Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Harm Christians Do to the Faith with Their Bible Literalism

I remember thinking to myself, even when I was in second grade in St. Martin of Tours Catholic School on Roosevelt Boulevard in the Oxford Circle section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 196o, something like, "That Adam and Eve business can't be literally true. It's so much like a cartoon!"

Even then, the story in Genesis 2 and 3 wasn't quite taught as historical fact, but its historicity wasn't quite denied, either. The nuns did not focus on the historicity of the thing, but rather on the theology built into the story. They did it well.

As I matured, I was surprised to learn the extent to which "Bible-pounding" Protestant neighbors viewed the story as infallible raw history, and were truly oblivious to the theology of the story.

I thought to myself, in response, "Thank heavens the Catholic position isn't literalist!"

And then I realized more and more, as I continued to integrate the "grown-up Pete" with the society around me, that most street-level Catholics viewed the story as literally true, and were completely oblivious to the theology within the story.

And, finally, as I tried to dispel Catholic friends of the notion that the story has any historical truth at all, and they responded by hunting-down and proclaiming at me Church decrees anathematizing those who deny this part of the story and that part of the story, I realized that even the Church, in its officially-proclaimed theology, stubbornly clings to the notion that thin portions of the story are literally true.

So that, finally, I find myself in conflict with even the small amount of literalism about the Adam and Eve story within the Church's teaching. That literalism, in my opinion, shackles Christians to a perspective which greatly interferes with full understanding of good Christian theology, and generates "cognitive dissonance" -- a feeling of ultimate wrongness within the Faith.

When the Faith is otherwise so inconvenient to the temptation to give-in to the seductive call of the World, how can we Christians do anything but shrink in our influence?

Here, Catholics, is where, in its theology, our Church clings to a teaching that elements of the Adam and Eve story are literally true...

The Church teaches that "original sin," rather than just being a sinful propensity rooted in our being made of the flesh inherited from our parents, was in fact "a primeval event," "the original fault," or first sin, "committed by our first parents." Roman Catholic Catechism, Paragraph 390. In other words, Original Sin is an incident in the history of man.

This position -- that the thing which has had such drastic consequences for all of us was an incident in the chronology of mankind -- has drastic philosophical consequences. It forces us to devise a way, philosophically, that an incident in the lives of the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids can have affected us, today.

So, there is this remarkable theology, alongside the belief that Original Sin was an incident in time, pursuant to which God extends the consequences of the First Sin of the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids to the next 100,000,000,000 descendants of the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids.

Despite the fact that mankind's conscience condemns sentencing children for the sinful act of parents, to the extent that mankind generally agrees that God, Himself, would nastily punish with Hellfire a king who condemns thousands for the Actual Sin of two of their group, the Church maintains that God deprived not just the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids, but also all of us their descendants, of eternal happiness in Heaven, specifically and effectively because of the sinful act, in history, of the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids.

There is ancient "appurtenant theology" defending God for this crime -- He is sovereign, so we have no right to question the Sovereign; and Heaven is a gift, not an entitlement, so God did not violate His Own rules by depriving us of a gift.

Despite these unsatisfying "don't-question-the-logic-of-the-Wizard-of-Oz" "answers" to perceived injustice, we and our children are left with that sense of "cognitive dissonance" -- that "something is wrong."

The consequences of Original Sin by the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids are further extended directly to the next 100,000,000,000 direct descendants of the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids by the concept that sin-hating God "punished" the next 100,000,000,000 direct descendants of the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids by putting into their flesh a weakness comprised of a love of, and a propensity for, sin -- concupiscence -- amounting to a "stain" of the first sin by the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids.

After engaging in this seemingly wicked extension of the consequence of a sinful act to people who did not yet exist, and in the process contradicting His hate for sin by building into us a love for sin, God then feels inclined to save us from His Own sovereign, sin-assisting actions, by promising a Savior Who would strike at the Satan-serpent's head while the Satan-serpent strikes at His heel.

And then, there is one further astonishing consequence of this odd theological structure growing out of a dedication to Original Sin as historical fact: Monogenism.

The Church teaches that the stain of Original Sin -- our weakened, concupiscent "sin-lovingness" -- is transmitted to offspring of the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids "through the loins" -- via conception.

It achieves this transmission by insisting that all human reproduction -- all of it -- has been "monogenetic," that every single human being ever is the direct genealogical descendent of the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids who committed that first sin, so that the conduit for the transmission of the stain of Original Sin -- our weakened, concupiscent "sin-lovingness" -- is perfect.

The problem with monogenesis is this: To the extent that we are perfectly monogenetic, it is perfectly necessary that the first, second and third generations after the first ensouled pair of male and female hominids who committed that first sin engaged in incest.

In effect, that means that when all-knowing God ordered mankind to "be fertile and multiply," Genesis 1:28, He was ordering the first few generations to engage in incestuous sex acts. There is no alternative that I can see. If we must believe that mankind is perfectly monogenetic, we must as a direct and inevitable consequence believe that God ordered mankind to engage in incestuous sex when He said, "be fertile and multiply."

Now, the problem with that consequence is that to escape the conclusion that God was commanding and ordaining mankind to engage in serious sex sin, we have to quietly conclude that incest is not forbidden by Natural Law -- by Aquinas' "synderesis," the conscience.

