

Romans20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,  so that people are without excuse.

Nowhere in this passage, or any other in the Bible for that matter, does it say that we must take a literal approach to conceptions of God. In fact as demonstrated by Jesus himself, we are to do the opposite.

Recall that literalism and legalism produced the approach that one could earn the way into heaven through God works doled out by the church and vetted by leaders who earned earthly power through the system set up by the brand of Pharisees leading the Catholic church at the time.

Then along came Martin Luther, who saw through the giant ruse of literalism and legalism, and who launched a Reformation that transformed the faith, made it new again. We can view this passage in a fresh light in contradiction to the brand of literalism now vexing the world.

Nature and eternity are foundations of the Bible

There is more to the theological landscape than meets the eye. Creativity, not just creation, is part of scripture. Click for larger view.

Ephesians 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works,  so that no one can boast.

For there are many who “boast” that their literalistic view of the bible constitutes the “works” of real Christianity. Yet we also know that God’s invisible qualities are visible in Nature, and through the Word, and that there is no excuse for ignoring these greater, most important facets of faith realized.

And that is why the pursuit of truth is so important to me, and why sitting in the office of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago felt so very good, and so very real. Because each Reformation has to start somewhere. We all play a part in the heart of faith.

If Bill Nye the Science Guy debates Ken Ham over evolution and Genesis, things could get sticky as a spider web

By Christopher Cudworth

argiope6252a“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne’er come down again.”

It’s a classic tale of deceit for advantage.  The spider uses an inviting scenario to invite the fly to the table, when in fact the intent is to make the fly a meal.

So goes the proposed debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the leader of a group that calls itself “Answers In Genesis.”

We must start with the name of the organization to see how confusing this debate will likely be, or could become.

No Scientific Answers in Genesis

Evolution explains the structure and function of all living things. Genesis does not. It only deals with purpose.

Evolution explains the structure and function of all living things. Genesis does not. It only deals with purpose.

See, when it comes to science, there are no answers in the book of Genesis. None. The only references to the character and structure of living things are made in broad generalities, that various “kinds” of creatures walk, crawl and swim on the earth. It does not categorize them or describe them beyond a preschool level of understanding nature and all its workings.

So the supposition that Genesis somehow holds all the answers to the manner in which the world works and all its complexity is a bold farce.

People Walking With Dinosaurs

How bold? The Creation Museum that has been generated from the teachings of Answers in Genesis insists that people walked the earth at the same time as long-extinct forms of dinosaurs. Achingly sad attempts have been made to prove this fact, including the contention that fossilized dinosaur prints in a bed of Texas rock were actually made by humans. The explanation for the supposedly human footprints alongside the dinosaur tracks is found in the mere fact that mud collapses on its edges in many conditions. But the fantasy and appeal of humans and dinosaurs walking together was so strong that folks like the Answers In Genesis people tried to make a big deal out of it.

That is because there is a major clique of people who cannot see the world through anything other than an anachronistic lens in which the Bible is to be taken literally. This cabal is so desperate to find evidence to support their backwards-thinking theories of creationism and intelligent design, the merest conundrum of science sends them scurrying to catalog the fact that “science is wrong.”

The beauty of science is that makes right from many wrongs

Science is always wrong. That’s the beauty of it. Science is cannibalistic in its willingness to disprove theories and replace them with better ones. But that’s what makes science work in the world. If it cannot be repeatedly demonstrated through experimentation, or documented to be verifiable through supporting evidence, it does not stand up as science.

That’s a harsh reality. Science deals in harsh realities. It makes right from many wrongs, whereas religion takes the attitude that three wrongs can never make a right.

Different priorities

The harsh reality that Answers in Genesis emphasizes (and considers paramount and superior to the priorities of science) is the harsh reality of divine salvation.

Ken Ham may care deeply about your soul, and he may indeed worry that anything that appears to contradict the Word of God may prevent you from making that vital connection with God. But Ken Ham makes the rude assumption that only a literal take on the Bible has verity.

The priorities of Jesus

Jesus revealed spiritual truths by using organic symbols from nature as metaphors.

Jesus revealed spiritual truths by using organic symbols from nature as metaphors.

