Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
November 3rd, 2014 by Joel Watts

Oh, so that’s why @AiGKenHam is so upset with @Pontifex…

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The Holy Father has once again amazed people by being Catholic. No one was more shocked by this revelation than Ken Ham and Al Mohler. So, why has Ham decided to take issue with this re-statement of long-standing Catholic dogma? I suspect it is because the Pope did a slight jab at Young Earth Creations by calling them Gnostic.

The original Italian:

Quando leggiamo nella Genesi il racconto della Creazione rischiamo di immaginare che Dio sia stato un mago, con tanto di bacchetta magica in grado di fare tutte le cose. Ma non è così. Egli ha creato gli esseri e li ha lasciati sviluppare secondo le leggi interne che Lui ha dato ad ognuno, perché si sviluppassero, perché arrivassero alla propria pienezza. Egli ha dato l’autonomia agli esseri dell’universo al tempo stesso in cui ha assicurato loro la sua presenza continua, dando l’essere ad ogni realtà. E così la creazione è andata avanti per secoli e secoli, millenni e millenni finché è diventata quella che conosciamo oggi, proprio perché Dio non è un demiurgo o un mago, ma il Creatore che dà l’essere a tutti gli enti. L’inizio del mondo non è opera del caos che deve a un altro la sua origine, ma deriva direttamente da un Principio supremo che crea per amore. Il Big-Bang, che oggi si pone all’origine del mondo, non contraddice l’intervento creatore divino ma lo esige. L’evoluzione nella natura non contrasta con la nozione di Creazione, perché l’evoluzione presuppone la creazione degli esseri che si evolvono.

The interpretation as translation:

When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining that God was a magician, with such a magic wand as to be able to do everything. However, it was not like that. He created beings and left them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave each one, so that they would develop, and reach their fullness. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time that He assured them of his continual presence, giving being to every reality. And thus creation went forward for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia until it became what we know today, in fact because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the Creator who gives being to all entities. The beginning of the world was not the work of chaos, which owes its origin to another, but it derives directly from a Supreme Principle who creates out of love. The Big-Bang, that is placed today at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine intervention but exacts it. The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.

The demiurge is a Gnostic entity.

Young Earth Creationists of Ham’s caliber are often called Gnostics due to their insistence on a certain revelatory experience, the need for this knowledge as a precursor to salvation, and because of their particular cosmological view.

Here, the Pope — perhaps it is intentional? — goes further and calls the god of the YECers the demiurge.

Ken has yet to get past the notion Christians uphold the authority of Scripture and yet accept evolution as a valid theory (please understand the use of this word). As someone reminded me on Facebook, or rather put it better than I could: Evolution is a godless theory, not because it does away with God, but because it does not point to, or away from God. It simply stands (and the Christian would add, as a way to describe God’s creative act).

The Creation stories in Genesis 1-2.4a and 2.5b-3, not to mention the recreation story of Noah and the several other creation stories in the Tanakh, are not scientific. They are, simply, cosmological. They point us to God as a means to worship God, the Father Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth.

By the way, the Orthodox Church likewise affirms (theistic) evolution:

In short, then, Orthodoxy absolutely affirms that God is the Creator and Author of all things, that He is actively engaged with His creation, and that He desires to restore His creation to full communion with Himself through the saving death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This, unlike Darwinism, is not a matter of ideology but, rather, a matter of theology.

Orthodoxy has no problem with evolution as a scientific theory, only with evolution—as some people may view it—eliminating the need for God as Creator of All.

Regardless of how we view the matter of evolution, we as believers must affirm the creedal point of God the Creator.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

11 Responses to “Oh, so that’s why @AiGKenHam is so upset with @Pontifex…”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    None of this is really that new. Catholic priest and astrophysics professor Georges Lemaître sowed the seeds of the Big Bang theory. Then, probably not wishing to be caught in geocentric-like debacle, Pope Pius XII got ahead of the game by suggesting in Fiat Lux (Let there be Light) that the theory proved the existence of a divine creator.

    Meanwhile, much of the profoundly narcissistic fundamentalist leadership still has their collective head stuck in the 13th century. While useful for petty politics and peddling pipe dreams to anti-intellectual adherents, the realities of life are going to catch up with this antiquated thinking much as it did with the Catholic Church centuries earlier.

