Friday, November 21, 2008

Don't Confuse Faith and Knowledge-- They Simply Aren't the same!

When I was a seminarian, one of my professors was fond of reminding us that the Bible was "a book about how to go to heaven, not a book about how the heavens go." That was many years ago, and it was a transition time in my life. Having been raised in a fundamentalist church, I "chucked it all" when I entered high school. It wasn't long until I was fully caught-up in the tail end of the hippie movement, already petering out in the late 60's and early 70's. When I was still in high school, my dad, who was born in 1909, had taken all of the hair, rock and roll, political rebellion, and drug trips he could endure. He wanted me out. At age fifteen, I was kicked out of my parents home. Really, I was quite happy about the arrangement. Home was entirely too square. I lived for some time by panhandling, mooching, stealing, and getting stoned. I really was having a good time. Then, I encountered something new, the Jesus Freaks. Theses folks were just as fundamentalist as the church of my childhood, but they still managed to remain hip.


It is a long story, but I recognized they had something I wanted: certainty. Events went from there into a happy fundamentalist oblivion for the next several years. But, in the back of my mind I was always haunted by the question, "How do you know?" The answer was supplied by fundamentalist leaders. I knew that I knew that I knew because the Bible said so, or as a popular bumper sticker had it, God said it! I believe it! That settles it! The Bible became the court of no appeals. If the Bible said it, it must be true. That worked pretty well until I got to college. Then other notions came my way that made that approach appear as circular thinking. They were notions that made sense to me. I tried to talk it over with our leaders. They told me, "Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts." It didn't help much.


Eventually, I arrived at the point that I was rapidly losing all faith. Then a revelation came to me. There are two ways of knowing. One way is by means of our senses and investigation. This is the way of science. That is "true" which can be empirically proven to be true. We live in a world of observation. The Bible is full of stories about the sea parting, the sun standing still (as if it moved), a fingerless hand writing on a wall, a worldwide flood in which one guy and his family, out of all the people in the world, and two of each kind of animal, escape on a boat, people living to be 900 years old and much, much more. Yet, no one can claim to have observed any of these things in reality. We are left with two choices: These things used to happen but no longer occur, or these things never really happened at all. Compare these stories to the religious myths of ancient Israel's surrounding neighbors, and you will discover they are full of similar, but different, impossible stories.


My conclusion about it all is that the Bible stories, likewise, are myths, intending to convey a point, and largely irrelevant when it comes to teaching about science, cosmology, or unbiased history. There is a second way to know truth. It is through the myths. Myth is an avenue of truth. But it is different from observational truth. Is it just "play" truth? No. I would argue that the ancient myths of the Bible are "super truth." They contain truth that will endure long after today's factual news is forgotten (as history bears out).


In Michael Shermer's book, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, Shermer cites research concerning the beliefs of Americans relative to creation and evolution. Reading his data, I would say Americans are rather evenly divided on the issue of natural selection vs. creation. This is interesting, since the weight of evidence is heavily in favor of some variety of evolution. As he points out, the US is the only industrialized western society where this is really an issue any longer. To what do we attribute this? Isn't all about a basic confusion and fear? It is about confusion because many Americans seem to have been taught that the Bible is indeed "a book about how the heavens go." It is based in fear because fundamentalist religious leaders have led the faithful to believe that if the Bible is anything less than factually true in all it proclaims, it is completely untrustworthy. It is a sad state of affairs. We are called upon to depart from commonsense and live in a world of make-believe. This leads to other problems. Seeing the Bible as absolute in all it affirms for all times and places leads to intolerance, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, and yet more fear of diversity. In our modern world, it is a price society can no longer afford to pay.

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