The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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First Five Centuries: What do we know?

September 1st, 2014 · christianity, history

I have two problems to resolve. My understanding of the origin of Christianity points to Constantine, while Joseph Atwill’s book “Caesars’ Messiah” points to the Flavians, two centuries prior to Constantine. One of my problems is to connect the development of Flavian Christianity to Constantinian Christianity. The other problem is to find anything at all that might bring to light a better understanding of the mechanics and theology of Flavian Christianity. (At this point, I have no disagreement with what Atwill has presented, and am looking to integrate his ideas into my understanding.)

What is known of the era of early Christian history is mostly mythology with few facts. The bounds of this period is roughly 100BCE to 400CE. Estimates given for the birth of Jesus Christ range from 100BCE to 25CE, with most guesses around 5-7BCE: so the most generous boundary is placed at the start. The end of this period is really some time after most of what we would consider to be “Christianity” had been established, and more importantly, the time after the last generations alive when Christianity was not the exclusive faith of the empire, had died. This is around 400CE.

We must assume that at some point after 100BCE, Christianity began in some form — perhaps one that was not immediately recognized as a new thing — and that this form developed over time to create the Roman Catholic Church by around 400CE. This simple sketch begs many questions, but the first that I see is: did Christianity start as an entirely new thing, or as a derivative of something else?

We actually have a good deal of information about pre-Christian Rome, in terms of what they did, said, believed, and reported. There were very many religions operating within the larger cities and towns across the Empire, and each had its own characteristic flavor and import. We also know mostly what Christianity looked like by about 400CE, and how it’s changed over the centuries to become what we know today. What we don’t have much good information about is how Christianity went from nothing to world power in a couple of centuries.

The Catholic Church provides us with a fascinating and exciting Early Church story that is great for Sunday School, but not so handy for connecting historical movements and actions to the provided narration. I dismiss it entirely out of hand, but will continue to reference it as a means to help others understand my position. In any case, starting from the beginning of that story is a shot in the dark. Much better it is to start and the end, where we have more evidence and documentation to guide our way.

At the end, then, of our period in question, the position of Christianity is without question: it is the official and exclusive faith of the Roman Empire, the Senate, and the People of Rome. After the fall of Rome, the Roman Church continued to exercise imperial authority over the states created in the wake. So we know the Church didn’t just have power because of Empire, it had power that superceeded Empire.

In the popular history Constantine is viewed as being the first Roman Emperor to support Christianity, although in more serious historical documents, it’s pretty clear that Constantine saw Christianity as something supporting him. In either case, there is little controversy regarding when Christianity was embraced by Empire. But what was it that Constantine embraced? Much of the core of the faith wasn’t established until Constantine demanded the first Ecumenical Council held in Nicea in 325CE. By that time, Constantine had already fought most of his battles over control of Empire, yet Christianity had been the official faith of his followers since the day his late father’s troops declared him Caesar.

So what was it, exactly, that Constantine’s followers believed in? How did they demonstrate this belief? And more importantly, from whom did they learn about this belief?

Here’s something we do know: Diocletian had radically changed the official Roman faith decades before Constantine began seeking the throne. The official religion of the Empire prior to Diocletian is referred to as “sun worship”, and the faith Diocletian established was one based on the primitive faith of the Republican Romans, focusing on Jupiter and Heracles as patristic touchstones. It’s also pretty well established that this change infuriated the peoples of the Eastern half (the Greek half) of the Empire, who had much preferred “sun worship” as their guiding faith.

Much of Constantine’s strategy in overturning Diocletian’s regime was to embody the “traditions of Rome” that had been in place prior to Diocletian. Constantine was an astute historian who had carefully studied the successes and failures of all of the prior Caesars, and he frequently looked to examples from past Caesars to guide him in the face of future issues. The name he took when he became Caesar was “Flavian”, although he actually had no biological link to the Flavians. He was communicating to the citizens of Rome that he would rule like the Flavians did — and since they represented some of the best Emperors, this was a positive association for him.