    As with everything else, fundamentalism is either going to evolve or it will die out. Trying to remold the universe to suit their demands for stupification will not save it in either this life or the next. While nothing is quite as pathetic as poor people that were once fabulously rich, fundamentalists run a close second.

  2. I beg to differ about creationism having anything to do with the 13th century. Fundamentalism is a product of the 19th and 20th centuries (and, let us hope, not the 21st). One can say that it has its roots in the Princeton Theology in the early 19th c., and then as a reaction to modern Biblical scholarship (such as the Documentary Hypothesis), and, actually rather late in the game, evolutionary biology. Young Earth Creationism really exploded in the 1960s.

    • Know More Than I Should says

      What was the dominate 13th century theological view on the origins of man – and, thus, by implication, the rest of creation? How does that theological view differ from that espoused by fundamentalists?

      What was the predominate 13th century Christian belief about the Bible? How does that opinion differ from that endorsed by fundamentalists?

      What did 13th century clerics think about women – especially in regards to their role in society? How is that ideology different from the role for woman proposed by fundamentalists?

      How did the 13th century church react to alternative doctrines? How does that differ from current fundamentalist perspective?

      How did 13th century Christianity react to Muslims in the Holy Land? How is that different from the way fundamentalists feel about Islam in the Middle East today?

  3. Some of these questions do not, sorry to say, distinguish between many quite different societies. What did 18th century philosophes or Confucius or the Buddha think of the role of women? 21st century Chinese Communists and Hindus have their problems with Muslims. And remember the 13th century sack of Baghdad by the Mongols.

    13th century standard treatment of the Bible in Europe was that there were four levels of interpretation: literal, allegorical, tropological and anagogical; and surely there was not acceptance of “sola scriptura”.

    The 13th century did not have any opinion about species, the concept being some centuries in the future. Spontaneous generation and equivocal generation were common opinions.

    • Know More Than I Should says

      Let me respectfully suggest that the 13th century Mongols didn’t think about Baghdad in the same way that Christians regard Jerusalem. Moreover, while the siege of Baghdad was admittedly a disaster for Islam, the Khans were more interested in territory than they were in religion. In fact, they were so interested in territory that they probably created the largest contiguous territorial empire the world has ever known!

      On the other hand, much like the 13th century Crusaders, fundamentalists are fixated on ridding the Holy Land of Islam. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, ostensibly to rid the country of Islamic jihadists, fundamentalists were claiming that the invasion would prepare the world for the Second Coming. Ironically, while Jesus still hasn’t shown up, the invasion of Iraq may have doomed Christianity in that country.

      The zenith of Catholic power in Medieval Europe might reasonable be said to have occurred during the reign of Pope Innocent III. Not only were all churches were under his control, he believed that he had the divine right to meddle in the affairs of nations. Also, during this time, the Fourth Lateran Council standardized Christian ideology.

      Fundamentalist, too, wish to seek secular power. Much like the infamous 13th century Pope, fundamentalists seek power in the combined spheres of religion, economic, and politics. Also, much like 13th century Christian authorities, they like thing simple – with them on top and everyone else bowing and scraping before them. To that end, fundamentalist guru Michael Evans wrote a book titled “Beyond Iraq” in which he essentially advocated a Christian global homogeny through American military might.

      An examination of ancient Chinese philosophy suggests a comparatively liberal attitude concerning human sexuality. Nor were the ancient Chinese preoccupied with the subordination of women. Within this context it was later Confucians rather than Confucius that changed the status of women in China. This effect was quite pronounced during the Han dynasty when – somewhat similar to Christianity under Constantine – Confucianism became China’s state philosophy. As a result, it became a primary mechanism for socializing Chinese youth. Later dynasties expanded on this patriarchal model. Over time, much like fundamentalists, Confucians began to accept male dominance as the natural order of things.

      The sometimes exaggerated difficulties of Hindu women are not unique to Hindu women. Rather they are common to all women living under the thumb of patriarchal religion.

      One the other hand, fundamentalism in the United States arose perhaps half a century after the rise of the women’s liberation movement. In fact, Baptists were embracing fundamentalism at about the same time women were being granted a constitutional right to vote! Thus, fundamentalism more closely resembles the Han dynasty’s attitude toward women than it does original teachings of Confucius.

      Oh, and by the way, unlike post-Augustinian Christians, Confucius considered sex to be an affirming expertise rather than a vice. Confucius wasn’t quite the chauvinist portrayed by Western history.

