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Aug 12 2011

Escaping the suffocating embrace of religion

NPR had a couple of interesting religious stories recently.

One of them was about how more and more evangelicals are deciding that the Genesis story of Adam and Eve simply cannot be true in the light of modern science and how this is tearing the community apart.

Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University and a senior fellow at the BioLogos Foundation, and John Schneider who taught theology at Calvin College are just two evangelical Christians who say that “it’s time to face facts: There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence.”

This is viewed as heresy by the traditionalists who insist that those beliefs form an indispensable part of being Christian.

“From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith,” says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution. Rana, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio University, readily admits that small details of Scripture could be wrong.

“But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you’ve got a problem,” Rana says.

Rana and others believe in a literal, historical Adam and Eve for many reasons. One is that the Genesis account makes man unique, created in the image of God — not a descendant of lower primates. Second, it tells a story of how evil came into the world, and it’s not a story in which God introduced evil through the process of evolution, but one in which Adam and Eve decided to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, says that rebellious choice infected all of humankind.

“When Adam sinned, he sinned for us,” Mohler says. “And it’s that very sinfulness that sets up our understanding of our need for a savior.

Mohler says the Adam and Eve story is not just about a fall from paradise: It goes to the heart of Christianity. He notes that the Apostle Paul (in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) argued that the whole point of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection was to undo Adam’s original sin.

“Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul’s description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament,” Mohler says.

The other story is a more poignant personal one from a very different religious world, that of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Sam Katz was a member of such a community in New York who discovered science and lost his faith. What started the slide was when he started going to the library that was next door to his house and started reading secular books for the first time, beginning with Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And then he went to a Darwin exhibit at the Museum of Natural History and pondered the implications of the story of evolution, saying “I studied God’s law all my life. And you’re a Jewish male. I mean, you’re the pinnacle of creation. And suddenly, you’re not the pinnacle of creation. You’re the endpoint at this moment in time, and something else will happen soon. It’s hard to explain what that was like, but it was beautiful.”

At the age of 16, Katz was sent to a prestigious religious school in Israel where he confided his interest in these secular matters to the dean, who was a respected scholar. Rather than engage with him, the dean responded by trying to isolate him so that he would not corrupt the other students. So Katz left and returned to New York where, with the aid of an organization known as Footsteps, he has managed to break free of the tight embrace of his community and is now a junior in college studying science.

These stories shed an interesting light on the relationship of religious beliefs to knowledge. For example, note that the only things that Rana is willing to give up in the Bible are those things that do not contradict fundamental doctrines. So he is admitting that he first decides what his beliefs should be, and then accepts only the evidence that conforms to it. This is the typical mode of thinking of religious people.

Mohler is right. Without the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, the whole premise of Christianity that Christ died for us as a sacrifice to atone for that original sin falls apart. The original sin doctrine is incoherent anyway but eliminating it makes Christianity inconsistent is a way that even its own tortured logic cannot repair. Mainstream Christians who do not take the Genesis story literally have a real problem explaining why Jesus had to die, because the idea that we are born sinful is central to Christian dogma. If you accept that humans evolved, when did the fall from grace occur that created the evil that Jesus had to atone for? If humans are part of the tree of life, then why is original sin only an issue for humans? Most liberal Christians tend to ignore the question, leaving it as an exercise for theologians.

Mohler and others realize, quite correctly, that once you start accepting the theories of science in your worldview, you are on the road to disbelief. They are holding firmly onto Genesis and feel that “if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn’t be surprised if their faith unravels”, because religion and science are ultimately incompatible.

Sam Katz’s dean who tried to isolate him must have also realized that religious views will always lose when confronted with scientific ones. Otherwise why would he fear that one student would corrupt the many others, and not the other way around?

