In the Beginning… The “Story” of Creation.
Ah, here we are, Genesis 1,1. The beginning. The origin. Creation itself! This is an obvious and fine place to start. But let’s pause on the brink here, take a breath and collect our thoughts before we dive in. It’s going to be a long journey.
Fascinating stuff, this creation, but what direction are we to go? To which horizon should we point our prow? We need to set the proper tone. The first step is the most important. In that light, we must do some preliminary discussion before heading off into the labyrinth that is Genesis. We need to glance at a map. We need to know what’s at stake.
Now, Genesis is likely to be the most problematic section of the entire Bible so allow me to digress a bit. The difficulty arises with several points. First, it ‘s written in a dry painful style, particularly with the first chapters. Vast amounts of detail is piled on events that have little to do with any important theme and then detail so necessary to a good moral lesson is completely missing in others. Examples abound of this incongruous exposition. Take the marathon bargaining session for Sarah’s burial plot, for instance. It seems to serve for little except as some random bit of quasi-genetic code for enthusiasts to hold up to support their odd branch of dogma. At the same time, there are sections of the book that are passed over so briefly, they are very difficult to grasp fully. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, is morally a very problematic chapter with the offering of Lot’s virgin daughters to be gang banged by the mob and the promise not to destroy the city if even ten good people could be found. Were they even looked for? Don’t children count? The answers to these questions remains “We don’t know!” Why don’t we?
As Genesis continues, it does get less plodding and more detailed, but remains problematic. But aside from these more detailed criticisms there is a potentially fatal danger with Genesis and that is the way in which it is viewed by a sizable population today.
My main difficulty with all of Genesis is some groups insistence that it is a literal truth instead of an allegory or metaphor. Examples here include the infamous Discovery Institute, who promote, with terrible vigor, the idea that Adam and Eve lived amongst vegetarian dinosaurs and our coal deposits are the result of Noah’s flood knocking down and burying all the trees. How can anyone possibly view this as literal truth? It’s the 21st century. It doesn’t even make plausible fiction. We know so much, yet this piece of mythical tripe is what many consider pivotal to our salvation? What is the difference between this fallacy and sacrificing a goat tonight so your kid will win his basketball game? Shall I spread some chicken entrails out on the kitchen counter tonight to see if I should go to work in the morning? Perhaps I should run around my neighborhood at five AM loudly ringing bells to scare away the demons before the kids walk to school? The difference lies only in which bronze age book you insist is literal truth.
We need a more logical basis for our lives and science offers us the way forward. The wonders of science illuminate our entire world. It is the pillar that supports everything we see around us today, industry, agriculture, medicine, electronics, our entire educational system and economy, everything! But the Biblical literalists demand we throw away a vast chunk of our understanding of this universe and revert to a near stone age interpretation of creation. Does this sound like a good idea? Knocking out the walls and pillars of a house we have built so high and so strong that it can support the teeming billions that occupy it presently. And to destroy that house’s integrity while we still reside in it is sheer foolishness. I can think of few ideas that could harm us more. Without a vigorous science, unfettered by ludicrous superstition, we are doomed. Harder and harder the literalist push, and more and more they persuade Americans that science is full of lies and Genesis holds all the answers. They are poisoning the average American against the science they need to survive. Kids don’t want to grow up to be scientists any more. Their parents have pushed the sciences onto the same murky moral ground as lawyers, but without the money and the power of that profession. The career is uninviting, no? These are the same people who deny global warming or the need for any environmental protection. In their eyes, the world was made so strong it is unchangeable by mere human influence but, ironically, all marriages can be irrevocably damaged by mere gay participation. This is not a path we can afford to go down.
Science must remain supreme. It is the tool we have used to reach the magnificent heights where we stand. Religion and superstition had little to do with this achievement. In fact, it has actively retarded it. Science has brought us here and allows us to stay. Without it we could no longer support the people who are already living, let alone the multitudes to come. Without it, we fail. We will hurl over the precipice, and the fall may be long. The cliff is out there, never doubt it ,and without science we have no lights to see the edge and very little ability to avoid it.
This insistence on the reality of myth will lead our nation back down the path that we have struggled so hard to ascend, and with us will go the rest of humanity . Now, you may think that I am just a doom-sayer, a nagging Cassandra screaming nonsense about a certain wooden horse. That as a nation, we will see the truth and turn around. Maybe, you say, it won’t get that far. I hope you are right, truly I do. But I have a serious problem with the “think happy thoughts” plan for the future. Everyone needs to understand the mindset of the literalists. This is the same mindset that burned Jews at the stake during the black plague, on one hand because they were thought to have poisoned the water wells and on the other because God was punishing Christendom for allowing them to survive. This is the world view that called for the burning of heretics in Lisbon, Portugal after a massive earthquake. God was punishing the Lisbonites for their sins. Even today, we have not yet matured beyond this point. One need only look at the recent destruction of Haiti and Pat Robertson’s assertion that this was God’s punishment for their selling their soul to the devil two centuries ago.
The literalist mindset will watch the destruction of this nation through their Genesis colored glasses and not see it for what it really is, a lack of understanding for how the world works. The world will crumble around them and they will look, not for the true cause, but for scapegoats. All you need do is look at their current hot button issues and you will see the first group to fall.
I sincerely believe that when the nation/world begins to fail, they will wail that this is God’s punishment for sin and hungry people often believe what they are told. History bears this out far too often to doubt it. If the fall comes, the hard core fundamentalists will blame it on the homosexuals, and when they are gone, there’s always the Jews. If you doubt this, please look at the events of last century. We are capable of such terrible things.
Now, most Christians are good people, many are very good people. But the insistence on the absolute literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly Genesis, paves they way for mindless behavior to come. If you can believe that Adam and Eve rode on the backs of dinosaurs and that a tyrannosaurus ate only berries and nuts then you can believe nearly anything if said persuasively enough. As your children get hungrier, it will take less and less persuasion. This is the evil we must fight. This is why the bible must be studied. The superstition must be countered. The wooden horse is already within our walls. It’s been here forever. It must be exposed for what it is, a terrible danger. We must win this fight.