  4. fundamentalism in the United States arose perhaps half a century after the rise of the women’s liberation movement.
    You mention that Fundamentalism is a phenomenon arising around the turn of the 20th century. In a society which had experienced the effects of the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Protestant Reformation and various political revolutions. Yet you choose to relate the Protestant Biblical literalist take on faith and science as if it had some connection to Catholic traditionalist take on deeds and pre-science. The 13th century took for granted geocentrism, four elements, four humors, spontaneous generation and the authority of the Pope and King. What does any of that have to do with today’s fundamentalists. You mention Islam. I would expect to find more complaints in early 20th century Fundamentalism about Catholics, Mormons and Jews. Concerning the status of women, male domination is not peculiar to 13th century Europe – it was there in Classical Greece and in revolutionary America, and in traditional cultures around the world for millennia. But one can hear women’s voices in Fundamentalist churches (not meaning to gloss over problems), where that would have been unheard of in 13th century Europe.

    In short, to single out 13th century Western Europe as a paradigm for a subculture of 20th century America does not throw any particular light on understanding either. Nor is it plausible that there was some causal connection.

    • Know More Than I Should says

      The fact that a movement arises at the turn of the 20th century does not mean that the ideas contained therein were consistent with the 20th century.

      Of course “the status of women, male domination is not peculiar to 13th century Europe.” That was my point. At a time when the United States was just beginning to embrace sexual equality, fundamentalists reintroduced the divine right of men. That’s why I brought up the parallel with the Han dynasty’s subjugation of women.

      Geocentrism is still an article of faith among some biblical literalists. Some actually believe the entire cosmos revolves around the earth!

      Belief in the four humors is consistent with fundamentalist efforts to curb scientific exploration. Almost half a century later, there are still fundamentalists persuaded that the moon landing was a bad science fiction movie filmed in Hollywood. The justifications for prohibiting stem cell research really is amazingly similar to forbidding dissection of human cadavers. Thus, early anatomists were numbered among that criminal element more commonly known as grave robbers!!!

      Notions of maggots magically appearing on meat outside of a sealed jar aren’t that far removed from the idea of a divinity creating life. In fact, much of the various revolutions and discoveries in human history are largely ignored by fundamentalists. Then, as now, precepts of the scientific method is an anathema to most fundamentalists.

      Allegiance for a centralized religious and secular authority, such as the Pope dictating to kings, is closely aligned with fundamentalism’s decidedly anti-democratic disposition.

      In sum, while you’re focused on the micro dissimilarities, I am more aware of the macro parallels.

  5. I would like to know a few of the lights of fundamentalism who compare with these names from 13th century Europe:

    Albertus Magnus
    Roger Bacon
    Robert Grosseteste
    Snorri Sturluson
    Dante
    Francis of Asissi
    Giotto
    Thomas Aquinas
    Wolfram von Eschenbach
    Ramon Lull
    Marco Polo
    Friedrich II
    Walter von der Vogelweide
    Fibonacci

    • Experienced Husband says

      While you certainly a fondness for arguments and poets , once again, you are focusing on particulars to the exclusion of the broader picture.

      — Albertus Magnus was a Renaissance man before his time.
      — Roger Bacon was a teacher.
      — Robert Grosseteste was a prototype scientist.
      — Snorri Sturluson was a politician.
      — Dante was a poet.
      — Francis of Asissi was a soldier turned friar.
      — Giottok was painter.
      — Thomas Aquinas was also a friar.
      — Wolfram von Eschenbach was another poet.
      — Ramon Lull was a philosopher.
      — Marco Polo was an explorer.
      — Friedrich II’s empire serves as an excellent example of what happened when rulers crossed medieval popes!
      — Walter von der Vogelweide was a poet.
      — Fibonacci was a mathematician.
      — Vogelweide was a poet.

      All were of the above exemplary men of their time in much the same way that Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt, Muhammad Ali, Ayn Rand, Donald Trump, Marty Marty, Robert Oppenheimer, and Robert Frost were different from most of their 20th century contemporaries. To suggest that even doubling or tripling the number of names in this paragraph would define the 20th century would still leave a lot unsaid.

  6. What text are the Pope’s comments from? My friend and I are critiquing Ham on our blogs. http://www.popchrist.com http://www.joeledmundanderson.com

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