As far as I can see, that is theological error. The incest taboo is pre-wired into us. It is the basic psychological shaper of the nuclear family, and of other Biblical proscriptions. For example, "None of you shall approach a close relative relative to have sexual intercourse with her. I am the Lord. You shall not disgrace your father by having sex with your mother....You shall not have intercourse with your son's daughter or with your daughter's daughter, for that would be a disgrace to your own family....," and so on. Leviticus 18:6-17. The Book of Deuteronomy includes incest sins in the "twelve curses," Deuteronomy 27:14-26, and then it expressly declares that these incest sins are "pre-wired" Natural Law:

11 "For this command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. 12 It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' 13 Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' 14 No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." Deuteronomy 30:11-14.

Not unexpectedly, once again there is ancient "appurtenant theology" purporting to defend God for this error: The first few generations of mankind after Adam and Eve were not yet as vile and as evil as us; they were "higher," and so incestuous sexual intercourse was perfectly fine for them.

That is palpable nonsense. Cain murdered his brother Abel in cold blood for stupid, selfish reasons. Genesis 4:4-8. Is that "higher"? If you were his sister or niece or mother or granddaughter or cousin, would you want to share his bed? Or, instead, would you seek protection from him within the nuclear family?

More appurtenant theology: Incest is not a Natural Law prohibition.

That is nonsense. First, we can see the incest taboo built-into even Adam and Eve's creation: "24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." Genesis 2:24. Again, Deuteronomy flatly assures us that "it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." To come to the conclusion that it is not Natural Law, we thus have to squarely contradict Scripture, which is the teaching of our own Church teaching authority, or Magisterium.

Additionally, the Incest Taboo is not some dreamed-up rule imposed by inconvenient rule-makers. It evolved with the human nuclear family, to accommodate the needs of human child nurturing.

In sum, we see that literalist theology, viewing the Adam and Eve story as absolutely historical in at least some areas, generates some extremely difficult logic problems, and therefore some serious cognitive dissonance.

Who would want to be a member of a religion portraying God as a Sovereign Who punishes billions of not-yet-guilty humans because they are their ancestors' descendents, a Sovereign Who, though sin-hating, "punishes" by imbuing us with a great attraction to sin, and Who, though punishing incest, commands it?

Nonetheless, those things are among the preaching of non-Catholic and Catholic Christians, and quietly hidden inside of the teaching of our Catholic Church.

Skeptics reading this, if I am wrong, please post specifics.

People contending these things do enormous harm to the Faith and to the Church.

What do I think about whether or not Adam and Eve are historical?

I think that even ancient Hebrew kids -- little kids! -- were acutely aware that the Adam and Eve story is an absolutely fictional story teaching important absolutely true theology.

I think that if we had a time machine, and that we used it to kidnap two ancient Hebrew children into the present, and if we showed them a website like Karl Keating's Catholic Answer Forums, and translated into ancient Hebrew the statements by Catholics in the Forums proclaiming Adam and Eve to be non-fiction, they would react to those statements the exact same way kids today would react if you told them that The Cat in the Hat story is non-fiction. They would look at each other with astonishment, and point at the screen and burst out laughing.

The story is jammed with indicators that it is absolutely fictional, and that therefore it is teaching theology -- not history! -- through fiction.

"7 the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being." Genesis 2:7. Here God is portrayed as making a man out of clay like a potter. There is a pun built into the Hebrew word for "ground," 'adamah -- Adam's title, "man," or 'adam in Hebrew, and his name!

"18 The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." 19 So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. " Genesis 2:18-20. Here almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing God is portrayed as a bumbling idiot who tries unsuccessfully to match Adam up with "lions and tigers and bears." Non-fiction, or humor?

"21 So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man." Genesis 2:21-22. At the plain language level, "rib," here, is a set-up for a Sumerian language pun. In Sumerian, "rib lady" is a nin-ti. Later, when the text says that Eve is "mother of all the living," Sumerian speaking Hebrews in the audience would have realized that nin-ti also means "lady of the living," and thought, "Ooooohhhhh! That's the reason for that rib business!"

'22 ...When he brought her to the man, 23 the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken."' Genesis 2:22-23. This is another Hebrew language pun. Reinserting the Hebrew makes plain how this is true: "This one shall be called 'ishshah,' for out of 'ishah' this one has been taken."

"1 Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, 'Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?' " Genesis 3:1. The story features a sneaky talking snake. There is no contention, in Genesis 2:18-20 that the animals God tried to match Adam up with could talk.

The sneaky snake says to Eve, "No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad." Genesis 3:4. This is meant to be a humorous trick. When Adam and Eve commit their sin, guilty consciences assail them, so that suddenly they "know" "what is good and what is bad"!

Concluding that that story is non-fiction is like concluding that Rocky and Bullwinkle are non-fiction.

So, why is the story in the Bible?

I believe that the Original Sin story is a hypothetical illustrating how each of us members of sin-inclined flesh-and-blood mankind would handle every single moral decision, but for grace.

And as a consequence, the "grace purchaser," Christ, is promised as the solution to the hypothetical when God tells the Satan-serpent, "He will strike at your head," when the cross pierces the ground at "SKULL Place," get it?, while the Satan-serpent "strikes at His heel" with nails through Christ's feet on the cross. See Genesis 3:15.

In other words, the key component of the story is the characters' ungraced state, as contrasted with our real-world graced status, arising from the procession of grace, purchased by Christ's sacrifice from God's Own justice, forwards and backwards through time. Viewing the story as partially or wholly or essentially non-fiction strikes at the heart of its intended role of being a hypothetical.

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