In fact in reading the Bible we find that Jesus himself taught by using metaphorical symbols from nature to convey spiritual principles that his audience might otherwise fail to grasp if they were not presented in a form that allowed them to conceive and visualize the truth he sought them to grasp. In my book The Genesis Fix, I call this method of teaching “organic fundamentalism,” and its practice is found not only in the parables of Jesus, but throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Here’s how it works:

True simplicity of faith comes in having the liberty and latitude to discover what scripture means to say rather than accepting a merely literal interpretation of a religious text. We might call this metaphorical tangibility; that is, approaching life and wisdom with an eye toward its unifying symbolism. This is the common denominator in biblical knowledge. Organic fundamentalism isn’t just a “here or there” phenomenon in the bible based on texts selected to make a case in favor of naturalism as a foundation for truth. Scriptural knowledge is consistently (even persistently) delivered to us through use of metonymy from nature to describe the abiding principles of God. Organic fundamentalism founded on observational naturalism is plainly the root source of biblical knowledge and the primary tool for understanding concepts of God. 

At odds with Christ

Ken Ham can't see the trees for the forest.

Ken Ham can’t see the trees for the forest.

So this raises the question of whether Ken Ham’s worldview has any verity at all if in fact his seemingly simple explanations of nature are in fact not in accordance with the teaching methods of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus would have labeled Ken Ham another brand of Pharisee, someone so caught up in legalism and the hunger for power over the Word that he has lost sight of the forest for the trees. He is, in other words, a modern day zealot in search of a position in this life, not the Holy Man he claims to be.

A nasty web of religious words

When Billy Nye debates Ken Ham he will first have to sort through the many webs and fabrications of “fact” that Answers In Genesis has woven to ensnare scientists in a religious, not a scientific debate. The complicating factor is that when the version of religion is even wrong, you are in a very sticky situation. Bill Nye may well find himself having to correct Ken Ham on his religious facts in order to debate his ostensibly scientific contentions that creationism is real and true.

It isn’t, of course, and Jesus never would have demanded that it be so. Most certainly he would have appreciated the spider and the fly allegory in the poem that starts out this essay. Jesus often found himself in situations where supposedly scholarly religious leaders tried to entrap him with their words. Jesus usually deferred them by answering back with questions that were equally unanswerable and that illustrated the falsity of the original question.

This column of limestone in an Iowa forest perfectly illustrates the enormous timeline it took for oceans to lay down layers of silt that turned into stone, and the many years of hydrology and erosion it took to become a column before us.

This column of limestone in an Iowa forest perfectly illustrates the enormous timeline it took for oceans to lay down layers of silt that turned into stone, and the many years of hydrology and erosion it took to become a column before us.

Bill Nye the Science Guy could learn a few things from Jesus before he debates Ken Ham the Creation Guy. As he argues in favor of evolutionary theory, and how evolution explains the world, he may find himself mostly tugging away at the sticky questions Ken Ham throws at him about how science is frequently wrong. That would be missing the point entirely, because the point of this argument is that science actually works in a practical sense. It is the foundation of medicine and a thousand other practical applications without which the world could not operate.

So here’s the irony: Bill Nye would be wise to learn from Jesus about how to argue with a religious zealot if he doesn’t want to get stuck in a web of wordy deceit.

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How preteens evolve into thinking human beings

photoAt some early age it entered my head that perhaps everyone around me was in on a secret. That I was the only one that thought as I do, and that even my parents were putting me on, big time.

I worried that I was not a “normal” person.

It happened again to some extent when I was 13 years old. That’s the age when your interests begin to collide with the world, and that’s a dual problem because your interests when you are in middle school tend to be really intense, sometimes nerdy and ridiculously easy to ridicule.

My interests happened to be all over the board, from art to nature, but one avocation got me in trouble with my friends who all seemed to think birdwatching was stupid, silly and less than manly. They made up bird names with obscene roots and laughed when I told them I’d identified a certain species of importance to me.

Resilience

To my everlasting credit, I never let the teasing stop me from pursuing any of my interests, even at the vulnerable age of 13. Now the same people who used to ridicule will call with a “bird question” when something unexpected shows up at their feeder, or they see a bald eagle along the river. The enthusiasm they now show for such things is a much-delayed apology for the abuse long ago.

As an adult I was asked to teach Sunday School for the middle schoolers because no one else wanted to take on the task. I liked it. Working with a series of teacher-partners over a 12-year period, it was fascinating to see the variability in maturity and self-awareness among preteens.

Sleepy minds

Many Sunday mornings they’d arrive sullen and bored, aching to get back to their sleepy beds where the rest of the world could not reach them. But reach them I did.

