Saturday, 21 March 2009

God with us, in our Death

John Haught writes one of the finest works in the emerging genre of evolutionary theology. In it he describes how Christianity is really only fully fulfilled in the light of evolution; and evolution only makes sense fully within the Christian myth. His central point in this is the kenosis, Christ's emptying of himself by becoming man, suffering as a human, and dying on the cross, all for love. Haught extends this out to the central Christian principle of panentheism to answer the troubling question of theodicy. God is not everything, but rather everywhere, and in everything. He then contemplates, how does this then answer the problem of suffering? Evolution did not invent theodicy, but it certainly accentuates it, as there are constant billions of creatures who suffer and die, even if one excludes those lacking in brains and therefore the capacity of suffering. And these countless creatures are doing this long before "sin" entered the world through humanity, and death through sin.

It is answered in part, that God cares for all his creatures- and even those items that he did not breath life into. He cares not only for the moving animals, but the growing trees, and the sitting-and-doing-nothing rocks, waiting to erode. He may care for some creatures more than others, but each and everyone is his creation, and he loves them dearly. And he is present with all of them, at each moment of their lives, no matter how long or short the lives are. And for those capable of suffering, long before the cross, Christ took up their suffering upon himself, suffering with them in every moment, mourning with them, feeling the splagxnizomai compassion of identification and empathy.

The journal Ac­ta Pa­lae­on­to­log­ica Po­lon­ica denotes an extraordinary find in Inner Mongolia in China. An entire herd of young Sin­or­nith­o­mi­mus dongi has been found entrapped in mud. It's rare to find a herd of fossils of one species; rarer still to find some with their last meal in their stomachs, and such details as eye bones preserved, and how they died.

From World Science's summary:

These an­i­mals died a slow death in a mud trap, their
flail­ing only serv­ing to at­tract a near­by
scav­en­ger or preda­tor.

The skele­tons showed si­m­i­lar ex­quis­ite pre­serva­t­ion and were mostly fac­ing the same di­rec­tion, the re­search­ers said, sug­gest­ing that they died to­geth­er and rath­er quick­ly.

Two skele­tons fell one right over the oth­er. Al­though most of their skele­tons lay on a flat hor­i­zon­tal plane, their hind legs were stuck deeply in the mud be­low. Only their hip bones were mis­sing, the likely hand­i­work of a scav­en­ger work­ing over the meat­i­est part of the body bod­ies shortly af­ter the an­i­mals died.

Plung­ing marks in mud sur­round­ing the skele­tons recorded their failed at­tempts to es­cape.

What do we do with such details, of suffering and death? It happened so long ago, 90 million years ago. Like a tragedy on the other side of the world, or watching one unfold in a fictional drama on TV, there is nothing we can do about it. But we can remember,

That God was with them.
He was with them in their suffering, and their
dying.
He knew them, and remembered them.
He was with them in their
coming in,
and their going out.

And he wept with them too.

And we can pray the prayer we always pray, knowing that God's will will be and is and has been done, but we pray to align ourselves with the Spirit of God, that we might follow him in this kenosis:
Lord, be with them, even the least of these your creatures.
As you have been, as you will be, as you shall be, in the enternal now.
And teach me your compassion.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Warning: This Post X-Rated

Did that get your attention? Did you start reading this because of the title?

Are you still reading even though you feel like you shouldn't, because you want to see what is written next, or better yet, what pictures are included below the fold? (Yes, there are pictures.)

A new study came out showing what many have long believed- warning labels on games make it more likely that youth will rent and play the game. The violence and sex that are offered are too alluring. Though the study was limited to games, it is reasonable to extrapolate that a higher rating of MA, R, NC-17, or X also make it more likely that youth will want to watch the program or movie. And let us not limit it to youth, but be honest, that there is a certain titillation that attracts most adults as well.

Why is this? Why do we want to see what we feel we should not see? Why does a warning make it all the more enticing? Why do we sometimes believe that what is hidden is more enticing and needs to be revealed?

This is an ancient issue, of course, going back to the Garden, when the forbidden fruit proved too enticing, and the man and woman were convinced by the serpent to eat of it. (Medieval Europe thought it was an apple.. I tend to believe the fruit was a coconut, and thus Eve's first words after biting into it were, "Ouch.") From the writing style, this is obviously myth, but that doesn't make it untrue- rather myth is often more true than the cold logical progression of events we often describe as reality. This is a reality the Genesis authors are expressing- that we find we do that which we should not do, especially when we have been warned against it.

And yet, we also know that God is omniscient (by definition), and certainly knows the hearts of humans. He knew that warning humans to not eat would cause them to eat. (Again, not that there was an actual fruit and eating experience, but rather the story reveals something of the nature of humanity and the nature of God. Thus, the authors are describing a God who would entice humans in precisely the way he knew they could be enticed.) God does not tempt, but he certainly leads us into temptation- else why do we pray that he not? And this is a story of a God who placed a pleasing fruit- or more to the point, placed a pleasing commandment, in front of our eyes, practically begging us to disobey. Why? Because this is the way he created us. This is the way the laws he set up guided the evolution of our brains. We want what we can not have, or even better, what we should not have.

Why would a good God do this? Why would he give us a law when he knows the very giving of the law would lead us to disobey it? Without laws, we wouldn't have known it was wrong, and would have continued in our ignorance, without doing wrong. Without laws, we would not have been tempted to disobey, and feel impelled to disobey though we knew it was wrong, just because we knew it was wrong. There was a time long ago when we acted without a knowledge of good and evil, like the other animals. The actions we then did were not immoral, but amoral, but when we learned the difference between good and evil, the actions we had done in innocence were now evil. Had God not allowed this greater awareness to rise in us, we might never have had the brain capacity to worship him, but we also would no longer be acting in evil.

