Sunday, 6 November 2011

Creation - steering between the absolutists

Some time back Britain's Channel 4 screened a series called Christianity: A History. It seems they have brought most of the old team back to produce a sequel, The Bible: A History. The first episode screened tonight on Australia's SBS.

This initial programme featured Howard Jacobson, retreaded from the first series, investigating the profound significance of the Genesis creation story. I say 'profound', because that's the lens Jacobson, a secular Jew, views it through. His self-appointed task; to steer a path between fundamentalism and atheism, to confront the absolutists on both sides of the divide. We need, pleads Jacobson, a more sophisticated approach to embrace the enchantment of the creation story.

A string of talking heads are trotted out, as they usually are in this sort of doco, to illustrate the script. Britain's chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, is among them, along with A. C. Grayling, John Polkinghorne and Mary Midgley (among others). We learn that Genesis wasn't written by Moses (shock, horror!) but first surfaced in the wake of Israel's return from exile in the eighth century BCE. We sit in on a mock Sabbath celebration with Howard Jacobson's orthodox relatives for whom the creation account is far beyond the slings and arrows of outrageous reason, and sit through an interview with a English creationist pastor who claims science is on his side.

Jacobson is buying none of the literalism, but neither is he giving ground to the rationalism of thinkers like Richard Dawkins. The first chapters of Genesis have engendered beautiful literature and music. They are to be appreciated, like Shakespeare, on the level of poetry and the power of myth.

I'd agree. In fact I do agree. But. But isn't this also a particularly vapid bit of elitist waffle? Isn't its appeal limited to a small, privileged minority? A small minority already comfortably predisposed to such things? Would it have impressed the fishers of Galilee or the sometimes fanatical Christians of the second generation, many of whom were slaves and few of which were literate? What indeed does make Genesis qualitatively different, on this account, from Shakespeare or Gilgamesh, the Brothers Grimm or Homer? No surprise that intellectuals are the ones to embrace this nuanced approach to creation, but that it has little appeal in the real world.

Is this the best we can all agree on now? And if it is, hasn't Dawkins actually got a stronger case to make?

Dunno. Next week Rageh Omar (also back from series one) goes hunting for Abraham. I hope he has better luck than Howard.

(An interview with Howard Jacobson can be found on the Channel 4 website.)


  1. "We learn that Genesis wasn't written by Moses (shock, horror!) but first surfaced in the wake of Israel's return from exile in the eighth century BCE" a revelation indeed, is this radical redating, or a new discovery?

    On reading the creation story how does reading it as great myth and fine literature remove its power. Myth only lacks power when it is someone else's myth. Our own myths are very powerful. Both the Kiwi myth of the tall poppy and that of No.8 wire strongly influence the day to day actions of many people in this country and the myth of the all-knowing, all-wise "market" is so powerful it threatens to destroy Western civilisation!

  2. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I reckon. I don't see beauty in the Genesis myth. I see deliberate deception invented to manipulate and control a population through fear of an all-powerful god. A loving god who was good enough to create us in his image but will, by god, drown us if we don't love him back in just the way that his human representatives command us to do.

  3. "I see deliberate deception".

    Oh, you would.

  4. larry said...

    "I see deliberate deception".

    Oh, you would

    Yes, I took off my rose colored glasses a long time ago.

    The next thing you'll be telling me is that 2 1/2 million people really did wander in the deserts of Sinai for 40 years and carried an ark that weighed 1000 kg. around with 'em.

  5. FWIW, of the three "creation theories" that were posited by the Church in the 1980s (Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, and Herman Hoeh's "Pre-Adamic Man"), the Church seems to have settled out on Theistic Evolution -- something I personally always leaned towards. (Since the Church, in my experience, never demanded doctrinally that members believe a particular Creation account; just that we acknowledge the Creator of the Creation around us.)

    "We sit in on a mock Sabbath celebration with Howard Jacobson's orthodox relatives"

    Eh? You want to clarify this for those of us without access to Aussie TV, Gavin?

  6. "Theistic Evolution" raises the question of why an all powerful, omni-benevolent God chose to create present lifeforms through the pain, suffering and extinctions of billions of years worth of past lifeforms.

    Famous Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, has the answer, he believes that when animals are in pain that they're not aware of it.

    Yeah, an animal in pain doesn't know it hurts...what is he, an idiot or a psychopath?

  7. I definitely don't agree with that "theory" either, Corky; isn't that the same "theologian" whose rhetoric regularly gets shredded by the atheists? That speaks for itself.

    IIRC (it's been a while) the suffering in creation was and is the result of the Fall of Satan and his demons; not "the fall of man" that erroneous teaching the professing Christian church uses to browbeat their lucklessly deceived.

    Humanity (that's us) participates in this same suffering brought into Creation through the FREE WILL choice to turn one's heart away from God. This means turning aside from the hope of eternal life, rejecting that there will be a time when the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and denying the glory and coming splendour of the "new heavens and a new earth."

    At least we have 100% absolutely clear and free will, to lay up our treasure in that, or not, as we each individually so choose.

    Which is a lot better than the empty platitude and vain traditions that professing Christianity has to offer, IMO.....