The church absentmindedly neglected to shove some curriculum my way for years and years. The parents did not complain about my teaching so everyone must have thought it was working out okay.

Little did they know that Sunday School was a perfect place to get those preteens thinking about what matters in life beyond the Bible. Sure, we always talked about scripture in a roundabout way. I’d always have an idea to discuss and would bring them around to the topic by asking what they’d done during the week and even how they felt about it. They deserved that attention. The minds of preteens seem to be largely ignored by this world, as if they have nothing of value to say about it. But the world would be wrong about that. It always has.

The example of Jesus

You may recall that it was a preteen Jesus (about age 12) who stayed behind at a temple when he was supposed to be following his parents back home after a visit to the city. This is what transpired:

46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Echoes of Christ

In many ways that scene was replayed among the preteens who entered the middle school Sunday School class. They had ideas. They wanted answers. They asked questions and to the best of my ability I answered their questions or encouraged them to find answers, and at all costs.

That church did not preach tolerance for science, yet several of my former students went on to become chemical engineers and biologists and other occupations whose educational processes effectively denied what that simpleton religious worldview maintained.

Rational faith

You may ask why I remained a member so long (25 years) and I can answer that my rational faith survived outside of that venue, but was sustained by the fellowship that came through membership. I am now a member of a church that respects rational thought and yet embraces full discipleship as a matter of practice. In other words, a church that actually teaches what the Bible says to do. Instead of denial like the Pharisees and legalistic practices, my current church loves this world with all its heart, as an expression of creation, but not as an exclusive Creation that cannot be understood or appreciated by the human mind.

That’s what I taught all those years, and what it taught me in return was that the middle school, preteen mind appreciates honesty and respect. If you don’t give pat answers, it doesn’t feel like you’re patting them on the head, telling them to go away and quit thinking. For themselves.

Leadership 

One year I had as students three young women that each vied for the title of Valedictorian at their respective high schools. Keeping them engaged was not that difficult, but keeping the rest of the class in pace with their challenging minds was interesting at times.

Yet it happened. The other kids knew and appreciated true leadership and intellect when they saw it. The girls in return were not disrespectful of their peers. Even those who were brought to the church by bus from underprivileged families participated in the discussions. I often thought about how much those women brought to the table, and the fact that women were not allowed to assume positions of full leadership at that church. It bothered me. So I ignored that example and let them be leaders.

It was proof to me that the Kingdom of God, if that’s what you call it, can embrace the rich in mind and the poor in spirit alike. The principle benefit was, in the end, an open regard for the preteen mind that perhaps they would never have experienced if shielded from the concepts we discussed in biblical context. Those were evolution as well as salvation. I told them there was no reason why the Bible and science could not be reconciled. I told them Jesus was the original naturalist. He used organic symbols in his parables to convey spiritual principles. Later I wrote a book and continue a blog about that subject and more.

Other subjects

We talked about fame and deception, hope and depression. We talked about their lives and encouraged them to keep the confidence of others. Basic human respect was at play at all times.

And we talked about Jesus. Not the Jesus of the Sunday School curriculum that sails around the landscape working miracles. We talked about the Jesus who cried and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, abandoned by his friends. We considered what that meant to be alone, to feel alone.

Then we talked about what it meant to be normal in this world. To have fears and feelings that you poorly understood. To be worried about what others thought about you and about how adults don’t have all the answers. Those were just some of the things discussed with those preteens. They just wanted to know what it meant to be normal, and what it meant if you chose to depart from those norms on your own.

Jesus was a helluva an example on what it meant to go your own way. It has costs, but sometimes its worth it. Not being normal, that is.

America’s concussion problem just won’t go away

by Christopher Cudworth

America is seeing stars, and stripes, but not the way we're accustomed to seeing them.  Painting by Christopher Cudworth

America is seeing stars, and stripes, but not the way we’re accustomed to seeing them. Painting by Christopher Cudworth

The news about concussions is everywhere in pro sports. Retired football players are suing the NFL for failing to protect their noggins, while active players are taking concussions far more seriously. America’s favored game of football may be at risk all the way from youth leagues up to the NFL. And no one seems to know just what to do about it yet.

It is no coincidence that America’s favorite game involves bashing heads to the point where players suffer brain trauma. That’s how Americans live. We smash and bash and crash our way through history without apology. We even have a fancy name for our concussive obsession with being #1. It’s called American Exceptionalism.