In the same passage where Paul speaks of his body warring against itself, he also states that, when we do what we don't want to do, we affirm that the rule is good. It is in this context that he has perhaps the most complicated and dense portion of all his letters (and yet the summation of all his theology), describing how the law is not sin, but rather the law showed us what sin was. Its presence meant our actions became sin, and its presence made it that more enticing to commit sin. And there is here no hope- there is law, and sin, and condemnation.

Until the next pericope, where Paul points out only one hope- the grace of God, as expressed in the death and life of Jesus the Christ. Pelagius was wrong. Without this grace, we can not succeed. He was right in what the Eastern Church took up to a more fuller extent- our Spirit must work with the Spirit of God to find this life-changing. This is the divinization of Athansius, that God became human that we might become divine.

There is no hope. A 14-year old boy will continue to buy the games rated M and AO. I will continue to want to go to the NC-17 movie. You will continue to want to enter the website stating "For over age 18 only." There is no hope on our own, because it is our nature. We were evolved to this. We can only change when we accept the divinization by God, allowing his Spirit to work to change us through the death of Jesus, in the hope of following him into that glorious resurrection when all things are made new. Even he said, "Not my will, but yours be done." We must make an active choice to subsume our will. And this can only be done by the presence of the living Spirit.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Tony Campolo's Great Mistake

I don't know that I've ever been more disappointed to read something online. I respect Tony Campolo so much. I have been lead to the Truth by his words so often. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Pasadena Tab, when I was with the Salvation Army and he lead a conference there. This is a man who has consistently upheld the liberal end of evangelicalism, who calls for us to honor the social justice cries of the Gospel. He has truly helped me come closer to Christ. And now, he publishes this.

If you haven't heard, or haven't read, in the latest issue of Christianity Today, Campolo comes out strongly against the teaching of evolution, or "Darwinism", as he calls it. (Darwinism is a dismissive insult purposely used by Literal Creationists, to try to turn evolution into a religion.) Campolo doesn't come out and say that evolution is wrong, but rather argues that it should not be taught, for the philosophical, social, and religious implications and beliefs of Darwin are monsterous.

I was shocked to read this. Campolo is a level-headed guy, with great reasoning and logic, who speaks for a non-literalist interpretation of the Bible. Yet down the line he quoted the standard Literalist arguments used against evolution. I would have wished that someone else had emailed this article in under his name, and that he was the victim of identity theft, rather than believing that you actually wrote this.

Evolution should or should not be taught in schools because it is either the truth, or it is not. What the results are of the theory, or how people use it, are rather irrelevant. The truth shall set you free, regardless of what kind of truth that is. And it just so happens that there is probably no other scientific theory out there that has more evidence for it than the Theory of Evolution. In this article Campolo proved that he might be a great theologian and pastor, but that he knows very little about science.

Campolo claimed that Darwin directly advocated eugenics and the wiping out of inferior races. In truth, Darwin is rather famous for being an abolitionist, and speaking against what would be later known as eugenics. Certainly, the Intelligent Design crowd and the Discovery Institute often quote him out of context to try to say the opposite, ignoring the very next line where he says (to paraphrase anachronistically), "If eugenics were actually practiced, it would be horrible." And I have no doubt that his beliefs on race aren't up to our standards today- but the same could be said for Lincoln, and more easily said.

Campolo points out another common Literal Creationist argument, that the long title of "Origin of a Species" refers to the preservation of the races. This is true, but the long title of Origin isn't used as much in referencing the work because the word "races" in the 19th century means more than just humans. Indeed, today, the same is still true in biology. My professors would speak of races of seastars, meaning different colors of the same species of Patiria miniata. Since Darwin doesn't really ever get to the evolution of *our* species in Origin, when he used the term "races", he was quite clearly referring to animals in general.

Campolo brings up the rather tired argument tying the Nazis to evolution, the same one that was brought up in the awful Expelled movie by Ben Stein. These arguments are completely inaccurate every time they are blindly repeated. In Campolo's condemnation of the ethical implications of evolutino, he ignored, or more probably had not read, the numerous statements by Darwin that his biological theory should not be used as an ethical paradigm. Yes, the Nazis used evolutionary theory incorrectly to support their beliefs. (Indeed, their distortion of evolution was so great as to advocate the opposite of what evolutionary theory advocates.) They also used a distortion of Christianity to do the same. Campolo knows that Satan loves to distort the truth, and to use lies to advance his agenda. That doesn't mean we should throw out the Christian faith.

Campolo then refers to some others who were tied to the Nazis and evolutionary theory. Tod o this, he refers to Ernst Haekel as German, and therefore is to be lumped with the Nazis. This smacks too much of the same that Campolo accuses Darwin of. Haekel made mistakes, but he also contributed a great deal to biology. His drawings of plankton were immaculate and advanced our understanding of them a great deal. Though he fudged his drawings of ontology recapitulating phylogeny, his basic premise was sound and is still followed today. Indeed, it is a foundational principle of EvoDevo Synthesis that has supplanted the NeoDarwinian Synthesis of Evolutionary Theory.

Remember, if evolution is true, and the evidence indicates it is, than it is also a work of God. And for my money, a more powerful God creates in this manner than in the Q snap-your-fingers style of the IDists or Literal Creationists. There are many authors and theologians now who are discussing not only how Christianity and evolution are compatible (see Kenneth Miller), but how the theology and the science of the two are interwoven and dependent on each other (see John Haught, Darrel Falk, and Denis Edwards). Yes, we affirm with Campolo that humans are in God's image, and unique in that way. But if evolution is true, then by attacking evolution, one is attacking the very work of God.

This is the discussion of the World Science updates as they become available.
Your thoughts are most welcome here.