Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Throwing out the bathwater, the baby, and finally the Father

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, religion, evolution

One consequence of reviewing Evolution for Everyone by David Sloane Wilson was meeting Michael Dowd, at least over the phone and by Email. Michael has sent me an advance proof of his book Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. The book will be out in October, and I recommend that interested parties read it. It is a stellar example of someone going just a wee bit too far (Hmmm, what is the antonym for "hyperbole"? "Understatement" is much too weak here).

I have been looking for a solid treatment of just where evolution and faith might meet. I had hopes this might be it. The trouble is, if I understand Michael's writing—and he writes very well, but I find the concepts, in their new-age vocabulary, rather hard to parse—, the religion he proposes is either syncretistic or eclectic. Married to an atheist, who co-preaches with him, he has produced a new term, Creatheism. In the emphasis we find the meaning: he claims he is a CREA-theist, and his wife is a CRE-atheist. It seems he could include anyone of any religion, theist, deist, eclectic, or whatever, as a Creatheist. In appealing to members of every religion, it seems almost as though Michael has "solved" the world's religious differences by simply baptizing everyone by proxy...without a Mormon's decency to wait until they are dead!

I could multiply quotes and support or rebuke them one by one, but I wish to avoid being tiresome. I'll just use a few. Firstly, he defines Theism thus:
THEISM: a concept generally thought to mean belief in an interventionist God. Theists tend to imagine nature as a machine-like thing, an artifact made by a Supreme Being residing off the planet and outside the Universe.
The first sentence is accurate. The second is a straw man set up so he can shoot it down with his definition of Creatheism:
CREATHEISM: a concept introduced in the early 21st century, grounded in an empirical understanding of the nested emergent nature of divine creativity. For creatheists "God" is a holy name for Ultimate Reality—the all-encompassing Wholeness—that which includes yet transcends all other realities. Creatheism regards Nature as a revelation or expression of the divine, particularly in its emergent creativity. Createism understands humanity as a self-reflective aspect of Creation that allows the Wholeness of Reality, seen and unseen, manifest and unmanifest—i.e., God—to be honored in conscious awareness and to guide our own deliberate manifestations of that divine creativity. (Emphasis is Dowd's)
To touch the last point first, I happen to like the statement by one of the Plymouth Brethren, "God is in everything, but everything is not God."

A biblical theism sees God as existing before creation, then creating the Universe; as being outside of time but submitting to time to gain many people to form a Body of Christ; as transcending creation yet instilling himself into creation by gaining first an earthly people (Israel) among whom he would dwell, then a spiritual people (Christians) within whom he dwells, individually and corporately; finally building up his expression, symbolized as the New Jerusalem, which is not heaven, nor in heaven, but on the earth, on the New Earth after the old earth has been melted away, as his eternal kingdom. All these elements and more are contained in seed form in Genesis, reiterated a little more distinctly in Deuteronomy, praised a bit here and a bit there in the Psalms and Prophets, and revealed more distinctly yet, but still in rather mysterious ways, in the Gospels, Epistles, and Apocalypse.

Theists in general believe in Emmanuel, God among his people, who also transcends all. "We are in Christ, and Christ in us."

The last quote I'll use relates to the rĂ´le of scripture:
"Scripture is divine communication in any form that supports us in honoring and serving the Whole (the Holy One). For me, scripture is everything that inspires and encourages me to grow in evolutionary integrity. If a poem, chapter in a book, website, or movie helps me grow in Christ-like humility, authenticity, responsibility, and service to others—then for me, it is scripture. Writings and other artifacts that do not support me in this process I do not consider scripture, even if they appear on a page of the Bible." (Emphasis is Dowd's)
Nothing could be more plain. Michael Dowd has set himself up (and everyone else, of course) as the authority to decide what is and is not scripture. The soul that wishes to be free will naturally abhor absolutism, but if there is no absolute standard, then there is no standard.

He allies himself with liberal "christians" of all stripes by protesting of the abhorrent nature God seems to display in the Bible. Liberal denominations discarded the Bible's authority decades ago on the same grounds. In all cases, it is due to laziness; they don't know what is really in there, and don't dig deep enough to find out why God would command such things as the destruction of, for example, the seven tribes of Canaan.