Here’s where we turn to Atwill’s book for some more structure to our tale. If we take as read the notion that the Flavian Emperor Titus was instrumental in the creation of the Gospel stories and the early mythology of Jesus Christ, and that this faith remained potent, yet hidden, for another century as people pined for another stable series of emperors, then it would be an obvious target for Constantine’s grasp for authenticity and historical relevance. If he could be the returning Titus, that would be a real public relations coup.

Taking Atwill’s proposal that Josephus wrote both “History of the Jews” and the four Gospel tales as part of a singular work, combining these with books from the Hebrew Torah for legitimacy and context, then we answer the questions about when and why Christianity was created. What is left is to learn more about the Flavians, about how and where their signature faith developed, and what the relationship was between that faith and the one presented by Constantine.

Could it be possible that we already know of Flavian Christianity, only by another name? Perhaps we know it as “Arianism”, or perhaps it was “Mithraism”. Or perhaps it was something else that we have forgotten. At least now I feel like I know what I’m looking for.

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A New Start

September 1st, 2014 · administration

Originally, this site was created as a location for the religion-oriented essays I had been writing on Live Journal. Having a themed site made it easier for me to stick to the topic, and it helped coalesce the various ideas together into a book. After completion of the book, my use of this site dropped off dramatically.

I have many excuses for why this is so. I was busy with work. Money was tight, so we didn’t replace failed workstations for several years. I’ve been more busy with other projects. Most importantly, I stopped making the time to meditate and write.

This site has not been entirely moribund, as it has captured my reviews of several books I’ve read and some discussions on cultural topics, but nothing has happened with enough frequency to warrant a following. (For example: this post is the first new item published since early 2013.) There have been some administrative headaches, as well: lost account passwords and a gradual increase in spam comments to irritating levels.

Today, I decided that I would revive “Pokey Finger” and give it a new mission. Account passwords were reset, and I’ve updated the WP code and all the mods. Spam should be, once again, an occasional nuisance. I even made a backup for good measure. If I keep to my goal of writing every day, I’ll probably update the theme and do some other site rearranging for good measure, in a few weeks.

The new mission is simple: write. In addition to the usual topics, I would like to focus more on:

  • Integrating Atwill’s Flavian hypothesis into my own understanding of the development of Christianity
  • Further developing the concept of the “Fellowship”, which is my attempt to construct a pagan-based community culture
  • Meditations on recognizing divinity around us
  • Essays deconstructing the mechanics of religion, faith, and divinity
  • Presenting activities, rituals, and social interactions for pagans

Finally, I have been thinking about my Illuminations series with some nostalgia, so look for some articles discussing prior Illuminations classes, and perhaps the presentation of a new series of Illuminations classes.

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The Christian Persecution Myth

February 27th, 2013 · christianity, culture, media

One of my favorite myths of the “Early Church” has top billing in this new book by Candida Moss. I discussed this in some detail in my book, Janus in Nicea, but it was less of a key point than a reinforcing element. In retrospect, this is a better topic for public discussion as it doesn’t require one to broach the question of whether Christianity existed prior to the Fourth Century.

Moss apparently takes the Early Church stories more seriously than I did, but still comes to the same conclusion. This article describes some points she made about anachronisms within the specific persecution narratives that I failed to notice.

Here’s the thing: the actual stories of Christian persecution individually fail to stand up to scrutiny. Either the Romans didn’t generally behave the way the stories are portrayed, or more primary records from the time dispute the more lurid stories. In any case, the “Sunday School” mythos of early Christians hiding in catacombs to avoid sustained and brutal persecution isn’t supported even by the most sympathetic persecution narratives. Instead the narratives show a pattern of occasional interest in mild punishments that were easily avoided.

Further, looking to contemporary documentation regarding persecution narratives prior to Diocletian (where it exists) reveals that they all focused, not on Christians, but on other fringe cults that really did populate the Pre-Christian Greco-Roman world.

