Creation: The Real Loser in the Nye vs Ham Debate

I don’t usually write about cultural events – at least nothing too specific or too current. (I feel like I should then say, “but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.”) But last night’s debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye has resounded in my mind all day today. Not so much the actual content of the debate, but the method and trajectory of the debate. And, in the name of full transparency, I didn’t watch the actual showing. I did pay attention through the vicarious tweets and Facebook statuses, making this truly not a critique of the specifics of what was argued, but the arguing itself.

The debate itself seemed reminiscent of the Scopes Monkey Trial and the ensuing Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy of the early 1920’s. Pitting the legal and educational systems of the day against the religious institution was an exercise including rationality and hermeneutics, theology and public policy. Prior to, throughout its proceedings, and even after the court’s dust had settled, the focus fell upon the origins of humankind. The magnitude of this event was far too large to kept within the courtroom. Regardless of the details, influences, and outcomes, culture at large was now engrossed in the search to understand Genesis 1.

To this day, we haven’t been able to escape the grip of this search. The creation/evolution debate has long stood the test of time – at least modern time – in holding our attention to the minutiae of detailed case studies and fossil records on the one hand and the Ancient Near East context and Hebraic cosmology on the other. We have been unable to loose ourselves from this cultural battlefield ever since, despite its absence from everyday conversations. However, it has loomed heavily in the minds and imagination of people on both sides of the fence. Bring up creation by using the term itself and see what happens. In my experience, once anything relating to creation (or evolution) is brought up, definitions are often sought in order to rout out the potential heretic among us. Just try it.

This search has been primarily intellectual and last night once again affirmed this. Historically speaking, the Scopes Trial took place at what was perhaps the height of American rationality. World War 2 had not yet occurred, progress was the impetus behind the American milieu, and science and religion were in the throes of competing for dominance. Intellectual rigor and strength were highly valued in that day; values still sought after today regardless of its arena. Power comes along with this rigor making it an even sweeter fruit to obtain.

Last night seemed to be another futile exercise in obtaining this dominance. If only we can prove so and so. If only axiom A will be shown to be true(r) than axiom B, then our side will win. Yet in the end, I wonder if it only fanned the flame of a bygone era, namely one where intellectualism reigns. I wonder if it was a bringing the remnants of yesteryear out of the dark for a moment of shining. Even the postmodern world we inhabit, modernity can still rear its enlightened head. As my friend said yesterday, “There are incredibly strong modernist currents that still prevail upon these postmodern seas.”

Furthermore, debates in our day and age have taken on a different embodiment than their predecessors. Rather than being events of persuasion that affect life change, they have become vaudeville circus acts engendering sentiment bereft of action. The social imagination of yesteryear understood and valued the import of such events due to this. Now, debates fill the parts of our imagination where political figures feign allegiance to their constituents. Coupled with the amusement factor inherent to television – and screens in general – modern debates only reinforce the notion of consuming the material being presented. There is no intention of actually acting upon the received information. Television and its steroid-induced cousin, the internet, produce consumers, not participants. Combine this with a predominantly intellectual exercise and this is even more so. (This is what I was alluding to by the method and trajectory mentioned above.)

This is where we have allowed ourselves to get stuck. Our insistence on “getting the origins question correct” at an intellectual level has kept us from turning our attention elsewhere. The memory of basing our existence off of this rational understanding has paralyzed us from moving forward. Coalescing forces of winning the culture battle and being theologically correct as God would want have left us bereft of actual practices pertaining to creation. Ironically, this same tradition of reading Scripture and the spirituality it rendered have sought to prove the method of creation yet with the end goal being individual souls reaching heaven’s shores. With one side of its mouth it wants a creation made in six days while simultaneously praying for its destruction by fire some future day.

All of this has allowed us to keep creation itself at bay.

So I wonder:

What if instead of arguing over the creation texts, we moved our preoccupation a few verses further along in the story? What if instead of arguing over the meaning of “In the beginning” and “day” we pondered anew what it meant (and means) to “cultivate” and “keep” creation? What if we moved beyond compartmentalizing ideas from practices and figured out how they are two sides of the same coin? What if the Church shifted away from its often myopic dependency on things of faith being taught and towards lives of interdependency where they can be caught? What if instead of debating over creation we questioned how to live with creation?

What if local churches began sharing their land? What if they started to hold trainings to understand the geography and ecology of their shared regions? What if instead of paving parking lots, they planted gardens? What if they held neighborhood-wide meals from the food they grew? What if instead of using stale bread and cheap grape juice they used organically made breads and vibrant wines?