Violence has a cost

But the habit of a nation so absorbed with its own violence comes with a cost. America as a nation has a concussion. We can’t seem to stop thrashing about even as our minds grow fuzzy from the slam-bang practice of imperialism.

To put a metaphorical point on the idea that America is concussed, consider this description of the effects of concussion from the Mayo Clinic:

The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not be immediately apparent. Symptoms can last for days, weeks or even longer.

The most common symptoms after a concussive traumatic brain injury are headache, amnesia and confusion. The amnesia, which may or may not be preceded by a loss of consciousness, almost always involves the loss of memory of the impact that caused the concussion.

The definition goes on to describe concussion as a ‘temporary loss of consciousness, followed by confusion or feeling as if in a fog.”

Welcome to a concussed America.

9/11 a big blow to the head

One could argue that the most recent big blow to our national consciousness was the terrorist strike on 9/11. America didn’t know what to do at first. We wandered our quiet streets trying to figure out exactly what hit us. By the time we figured out it really was just a lucky band of religiopolitical extremists, our President had dragged us into a war in Iraq. That’s where the blows to the head of our American self-image started with a display of Shock and Awe that, unbeknownst to most US citizens, would lead to a percussive series of events that would further destroy our credibility worldwide. It started with stark images of unmanaged chaos in the streets of Baghdad, wrought by the lack of an American plan once we knocked Saddam Hussein off his pedestal. That debacle was followed by images of tortured Iraqi civilians that struck us in the head like a force from a blunt instrument. And it was just that. The strike-first ideology of a leadership bent on world domination bounced right back and hit us in the cranium.

There were plenty of people who recognized what was going on, who had the guts to stand out of range of the war-mongering and media blitz that promoted war while giving Bush & Co. a collective pass in questioning the motives of an illegal and unnecessary war. Recall that America was still reeling from 9/11, but some of us cleared our brains quicker than others.

In an editorial written by Walt Williams 2004, the early warnings of political concussion were already being documented, “Sound presidential decision-making structures do not guarantee a successful policy. But the worse the decision process, the greater the danger that the policy devised will fail and wreak havoc on the nation when it is a major initiative.”

“President Bush’s decision to launch a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq is as good an example as I’ve seen of a severely flawed decision-making process producing an ill-thought-through decision that quickly became a nightmare as that misbegotten policy was put in place.”

Concussion. That’s what it was. And it kept on going for 8 more years.

Pulling back

Barack Obama has since pulled the majority of troops out of Iraq. Yet the damage wrought be mercenaries hired to run the operations in Iraq all those years is not easily repaired. Mercenaries are like the brain aneurisms brought on by concussion. They bleed us out from within. Just look at the billions spent and lost somewhere in the fog that was Iraq. We don’t even know where all the money went. We never will. Some of it apparently fell into the hands of our enemies. Nice work, fellas. But it was just a precursor of the loose-ended fiscal policy of an era with no accountability. We were punch drunk and stupid. Banks were running America into the ground and the mortgage industry was behaving like a manic-depressive on speed. It all had to hit us somehow. Then came 2008. The economy crashed. Was it really a surprise. Not to those of us who have doubted the apparently mad doctrine of close-fisted politicians from the start.

Concussion of debt

That whole doctrine put America is in fiscal and philosophical debt. Now it keeps pounding on us like a mean-ass middle linebacker with a grudge to keep. We’ve already wandered around for 10 years or so in a concussive state thanks to the original thumping dealt by Bush and Cheney who kept on hitting America with warnings of fear and terrorism while telling people to “go out and spend money” that no one really had. If Bush and Cheney had been football coaches instead of President and Vice President, they’d have been fired and kicked out of the American stadium for life for abusing the players. Instead we still have listen to Cheney being trotted out to criticize the American team strategy. That’s like the last place coach in the NFL pointing at the winning coach of the Super Bowl and saying, “He’s not doing it right!”

But it’s America. Even the losers get to speak out. The right to free speech is in our Constitution. That doesn’t mean we need to listen to our key abusers.

Through all that abuse of the Cheney years we simply couldn’t arouse ourselves from the national nightmare and brain-dead policies of neo-conservatives concocting their world domination schemes under shrouds of darkness. They even depended upon “black sites” to extract information from those they most feared. When darkness and confusion are allowed to rule, only darkness and confusion make sense to those who rule. That is the concussive mentality. We’ve seen it for years in the practice of sending football players with brain trauma back into the game. But American needs to be smarter.