This, I think, is the key point: the political and religious reality of Third Century Rome isn’t correctly reflected in Early Church stories, and especially not in persecution narratives. Given the extremely complex interrelationships between the many varieties of religious practice available to Romans in the Third Century, the Roman attitudes reported in most persecution narratives simply don’t make any sense historically. However, as Fourth Century propaganda, they sound great.

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The Folly of Translation

April 27th, 2012 · christianity, history, media

Some Pentacostal Evangelicals have their panties in a knot about some translations of the Bible Wycliffe has made for Muslim cultures. Read the news article here. The complaint is that “language in some of their translations intended for Muslim countries misses the essential Christian idea of Trinity: the father, son and the holy spirit or ghost.” Where they expect to see “Father”, the translation is to “Lord”; for “Son”, they used “Messiah”.

The article does a good job of describing some of the difficulties of translation in general, and of translating the Bible in particular. But there were still a couple of points it didn’t make, so I’m making them here.

Technically, the translators are correct. The use of familial relationships to describe God is specifically denigrated by Islamic tradition. Had they forced the issue, they would have lost many potential readers who would have been put off by such descriptions.

Another thing the protestors have working against them is that the Trinity is a post-Biblical construct. It doesn’t make sense to complain that a Bible translation doesn’t prop up Trinitarianism, since there exists no translation which does so.

The first century of Christianity after Constantine is structured by the series of severe and often violent conflicts regarding efforts to describe the nature of God or the Messiah. Folks who disagreed back in the day would refer to their opponents as “heretics” and their ideas as “heretical”. However, the difference between an orthodox idea and a heretical one had a lot more to do with the politics of those in charge at the time than anything specific to the ideas themselves.

Early on, the idea of the “Trinity” was cooked up as a way to describe, without describing, the nature of God and the Messiah. Unfortunately, this did not diminish the conflicts between the various political groups that made up the early Church. If anything, it increased the furor as folks tried to authoritatively describe the Trinity, or how its members inter-related.

Returning to the more recent past, American Evangelicals have repeated nearly every heretical idea in their quest to redefine Christianity on their own terms. It may make sense to some of them to read the Trinity into Biblical passages, but by demanding a change to a Bible translation, they are assuming authority to define both the Trinity and the members thereof that would have made St. Augustine blush.

By taking on the overwhelming task to translate the Bible into as many other languages as possible, Wycliffe has set for themselves a difficult path: and they’re aware of the many pitfalls and traps along the way. Even those who aren’t Christian can appreciate the scale of the work they have already done and how much they still have left to do. I don’t think they do themselves any favors by trying to accommodate noisy and irritable bullies who can only use such issues to prop up their own failing sense of authority.



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Fellowship: Pentafest Ritual

February 15th, 2012 · fellowship, ritual

The Pentafest commemorates the conjunction of the Sun and Venus. As this occurs on one of the same five days each time (see Venus Mysteries), so all five days are celebrated each year. On the Pentafest date that coincides with a Sun/Venus conjunction, a special theatrical production is produced.

The Pentafest celebration is part theatrical presentation, part art exhibit, and part learning fair, wrapped up in a inter-personal, participatory ritual. Much of the material is an attempt to quickly educate the unfamiliar with the Fellowship mythology and ritual practices. At the same time, participants must be given several opportunities to connect with the spirit of the Fellowship, through participation with easily remembered phrases, and opportunities to chant or sing.

The primary story arc is presented several times, in different contexts, to participants. The dying Warrior God descends into the underworld where he transcends his fears and is reborn as the Lover God. The Lover God overcomes three obstacles through personal transformation and later, in dying, descends into the underworld. There, he transcends his anger to be reborn as the Warrior God.

In this visualization, the location of the production is the Vortex Theater. They’re very pagan friendly, and have a really nice location. This may not be where the production actually takes place: it’s just helpful to think through a production in a known location.