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Septimia

    If you allow me, I want to defend the need for institution of religion to society.
    In today’s world people, even with a lot of friends, neighbors, co-workers often feel lonely. He understands that most of the “spit” on his personal problems. None of the only friend who really wants to help him. No!
    Man looking for a way out. He tries to find a drink, social networks like Facebook, but also finds insincere cordiality.
    That’s where religion comes into play. Regardless of whether indeed there is a God or not, if one believes it is easier to live and he gets a moral satisfaction.
    Sorry if is not made quite right grammatically.
    Written with the help of Google translator.

  2. 2
    Mano

    Septamia,

    You make a good point.

    You are right that religion can give comfort to people who need it. The question is whether comfort based on a false idea is a good thing in the long run.

    Also, isn’t it better to base our morality on a sound basis than on the basis of religious texts that reflect the ideas of people 2000 years ago?

    Without all the religions, there is a chance that we can agree on the major questions. With religions, there is no hope because each one thinks their morality comes from god.

  3. 3
    Septamia

    I agree that perhaps this is cheating, but he still needed by the people.
    It helps to bear the thought of death.
    And I think that although this knowledge of mankind 2000 years ago, the commandments are relevant today.
    Do not kill, thou shalt not steal, Do not commit adultery – is that bad?
    The need for hope:
    There is a famous parable about two frogs that fell into the pitcher with milk.
    That frog, who knew that milk is liquid and can not rely on him, was drowned. Second, who believed that he would find support, long legs beating until the butter was hit and remained alive. Did faith (or persistence).
    And now the history of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks in 1917, to come to power, first destroyed the church. On the other brother did not want to fight against his brother.
    The theory of socialism does not include religious values, is not it?
    World War II began, which brought much death and grief the people of the USSR. In 1943 Stalin unofficially enables the church. Why?
    Most of all, because any logical evidence could not explain to people the suffering and loss have been.
    Faced with death, going into battle, where you kill nearly 100% certainty what to believe?
    Only in God. There is no replacement.
    I’m sorry if the text is not entirely correct transferred.

  4. 4
    P Smith

    One of the main reasons the Adam and Steve myth remains popular is racism. It allows claimants to continue to believe bigoted nonsense about “god separating them with the waters”.

    The Genographic Project by National Geographic has completely and unequivocally blown away any cretin’s claims of “creation in different places”. All humans are Africans, whether some like it or not.

    https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/index.html

    .

  5. 5
    Peter

    Septamia,

    Consider the commandments you chose to include:
    Don’t Kill (#6)
    Don’t Steal (#8)
    Don’t Screw outside of Marriage (#7)

    Consider the ones you chose NOT to include:
    1: Don’t look at any other gods (not very Monotheistic, are we?)
    2: Don’t make sculptures or paintings (of gods??)
    3: Don’t say ‘Fucking God Dammit!!’
    4: Don’t do anything ‘unholy’ on the Sabbath (is that Saturday?)
    5: Don’t disrespect your parents
    9: Don’t lie in court or in gossip
    10: Don’t think the grass is greener: it’s not.

    I agree with you that Don’t Steal, Don’t Kill, and Don’t Screw are generally very good rules to live by. I’d also add #5, 9, & 10.

    Why did you leave those out? ;-)

    But the important thing to note is that these guidelines have NOTHING at all to do with Judaism. They are sort of universal rules that apply to all human communities. If you remove gods from the equation, these rules continue to be important. It’s not the gods that give these rules value – it’s the people who live by them.

    I can’t speak to the history of the Soviet Union – I’m a product of the US Educational System (last year of High School was 1990), but I will at least comment on your line:

    “World War II began, which brought much death and grief the people of the USSR. In 1943 Stalin unofficially enables the church. Why?”

    - Because why else would young men give up all their hopes for the future? Only religion can do that. Religion of the State, Religion of the Gods, Religion of the Ancestors. These are all the same things: Mechanisms of Control.

    “what to believe?
    Only in God. There is no replacement.”

    Without the belief in gods it is less likely that they would have given up their lives. That’s why leaders all through history have used RELIGION in order to bend peoples’ minds to the goals of the leadership.

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