National brain trauma

It is darkly comic that President Obama is supposed to fix all this national brain trauma with a wave of his hand. The Republicans who so vehemently oppose him started out by saying their only goal was to knock him out of office. More concussive talk. So ugly and stupid.

It’s no wonder their nominee in the last election amounted to the last man standing. They beat the hell out of each other for so long, no one on their side could believe what really happened. They still can’t. Romney stalked around believing he couldn’t lose, blathering on in debates, never worried whether what he or his running mate Paul Ryan said was the truth or not. “Fact checkers come to this (campaign) with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” said Ashley Connor, one of Romney’s aides.

It’s because the Republicans don’t know how to play nice. They’d rather die than tell the truth if it contradicts their aims. Democrats often fall for the same self-sustaining ruse. Americans can hardly recognize the truth anymore. That’s the result of our concussive state of existence.

That brand of hit first politics is beating the hell out of America’s confidence in its government. Of course that’s the way conservatives like it. They hate government because it actually requires the ability to slow down, consider the options and stop running back into the free market game without wearing a helmet.

Neo-conservatives want to privatize everything because they know that a smashmouth culture delivers great advantage to those with the biggest clubs, and we’re speaking both literally and rhetorically here. The clubbishness of America’s oligarchy is like one big fraternity set on hazing the plebes into submission, even if it takes a few strong blows to the head. If a few people die along the way or the economy teeters and falls over in a concussive stupor, so be it.

Leading with the other cheek

Perhaps it really is time to hit back rather than absorb the blows. Despite the admonitions of Jesus Christ to turn the other cheek, it is the current brand of killer Christians we need to fear most in some cases. The recent convergence of concussive smashmouth conservative politicians with an American Taliban determined to stone all those who disagree with their brand faux-Christian crusades… against science and civil rights, to name a few of their targets, is the worst concussive force of all in the American landscape.

The butt of a pistol

The other force of concussive politics is the gun lobby. Despite the recent and revealing documentation that more Americans have been killed within our borders by guns in civilian violence than have been killed in all our wars should serve as a patent illustration that we’ve lost our minds over the Second Amendment. The right to bear arms is a political brickbat in America. The concussions of repeated gun violence in Connecticut, Virginia, Illinois, Arizona, Colorado, what do they all mean? Here’s what they mean: Each slaughter of innocents throws us farther into the fog of violence. We are concussed beyond recovery perhaps. America may soon turn and shoot itself in the chest, to put ourselves out of concussive misery.

Sequestering our minds

Perhaps it is about to happen. The Sequester threatens to gut the economy, sending the nation reeling as if we’ve run into a glass wall of our own making. We’ll be bleeding out the ears and nose, puking our own economic theories of trickle-down economics and unrestricted spending (don’t forget corporate welfare and the military industrial complex, Eisenhower warned us) and the world will have little to say as we drag the rest of them down with our neo-nothing self-absorption.

We need help, people. We need to stand up and say, “Who caused this national concussion in the first place, and why do they keep doing the same things to us over and over again.”

Here’s a hint. It’s not Obama. Although his fondness for drone strikes might speak otherwise, they really reflect the need for America to pull backs its forces and gather our wits rather than throwing soldiers and fortune at the double-vision we’d have in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s time for America to get its wits back together again. America’s game of football is teaching us a lesson or two about what it means to recover from concussion. We can either listen or win up on the sidelines for good.

 

Note: This material is also published by Christopher Cudworth on Redroom.com

 

 

 

Bird migration from the perspective of creationism and intelligent design

 

Did birds walk or fly to Noah’s Ark. Or run?

Birds are clearly sinners. Of the worst kind.

Otherwise, why would birds be forced every fall to fly thousands of miles south to warmer climes, only to fly back again in the spring?

According to a literal interpretation of the Bible, God has always punished animals for their sinful nature. For example, Genesis 3:14: “So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”

Well, it seems that serpents or snakes have gotten off easy, doesn’t it? And given that the serpent represents Satan himself in this passage, how much worse must birds be compared to the plight of serpents?

If we take the Bible literally, God does seem to have a rather low opinion of birds in general. Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? …

God also reportedly wiped out all the species of animals in the world, with exception of specimens that supposedly snuck onto the ark.

