Sorry for my long silence. I’ve been busy moving to London and taking a break from fundamentalism to clear my head. I’m now ready to dive in again, and rest assured that will be my last break for a long time. If you’re reading this, thanks for not giving up on the blog.
Creationists, and some atheists, make out that, before Darwin, everyone believed in the literal truth of Genesis. The Creationists therefore claim that their belief is the truest expression of Christianity. Fundamentalists say that their faith is the most authentic to the early Church of the Book of Acts.
So here’s an interesting question: Did the authors of Genesis intend the story to be taken as historical record?
Here’s an even better one: Was Jesus a Creationist? From my reading, it seems highly likely that he wasn’t. This raises the enjoyable spectre that if Creationists could travel back in time to meet Jesus, he would have absolutely no idea what they are going on about. This makes me want to invest all of my money into the development of a time machine.
Historically, Genesis was not interpreted literally from the time of Jesus and beyond. This makes sense. You’d have to be an utter moron to look at Genesis and conclude, from face value, that it is intended as science. There are several mornings and evenings before there is even a sun. When Adam and Eve want to hide from an all-powerful, all-knowing God, they stand behind a tree. And this appears to fool the Almighty.
According to Rescuing Darwin: God and evolution in Britain today, early church fathers were not much impressed by people who tried to read the Bible literally. In the third century, the theologian Origen wrote, “I do not think anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblance of history.”
Augustine was even less kind about those who try to read the Bible this way:
“It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics… For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call on Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”
I didn’t know they had ACE schools in the fifth century, but Augustine seems to have been to one.
Ancient Jewish readings of the Holy text were similar. Philo, a contemporary of Jesus and Paul, wrote that Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden were all “intended symbolically rather than literally.” According to the authors of Rescuing Darwin, even earlier Rabbinic readings of Genesis, which Jesus would have known, had flexible, allegorical understandings. So it’s unlikely that Jesus himself would have thought the world was created in six 24-hour periods exactly 4,004 years before his birth.
In The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong argues that the whole concept of history as an accurate record of events is a modern concept. In the ancient Middle East, history was intertwined with myth, and the purpose of the stories was to express meaning and beliefs about the nature of the world, more than to record what actually happened. In Amstrong’s view, the entire Old Testament is more a myth about Jewish identity. In the ancient world, history simply wasn’t understood as we use the term today.
Fundamentalism takes its name from The Fundamentals, a compilation of 90 essays published in 1915 by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, seeking to return to the core of the Christian faith. Most interestingly, Rescuing Darwin notes that several of the authors of these essays were self-professed Darwinists (although others did attack evolution). So even within the last 100 years, the fundamentalist view of Genesis has narrowed.
So, then, it’s not even true to say that Creationism is true Christianity, whatever that might mean.