The Overton Salon

Adam and Eve: Historical Fact or Not?

Posted in Uncategorized by austin on August 17, 2011

NPR had a story last week about the fact that some Evangelicals (specially the folks over at BioLogos, and some others here and there) are now starting to question whether or not Adam and Eve actually existed. The biologist Dennis Venema argues that the human genome shows that humans as a species emerged as a large group from differing primate species. Therefore, to pin point two humans as the original would be completely impossible.

Now there are three objections that people NPR interviewed brought up. Fazale Rana has two. First, ” the Genesis account makes man unique, created in the image of God — not a descendant of lower primates.” But does not believing in an historical Adam and Eve hinder this? First, the Hebrew word adam’a means “human,” and Eve means of course “mother.” Now, if I was telling a story that started with, ‘one day, human walked into the store to buy some milk,’ everyone would believe that I’m telling a story that is describing something important about all humans, not merely one. And it seems to me that’s exactly what Genesis is doing. It’s not asking the question ‘how can we scientifically discuss the origins of human life,’ but ‘how is it that the world that we’re in (and this means the Hebrews to which it was address) looks like this?’ And a story that explains is probably much more powerful than scientific theory.

The second objection Rana raises is that “it tells a story of how evil came into the world, and it’s not a story in which God introduced evil through the process of evolution, but one in which Adam and Eve decided to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit.” Or it doesn’t actually explain how evil came in at all, since the serpent was already there, presumably evil. It is an archetype of sin, as it were, one way sin works: through grasping at something that is not yours. But the story of Cain and Abel gives another view into the mechanism of sin, as does Babel, and other stories in that first 11 chapters of Genesis. To privilege Adam and Eve over those stories is not warranted – in fact, Jesus seems to have used the Cain and Abel story while never once mentioning Adam (who is only mentioned in Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15). In other words, evil is not explicable by blaming Adam.

And third, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, says that “When Adam sinned, he sinned for us…And it’s that very sinfulness that sets up our understanding of our need for a savior.” Actually, no: it is Christ’s death and resurrection that sets up our understanding of sin and Adam. This is an important distinction. It is the difference between blaming someone for our sin, and realizing that we are all complicit in it. This is why it makes no difference whether Adam was an individual human or a group of 10,000 humans. We are all complicit in the situation we are in, and we only realize this once Jesus dies on a cross, and is raised from the grave.

It is interesting to ask why it is that Jews do not have a theory of original sin, and Adam is not seen as any worse or better than lots of other sinners, like Abraham, Jacob, or David. The answer is because, in their view, the resurrection did not happen in the  middle of history, as Christians understand it. And when Paul speaks about Adam in both Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 (the latter all about resurrection) his point is that the reality of “death” came into being with him. Death, for Paul, as for the Old Testament, did not mean biological cessation, but referred to an anthropological reality that was destructive of what humans are. And resurrection through Christ (as the ‘first fruits’) shows that death is unnecessary.

In other words, the entire point of the doctrine of original sin is not to blame someone, but to show that death is unnecessary. Does that require one person?

The Balance Budget Amendment is stupid

Posted in Economics, Politcs by austin on July 28, 2011

I’m just listening to Sen John Hoeven (R-ND) about the Balance Budget Amendment. He’s talking about the need to get Washington to have fiscal discipline. 49 States, he says, have Balanced Budget Amendments. His own state of North Dakota does, and when he was governor, he had to tell people “we don’t have the money for that this year…” But, he says, if we take it to the people, we can find out what people want. And of course if so many states have it, it must be what the people want.

Now this all sounds nice except if you think about it.

States differentiate, in their budgets, between expenditures and capital investments, much like a business does. There are the normal operating costs that go along with where you’ve committed you’re money, and if you are a business, capital investments, where normally you borrow money to build your business. States quite sensibly make this distinction. That why they can have a balanced budget for their operating costs, and deficits for investments.

It’s important to remember that for business, deficits are important very often. Even in personal finance, it’s better to have some money saved or invested than to get rid of all your debt at one moment. Over the long run, those investments will be more helpful.