Genesis 7:23 “Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.”

That would be some 10,000 or so species of birds, including penguins, who must have walked or swam one helluva a long way to make it from the Antarctic to the deserts of the Middle East. That’s where the ark supposedly gathered all the species of animals and insects of the world. Granted, birds are known for the miraculous migratory abilities, but it seems truly unlikely that the flightless Kiwi or the flightless cormorants of the Galapagos archipelago were able to cross oceans and land to walk up onto an ark.

But perhaps creationism is right about these things, and birds really did use their migratory capabilities to travel from all points around the world and end up in a cramped ark with enough insects to eat, nectar to ingest, seeds to consume and gravel to put in their crops so they could digest their food. There must have been mounds of bird poop and guano so deep from 20,000 birds, and yet 7 people on the ark somehow managed to tend to all these species for 40 days and 40 nights and not lose a single bird.

Then when the worldwide flood supposedly subsided, Noah kicked all the birds out of the ark and forced them to walk and fly all the way back to the islands of Madagascar, the ice floes of the arctic, the deep forests of Brazil and Ecuador, the deep jungles of central Africa and the fearsome plains of southern Africa. That was the first bird migration, you see.

According to the Bible and creationism, birds perform one important function in relation to human beings. They eat them when they’ve died. Isaiah 18:6: “They (human enemies) will all be left to the mountain birds of prey and to the wild animals; the birds will feed on them all summer, the wild animals all winter.”

The Bible also blames birds for all sorts of trouble. Luke 8:5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.”

In the end, birds seem to be little more than a measure of what a man is worth. Matthew 10:31: So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

So, it is no wonder that those who believe in the creationist version of bible interpretation hold bird migration in little apparent respect. The Bible hardly mentions migration, and only in reference to flocks of birds, but not their great travels. How disappointing for an arctic term to make such a long annual journey from Arctic to Antarctic and back with not a mention in the Bible?

It is sad the Bible disrespects bird migration so badly. But the creationist worldview insists instead the God throws birds around like seed in a field. They sprout up from nothing, and are not apparently affected in their life cycles or development from one species into another despite mounds of evidence that birds have ancestors in feathered dinosaurs, and that bird migration is a natural and evolutionary response to climactic changes brought on by the seasons.

No, creationism doesn’t need all that supposedly scientific mumbo-jumbo to explain bird migration. See, it all started when all those birds had to crawl, walk, fly, hop, swim and otherwise hump along to the ark. Then they had to do it all over again to get back to their native habitats, finding plenty of food along the way despite the horrid devastation of a worldwide flood. Apparently fully developed species of jungle flowers cropped up along the path of tropical hummingbirds and fruit eaters.

Giant Skuas must have fed on carrion, and the vultures might have had a field day in the days following the great flood. But then the other birds had to breed like crazy to provide enough food for their ravenous cousins. Relax, it’s all part of God’s plan.

And if you want to brand God’s plan by calling it “intelligent design,” we can suppose that will work just as well to explain the intricacies of bird migration. Intelligent design says that nothing in nature happens without God’s hand getting involved. But God would have to be a major control freak and just a bit callous to send a band of hummingbirds across the Gulf of Mexico into a tropical storm that blasts them all down into a salty brine where they become food for oceangoers. That’s not intelligent design. That’s stupid design. But perhaps we need a new brand of science called Stupid Design Theory to explain all the waste and death God seems to foist on birds each year during migration. Add in bird strikes on windows, millions of birds killed on urban structures like skyscrapers, birds killed by cats and dogs and birds simply falling out of the air dead from exhaustion. All quite intelligent, wouldn’t you say?

So when you walk out in the height of autumn bird migration, do not think that you are witnessing one of the miracles of evolutionary adaptation. Those birds are all practicing their journeys in case God gets pissed off all over again and decides to break His promise as stated in Genesis 9:13: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Then the rest of us will get no warning…but two of every type of 10,000 species of birds on earth will begin a long journey back to the New Ark, wherever that may wind up (perhaps in South Florida where there are plenty of cruise ships, although their safety records of late are not so good) to climb on board for another re-creation of creation. God might love a little deja vu. The Left Behind people seem to think so. Is the Rapture nothing more than a spiritual migration for human beings? Starts to make you think, now doesn’t it?