I'll touch on the last one briefly: There was a minor problem of where they were, but the kind of dispossession practiced by the Assyrians and Babylonians a millennium later would have taken care of that. The bigger problem was who they were. Caleb, Joshua, and the other ten spies reported they saw "Nephilim" there. The presence of Nephilim (translated wrongly "giants" in KJV; it means "fallen") is also the stated reason for the flood; Noah's family was the only one that wasn't intermarried with them.

Genesis 6 gives the origin of the Nephilim: "The sons of God saw the daughters of men" and, to be short about it, married them and had "renowned" (or "awesome") offspring. There's plenty of debate about it, but it seems clear to me that these "sons of God" were some kind of angel, members of an earlier creation. Jude is probably speaking of them when he writes of angels who "left their first estate" and are therefore reserved for extra-special punishment. So we have here a prehistoric case of alien invasion and interbreeding, producing a hybrid race. God extinguished them with the Flood. Some later cropped up in Canaan, and had by then polluted these seven tribes; some, "sons of Anak", had little of the human remaining. It is these, and these only, that God required to be extinguished. The job was not completed until Goliath and his four brothers, apparently the last living Nephelim, were finally killed by David and his mighty men, over a 20 year span.

With the death of the last Nephilim, the Philistines became much more peaceable, and David's son Solomon enjoyed a reign of relative quiet (that's not to say he wasn't without significant faults of his own...). But if you think that God is too harsh in some cases, consider that he is greater than you, his love is infinitely greater than yours, and so is his anger. Does he have a right to anger? Do not say no! When God is loving, he is very loving. When God is severe, he is very severe.

Another old quote comes to mind, I hope I have this somewhat faithfully: "We ought to be gratified when scientists find Hittites or other 'unknown' peoples that the Bible mentions, and the headlines hail, 'New Dig Proves Bible'. But we do not accept the judgment of history's flickering candle on the Bible. Rather, we shine the clear light of the Bible on history, and judge it thereby."

Only the Bible is timeless. Paul wrote in 1Cor 12 that
12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
That is, Paul here claims verbal inspiration, not just some general idea which he had to find words for. He received the right words from the Spirit of God.

Many years ago, I read the book Your God is Too Small by J. B. Phillips. His complaints then resonate today, with many over-literalizing the Bible, making a "box" of doctrine at a much too early stage of study, and trying to confine God to it. Those who would discard the Bible because some aspects of God's nature offend them, also make their God too small.

As always, I distinguish sharply between faith and religion. Religion is a mixture of emotion with rules; for many who don't like rules, their religion is pure sentimentality. From such sentimentalists we hear the quisling, "Oh, God would never do that!" But as written to the Hebrews,
11:1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Faith has to do with things of which science can never treat. Faith does not deny the material world, nor should it refuse the findings of those who seek the world's secrets. But faith is involved with a holy relationship with a holy God among a holy people. I hope scientists try to study faith of people who know both their human spirit and the Holy Spirit; I expect they will find a realm that is not amenable to the double-blind clinical trial, to the psychological statistical method.

I believe the physical body of Jesus, dead at least 36 hours, was raised out of death and He, after visiting with His closest followers for nearly six weeks, ascended bodily to His Father and our Father. I believe that, thereafter, as the Holy Spirit, He poured Himself out upon first 120 of His members, then on thousands and then millions of others, in whom He dwells, living in and guiding His people first to know Him, then to follow Him, then to express His life on earth, which no method, no teaching, could ever accomplish, only the indwelling Spirit. The only real Christian is Jesus! These people are being formed into a Body, the Body of Christ, as His members (not "cells"; cells by the millions die in your body every day, but members persist throughout your life. The members of Christ do not die). His return will usher in the Manifestation of the Sons of God (i.e. His members, not the angelic 'sons of God'), and the releasing of all creation from the bondage of corruption. In the Kingdom of God predicted by the Bible, which will be on the New Earth, not in the New Heaven, there will be no more death, except that of the Lake of Fire, the Second Death.

The first two sentences above express the common Christian faith. The rest express a few precious truths found in Scripture and experienced by many of the followers of Jesus. I find nothing in Michael Dowd's book that leads me to believe he has any of this. Michael, your God is too small.

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