But the Federal government doesn’t distinguish between capital investments and operating costs. They’re all the same. So to say that the Federal government needs to have a balanced budget either means that we will have extraordinarily high taxes so that it can invest in the things that it does invest in – health, military, social security, education, etc – or it means that we will invest in hardly anything.

And both of those options means we would just be plain stupid.

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We Do Not Have a Spending Problem.

Posted in Economics, Politcs by austin on July 27, 2011

I’m just watching Sen. Bob Corker (R – Ten) saying that “finally” the conversation has gotten to the right place. Instead of considering taxes at all, both “bodies are looking at packages that are focusing on the deficit” only by looking at spending cuts. Taxes are off the table.

A few points: as Bruce Bartlett has pointed out, in poll after poll, a majority of Americans don’t think we should only be talking about spending cuts.

Second, Republicans keep saying that we have a “spending problem.” But we don’t. We have a problem with the difference between revenue and outlays. In other words, because of multiple factors, we don’t have as much money coming in as we have commitments going out. The question is not ‘what do we cut’ but first, ‘how did we get here?’ E.g., look at this graph:

This graph looks only policy changes over the last two presidents, which is not the whole of the debt (since we have a deficit going into Bush’s years), it is a major portion. As you can see, the policy changes that Bush enacted had the greatest effect on the debt – $5.07 Trillion, versus Obama’s $1.44 Trillion. The rest of the debt is made up of what we have previously, plus the fact that we have one of the worse recessions since the 30′s, and revenue went down. Right now revenue is at 14.4% of GDP, the lowest since the early 50′s.

So to call this a “spending” problem is just factually wrong. It’s a revenue versus outlays problem (outlays that, by the way, this congress has approved this past April).

The last point is how unrealistic the Republican’s view is. The most unrealistic thing about this is that we will never, ever, ever, fix the deficit by spending cuts alone. It would so fundamentally change the way this country has been for the last 40 years that it just will never happen. Actually John McCain (R – AZ) actually made a good point this morning. He said the house Republicans were being dishonest with their constituents by hanging their hat on “Cut, Cap, and Balance” because it would never actually pass. They are also being dishonest with their constituents when they say that revenues are not a part of this solution (although, if the polls are right, their constituents already know this). The worst thing about this is that in 15 years, when all the baby boomers are using Medicare, and our spending ration qua GDP (which is right now around 20%) goes up to above 25% (which it will), we are going to have to have massive tax increases.

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Osama bin Laden “Justice” and “True Grit”

Posted in Theology by Sarah Eisele-Dyrli on May 6, 2011

I’ve heard a number of people talk about “justice being done” in regards to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. As I was listening to someone say this on an NPR program the other day, my thoughts wandered to the film “True Grit.” [spoiler alert]

Mattie Ross is a feisty young girl who sets out to capture the man who killed her father, Tom Chaney. After tracking him for days with Rooster and LaBoeuf, she finally has the chance to kill him. And she does. And he falls off the cliff. And she falls back from the power of the gun, down into a hole with snakes, is bit, poisoned, and almost dies. As an audience, you have no time to celebrate his death. It’s completely anti-climactic.

In many ways, this feels similar to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Here’s what we’ve paid so far to kill Osama bin Laden:

  • Our way of life as a country has forever changed, in ways we can’t even remember. We live in constant fear of a possible terrorist attack. As a result, our quality of life has decreased.
  • We have “spent” over $1 trillion on the wars, some of which my children will be paying for in years to come.
  • Thousands of American soldiers have lost their lives 9/11 – almost 6,000 to date.
  • Thousands of American soldiers have sustained physical injuries (approximately 32,000). As of the first few months in 2010, 178,000 soldiers had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. It is estimated that 30% of all soldiers have developed mental health problems.  This will cost the American public for many years to come in lost wages, productivity, homelessness, medical care, and the loss of the quality of life for all of those soldiers.
  • Thousands of Iraqi (8,000-194,000), Pakistani, and Afghan civilians (almost 3,000 killed by pro-government forces alone) have lost their lives.
  • One estimate of the financial cost in the search for bin Laden came out today – $3 trillion over the past 15 years.
  • Thousands of soldiers lives have been changed in indescribable ways – long-term physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, divorce, night terrors, etc. Thousands of parents, grandparents, children, partners/spouses have lost loved ones physically and emotionally. They bear a burden bigger than any financial or lifestyle burden than those of us who have not suffered those losses will ever bear.