Yes, creationism is a wonderful worldview because it explains bird migration so easily. Forget about birds navigating by the stars or landmarks. Forget about the heroic efforts of modern day scientists to teach populations of cranes to learn new migration routes. And especially, forget about all those fall warblers timing their passage cleanly with their insect food sources in the advent of fall, or all those ducks winging their way south on November breezes. Don’t worry your little heads about bird migration at all. God has it all figured out. Birds are just pawns in the paw of the universe.

Now go out and elect a God-fearing politician. They really do know what’s best for you, and science to boot.

Have we had enough of Superhero Comicbook Jesus?

Personally, I’m sick of Superhero Comic Jesus.

Perhaps you’re sick of him too. The Jesus who is depicted as a comic superhero destined to come rolling back to earth when heaven supposedly sucks up the good people and leaves the bad people behind. Because it seems that same sort of Jesus also serves as shepard for the bigoted, moneygrubbing, biblical literalists who think their brand of faith is question-proof. It’s a very vengeful cycle, you see; setting up victims and knocking them down. Arguing theology with that crowd is like arguing who is the stronger superhero, Spiderman or Superman, Batman or the Avengers? It isn’t really theology we’re talking about, you see, but a new sort of myth-making that tries to put Jesus on par with our post-Modern theories of what the human race needs to survive.

Here are the plain facts––minus the comic book dress-up clothes.

When you read the Bible with any sort of rational consideration, the Superhero Comicbook Jesus does not appear to exist. Yet that Jesus appears to reign over so much of America. He is the type of superhero that ardent Comicbook believers want taught in our public schools. The Superhero Comicbook Jesus can’t be defeated by evolution or even global warming, because those things are temporal and earthly, and everyone with any sense knows that even we human beings are more superhero than that! We’re Specially Created, the Favorites of God! We have no earthly connection to apes or insects or genetic histories, and don’t try to tell us that we do! Noah is our only real ancestor, if you take the Bible at its word. Well, we can add in Adam too, but only if you want to align yourself with a superhero prone to the fatal flaw of eating Forbidden Fruit. That was Kryptonite for Adam and Eve, you know.

Then along comes Superhero Comicbook Jesus. To rescue us average human superheroes from all our fatal flaws! Hooray! He’s the Jesus we all know and trust!

Boy, I’m sick and tired of that Jesus. And perhaps you getting a little of sick of Superhero Comicbook Jesus too.

Jesus the Comicbook Superhero just seems so, unrelatable. It’s a little hard to imagine ourselves performing miracles anything like the Superhero Comicbook Jesus, feeding the 5000 and all. So many of us don’t really try to be miraculous in any way. We leave the miracles to others, even though God himself asks us to give of ourselves in ways that really are miraculous. That is, giving ourselves away that we might be a blessing to others. Forgiving our enemies. Sacrificing wealth for spiritual virtue. And yes, even supporting social policy that might help others, controversial though it might be. Birth control. Social welfare. Racial and social tolerance. All these things are supported when you read the Bible in its fullness through tangible interpretation in which parables and metaphors are understood to help us understand the whole truth of scripture, not just its Sunday School basics. That is how Jesus taught, and that is how he admonished his own disciples to understand his teachings. Otherwise he called them stupid and without understanding. Nothing superhero about that. Just the basic facts.

Instead many people gravitate to a faith tradition that relies on a Superhero version of Jesus to convince people that the Bible is infallible, inerrant and literal in every sense. That is an armor of perception for fans of the Superhero Comicbook Jesus. The triune claims of infallibility, inerrancy and literalistic interpretation stand against any question of truth or authority. But they are a brittle armor.

The real Jesus was the first to question authority and point out the fallibility of radically conservative interpretation of scripture, especially the dangers and misappropriations of literalist and legalistic application of scripture truth to daily life. He called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” for hiding behind the rock of radically conservative views.

But to the point: the Bible clearly predicts the rise of the Superhero Comicbook Jesus. It even tells why.

In the following bible text ascribed to St. Paul in 2 Timothy: 4 we find the master letter-writer doing a marvelous job of summing up the dangers of turning Jesus into a Comicbook Superhero around which great urban myths can be built. Paul warns that faith can easily be waylaid to doctrine. These would include pursuit of personal wealth in the name of Christ, speculation about the End Times and leveraging of faith for political power.

