The Flood

Genesis 9:17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

As the waters rise, as the scientists warn, as Greenland is growing its own lettuce for the first time, the response from many Americans is basically some variation of the above verse from Genesis, where God reassures Noah that, no, I will not fill the world with water and make every living creature live on a Neolithic barge. Again.

The Reverend Timothy Keller, PhD, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NY, NY, wrote a wonderful essay on threading the needle between modern science and orthodox Christianity (link to essay where in a style which I learned to appreciate, he spells out the basic problems in a tripartite apologia –his preferred format for preaching to the yuppies. He writes:

Question #1: If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?

Answer: The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.

Question#2: If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?

Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world- view.

Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.

The response from the bench is predictable as this dispute between literalists and the interpreters predates Christianity. This dichotomy is likely a manifestation of human speech and all the neurologic wiring that entails. I can imagine this conversation between Erg and !Kerg, two chatty Australopithecines.

Erg: When the great Mother cried her tears and made the seas in ten days and she laid down to become the great Mother mountain yonder, that would mean that she would have had to cry about 1/10th of the volume of the world’s waters in a day… That’s a lot of water. Could this mean that a day in Her time was much longer than a day is now? Could this mean that she was much bigger once and made bigger tears and shrank to become the Mother mountain? Could…

!Kerg clubs Erg.

The commentary from the literalists on Dr. Keller’s essay ranges from, “…Professor Keller is trying to square the circle…[scripture quotes]…and therefore the day in Genesis is clearly 24 hours” to “club!” While I concede that many New Yorkers would welcome the opportunity to live in the belly of a whale, most thinking people scratch their heads and think that Hansel and Gretel’s cannibal witch is far more grounded in reality than a cetacean studio.

The fact and reality of science and modernity puts a great deal of pressure on an unchanging orthodoxy. Those most willing and capable of thoughtful change are never in the majority. The Malthusian concept could just as easily apply to this: the educated breed arithmetically while the orthodox breed geometrically.

Time and again, when learning and education flower, the bright lights of the world are drowned out by a flood of fear and ignorance. The execution of the Chinese scholars, the torching of the Alexandrine library, the sacking of Irish monastaries, Galileo, Darwin, and Rushdie –these are the normal patterns. When the creators of South Park have to stop their series mid-season to be censored by the orthodox of several religions in a country that places free speech before all other rights except the right not to have Congress establish a state religion, it confirms that before the great flood, there is an even greater flood of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and incivility.

May God keep you and bless you, if you so tend to believe.

I.D.D. -Irony Deficit Disorder, Unwanted Connectedness, and the Importance of Defending the Modern

The Greatest American

As a middle school student, we were assigned Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. I laughed my guts out, but soon realized that many were appalled by the idea that Irish babies should be used to feed the poor. As I grew up, I read Vonnegut with the avidity that presaged the kind of fandom that we see kids have nowadays for video games, and for it, I was a bit of an outsider. The word I learned in medical school was concrete -most of the world is concrete. They can process black and white, but are blind to shades of gray. A pie in the face is funny, but a pie made of Irish babies, not so much.

You can see this in the audience for comedy -in the 90’s, it was fans of Leno versus Letterman (and now  O’Brien), Jeff Foxworthy versus Jerry Seinfeld, and Britney Spears versus Lady Gaga. It’s the divide that separates America into Walmart and Target. There are people who take Sarah Palin seriously and those who see a cosmic joke. It is with utmost seriousness that I propose a new DSM personality disorder -the Irony Deficit Disorder or IDD.

IDD is marked by a lack of curiosity of the world beyond the experience offered by life within earshot and immediate view. People with IDD have limited affect and rarely express themselves with their hands. They hew to orthodoxy and are great believers of world views constructed by dead people. They are suspicious of the new and generally feel uncomfortable around people who don’t share their background. IDD is found across the political and socioeconomic spectrum. People with IDD are easily offended. They will likely be offended by this piece. These people find change distressful and uncomfortable. At first, new things are regarded with disdain and suspicion, and the ethical and moral dimensions are weighed from the viewpoint of their particular flavor of orthodoxy. When change threatens to intrude, they usually have been able to withdraw from it and the world, but not anymore. The internet, which back in the halcyon days of the nineties offered a utopian view of world connectedness -a New World Order, functions as both the irritant and the balm to those with IDD.

Every country now has its native Taliban fighting the bare-legged, ochre-skinned, breast implanted, spangly-pole dancing march to progress. It is the loss of tribe, social norms, and social status to barbarian invaders talking, looking, and thinking differently and dictating change while secretly sneering at the rubes, or so it seems to the bitter IDD person. They look at their internet in shock and awe – How can it be not wrong for a man to kiss a man and marry a man? How can it be not wrong for a white girl to kiss a black man? Why are they trying to get me to eat that horrible looking food? Why do I have to look at that person dressed that way? Why are those signs not in my native language? Why do I have to pronounce that name the way they want to? How can it be not wrong to assert that America is a country whose only mention of God in the Constitution is in the separation of church and state? Their fears are straightforward –They are trying to change my core values and by extension, denigrate them.

Now, having IDD in no way handicaps that individual. These people buy Toyotas and GM cars, use Windows, and wear red Christmas sweaters embroidered with reindeer. They pay taxes and abide the law. In fact, they are the majority, and their concerns have to be respected up to the point where someone else’s rights are infringed. Those of us endowed with the third eye of irony and rationalism have a difficult position because we will always be in the minority and vulnerable (see Qin Dynasty -burying of the scholars and burning of the books, Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Gleichshaltung, McCarthy Hearings, the Cultural Revolution, the Gulag, Taliban Kabul Soccer Stadium activities, the Iranian Election of 2009, The Glen Beck Show). A candle is mostly wax with a fine evanescent flame, easily blown out.

The bright lights of our world have to make a stand. Rather than retreat to Starbucks to grope out discontented tweets for a limited audience, we have to reach out and actively defend ourselves and our civilization which is the Modern Civilization. Rather than sneer behind our Kindle’s, we have to speak clearly for our Constitution and rule of law. We have to make our votes count and work with our like minded brethren in the opposing camp to come to rationale, workable solutions rather than digging trenches festooned with figures hung in effigy. The rational center must hold true to the convictions of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams.

You now have the tee box.