Saturday, July 30, 2011

I'm Losing (And Finding) My Religion - Again

When I was a young boy my mom sent me off to Sunday School. I remember that church attendance in my parent's home was mostly limited to special occasions; Christmas, Easter, and funerals. That is not to say that my parents weren't spiritual or even religious in their own way, but it was a bit out of the ordinary to be sent off to Sunday School with my little sister that bright Sunday morning.

I don't recall exactly what the Sunday School teacher said one day, but I do remember thinking to myself that it was totally unscientific, even impossible. Science was my world, and even though I was only nine years old, I realized that there was a gulf between modern science and literalistic religious dogma - so I quit going to Sunday School.

At the beginning of the Jesus People Movement I returned to that church and was swept up in the excitement and comfort of finding a deeper meaning to life, especially during a time when the whole nation and my personal life was in turmoil.

To fully embrace my new found faith I was faced with a choice... Accept a literal reading of the six day Creation Story in the Bible and the popular evangelical thought that the earth was only about six thousand (6,000) years old, or believe that the earth was about four-and-a-half billion (4,500,000,000) years old as I had been taught in the public school system.

My dilemma was that if the first few verses of the Bible were not correct how was I to believe the sixty-six books that followed? So, knowing God to be a higher authority than the Los Angeles Unified School District, I chose the suspension of all scientific thought. I believed that the geologists and astrophysicists were wrong, that they simply had too many zeros in their calculations.

I spent the next forty years as a student of the Bible until 2009 when my dad passed away. My dad's passing triggered within me what I called a mid-faith crisis. I questioned everything, but mostly I questioned the gulf between modern science (which I loved but had abandoned forty years earlier) and ultra conservative fundamentalist Christianity.

I read everything I could find on the Young Earth vs. Old Earth debate, and as most debates go there are good arguments on both sides. With my personal leanings heading towards an Old Earth point of view, I began seeking out how to reconcile my Christian faith and current scientific understanding of the universe.

In my search for reconciliation I came across the book Thank God for Evolution by Rev. Michael Dowd. Michael Dowd makes the statement that "Facts are God's native tongue" and that "The discovery of facts through science is one very powerful way to encounter God directly." Rev. Dowd's book has revolutionized my faith and revitalized my love of science.

I have come to believe that Scriptures proclaiming a six day creation story, given at a time when scientific knowledge was limited to a flat earth perspective, were an acceptable explanation for the origin of the universe for that time. With our current scientific understanding of the cosmos, the six day creation story serves us best as a mythic account intended for a time when scientific knowledge was limited. How could the ancients have known about super novas, black holes, or plate tectonics? How else could they explain the creation of the earth but in the terms we find in the Genesis account?

My rejection of a literal interpretation of the six day creation story is not a rejection of the inspiration of the Bible, but rather a new understanding of the creation story as inspired for a particular time. It is a beautiful metaphor for a Creator who lovingly provided for His creation all of the essential life giving elements of a complex and interdependent world.

With the return of my love for science I feel like I have been born again. I feel as if I have been cured, if you will, of schizophrenia. The marriage of faith and science in such a way as to be intellectually honest and at the same time true to my Christian faith has liberated me from a sense of denial. I am no longer in denial of scientific facts or in denial of my personal experiential spirituality. I am free from having to be an apologist for fundamentalist beliefs and free from having to explaining away scientific observations about the universe as lies of the Devil.

I know that God is real, and I know that the earth was created 4.5 billion years ago. These two are not mutually exclusive nor does one invalidate the other. There is a richness in my faith now that is derived from acknowledging the complex majesty and deep time age of the universe that was lacking in my past due to a narrow literal reading of the first chapter of Genesis.

"It is this mythical, or rather this symbolic, content of the religious traditions which is likely to come into conflict with science. This occurs whenever this religious stock of ideas contains dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which belong in the domain of science. Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims." ~Albert Einstein

Peace, Love, and Light!
Kevin (Cloud)


Sarah said...

Thank you SOOOO much for this post. I too had this EXACT thing come up in my own quest for my beliefs, feeling, as you say, very schizophrenic about it. Great word to use, because it's an accurate depiction. I started following this "paleo" diet and it brought up a lot about where we came from and the very same issues you described having. What a blessing to know someone else who struggled, yet arrived at the same conclusion as I did. Thank you so much. I believe this is the confirmation I was looking for that it's OK to believe how I do, even though it is not the "mainline" belief of a number of my friends/church family.

Hippie Christian said...

Thank you Sarah for reading my blog. It was confifming to read your comments. There are still more questions than answers, but as Joni Mitchell sang in Wodstock, "you know life is for learning"

Peace & Light!

D.M. said...

I still have the same feelings-but I'll ask God-I still think that what science says and what the Bible says could actually be one and the same except one being in God's timing and the other Man's timing-they could be one and the same considering that God's timing is different from ours.

What concerns me more is not how old the earth is, but did God take us from the dust directly, or did He create us through the monkeys? If it is the latter I would not say that as of the onset of Adam and Eve's appearance on the planet that we were anything but human-but there is alot of opinion that humanity today is nothing but the smartest of beasts-and this belief has led to moral mayhem at least in our country. I believe Satan can produce false "data" (like UFO's are really demons masquerading as "aliens") and some fossils could be fake. However there is a Bible verse that is disturbing (I've got to find it and bring it on here that says something about without righteousness Man is a beast-does it mean we may as well be beasts without following God-or that we ARE beasts without following God? Scary thought....!

Hippie Christian said...

Hi D.M.,
Yes, the Day-Age theory does help reconcile the six day creation story with old earth evidence.

Keep in mind though, the Bible is not a science text and geology does not answer questions about spiritual or moral issues.

The two not only speak in different terms, they speak about different subjects. Any overlap between them shouldn't be seen as a definitive explanation of the other.

The monkey ancestor question has still not been fully resolved for me either. At this time I am just enjoying having come to terms with the age of the universe.

Keeping an open mind!

xflowahsx said...

Interesting. I just accept the dissonance. I don't deny what science says, but I don't deny what the bible says as being literally what God meant. Its kinda like with different interpretations of what the bible says... there is so much argument over certain issues that I just don't take a position even when people try to force me to. MAN doesn't feel comfortable not having a precise answer. All I know is that Jesus is who He says He is, and I trust God that He maintained what we know as "The Bible" today as he intended to preserve it.

Hippie Christian said...

Dissonance seems to be more acceptable in this generation than in times past. Dissonance is uncomfortable for those who hold on to the belief that they have found absolute truth, less so for those who see life as a journey. Thanks for your comments.