That is exactly what’s happening in leading evangelical communities today. But Paul warned us:

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Here we find Paul challenging believers to rebuke those who turn faith into law, and thus a brutal, literalistic caricature of itself. Paul encourages people of true Christian faith to patiently and persistently fight back against this brand of legalism that dominated even early believers.

Paul, while no perfect human being, suffered at the hands of those within the very own faith tradition he helped to start, and also suffered the pain of the secular world around him that distrusted his ministry because it stood against the politics of the day.

Paul was of course a contradictory character, and this inner conflict sometimes resulted in philosophical rifts in the service of God. In Titus 2:9-10 we find Paul advising slaves to “be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

Then in Titus 2: 11, Paul states: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”

Is the future promise of salvation enough to justify human slavery here on earth? Paul seems in error on this one, but his judgment was produced in context of societal norms of his day. We might expect better from the Word of God, but of course some might rationalize these conflicts by insisting that slavery is an apt symbol for holy servitude. But tell that to people in bondage or slavery today. Are we to ignore their plight? Not in the name of God, we’re not. There are other examples in the bible where human understanding of social equality (women’s rights) or biology (sexual diversity and orientation) fall short in standards of behavior and scientific knowledge that evolved in 2000 years. We also know that the earth is neither flat or the center of the universe, yet somehow the human race has managed to overcome these viewpoints that were once promoted through anachronistic interpretations of scripture. But we do not depend on them today, and we are the better for it.

Paul’s abiding tolerance toward slavery is unfortunately a brand of Superhero theology, in which the misfortunes of others are somehow judged to be the product of inferior makeup, intellect or approval by God. But that attitude essentially imbues the more fortunate with a brand of “superpowers.” Hence our societal worshipping of the very rich. They can seem like Superheroes to those who aren’t rolling the dough.

Superhero mythology also disconnects faith from the temporal reality that people of every race, gender and sexual orientation are to be seen as equal in the eyes of God. Just as no one deserves to be a slave, no one deserves to feel scorn or discrimination for the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or the fact that they were born transgender. Despite what some people insist, the Bible does not support this type of discrimination. Otherwise we are playing the role of gods ourselves, using the Bible as justification for our singular or collective prejudices. This Superhero Comicbook version of faith is both discriminatory and insidious, for it ascribes at some point a hierarchy to those who claim to be destined to own and run the very faith to which all people are called.

Timothy 4 warns us that prejudice and runaway desires for power and authority are bound to come along. It is thus our duty as Christians to challenge and rebuke the Superhero psychology of literalistic faith, through which evangelists claim the very authority of God, to dispense or withhold at will, inject in politics or education, and to judge those it deems worthy of discrimination, without question or trial, nor rational appeal to human virtue.

The more humble, earthly relevant Jesus is not so much Superhero Comicbook character as genuine friend in time of need. He seeks the humble and protects the needy and powerless through the moral character and actions of those who abide by his Word. Our Friend in God Jesus cherishes the earth itself, for he taught through parables based on its rhythms and profundity, and is therefore never in contradiction with natural law or even the science upon which human beings build a celebrated and sustainable world. We also find the miraculous through science, inspiring us to both respect and explore the world in which we live, without fear or trepidation of discovering anything that God cannot explain, if we but allow scripture room for its metaphorical grace.

We don’t need a Jesus who flies around the sky shooting lightning bolts and threatening the damned. We need a Jesus who is by our side advising us on how to do good to others, who recognizes that we are intimately connected to the kingdoms of plants and animals, and who urges us to respect them as genuine products of an eternally evolving creation. We need a Jesus who urges us to restore and renew our world even as we extract and expand its resources for our use. Most of all we need a Jesus who is not vengeful or conflicted––as so many Superheroes seem to be––but who guides us to attitudes of humility, forgiveness and encouragement of these same qualities in others so that we can build a more civil society. Peace on earth. Goodwill to all people.

That is a Jesus who has escaped the comic book fantasies of those who propagate their own literalistic myths to satisfy millions of ears itching for news of power and authority, who would also gladly vote or give money to those who promise shares of that same power and authority if elected as earthly Superheroes with all the rewards and attention it accords.

But that’s not how God calls us to love and reflection of His image.

In the end, even Paul seems to have redeemed himself on the issue of slavery. In the tiny book (letter) of Philemon he pleas to a slave owner on behalf of Onesimus, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good––no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”

Those are the words not of a Superhero Comicbook character, but of one loving human being to another. We could use a lot more of the latter than the former to make the world a better place.