The Rev. Bob Kemper presents a view accepted by many conservative Christians regarding the origin of the universe and life in his column of March 15. His view depends on accepting the Bible as an inerrant book that can be trusted in all details.
There are people like myself who believe in God as the very ground of their being and Jesus Christ as their path to an understanding of that God, and who do not believe that the Bible is infallible or that its views are ones to which they can always subscribe.
A requirement of any writing we might trust is that it be internally consistent and that it not contradict our own observations. For example, if we read in a gardening guide that tomato plants grow with their fruits under the ground and their roots in the air, we might suspect there could be errors in other parts of the guide and that we would be unwise to unthinkingly follow its directions for our gardening practices. We might also question the accuracy of the guide if on page 10 it said tomato plants do best with full sunshine and on page 12 it said they should always be grown in the shade.
The creation accounts in Genesis fail on both of these counts. The story in the first chapter of Genesis describes the creation of a universe that simply does not exist. To understand what the writer is talking about one has to realize what he thought the universe was like. He believed the world was in the form of a huge flat disk with a huge rigid hemispherical dome over it. (The Hebrew word for this nonexistent thing is translated variously as "firmament," "firm ceiling," "vault" or "dome.") Above the dome and beneath the flat earth all was water. The sun, moon and stars were simply lights set in the dome. I find it hard to believe that any educated person could accept that today as an accurate description of the universe.
On the second test of internal consistency we also find problems in the Biblical creation accounts. In chapter one of Genesis we are told that vegetation was created on the third day and humankind (both male and female) on the sixth day. In chapter 2 we are told that man was created before any vegetation had appeared on the earth because it had not yet rained. It seems difficult to have it both ways.
The account of woman being formed from the rib of man is so absurd it hardly deserves comment, but if believed, along with the story of the "fall" relegates to women second-class status. That is why beliefs are so important. They have consequences. Consider another example:
The modern state of Israel was set up on the belief that God had given a certain bit of land for all time to his "chosen" people. That belief comes from the Bible. If you were a Palestinian whose family had lived in Palestine for generations and you were told you had to make way for large numbers of a particular religious group coming in from other parts of the world, because in the book ancestors of these people wrote it said a certain Yahweh God gave the land to them, might you not feel some resentment toward these people and others who consistently supported them? Might that sense of injustice fester in you to the point where you might become a terrorist?
(Gordon Lee has been active in Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational and United Church of Christ denominations. He currently is a member of the Episcopal church and the United Church of Christ.)
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