The pursuit of faith and reason

zwhz9nw4-1382705651It seems like most of my spiritual fuel comes from blog posts lately, and this comment on a post about Young Earth Creationism has stuck with me for the last several days:

You know, there comes a point in a story where you have to introduce so many Deus Ex Machina devices to close the gaping holes based on very basic knowledge of today (what we see animals eating; what their teeth look like, how big their territories/space need to be, problems with wooden boats-stuff you can observe without having specialized training) that one ought to take a step back and re-evaluate whether this story was meant to be literal. If there’s a ton of explaining about the story on a very basic level just in order to close up gaping holes of realism, maybe the story is more of a fantasy than a non-fiction.

It’s like traditional gender roles. If they’re so natural, why do people have to work so hard to force everyone to fit into those roles? If you constantly have to explain your 100% true story because there’s all these highly unrealistic plot holes, I think that tells you something. And yet, no matter how many times somebody asks a straightforward, basic question like “Wait, how did Noah manage to stop the lions and other carnivores from eating everybody?” people like Ken Ham never take a moment of introspection.

I never thought of Bible stories like that. I was a little late to Christian formation compared to most of my friends who got it in Sunday School, but when you’re brand new to the faith and possess the wet-behind-the-ears innocence of an impressionable believer, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 2 or 20 years old when you’re taught to believe everything in the Bible as 100% true and literal. I didn’t have a ton of knowledge about evolution, either (my public school was in a very conservative town, and functioned more like a private school in terms of permitted religious behaviors) so it never crossed my mind that genetic diversity today is actually too diverse to have originated from just two modern homosapiens.

It wasn’t until seminary that “real science” started to creep in around the fraying edges of inerrancy, when I encountered people who didn’t think environmental causes were that important because God would ultimately take care of his creation. Global warming, ocean life dying from oil spills, that was all propaganda from godless liberals bent on destroying Christianity. That was just one of my breaking points where I thought, What if we’re misinterpreting something here?

Better late than never, right?

The more intricate justifications I hear about how, precisely, Noah kept the carnivores from devouring the smaller animals on the ark, or how an entire population of humans came to be without committing the sin of incest, I fear we are drifting further and further away from the point of these stories. Far be it from me to explain what the “true” points are, but I don’t see how making creation all science-y is a productive use of time. We know that oral tradition was an important teaching tool in biblical times, and Jesus himself employed this method in his ministry by using parables. To me, arguing the specific unknowns of Old Testament science is as fruitless as debating whether the Good Samaritan was a real person. It’s not the point.

My background in literature and Judaic studies make it simpler for me to parse truths from meaningful, but perhaps factually un-true stories, which are all part of a Bigger Story (this is what I mean when I say I “do Christianity ‘Jewishly’”). I have fears of being completely wrong, but I also fear closing my mind to knowledge and reason. To paraphrase a friend of mine, the battle between intellectual honesty and the pursuit of religion might just be my greatest act of faith.

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One thought on “The pursuit of faith and reason

  1. Travis Bille says:

    The difficult part of getting this idea across to other Christians is that so many modern Christian movements say that any time reason conflicts with God’s Word, we have to have blind faith in God’s Word. Conveniently for those church leaders, this can be easily exploited by simply reinterpreting a passage and claiming it to be the literal interpretation.

    A perfect example is in the Leviticus sex laws. The same Hebrew word (To’evah) is used over and over in the Old Testament (103 times in total), but only when talking about homosexuality is it translated as “abomination.” Yet that is the accepted literal translation. It becomes somewhat laughable if you then ask someone if lesbianism is also an abomination, because it doesn’t say anything about women…and we’re being literal, right?

    I have a theory that a significant amount of Christians have never actually read the Old Testament outside of the major stories about creation, the flood, the plagues, and maybe a few Abraham stories. If they had, they would probably struggle to explain some things without a deeper understanding of the context. For example, if God is infallible, then how did Abraham talk him down on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-33)?

    There can be numerous reasons why God wants us to read a certain story. If we focus too closely on trying to follow the literal interpretation, we run the risk of completely missing the point. The creation story to me isn’t about the story…it’s about God creating the universe. The point I take from it is that God created the universe; I don’t really care how he did it.

    Liked by 1 person

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