As participants enter into the outdoor garden, they are encouraged to wind past various statues and set scenes that illustrate various elements of the primary story arc. Near to each group of set-scenes, an interpreter is positioned, repeatedly relating the meaning of each of the set-scenes near them to participants as they arrive. Also, the actors portraying the god forms will mingle (in character) with the participants in the garden, telling stories and interacting with participants. This will familiarize the audience with the characters and basic premise of the primary story arc. (Note that, while the god forms Warrior God and Lover God are referenced herein as male, the play is written so that either gender could play either or both god forms.)

Continuing into the cafe area, presentations line the walls describing various aspects of Fellowship ritual, such as: the idea of Spirit, house rituals, community rituals, and the Spirits of place. Each presentation consists of a poster or tri-fold presentation foam board, and descriptive handouts. This will provide an opportunity to glean a better understanding of some of the activity during the play. The presentation describing the Fellowship will include signup sheets to join the e-list, to be alerted for future Fellowship activities.

Inside the auditorium, a small band plays behind a vaudeville-style series of performances, beginning at least an hour before the play begins. In turn, each performer, pair, or group performs a story, juggles, tells some jokes, or sings a song — sometimes while dancing or performing gymnastics! The context of each song or story is either some element of the primary story arc or a summary of the entire arc. Participants are encouraged to move back and forth between the cafe, garden, and auditorium during this time.

Prior to the beginning of the main ritual, an invocation of the gods is performed, during which a procession outside led by the Warrior God leads everyone from the garden and the cafe into the auditorium. Those already within the auditorium would have the perspective of having witnessed an invocation ritual physically answered. (Note: some kind of participatory chant or song would be appropriate.)

The framing narrative depicts a family recounting the primary story arc as part of a family ritual for Pentafest, interspersed with scenes of the god forms playing out the story. When the Warrior God descends into the Underworld, the ritualistic interaction is demonstrated. At the end of the cycle, when the Lover God descends into the Underworld, the participants are given the opportunity to follow, offering up the ritualized answers and taking part in the ritual of transformation.

The three obstacles overcome by the Lover God are each opportunities to demonstrate some aspect of Fellowship ritual, such that a house ritual, a family ritual, and a community ritual are needed to progress to the solution. In each case, the Lover God must also transform some element of himself in order to progress.

After the second Underworld scene, when the Warrior God returns (which should be a different actor) and the participants have had an opportunity to have their own transformation ritual, the Warrior God leads a procession out of the auditorium and into the garden. Participants are encouraged to stay and mingle with the actors (out of character) and other participants for a while.

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Fellowship: Mysteries of Venus and Hermes

January 4th, 2012 · fellowship

The educational organization (the Fellowship) described in the previous post would necessarily be included within the context of an organization that modeled its principles. This outer, or sister, organization would be the Temple, providing a regular calendar of celebratory events, workshops, meditation settings, and frequent opportunities to commune with the spirits of community and place. A popular and well attended temple could easily subsidize and support an educational organization that served to bring more people to the temple, and to bring active members closer.

All of the behavior that is expected of participants — from social niceties to ritual practice — should be regularly modeled. Mythic presentations should include examples of home, family, place, and work worship and practice. Community ritual should be closely modeled on family rituals. It’s good to have books and videos that describe and explain things, too, but modelling the action will enable the educational purpose better.

The Temple will focus on gods of place, gods of community, and the Mysteries of Venus and Hermes. It is in the rituals, ceremonies, celebrations, and sacrifices made to these ends that the habits of home and family practice are demonstrated. The celebrations of the gods of place and community will serve to build and bond the the Temple family together. But it is the Mysteries that will draw the crowds from which the Temple family will grow.

The Mysteries of Venus and Hermes are based on two mythic cycles that correspond to the movements of the planets Venus and Mercury in the sky. In summary, retrograde periods are times for learning and re-assessing, while solar conjunctions represent transformations, and the mythic cycles accommodate presentations, rituals and celebrations that are incorporated into the general Temple calendar.

Gods of place include the spirits of every definable boundary the Temple is within: city, county, state, and country; but also spirits of the watershed and the surrounding watersheds; and also spirits of the neighborhood, zip codes, school districts, and so on. In Texas, you could conceivably include spirits of every nation that had prior claim to the land: Spain, Mexico, France, Texas Republic, and the Confederacy.

