My daughter is reading a book by the scientist on the theory of evolution. The thrust of the book is to explain how evolution works and how every other piece of information we use today flows from that theory, including medical research. My daughter asked us why anyone would feel the need to write such a book. Kim and I had to explain that there are many Christians who suggest they don’t believe in evolution, offering up something they call creationism as an alternative. It’s based on a literalistic reading of the Biblical text.
Of course to hold to such a theory one must put aside all scientific research and belief and support a notion of human development that no serious scientist today believes. The idea that there is no connection between different species, that we as humans did not evolve from other sources of life flies in the face of everything human reason tells us. Why would a God who made us with a brain and reason ask us to essentially turn these qualities off, like a switch, and believe something about our origins that makes no sense at all?
Clergy in mainline churches have been taught in seminaries for as far back as you can imagine that we cannot read the Bible literally, that the book of Genesis is to be read as metaphor, a myth that reminds us who stands behind the act of Creation and that Creation has a purpose. As a professor of mine one explained, “People from the western world look at a story as ask if it actually happened and people from the eastern world ask if the story is true.” There is something in the western mind that seems to compel us to equate truth with literal, factual, concrete, facts. Yet the Bible itself holds truth in places that never claim such things for itself. Take the stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Did they occur as written? Does it matter if they did or didn’t? Would the “truth” of the story be more effective or less if we knew that there was an actual father with two sons like Luke describes?
I believe the stories of the Bible are true. Most of them. Some stories, like descriptions of war practices, the discipline of children, the role of women, gays and lesbians, I feel these are more cultural than timeless truths. And before my more conservatives friends chime in with “so how do you make a distinction between context and timeless truth in the Bible” I would respond, “the same way you do!” There is no church, no preacher, no believer, who takes the Bible literally, none. If one did s/he would be a cruel and sadistic person. Would you really put your child to death for swearing? Really? (Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
Of course no one takes this literally, or the parts about not wearing clothes made of different fabrics. And so on. Yet what these so-called literalists do is they pick and choose the specific verses that conform to their world view. All of “proof-text” but mainline folks are less likely to use such proof-texting as a hammer to pound those who disagree with us.
For me as a believer the Bible is a series of sacred stories that point to a purpose and intent for creation, which of course includes humanity. As Jean Vanier would say, the purpose of creation is to “become human”, to become all that we were intended to be. Evolution does not matter to me as a believer because it is a scientific discovery that points to how we became what and who we are. But it is does not tell us what we were/are supposed to be. The sacred reveals our true nature. The sacred is where we discuss and live out those challenges.