Monday, March 24, 2008

Ben Stein's "Expelled"

Writer, author, and actor Ben Stein always surprises me whenever I read his commentaries on current events (most of which you can find here). I was pleased to learn that he has a new movie coming out next month, titled "Expelled". The movie apparently demonstrates how scientists who advocate intelligent design have been continually discriminated against in academia--the very place where one might expect to find a great deal of freedom when it comes to the exchange of ideas. It looks like this movie will shine light on something that I have observed for a long time. Many of those who call themselves liberals, especially those who are also proponents of atheism, are as dismissive and intolerant of differing viewpoints as religious fundamentalists. I continue to be amazed at how the paradigms and arguments used by both the far left and the far right are so similar. Click here to see previews and other information about the movie. I can't wait to see it!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Literal, Metaphorical, or Irrelevant?

My sister called me yesterday to let me know that a former neighbor of ours had recently died. In the course of our conversation, she relayed to me a recent experience from her Bible study group. She attends a large United Methodist church in her county seat town. Recently she signed up for Disciple Bible Study, a video based study of scripture that is extremely popular and has the reputation of being a life changing experience for the participants. The man who is leading her class had given her a tape of a lecture done by Ken Ham, who promotes "young earth creationism."  This belief basically holds that the creation story in Genesis is literally true, coming to the conclusion from this that the earth is really only 6000 years old (check out the website here).  My sister was curious as to what I thought about what Mr. Ham was proposing. 

My problem with Mr. Ham is not so much with his negative view of science but instead the way he understands and interprets the Bible. He feels the strong need to 'prove' that the Bible can be taken absolutely literally when it describes creation in Genesis.  This need for proof leads him to propose theories such as the idea that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, which is of course directly opposite of current scientific thought. There are those who argue against Ham who propose a different creationist perspective, stating that you can believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis without giving up scientific conclusions about how life began. The web site for this other view of creationist thought can be found here

My view is that the Bible was not written for nor intended to be used to instruct us in science, but instead is a narrative that describes the ongoing relationship between humanity and a God who revealed himself first to a band of people known as the Israelites and later in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The central idea we need to learn from Genesis is that God created the world (how creation happened or exactly how long it took, I have no idea--I think what is important is to understand that God is the creator). Debates over whether science proves or disproves scripture are useless and counterproductive. We cannot approach scripture unless we are willing to struggle with it.  Some people seek definitive answers and struggling with the text, which usually brings up even more questions, might seem somehow blasphemous. But the Hebrew and Christian traditions are full of men and women debating, questioning, and interpreting the scriptures. That's one reason Jesus was so gifted at answering questions with more questions--it comes from the Jewish tradition he was raised in.

In the book Struggling With Scripture three authors (all top notch scholars in my view) remind us that to truly understand scripture we must wrestle with the texts each and every time we approach them. It is important, the book says, not to confuse biblical authority with biblical infallibility. Just because the Bible is a product of fallible human beings does not mean that it cannot and does not have much to authoritatively say to us about God, the world he created, and our place in that world. My sister related the difficulty she was having in understanding how God could authorize the wholesale slaughter of nations as described in some of the readings she is studying. The truth is that the Bible in both testaments contain passages that are difficult to understand, hard to interpret, and cause some people to simply give up the struggle, writing the Bible off as irrelevant. I believe their is much to be gained in struggling with scripture and in not asking it to do what it was not written to do.

I encouraged my sister to continue her study of the Bible, suggesting both Rob Bell's Everything is Spiritual and Jacob's The Year of Living Biblically to give her some different perspectives on approaching creation and other issues. I find that when we have the courage to wrestle with the texts, we may find ourselves much like Jacob. You will remember in Genesis 32 when he wrestled with the man/angel. Jacob ended up permanently changed by his experience, and I suggest the same will happen to us when we really struggle with the texts. That is one reason why Disciple Bible Study has become so popular, because it helps in the struggle. What I know for certain is that, like the story about Jacob, it seems that to grab hold of the ancient texts and hang on will always lead to a blessing from God. If we will not let go!