Monday, September 09, 2013

Two Lutherans, now atheists — different paths, same end

A very nice brief biographical piece here in Salon. Author Ed Suominen (nice Finnish Lutheran name!) explains how studying science with an open-mind, evolution above all, led him to become an atheist. It includes a brief excursus on why fundamentalists, in his opinion, feel compelled to defend a literal creation story, etc.

Here's the short and sweet:
Outsiders sometimes scratch their heads about the dogged insistence of creationists that Adam and Eve actually existed 6,000 years ago in a perfect garden without predators or pain, until they took Satan’s bait and bit into a world-changing apple. How is it, 100 years after Darwin, that we are still fighting about what will be taught in biology classes? Why, in their determination to refute evolution, do some Christians seem intent on taking down the whole scientific enterprise?

The answer lies in Suominen’s lived experience. As he puts it, “You don’t have original sin without an original sinner. And without original sin…you don’t need a redeemer.” In other words, the central story of Christianity, the story of a perfect Jesus who becomes a perfect human sacrifice and saves us all relies on the earlier creation story.
His basic take is that, once he moved off his particular brand of conservative Lutheranism, Laestadianism (think a more Finnish version of Lutheran Pietism), he couldn't stop at halfway houses of more liberal Protestantism.

He talks also about that:
I enlisted my friend Robert M. Price to see if there was any plausible theological solution. Dr. Price had been serving as a sort of spiritual therapist for me, helping me deal with the issues I’d been finding with my religion once evolution had “cracked the walls of my information silo,” as you adeptly put it. At this point, our work together turned into a full-blown writing project, and together we plowed through books by Francis Collins, John Haught, Kenneth Miller, and others who claimed to make sense of Christianity in view of evolution. But to us, despite trying to approach the theology with an open mind (which Price does even as an atheist), the only thing sensible about their books were their eloquent defenses of evolutionary science.
I would have to agree, having gone down a broadly similar route.

My departure point, as a graduate divinity school student, was somewhat different.

For various reasons, I realized the critical method of studying the bible was correct, and that I couldn't accept literalism for that reason.

I then asked, how do liberal mainline Protestants and non-literalistic Catholics decide to draw their "boundary lines" about what's inside the doctrinal and faith tent, if not all of it is.

For example, if Israel didn't migrate out of Egypt, and any "Israel" was formed by natural cultural evolution, and other non-divine factors, then how can we see it as a "chosen nation"? And then, if it's not a chosen nation, that also affects the Christian claim to be the "new Israel."

Then, if you believe New Testament writers were mining the Old Testament for "proof quotes" to make sense of the tragic death (whether as a Zealot-type rebel, an unfortunate hasid, or whatever) of their leader, and you accept this was all likely after the fact stuff, then why should you believe the death of Jesus (if he even existed, but that's tout court for this discussion) mean anything?

I realized, without becoming snooty over it, and without the bombast of a P.Z. Myers lumping liberal non-literalists with fundamentalists (more on that below) that the answer was ... those things didn't mean anything.

The answer was that fancy theological language like "Ground of Being" was vacuous. (In the east, the need for reincarnation is vacuous if you reject the idea of karma, so I'm not just picking on Western monotheism.)

Arguably, it's not as bad as the Omphalos hypothesis:
The most robust attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable may well be Philip Gosse’s “omphalos” idea that the universe was created recently with the appearance of great age. Of course, God created Adam with a navel and trees with rings! They wouldn’t be recognizable without those “retrospective marks,” after all. (Christians are faced with the same issue concerning Jesus and his magic Y chromosome.) It’s ridiculous and reduces God to a cosmic cosplayer, but at least it doesn’t try to dismiss all of the Bible’s clear teachings about a young earth and special creation, or fancifully reinterpret 2,000 years of Christian theology.
True on that. But then, per the "cosplayer" comment, we're really in Wonderland.

But, I want to pick up on that "magic Y chromosome."

I'm not a basher of the non-fundamentalist types, but if you are a more liberal Protestant, and yet you believe "Son of God" has some metaphorical meaning, how do you get around this? (That said, allegedly, a woman in Dresden gave birth at the end of World War II, nine months after the firebombing, to a baby who was allegedly her spitting image when she grew up, with the woman saying she hadn't been sexual. Possible? Well, actually heat applied the right way can cause female rabbits to give birth by parthenogenesis, kind of like Dolly the cloned sheep. But, no gospel writer ever said, "And Mary was overshadowed by the power of the Bunker Buster Bomb.")

This does lead to other questions ... snarky yet serious at the same time.

If an immaterial, metaphysical soul is formed at the moment of a mother's egg cell being fertilized by a father's sperm cell, what happens with Siamese twins? Does one soul split into one and three-quarters?

Or, the other way around. When you have twins (many human conceptions are actually twins, and usually from dual conceptions at the same time) but one twin gets a bit bigger a bit faster, and ultimately swallows the other, which becomes a "teratoma," usually, what happens to that second soul? Does it get swallowed, too, by the first soul? Or a "mosaic," with the second individual more blended into individual cells?

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