And this is justice? Scripture shows a very different picture of what justice looks like:

1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

(Isaiah 60)

This is what God says will happen to Israel when they begin to act justly. While not directly applicable to the United States, which is not a theocracy, God’s measure of justice should be our only measure of justice as a church. So it begs the question: Is light shining upon this nation as a result of this action? Are we radiant (v. 5)?

In God’s Kingdom, justice is not an expense. You don’t have to count bodies when Biblical justice occurs. You don’t have to cut needed supports to those in poverty to pay for justice. Justice is the presence of something – rightness, goodness, integrity, fairness. Humans flourish when justice is present.

Looking at what we have so far paid on catching bin Laden, are these things present?

To me, it looks more like the death of Tom Chaney than justice. Yes, he’s dead. But we’re in the snake pit.

Battlestar Galactica and the Cycle of Violence

Posted in Culture, Theology by austin on April 27, 2011

I finally finished watching the entire Battlestar Galactica (hereafter BG) TV show. I had heard that it was a re-telling of the Aeneid, Virgil’s telling of a remnant’s flight from Troy to found Rome, and while I realized that this was it’s beginning story, it eventually transformed into a story that deals with a major aspect of Christianity: an end to the cycle of violence.

The Aeneid was a story about the founding of an Empire. When Aeneas and his group settle in Latium, they meet the violence of the inhabitants. But in BG, this is the mid-point of the story on “New Caprica.” Eventually they are led to a place called “Earth,” in its primitive state, and they settle there as a people. The cycle of violence is then broken, because of a change in power dynamics.

The humans of the “twelve colonies of Kobal,” eventually developed the technology to create a artificial intelligence called “Cylons.” They eventually develop enough capacity on their own to turn on their masters, and they start a war (perhaps in reference to Cylon of Athens, an olympic victor who attempted a coup in Athens as told by Thucydides). There is a long and costly war, and then a truce. Then forty years later, as the humans are asleep as it were, there is a “Trojan horse” (the Cylons develop themselves to look like humans) and the Cylons proceed to destroy the entire human race, except for 49,000 or so.

So the story is basically about the Cylons chasing humans throughout the universe, and all the attended drama. Much of it is pretty good drama too, although it gets pretty melodramatic at times. The best seasons are 1 and 4, since the themes are the clearest, and even when it gets melodramatic, these seasons don’t stray to far from the overarching theme.

Now BG’s solution to the cycle of violence is two-fold: forgiveness and equality. As the character Ellen says, once the Centurians (Cylons) have been freed, the cycle of violence ends. BG basically interprets violence as an outcome of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic: once the slave realizes that the master’s life is dependent on theirs, they recognize their rights. Yet the master will not give up their right so easily, because they see themselves as superior. Thus a fight for recognition ensues. The story of BG really is this fight: humans believe they are superior, and the Cylons believe they are superior. Eventually forgiveness emerges as both realize they need each other – and this is the reason why the Cylon-human hybrid child becomes so essential to the story.

In other words, forgiveness is the recognition that the claims of both parties – the claim of an equal dignity by the slaves, and a recognition of the need of the slaves by the humans – are affirmed. This allows the humans to re-imagine what life should be like, and allows the Cylons to come to grips with who they are.

You’ll have to see the show to understand how there are so many hints of Christian thinking involved in this (I mean, look at this picture!). I don’t think the creators necessarily intended this, because at certain points they seem to have a real antipathy for at least “organized” Christianity. But the answer to the cycle of violence that BG gives and the answer Christianity gives are quite different. And in the very last episode, it seems that they realize this answer – equality and forgiveness – don’t really do it.

The problem with this answer is that it leaves out a very basic element in human (or apparently, Cylon) life: desire. It does not deal with the fact that human desire for what the other has – whether that be power, or money, or survival – transforms their perception of that other, and what equality really means. Part of what Jesus came to reveal was a way this desire can be transformed, and this is a lot of what the cross is about.

But BG is worth watching in that it is a long meditation on this problem of violence.

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