Thanks in part to the Creation Versus Evolution Debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye and now to the news that Ham’s Creation Museum will be investing twenty-seven million dollars (that’s $27,000,000!) to building a boat that won’t go anywhere, a lot of people are both intrigued and confused by what is happening in Conservative Evangelicalism. To be sure, many Evangelicals do not believe in the six day creation that Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis group (the proxy strawman of every anti-theist argument directed at Christians out there as you can see on their Facebook page) are set on proving, but many do – and more and more Evangelical colleges and institutions are pressuring faithfulness to their very literal and concrete interpretations of Genesis. Professors who teach in many of these specifically Christian universities are pressured to teach about how the entire universe was created in six days between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, how there was a perfect naked couple made of dirt and ribs who disobeyed God and had to kick rocks and pull weeds out in the open with newly flesh-eating animals, how nearly every geological phenomena can be explained by a world-spanning flood 4,000 years ago, and how a couple of every species of animal lived on one boat for about a year without destroying each other, the ship, or the eight humans looking after them.
Oh, and they either have to explain how or remain silent about how the entire earth was to be repopulated within a couple hundred years.
It all sounds so bizarre and obscene to the uninitiated (and to many of the initiated). After all, why not just believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster if that’s what you insist really happened? Couple that with the fact that this multimillion dollar investment is merely the first of three stages of building a structure that will stretch an entire five hundred feet. Not exactly a dinghy, but half the length of the 19 largest cruise ships in the world. Ken Ham swears, though, that this is what God wants him to do. Not feed starving children or promoting adequate health care or quality equitable education in rural and urban schools – things that would more effectively demonstrate the Good News of Liberation of the God who is Love. He is convinced, he tells us, that God ordered his museum to build an ark to demonstrate the concrete reality of Jesus – despite the fact that Jesus in the Gospels didn’t really care for signs and wonders to reveal himself.
Why is that? I cannot speak for Ham. I’m not at all convinced that he isn’t an elaborate con artist, but I don’t know. I can speak as someone who was in his camp and convinced by him – and as someone who no longer believes that what he says is essential to Christianity. Allow me to take you on a personal journey of an existential crisis of faith and its eventual resolution.
When I was thirteen years old I was deeply immersed in my Bible Church community. The people there were my family and I’ll forever be indebted to them and love them for who they were and how they treated me. I was and still am a Christian, but I grew up with these stories that I was convinced were real and true. After all, if God is real and true, then shouldn’t the words from and about God (as I believed the Bible was for the most part written by God) be true as I understood truth to be? Shouldn’t, then, the world have come into being by the act of a few dozen words in the course of six days? Shouldn’t the first man and woman have been made by God and hung out in this fabulous garden city without shame?
I didn’t have to question the veracity of these tales until I got to freshman biology where the evidence started piling against these scenes. I had the option of rejecting my identity or my rationality and I couldn’t quite come to that place.
For me, my identity was wrapped up (and in many ways still is) with my faith. My faith was, at the time, wrapped up in these stories that I was convinced were to be taken at face value. It would be years later until I learned that “myth” does not equal “lie” and that I can have my faith and my reason as well.
Along came the Creationists like Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis to reassure me that what the evolutionists and secularists (yes, these are terms they’d use) were mixed up if not outright lying about a few things. Evolutionists’ evidence is not complete, they’d tell all willing – and I mean willing – to listen; they don’t have all the bones they say they do; the Grand Canyon and so-called Ice Ages can be explained through the force of a world-wide flood; God can create anything he wants to and can reverse-engineer stars and their light; and the old stand-bys: These Scientists Weren’t There and It’s Just a Theory!
Sure, it sounds ridiculous to me now, but lots of intelligent people believe this because they are under the impression that it is absolutely necessary to believe this. To not believe in the concrete reality of these stories means we can’t believe in the concrete reality of Jesus, his miraculous birth, his miraculous healings and actions, and his miraculous resurrection. If we don’t accept these exactly as how the bible wrote them (contradictories or not) we could end up in hell, banished from our families.
I held on to these incredible beliefs even through more faith-shattering classes in college. I’m a fairly bright guy, but I had to turn off that side of my brain that constantly called these stories into question. It wouldn’t be until the last decade when I read CS Lewis’ memoir Surprised by Joy and his wrestling into faith that I would realize that myths tell Truth, but not in a modernist sense of Truth. A modernist era view of truth has to do with provable veracity: Did this happen? How? Where? When? Etc. I realized that the stories of Samson and David in battle were not too far removed from the stories of Beowulf or Achilles. The biblical writers weren’t telling lies in this, nor in telling two creation myths in the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were sharing understandings about the world and about how God and nature interact within it, and then of humanity within that context.
That, to be honest, made more sense than these concrete readings of the texts. Other thinkers (like theologian/scholar N.T. Wright) made me reconsider the idea of a literal reading of the Bible. After all, we wouldn’t say that Jesus’ parables were stories that happened in a specific place in a specific time, would we? (Some fundamentalists would, but…) If one is to be literal about a text, one should understand how that text is supposed to be read. The Bible is not meant to be read as a manual for modernist readers. Much of it is ancient Near-East poetry and should be approached that way.
So what kind of a Christianity does that leave me with? It leaves me with a different God – a God who instructs me to use my tools to spread love and that wherever there is love, there is God. That God tells me that my ministering to and among and as a poor person is the greatest way of revealing the power of God. I can believe in both Creation and Evolution – one being along the lines of why, the other how. And I can do that and believe that scientists aren’t lying to me about evolution, global warming, or (link NSFW) magnets.
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