Friday, February 12, 2010

Darwin at Church

Abraham Lincoln was born on this date, in 1809.

Charles Darwin was too.

Each of them fundamentally changed the world.

Both of them, later in life, were amazed that they had been thrust into prominence and had wielded such influence.

I would love to honor our sixteenth president in this blog. My admiration for him is beyond my power to express.

I want to say a word about Darwin.

I am not a biologist and am unqualified to say much about his reflections of the natural world. I can comment on his impact on the social world.

The word “evolution” has so altered our social landscape that the expectation that things will always change and mutate over time is deeply ingrained in all parts of Western Culture. We think of change as healthy and natural now.

That’s new.

Most cultures have believed stability to be the mark of societal health. Confucian Chinese culture, for example, felt that way. Centuries of stable, secure, unaltered class and social values seemed to be the way things ought to work. The alternative was “revolution,” which meant, “turning over.” The old guard was out; the new guard was in.

Then came Darwin. He proposed an alternative to both “revolution,” and “immutability,” (not changing.)

Even conservatives believe in “evolution,” in this sense. In fact, many American conservatives believe in a Social Darwinism, in which the economically fit survive as the financially unfit gradually fall through the cracks.

It’s no one’s fault and no one’s responsibility, just the way nature (the unseen hand) works.

Through the writing of Ann Rand, these notions have become the new core ideology of American libertarianism. Its interesting to watch American Christians rage against Darwin’s ideas as applied to biology but then defend his ideas ferociously when applied to economics. But I digress.

American Christians believe in evolution as applied to church life as well.

Conservatives apply the principle of evolution to worship and thus keep changing worship to reflect culture.

Liberals apply the principle of evolution to theology.

That’s why some people insist that we must use feminine language in reference to God, for example. Society requires it and theology ought to evolve to reflect that requirement.

There is no fixed point. There is no immutable truth. Thing – all things – just evolve.

Here is one reason (other than the fact that God Himself used masculine terms to revel himself) why believers through the ages have been reluctant to use feminine language in reference to God. Through history, when people have spoken of God in the feminine, they have tended to drift into a sensual, pantheistic, fertility worship.

(Pantheism is the idea that the earth is God’s body, and that everything that exists is a part of God. Hence “Goddess” spirituality seems to encourage an earth religion, which leads to a sexualized spirituality without ethical demands. Through the centuries, Christian and Jewish thinkers have seen this as a dangerous seduction that leads us away from God’s Word."

That redefines God. It makes human beings the judge about how God should be understood rather than accepting God as He reveals Himself.

For all these reasons, orthodox Christians conclude, together with the saints throughout history, that we should reject the current fad of so-called “gender inclusive language,” where the nature of God is concerned.

This is not, or at least should not be, a political or social decision. We form theology out of godly fear. We resist any potential for heresy, especially in those matters that lie at the core of our faith: God’s revelation of Himself to humankind.

The practical challenge facing Christians now regarding so-called gender inclusive language is how to remain orthodox without being reactionary.

Bible translators should feel free to be gender neutral in English where the original languages are gender neutral. The older English translations of the Bible often translated gender neutral words from the original Greek and Hebrew into gender specific words. They did not do this on purpose; they were merely reflecting the culture (and language) of their times. Also, we must remember that until fairly recently, the words “men” or “mankind” were used to include both men and women. Nowadays, that practice becoming rare. Society evolved.

When modern Bible translators attempt to respond to linguistic evolution, it does not necessarily mean that they have a “liberal bias” (although, unfortunately, that sometimes is the case.) Sometimes, they are just trying to keep the Bible fresh for each generation.

The bottom line is, we must be faithful to Word of God. However, we should not be reluctant to change language that has become discriminatory.

Words change. (Just think of how the word “queer” has changed.)

To insist on freezing language in print after the meaning has changed on the street, is foolish. This does injustice to God’s word, which was not even written in English. The point in Bible translation is to make the Word of God clear to those who read it in languages other than Hebrew and Greek.

Fidelity to God’s Word comes first, then the needs of contemporary comprehension.

In our Old Testament reading today, Moses came down with tablets from God.

I now read the words on those tablets on paper, and in another language than the one in which they were written.

Things evolved.

But not everything.

Not the main thing.

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