Creationism or the Way of Jesus

Sample Chapter

 
 

Chapter 1: Why do we have to choose: Creationism or The Way of Jesus?


The roots of the choice between Creationism or The Way of Jesus are deep and ancient.  This book is simply the current face of a much longer and much larger debate.  For millennia there has been a tension as people fought and thought about how to build a good society.


From a Judeo Christian perspective there were two main alternatives.  Society could be built on the regulation of people’s lives through laws, including laws which rejected people who were different, or society could be built on love and compassion and the acceptance of those who were different.


For more than three millennia these and other alternatives have been present in Jewish society.  At times the gulf between these alternative views has been small.  At other times the gulf has been so significant, and the stakes so high, that writers have felt inspired to write about their views.  In some cases these writings were so meaningful that they have survived as a part of the Bible.


One such need to write occurred at a major low point of Jewish history: the Exile.  The timeline in the Appendix may be of assistance here.


In 597 BCE and 587 BCE the nation was overrun by the army of Nebuchadnezzar II: king of Babylon.  The temple, the centre of sacrificial worship, was destroyed, as was much of the rest of Jerusalem.  King Jehoiakim, the servant link between God and his people, was deposed.  Their land, promised to Abraham and his descendents more than a thousand years earlier, was occupied by foreigners.  Many of God’s chosen people were carried off into captivity in Babylon.  In 538 BCE Cyrus the Great of Persia deposed the new king of Babylon, Nabonidus, and allowed the captive Jews to return to Jerusalem, but no longer as an independent nation.


One response to this national disaster was: We have failed to obey the law, and God has been punishing us.  As a result, supporters of this view became more rigorous in the fulfilling of the details of Jewish law.  This included the enforcing of racial purity (eg Ezra 10: 1-44: the divorce of foreign wives and rejection of the children borne by them) and the rejection of those who were diseased or defective (eg Deuteronomy 23: 1 No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.).


An alternative response was that the nation had forgotten to look after its members who were diseased or different, and that other nations or races were God’s children also.  These pleas for acceptance of all people, including non Jews, are the subject of the cleverly written stories of Jonah and Ruth (see chapter 9: Other misunderstood stories: Jonah and Ruth).


In Jesus’ time this debate, this tension, still existed.  We can see this in Jesus’ initial acceptance of the baptism offered by John the Baptist.  This ritual washing was usually self administered, but now was being administered by John ‘the Baptiser’.  It was a move towards more openness.  But for Jesus it was still too limited in what the ritual was attempting to say about God’s love for his creation.


This led Jesus to a more open and accepting attitude to those who were different.  There are many examples of this acceptance of those who were different.  They include the shocking parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), Jesus talking to prostitutes (eg Luke 7: 36-50) and Jesus talking to the woman at the well (John 4: 1-42).


But do people really have to choose between Creationism and The Way of Jesus?


Quite simply, Yes.  People need to make that choice.  The choice is between an institutionalized ritualized belief system and a way of life based on love as lived and promoted by Jesus.


One purpose of this book is to expose Creationism for its misleading behaviour: misleading because its claimed foundational document, Genesis, has been misunderstood and abused by the Creationist movement.  Another purpose of this book is to see what it means to be a Follower of The Way, as the early Christians were called.


There is however a basic and troubling question.  What will happen when a person suddenly sees that creationism is a false construct, a house of cards? 


In Matthew 18: 1-6 we read a note of caution from Jesus.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”


We read that Jesus was warning people, including me, to be very careful about shaking the faith of someone.  In particular Jesus warned about shaking the faith of a child, probably meaning a child in the faith.


With that in mind, I pray that through this book the teachings of Jesus will be more accessible and understandable when creationism crumbles. 


Even more I pray that Jesus will become available to you as a present companion and example, leading to an understanding of God’s presence in our lives and world.  I can give testament to God’s presence which consists of love and acceptance, and which is in contrast to the cold unloving divisive legalism of creationism.


So what is the Jesus alternative to Creationism?  Let’s think about sailing in yachts.


Although I am no yachtsman, I can understand why people love exposing themselves to the danger, thrills, achievements and deep pleasure of yachting.  The thrill does not seem to be about the destination, or even winning a race: it is the thrill of the process.  The Sydney to Hobart yacht race is one of the great annual yacht races in the world.  It is famous not because of where it finishes, no disrespect to Hobart, but is due to the unparalleled challenges of the outdoors and the competitive camaraderie of the event: before, during and after.


Jesus made it clear that the kingdom of heaven was not about some future destination or the size of the craft you travelled in.  In yachting terms he would have said Just do it and enjoy the wind in your hair.  Jesus did not ask Where will you spend eternity?  Instead he said that of paramount importance was the present, and our current relationships with each other and with God. 


This can be seen most clearly in the Parables of the Kingdom (1) and in the Beatitudes (2) and the parable of the sheep and the goats (3).  These are considered in some detail in chapter 4: The Jesus Approach.


The path from the clarity of Jesus’ message to our current confusion and proliferation in our beliefs and practices, including Creationism, can be traced.  The teachings of Jesus are clear and unambiguous, but over the centuries Christians and others have analysed and commented on these teachings to such an extent that the core message is often swamped and obscured by the words.


Soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul changed from being a passionate persecuter of Christians to being a passionate Christian missionary.  His were the first Christian writings to survive.  His writings tended to codify the gospel and, while they explained many things in a very helpful way, they also made the faith more complex and difficult, particularly for people living in very different societies two thousand years later.


The gospels, written by Mark (and Peter), Matthew, Luke and John, are not factual descriptions of Jesus.  They are theologies of the nature of Jesus, using the storyline of his life, and based on the experience of Jesus by his disciples and others.  They were written from about 65 CE to about 110 CE, and after the death of Paul.  Each Gospel has its own purpose and audience.


The theology of John’s gospel, for example, is clear from its first verses:  Jesus was the living Word of God. 

1 In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.

2 He was with God in the beginning.

3 Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him.

4 What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men;

5 and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.  …………

9 The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him.

11 He came to his own and his own people did not accept him.

12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name

13 who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself.

14 The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.                                                                            

                                                                                                                                                New Jerusalem Bible


Two hundred years later the Roman Emperor Constantine, following his conversion to Christianity, encouraged the codifying of the faith, for example summoning the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.  The resulting codifying can be seen quite clearly if we compare the Jesus approach in the Beatitudes and Sheep/Goats parable with the Apostles and Nicene Creeds(4).  These Creeds are used by most churches.  In its Basis of Union the Uniting Church in Australia explains the significance of these ancient Creeds in the church (5).  Jesus’ teachings emphasise loving relationships, while the Creeds read more like legal documents, emphasising detailed definitions about God. 


Christians of the twenty first century should be seeking to understand what Jesus was saying, and how he lived his life, and should not be distracted by the interpretations, even contaminations, which various groups of Christians have placed upon the church.


Progressive contamination of core truths can be seen in many organizations.  What follows are two examples of the modification of the teachings of a religious leader.  One example is Buddhist, and one is Christian.


Gautama Buddha is well known throughout the world, something which he may have approved of.  His images and statues are seen around the world, something he would not have approved of (6).  For the first four or five hundred years he was represented very simply as, for example, a pair of feet or an empty throne.  Buddha did not believe in universal reincarnation (6 and 7), and instead taught that perfection comes from becoming enlightened, and such people will have nothing to work off when they die and so will not be reborn.  And yet later sects within Buddhism have developed a Buddhism which has many people worshipping the statue of the Buddha, and also believing in reincarnation.


A Christian example of this modification of teachings is the Doctrine of Original Sin.  It is a phenomenon in parts of Western Christianity, and is based on traceable mistranslations or misunderstandings.  For discussion of this significant error see chapter 7: Original Sin: a human artefact.


Reactions to contaminations of belief systems can be purifying, and have occurred frequently throughout history.  One such major reaction was The Reformation, led by Martin Luther and others.


Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was a priest, a theologian and a major critic of the Roman Catholic Church.  He was excommunicated, and became a leader of the Reformation.  Erasmus (1466 - 1536) was another priest, theologian and major critic of some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation of the western church, but he stayed within that church.  These men knew each other, and each in his own way cut through the misunderstandings, abuses and ritualism of the Roman Catholic Church of the day.  Each man assisted in restoring the health of the Christian Church. 


In our day there are many variations and deviations apparent in Christianity.  Some of these variants are clearly Christian and, except for the Roman Catholic Church, are relatively recent organisations.  They are known as denominations, such as Anglican, Uniting Church, Lutheran, Salvation Army, Baptist and others.  Each of these denominations has its historical and interpretive reasons for its continuing existence.


Other variants have less noble reasons for existence, though their views are sincerely held by their believers.  To a greater or lesser extent they use Christianity as a building block or reference point.  These deviations include Scientology, Voodooism and Freemasonry.


Caught between the innocuous variants and the noxious deviants is inerrant literalism:  the notion that the Bible is literally, word for word, the Word of God and contains no errors.


Literalism is a common factor in Creationism and gives rise to beliefs such as original sin, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the historic existence of Noah and Jonah.  Literalists looking at the New Testament believe that each word attributed to Jesus in the Gospels is literally correct and in the correct sequence, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary.  They also believe that the streets of heavenly Jerusalem are paved with gold (Rev 21:21).


Although literalism is the foundation for errors and misunderstandings such as Creationism, it is Creationism which has the attention of the media and is the most vocal and public face of these errors. 


Creationism has taken root and become well established in many parts of the world.  It is now a multi billion dollar industry involving reading matter, textbooks for schools, a variety of visual and audio media, and displays of greater and greater cost and complexity, the most absurd being Ken Ham’s 6500 sq metre Creation Museum, Petersburg, Kentucky, USA. 


Five hundred years ago the Reformation swept away many of the theological inaccuracies and abuses of power of the Roman Catholic Church.  The process was long and painful but necessary.


In a similar way we are now being called upon to remove our own accretions of the centuries, including Creationism and literalism.  Then people may more clearly see Jesus who is the Way the Truth and the Life  (John 14:6), not the rules of Creationism nor the Bibliolatry of literalism.


As later chapters show, the message of Jesus to us is simple and direct, and leads to the commencement of eternal life now.