May 20, 2010

from eden to the streets of gold

I've been out of town this week leading around a group of americans working in the orphanages here--playing with the kids, spending time with them, doing crafts, that sort of thing.  It's fun, the kids the love it, and I love it.

On Sunday, however, we went to a gypsy church in the same town as the homes that we're working with, and there one of the ladies gave a power-bracelet style presentation of the gospel:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  But then Adam ate the fruit of the tree and sin entered the world.  God couldn't be with people because He couldn't stand sin.  But then God sent his only begotten son and his sacrifice paid the penalty for our sin so that we could be reunited with God and live forever in Heaven where the streets are paved with gold.
Don't get me wrong, I totally love that people would come over from the States just to spend time with the kids in orphanages here.  If you want a witness, that's it.  But I have real issues with this sort of theology, even presented in a church as it was.

That there is something badly wrong with humanity we all know--even if the realization only goes as far as 'there is something badly wrong with certain other people.'  Christianity, I think, purports to offer a solution: love over hate, forgiveness over retribution, generosity over greed, grace over law, humility over pride, others over self--the subversion of the destructive ethics of selfishness and power over others into the constructive hope of the kingdom of God.  Coming all the way from America to Bulgaria to visit children in orphanages for a week is what that kingdom is built upon.

But the theology on display here starts at the wrong place.  I hold the stories of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, to be parables of nomadic semitic peoples attempting to make sense of the agricultural revolution.  Later, they became co-opted as symbolic explorations of what is wrong with man--when Adam, Man, all mankind, is placed in a paradise with but one condition, where he can live forever in bliss and ease, merely stretching forth his hand to taste of the fruit of any tree in the garden of God save one, when the world is his in joy forever upon one single, solitary condition ... well, what does he do?  What does mankind do?

If the writers of Genesis had had the internet, then those early chapters would have been accompanied by a picture of Arguecat.   But fundamentalist and evangelical theology reads the story differently.  Instead of being an ancient commentary on the agricultural revolution turned parable about the imp of the perverse, it becomes in their hands a factual account of the reason we all became perverse.  It is not us in that garden obstinately screwing ourselves over just because we can, but one particular, actual man in an actual garden situated at a very specific (if unknown) place in the middle east, who, on October 13, 4004 BC round about four o'clock in the afternoon Baghdad time took an actual bite of the actual fruit of an actual tree on the advice of a very real talking snake, and thus screwed all of us over in principle with nothing we can ever do to set it right.

It's not a story that makes much sense--it's like believing that the true cause behind the world's ills is that they were loosed upon humanity by a very real Pandora from the actual box where they really had been bound.  But that, for too many, is where the story they tell begins.  Not that mankind, if given the chance, will screw things up, but that there was an actual Adam who screwed things up for everybody exactly 6014 years and 8 months ago, and thus an all-loving God condemned all his descendants to an eternity of unimaginable torment on the principle of the thing (in supposed just expiation for a mortal's misdeeds during a finite lifetime), and this same all-powerful God was unable to forgive their inherited sins without blood, and the same all-knowing God could see no other way around this dilemma other than himself providing the blood sacrifice, and so the all-just God's thirst for vengeance was appeased by the death of an innocent.

Just ... no.

Evolution, of course, kicks the legs out from under the story--without a literal and factual interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis, the whole narrative falls to pieces.  One understands, then, the virulent opposition to the theory in evangelical circles--it really is undermining everything that they believe.

My gut reaction to this is to say that if the facts contradict a belief, then that belief is wrong, and should be abandoned.  But we cannot simply hammer our brothers upside the head with the truth--that will only result in yet more persecution-complex creationists springing up.  Our task is more complex--to rewrite and reclaim the narrative of Christianity until it is no longer about a judge paying a traffic fine for a defendant who could not (and why didn't the judge-executive-and-legislature-rolled-into-one simply waive the fine?!), but about the infinite God making Himself known to the fucked-up, preening, hairless primates scratching out their sandcastles on the third of eight planets going round one of the galaxy's countless billion stars.  It is the story of how He took our nature unto Himself so that we might put on His nature in turn--and that begins with coming from America to Bulgaria for no other reason that to love on abandoned children.

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