Gods of community reference the spirit of the Temple family directly, but also the spirits of communities the membership also belongs to for fun, for work, investment into the community: sport team fan clubs, scouting groups, athletic clubs, or unions, professional clubs, and interest groups. The community is a family of families, and so the spirits of all the families represented by the Temple family are also honored.

Once the Temple has a dedicated space and can keep a regular schedule, the spirits of place and community will get more play: until then, only once a year could there reasonably be a celebration of any size. The presentation of the Mysteries, however, can occur in existing theaters throughout the city and smaller facilities can be rented as needed until the size and enthusiasm of the community is such that a dedicated space becomes possible. The Mysteries, then, are the primary catalyst for the creation of the Temple family.

The Temple calendar is going to be very busy. In addition to keeping up with sun sign, rise and set, lunar phases, and signs, and seasonal quarters, there are also special dates for the Mysteries. Mercury goes retrograde three times a year and conjuncts the sun six times. Throw in shadow points to make an even busier calendar. Venus retrograde occurs on a regular cycle of short and long periods over eighteen months. Five of these cycles is sufficient to trace out a pentagram in the Zodiac, surrounding the Earth, so there are five points in the Zodiac that can be celebrated when conjoined by the Sun or Venus, so there’s four more smaller celebrations usually every three months, except when there’s a big festival. about every nine months.

The mythos of both cycles can dwell on themes of death, rebirth, struggle, loss, fear, and joy. Hermes is a psychopomp and holder of great wisdom. His thrice-yearly backwards journey provide a means to serialize the events in classic and modern myth. The Venus myths alternately focus on male and female manifestations of the hunter god and the lover god as they are born, have epic lives, then die, reborn as the other god form.

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Is There a Place for Augustine?

November 16th, 2011 · christianity

The fallacy of modern Christianity by Rev. Ed Schneider

I don’t know that it’s necessary to read this particular essay if you’re already familiar with Augustine. The Reverend Ed here is attacking all those “feel good” churches with their sophomoric theology and hippie mentality that say that we are fundamentally okay and just need God to make us “greater”. Reverend Ed finds this offensive and logically inconsistent with humankind’s long and inglorious history of bad behavior. We are broken, according to Reverend Ed, and require God to make us whole, if we’re properly and sincerely debased before Him.

Personally, I think Augustine was a sadist and a jackass, but he did make a number of big plays for the home team, so we must look to him as an architect of our modern culture. Augustine was the creator of the doctrine of “Original Sin” that says that humans are not just prone to error, but genetically cursed from the very beginning, and that further we require the gifts of the Roman church to heal us from this inherent flaw. This came up because there were congregations after Nicea who taught that humans are fundamentally okay, and Augustine needed to put a stop to that before folks started thinking that they could do away with Church participation.

In a different context, say if you were to create a new religion from scratch and could pick and choose any doctrines or theologies you felt appropriate, which stance is better: “I’m the only one who can help you” or “I’m okay, you’re okay”? Which is better at attracting participants? Which is better at keeping them?

Perhaps this just an opening gambit that must be combined with other techniques in order to snag the interest and passion of those who learn of it. If so, does it matter which doctrine one holds?

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Fellowship: Fundamental Idea and Principles

November 1st, 2011 · fellowship

I would like to start something big and ambitious, something that just might save the world. Before I go into detail about what I’m visualizing as the full fruition of the idea, I will first share the fundamental reasons for even considering going down this path.

The Principles

Between my personal explorations and the work I did researching my book, I have long known that religion and spirituality encompass vastly richer and more powerful tools and benefits to the human mind and psyche than most modern expressions of religion provide. My fundamental goal in this project is to provide an easy means for modern urban and suburban and rural people to learn and practice a significantly deeper and more meaningful religion that could potentially encompass and greatly extend the religion they have now.

