One of the dilemmas of Christianity we have right now is that there is a great deal of revisionism taking place. What is most interesting in the debate between Dobson and Obama is that Obama is the first Democrat with the testicular fortitude to argue back and call what Dobson is representing for what it is. There is, however, a great deal more involved than the Obama/Dobson debate. This is a glimpse of the current revisionism within Christianity.
A significant issue has been the rise of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is actually a relatively recent phenomenon in Christianity. Its roots go back to the latter part of the 19th century and much of its growth came because of people responding to Darwin and the industrial and scientific revolution. People’s world view began to change and grow more expansive. Fundamentalism became a way to address the complexities of an ever-changing world by giving very simple answers to very complex questions and issues.
Part of the problem with the rise of Fundamentalism is that for it to survive it must survive despite the fact that facts often get in their way. They have, as a result, begun to practice revisionism. They practice a revisionist science, revisionist history, and ultimately revisionist theology.
The first book of the Bible is the Book of Genesis. Genesis is, on its own, an interesting read in the fact that it chronicles the origins of Judaism and points out some of the conflicts of the era. It mostly chronicles the life of one family, beginning with Abraham and ending with Joseph of the amazing technicolor dream coat fame. It is, on many levels a character study and there are some incredible characters in the narrative. All of this begins on Chapter 12.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis, however, are a theological reflection on how the world came into being and how things ended up the way they are. Much of it was written while in captivity by several different authors with actually two divergent views of how human beings came into existence within the first three chapters. It was not written from a scientific vantage point----it was written to make a theological point. God created and God’s creation is good. For most people within Christianity and Judaism the conflict is not about believing God created but more on how that creation actually came to be. Genesis put forth a world view 500 years older than Jesus.
The story of Noah and the ark was a theological response to, at that time, a 200-year-old Sumerian epic poem entitled the Epic of Gilgamesh. The story has a boat, a hero, and destruction. The ancient Jews, in great conflict with the influence of the Babylonians on their children, culture, and even religion, used this as a theological resource in response to this ancient epic.
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I began to truly grasp the extent of the revisionism that is growing within Christianity. In reading this from a Fundamentalist perspective they have revised the history of the era and now claim that Genesis was written before Gilgamesh. The anthropology and history to demonstrate this is, frankly, made up. They are attempting to change facts rather than to follow the evidence as to where the facts actually lead them.
We were all taught in school about the age of dinosaurs and how long before humans they wandered the earth. Revisionist science is now placing them living together. There is now even a museum in suburban Cincinnati calling itself the Creation Museum so that people can know the ‘truth’ about God’s creation. For $21.95 admission one can see this tribute to a world view we haven’t seen since we watched Fred Flintstone and Barney.
My sarcasm comes from deep anger. Christians are now often seen as ignorant fools who turn a blind eye to science, who change history to suit them, and who have no ability to adapt to the modern world. Ultimately they have been reduced to simpleton status because of the fervent desire to respond to complexity with simplistic responses.
Oh, and yes, those Christians who embrace complexity and are willing to grapple with complexity in a serious manner are labeled as ‘liberals’ and ‘elitists.’
This, however, is one piece of revisionism within Christianity. Christianity does not have a history of ignorance. Many of the finest colleges and universities in the United States were founded by Christians who demanded and longed for great educations. They longed for great educations where research led them to ideas and theories rather than allowing opinions to drive their research. Albert Einstein, as an example, did research and taught at Princeton University----an institution founded by Presbyterians. There is a long list of great schools built by people within Christianity; places of serious learning where complexity is allowed to flourish. Lots of places where ambiguity is not only accepted but celebrated.