First Thursday summary, 10th September 2015
There is a growing popularity of TV programmes that put across modern scientific knowledge about the way the Universe works and has developed. How do we relate these to the stories of Creation in Genesis? Superficially, for example, we might link Genesis 1:3 “And God said: Let there be light” to the fusion of hydrogen molecules which created stars. But is belief in God based on the “gaps” in our present knowledge- the fact that we cannot (yet) explain how anything exists, how the “Big Bang” happened, or how the forces of expansion and gravity are so precisely balanced to create the Universe we now see? If so God is likely to be increasingly “pushed out” as human knowledge and understanding grows. This is bad theology. The Genesis Creation stories are not scientific accounts (even though some would disagree)- they are an assertion that the world we inhabit is good, and that we do not need to fear it. This contrasts with the Creation accounts of many ancient peoples (eg Babylon, the Norse myths) which describe the creation of the world is a result of conflict and warfare between the gods and giants, or sea-monsters (though there are echoes of this in eg Job 26:12, Psalm 89:10, Isaiah 51:9 etc). The Genesis stories say that this “good” world begins to go wrong when humans cease to trust in its God-given goodness and try to control it for themselves in ways to suit their own desire for power- the Hebrew word for “know” in Genesis 3:5 has much more of the sense of “being in control” than simply “knowing about” things, and the image of the snake is associated in many cultures with magic- the attempt to control the world and events. There are, of course, examples of faith and religion which are very close to “magic”- often when people find themselves in desperate situations- such as Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre, where prayer and fasting can be an attempt to influence control decisions about deportation. And for many, the notion that Creation is “good” seems an insult to what they see and experience about the cruelty and indifference of nature. (“A god who created that is a monster”). Is the Hindu notion that “all of life is sacrifice” more realistic? If God is Love does that mean that God is not “in control” (since love does not and cannot control things)?
There were other things in the newspapers we mentioned: People grabbing their own bags before evacuating the plane at Las Vegas (and possibly impeding the evacuation of other passengers- though in that case everyone got off safely within 5 minutes). French mayors refusing to have Muslims in their towns and saying they want only Christian Syrian refugees- does England’s 17th century history of the growth of religious dissent and non-conformity mean that Britain is more used to the idea of a plurality of faiths? In the Roman Empire the Church’s stand against abortion, euthanasia, the exposure of infants and the disposal of the disabled was an important contribution to civilisation and humanity. Is it possible, however, that in the modern world such stands can be interpreted in too rigid a fashion?