My view is that religion is a set of techniques and practices that we use to encounter and experience the sacred in our lives. Additionally, the sacred is much more than mythology and authority: it includes all things true and right that we most admire — our relationships with family and friends, our memories of pride and success, and those places where we realize the vast majesty of the world around us. We naturally attend to sacred things today without necessarily recognizing them in a religious context, such as: patriotism, hiking clubs, interest groups, sports contests, movies, and rock concerts.

People today naturally seek out and yearn for the feelings and experiences provided by religion, and can often suffer from cruel addictions, depression, and suicide when these feelings prove unattainable. When people practice doing something in their imagination before they do it, they perform that task better. Religion can provide another dimension of this same process, enabling people to perform their tasks with pride and care.

Hope and optimism don’t grow out of the dismal depths of despair, but require a spark of light to reach the heart. The fullness of religion shows people the way to create their own sparks of light whenever needed. It creates a lattice along which we can climb from sadness into joy. Most importantly, religion applies equally to everyone and can provide to each person a sense of location, of belonging, of love, and of life.

The Idea

The goal of this project is to build an educational organization that brings an expanded understanding of religion and spirituality to a general American audience.

This expanded understanding would come from participatory ritual, workshops, classes, and individualized guidance. Books, podcasts, DVDs, and workbooks would be available to teach specific concepts as needed. Several “pathways”, or guided initiatory sequences, would provide a quick, compressed introduction into the various techniques and tools used in the various rituals and workshops. Extended apprenticeships would bring the lay practitioner into the fold of anointed teachers.

Participants would gather periodically to celebrate the spirit of the city and state, the spirits of the land and water, and the spirits of the participating families. From the larger body of participants, smaller groups would regularly meet to celebrate a specific spirit: a common family, a common watershed or neighborhood, or a common vocation. In their homes, participants would create memorial hearths for the perpetual celebration of the house spirit, the ancestor spirits, and the favored group spirits (such as state and local spirits, sports teams, welcome guests, and so on).  At these memorial hearths, participants would perform daily and weekly ceremonies to honor and celebrate these guiding lights.

Ultimately, the goal of the organization would be to provide for each participant the expectation of finding the sacred in all places, the understanding of how to discern and communicate with the sacred, and tools for honoring, or making sacred, any location, activity, or gathering of people. More fundamentally, the purpose of doing all of this is to shift general public expectation from looking to an external authority to name and honor the sacred, to anticipating that each person should and must name and honor the sacred in their own way and their own time.

In principle and organization, this organization should be open and accepting of people all other religious and non-religious backgrounds. In execution, this takes the form of honoring mythology without adopting theology or accepting the authority of any other system of religion.

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Evolution and Faith

August 25th, 2011 · christianity, culture, media

Normally, this is a topic I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. I also don’t get into arguments with people who claim the world is flat, doomed to end, or cursed by demons. It’s simply not worth the bother: folks don’t come to these conclusions through logic, so logic isn’t going to dislodge them.

Evolution, like gravity or sunshine, seems to be one of those concepts that is obvious once described and appears to impact every living thing we see on the planet. Only a great fool would deny the facts of evolution: so why are there so many people so hot to deny the reality of evolution?

Helpfully, Paula Kirby succinctly explains who is most upset by evolution, and why it upsets them. The whole piece is really good: I highly recommend it to anyone on either side of the argument. In it, she writes:

Evolution is blind, and brutal, and callous. It is not an aspiration or a blueprint to live up to (we have to create those for ourselves): it is simply what happens, the blind, inexorable forces of nature at work. An omnipotent deity who chose evolution by natural selection as the means by which to bring about the array of living creatures that populate the Earth today would be many things – but loving would not be one of them. Nor perfect. Nor compassionate. Nor merciful.

Having been raised in a liberal, Anglican environment, I heard many men and women of unquestionable faith and civic service who clearly articulated their belief that evolution had no impact on their faith in God, the Bible, or the Church. I have since read many articles and books by folks who easily accept the obvious truth of evolution without the slightest drag or drain upon their faith. However, Kirby writes: “to attempt to co-opt evolution as part of a divine plan simply does not work, and suggests a highly superficial understanding of the subject.”

