There’s an awakening among young and young-ish adults about all the narratives we were handed growing up and how deeply they’ve affected us.
One of the big ones I’ve bushwhacked through the last couple years is the relationship between faith/beliefs, science and reason, and civic engagement.
Sometimes it was explicitly stated; other times it was implied with tone or enforced with unspoken social reward systems.
The problem is, this narrative is built on a slew of false paradigms. Here are two of them.
Actually: The Bible is an anthology of humans in history writing about their experience of coming to understand metaphysics, origin, morality, humanity, and spirit (in short: God). If parts of it are not empirically or historically true, like literal 7-day creation, or if there are contradictions between accounts, that doesn’t actually mean the entire anthology is untrue or worthless.
In fact, seeing as none of us know everything in the universe, it should be comforting and inspiring that we can still interact with the spirit of God and talk about it in a meaningful way — fallible and non-omniscient as we are.
The glass house of inerrancy is unnecessary and self-defeating.
But worse than that, it is deeply damaging.
It makes those of us who value observable science and peer-reviewed evidence think that we can’t learn anything from some of the greatest, most influential texts of all of history.
That we can’t find camaraderie in the guttural psalms or comfort in the hope that saturates the New Testament.
That we can’t learn from narcissistic power-obsessed kings like Nebuchadnezzar or badass unlikely heroes like Rahab.
That Jesus’s upside-down inside-out kingdom and the incarnate grace that heals and liberates should be discarded right along with the violence and pseudoscience of the Old Testament fundamentalist apologists.
That’s the fruit of fundamental religion. It fails to distinguish between God the Creator and God the Character. One is knowable all sorts of ways, not the least of which is through the beauty of the natural world and communion with other humans made in God’s image. The other is the product of the writer’s time, culture, and evolving worldview at that moment it was written.
Without room for nuance and adaptation, we inadvertently throw out God the Creator with the fundamentalism that was suffocating us.
And we miss the power of scripture as a diverse, dynamic, full-throated exploration of God and humanity two-stepping throughout time, with their mysterious and climactic fusion in the body of a poor brown Jew from the boondocks of Israel who somehow changed the course of history forever.
We miss an anthology that can actually teach us a whole lot about
changes in culture
strained family relationships
violence and betrayal
loss and grief and redemption
and what makes someone a good neighbor.
Genesis was poetry written by humans in exile. It wasn’t written as a science textbook; it was written to share the hope of a monotheistic creator (super progressive at the time) who created all things with loving intention and wisdom and for a purpose.
That Genesis isn’t a scientific text doesn’t make it any less inspired or valuable. Or true. Its’ polemic (rhetorical thrust) is a claim that stands entirely on it’s own two feet without the need for validation from textual scholars or anthropologists, although we can learn a great deal from both. It’s there for you to pick up, inspect, poke holes in, reject, or take with you: God created, with intention.
The more that religious leaders push the glass house of biblical inerrancy, the more the faith of young people will either shatter by education and experience or congeal into fundamentalism and extremism.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
There’s another way to live out Christian faith besides doctrinal gatekeeping. We can wrestle with texts instead of clobbering with them. We can develop spiritual practices and spend time in prayer and contemplation. We can repent and confess and forgive and be unnaturally generous.
We can engage with science as a window into the awe-inspiring complexity and intelligence of our creator, instead of making idols of our doctrines and theologians.
We can — and I know this may seem crazy — try to live like Jesus
by engaging with parables
calling out corruption
lifting up the marginalized
and balancing our time between solitude and community.
Not a single one of those things depends on inerrancy.
They are tangible and testable.
And we don’t have to repress our doubts or pain or anger or dissent to try them out (unless our communities are systematically designed to punish doubts and pain and anger and dissent).
The best part? All the energy that would otherwise be spent gate-keeping and confabulating can be channeled into innovating and friendship-building. (Can confirm, it is a 1000% better way to live.)
This one is composed of lots of mini-paradigms. Ones like:
The tricky part is that each of these have a seed of truth to them, but they’re so slanted and generalized that they do way more harm than good. They inspire political apathy (complicity) or lead to exhausting cycles of emotional repression and explosion.
Here’s how I would revise them:
They do affect each other. The integral thing to do is to be honest about it and interrogate how.
Instead, we can look for spiritual leaders who demonstrate a sense of centered wisdom and self-awareness amidst their fight for justice. Not in the absence of a fight for justice.
Leaders with the fortitude to call out corruption bluntly AND speak hope to a better way. Then model it.
Leaders who feel all of their feelings and lead us through corporate rhythms of gratitude, reverence, anger, action, and silence.
Leaders who respect science.
Leaders who understand that there’s a third way between complicity and counter-violence.
Leaders who want to inspire you, not control you.
Here are just a few worth checking out:
(Note: for the purpose of this blog, the following list comprises leaders with a connection to Christianity. By no means do I think the pool of inspiring moral and civic leaders is limited to Christians; my goal is to dismantle a false dichotomy fallacy between Christian faith and political engagement.)