Tag Archives: christianity

A liberal case for why it’s OK to believe in creationism

Sat with a group of Ugandans, I found out most did not believe in evolution – in addition, most of them were also medical professionals and all but one (that I know of) are strongly religious.

The above constitute three facts ascertained through a couple of conversations. Facts which must be contextualized with another three statements: All of then are lovely people – they are all highly intelligent, well educated and I have a lot of respect for each of them.

None of this though stops me being slightly astonished that so many dismiss so easily the idea of Darwinian evolution (most hadn’t heard of Darwin). This was, for me at least, surprising.

If my face told of surprise though, it paled into insignificance with their jaws on the floor response to my assertion that I didn’t think there was a God (although of course I could never prove this) and that I thought some of the teachings in the bible were, at best, highly unpleasant.

A meekly worded statement in comparison to Dawkins’ comparable assertion in his book, ‘The God Delusion’:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” 

Unlike many of Dawkins’ conversations with the strongly religious though, my conversation ended in good spirits. Importantly, I think we all came away from the conversation with a slightly more accurate understanding of the diversity of human thought. Even if I thought they were wrong and vice-versa.

However much I talk of the improbability of God, I cannot nor should not escape the importance of religion to both other people and societal structures here in Uganda and across the world.

This is a conclusion which is almost universal in its applicability.

In the UK, according to one poll, half of my fellow countrymen do not believe in evolution with one in five preferring the theory of creationism or intelligent design. When engaging, talking and debating them I have to be aware of their thoughts for the sake of friendships but also for the sake of open discussion and debate (something that I hold to be incredibly important).

There is a time and place for the Dawkins battering ram approach but I have rarely found it useful in my day to day life.

I think it important to acknowledge that humans are inundated with irrational beliefs and as such perform irrational actions. What sets religiosity apart however is the scope and impact it holds on contemporary society.

When I buy bottled beers because I think they taste nicer than in a can (although there is no evidence to support this) I am not hurting anyone or anything other than my bank balance.

Sadly, religion in too many of its current manifestations fail J.S. Mill’s basic harm principle – you can do (think) what you want as long as it doesn’t harm others.

Most people who are Christian – including most of my colleagues – would consider themselves on the positive side of J.S Mill’s basic harm principle and this is true for as long as you adhere to one basic liberal principle – your religion is your private affair, not your families, not your neighbours and not societies as a whole. It is there to be discussed and respected but not inflicted onto others.

This thought is contradictory though to the teachings of most institutionalised forms of religion who throughout history have bound themselves up interchangeably with power structures (monarchs, governments, schools etc etc).

If someone doesn’t believe in evolution, so be it – what harm is caused? If a school teaches creationism though, the harm to the children is clear – they are growing up learning in an atmosphere where scientific evidence is considered secondary to belief.

Worse still, if a religion teaches someone is a lesser person for their personal thoughts or feelings then it can actively encourages division and hatred – as commonly manifested throughout history.

If you want to believe a collection of (and again I quote Dawkins) “chaotically cobbled-together…disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries” then so be it – for as long as you don’t take those beliefs outside of your personal sphere.

The question is though; can you believe in the bible in an absolute sense without it impacting on others? Would the slave trade still exist if people took Exodus 21:7 too seriously? Or would we just of shrunk this global atrocity to an inter-regional one following the advice of Leviticus 25:44. Should we be putting to death anyone who works on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2)?

I cannot help but to conclude that only a highly selective relativistic understanding of the bible is compatible with many modern morals.

The belief in creationism flies in the face of modern science but, as far as I can see, the belief in itself doesn’t hurt anyone.

But the foundation on which this belief is often based – the absolute truth in a religious script or idea – is deeply problematic.  It is this belief that then spawns related problems – the teaching of children misinformation and the inability to debate because you believe in an absolute truth…to give just two examples.

People can think what they want, we all do. Belief isn’t the problem but the basis for beliefs and the actions it spurs is.

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Do not use Christianity to justify your own homophobic prejudices

The King James Bible, does it tell us more about Jesus or King James?

The theological argument around Christianity and homosexuality has been a point of contention for generations now (especially in the US but also in Anglicanism). At best, in my opinion, the Bible is unclear about homosexuality. If anything the comments relating to homosexuality in the bible are more a reflection of specific moments in history when scripts have been translated than any original understandings of homosexuality. The gay Christians who interpret the Bible as being pro-homosexuality (other than in a broad equality sense) are as guilty of this as those who wish to exclude homosexuals from the Christian faith altogether.

As the argument claiming homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity is the most prominent, this blog will predominantly focus on these arguments. There are two passages in the Bible as well as the often stated story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) that people commonly quote in relation to homosexuality. Corinthians 6:9 and Timothy 1:10 have both been taken to mean that ‘homosexuals’ have no place in the Kingdom of God. Both stories can be better understood as an issue lost in translation. The words interpreted as ‘homosexual’ are much more likely to translate to something closer to ‘loose’ or ‘wanting self-control’, possibly ‘unrestrained’ than they are as “homosexual”. The modern inclusion of the word “homosexual” is much more likely to be a reflection of sexual norms at different periods of modern history.  To interpret these stories as referring to homosexuals is dubious to say the least. These passages though, have been interpreted by many to deny homosexuals any role within Christianity.

The most over quoted passage in relation to homosexuality remains Genesis 19 which deserves a slightly closer look as it is based less around translation issues and more around interpretive understandings of morality. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah was a story that aimed to highlight the morality around hospitality; the sexual undertones are minor, if there at all. The argument goes that Lot was giving hospitality to an unknown stranger, and the men of the city gathered to ‘know’ who this stranger was. The argument that this can be understood in term of homosexual relations is weak; to imply that God destroyed Sodom for this reason is weaker still. This story is also later referred to by Jesus (Matthew 10:14 15) where he implies the story has more to do with hospitality that homosexuality. He said “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town”.  It is worth thinking thought the cultural legacy hundreds of years on how we still use the term “sodomy”.

The status of hospitality over sexual morality is highlighted by the fact that when Jericho was destroyed by the Lord, the one person spared was a prostitute, despite prostitution being prohibited in Leviticus 19:29, because she offered hospitality. It would suggest therefore that the homosexual understanding of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has more to do with modern and post-modernist understandings of sexual morality than it does with the story itself, which is based predominantly around hospitality. If we did choose to understand it in relation to sexual morality we have trouble explaining the climax of the story with Lot being seduced by his two daughters.

This does not stop homophobic politicians using the “teachings” of Christ to justify prejudice legislation. Indeed, despite the focus on America, it is clear that the UK introduced a series of homophobic measures that were justified in a traditional Christian moral basis. While homophobic legislation spread in pre-Clinton America it gained considerable support through the Thatcher premiership. Throughout the 1987 election campaign the Conservative party campaigned on a heavily homophobic stance with electioneering posters holding titles such as ‘Young, Gay and Proud…labour’s idea for good education for your children’. It was only in the early 1990’s that sodomy was legalised in the UK

Whilst the official discourse in the West is moving towards an acknowledgement of gay rights, the public opinion is struggling to keep up. This is resulting in an official acknowledgment of homosexuality, combined with a common disregard for it being there. It is worth considering when looking to further gay rights that we are moving from a very recent history of extreme homophobia, a lot of which is based in modern Christian moral rationale.

We have to stand up against those who blindly quote the bible to justify their own beliefs.

Do not use Christianity to justify your own homophobic prejudices!

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Filed under Human rights, Religion, sexuality