But this is only really true for someone who takes the Bible literally, who is unable to view the creation stories as metaphor or myth. As Kirby points out:

Evolution could not have produced a single mother and father of all future humans, so there was no Adam and no Eve. No Adam and Eve: no fall. No fall: no need for redemption. No need for redemption: no need for a redeemer. No need for a redeemer: no need for the crucifixion or the resurrection, and no need to believe in that redeemer in order to gain eternal life. And not the slightest reason to believe in eternal life in the first place.

In short, evolution is a threat to Christians who feel that it invalidates their faith. Either it describes a God unfamiliar to them — if not diametrically opposed to the one their Church teaches — or it obliterates the fundamental purpose of their faith.

Kirby’s first point, that evolution couldn’t be the tool of a loving, compassionate God, is easily disposed of through a simple theological observation. The Christian God is supposedly beyond knowledge and comprehension, so just how could we know that using evolution isn’t an act of compassion and love? Isn’t it unreasonable to expect that what we might view as cruelty and capriciousness is seen through a similar perspective by a God that sees all, and knows all.

One could even make the point that the God of the Old Testament is hardly a paragon of kindness or charity. From the destruction of the world in a flood, to tricking the Jews into slavery in Egypt or later wandering in the desert for forty years, or the near indiscriminate killing of Egyptians and Canaanites, the God of the Old Testament was a cruel, harsh master and a deadly foe. It’s not difficult to make the leap that evolution — cruel, brutal, and callous — was one of His master plans.

Redemption has problems of surprising antiquity. St. Augustine of Hippo devised the concept of Original Sin requiring redemption as a reaction to Pelagian heresy, which held that people are inherently good, and fully capable of leading moral, productive lives outside of the Church. Conversely, Augustine insisted that people are inherently evil and incapable of self-guidance without the rites and leadership of the Church, and this was all due to the sin of Adam and Eve. This argument was never fully settled, and still comes up to this day. The need for, even the relevance of, the redemption provided through the sacrifice of the Christ, is different depending on which kind of Christianity one follows and how literally true one expects the Bible to be.

Again, if the literal truth of the Bible is insisted upon, evolution is a great wrecking ball set upon one’s faith. Kirby’s essay does an outstanding job of indicating this source of fear and distaste for evolution among American evangelicals, but it does a disservice to the greater majority of Christians who have no such problem, dismissing them as unwilling or unable to peer deeply into evolutionary theory. For those with a more nuanced view of the Bible — one that allows for poetry and mythology to occupy those pages — evolution never comes near to the fundamental theology or beliefs.

It is not evolution, but the theology and beliefs of a small minority of Christians under the rubric of very recently established denominations, that have a problem. Evolution is a fact, endlessly and effortlessly observed. Christianity, in general, is under no attack or even the slightest discomfort due to the scientific study of biological processes. Many Christians can, have, and will continue to be true and faithful to their traditions while accepting evolution, because it simply never intersects theology. Such Christians are neither misinformed or shallow in their thinking — neither are they looking for reasons to be upset.

On the other hand, there is a rather generous history of philosophers, theologians, and teachers who have repeatedly pointed out that the truth of the Bible is metaphorical, mythic, and poetic — who have stressed that not only is the Bible not literally true, but that grave danger comes to those who would attempt to interpret is as such. The Catholics, especially, are happy to report that it is the teachings and traditions of the Church that are the core of their beliefs. For those whose version of Christianity has abandoned the traditions and teachings of the Catholic church, who have dismissed the Apostolic tradition and set aside the art and beauty the Catholics preserved, only the Bible remains. In order for the authority of the Bible to trump the authority of Church leadership, this Bible must contain only the unquestionably literal truth.

I have a different, if harsher, explanation for why evolution threatens some Christians. Such folks hold such a vague and shallow faith that they are perpetually in danger of having their whole world view shattered by inconvenient facts. Consequently, they tend to be irrational and reactionary simply to keep their tissue-thin theology from completely disintegrating.

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