In short what if the Church became known for its new creation-centered methods in the midst of an intellectually origins-obsessed world? What sort of trajectory would that put us on?

Until then, creation will continue to be the loser.

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“…all creatures live by participating in the life of God” – An Excerpt from Wendell Berry’s The Burden of the Gospels

I think Jesus recommended the Samaritan’s loving-kindness, what certain older writers called ‘holy living,’ simply as a matter of propriety, for the Samaritan was living in what Jesus understood to be a holy world. The foreground of the Gospels is occupied by human beings and the issues of their connection to one another and to God. But there is a background, and the background more often than not is the world in the best sense of the word, the world as made, approved, sustained, and finally to be redeemed by God. Much of the action and the talk of the Gospels takes place outdoors: on mountainsides, lake shores, river banks, in field and pastures, places populated not only by humans but by animals and plants, both domestic and wild. And these non-human creatures, sheep and lilies and birds, are always represented as worthy of, or as flourishing within, the love and care of God.

To know what to make of this, we need to look back to the Old Testament, to Genesis, to the Psalms, to the preoccupation with the relation of the Israelites to their land that runs through the whole lineage of the prophets. Through all this, much us implied or taken for granted. In only two places that I remember is the always implicit relation – the practical or working relation – of God to the creation plainly stated. Psalm 104:30, addressing God and speaking of the creatures, says, ‘Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created…’ And, as if in response, Elihu says to Job (34:14-15) that if God ‘ gather unto himself his spirit and his breath; All flesh shall perish together…’ I have cut Elihu’s sentence a little short so as to leave the emphasis on ‘all flesh.’

Those also are verses that don’t require interpretation, but I want to stretch them out in paraphrase just to make as plan as possible my reason for quoting them. They are saying that not just humans but allcreatures live by participating in the life of God, by partaking of His spirit and breathing His breath. And so the Samaritan reaches out in love to help his enemy, breaking all the customary boundaries, because he has clearly seen in his enemy not only a neighbor, not only a fellow human or a fellow creature, but a fellow sharer in the life of God.

When Jesus speaks of having life more abundantly, this, I think, is the life He means: a life that is not reducible by division, category, or degree, but is one thing: heavenly and earthly, spiritual and material, divided only insofar as it is embodied in distinct creatures. He is talking about a finite world that is infinitely holy, a world of time that is filled with life that is eternal. His offer of more abundant life, then, is not an invitation to declare ourselves as certified ‘Christians,’ but rather to become conscious, consenting, and responsible participants in the one great life, a fulfillment hardly institutional at all.

To be convinced of the sanctity of the world, and to be mindful of a human vocation to responsible membership in such a world, must always have been a burden. But it is a burden that falls with greatest weight on us humans of the industrial age who have been and are, by any measure, the humans most guilty with desecrating the world and of destroying creation. And we ought to be a little terrified to realize that, for the most part and at least for the time being, we are helplessly guilty. It seems as though industrial humanity has brought about phase two of original sin. We all are now complicit in the murder of creation. We certainly do know how to apply better measures to our conduct and our work. We know how to do far better than we are doing. But we don’t know how to extricate ourselves from our complicity very surely or very soon. How could we live without degrading our soils, slaughtering our forests, polluting our streams, poisoning the air and the rain? How could live without the ozone hole and the hypoxic zones? How could we live without endangering species, including our own? How could we live without the war economy and the holocaust of the fossil fuels? To the offer of more abundant life, we have chosen to respond with the economics of extinction.

If we take the Gospels seriously, we are left, in our dire predicament, facing an utterly humbling question: How must we live and work so as not to be estranged from God’s presence in His work and in all His creatures? The answer, we may say, is given in Jesus’s teaching about love. But that answer raises another question that plunges us into the abyss of our ignorance, which is both human and peculiarly modern: How are we to make of that love an economic practice?

That question calls for many answers, and we don’t know most of them. It is a question that those humans who want to answer will be living and working with for a long time – if they are allowed a long time. Meanwhile, may Heaven guard us from those who think they already have the answers.

– Wendell Berry, “The Burden of the Gospels,” in The Way of Ignorance p. 135-137

Sunlight

This is a new picture of the sun taken by a NASA satellite. According to the article, the picture is 10 times clearer than an HD tv, which is allowing scientists to see things in a way never seen before. The above picture looks fake, but it isn’t. Pretty amazing, huh?

Reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ famous quote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Yet, I think the ancient author of Psalm 148 said it best,

“Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all stars of light!
Praise Him, highest heavens,
And the waters that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
For He commanded and they were created.”