Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?
Garry Wills asked that question in a NY Times Op-ed piece just after GW Bush won the 2004 election. The political strategists banked on getting out the religious conservative vote. Wills' thoughtful article will take about three minutes to read, but I have been reflecting upon it for nearly three years. He asks a profound question.
The Virgin Birth, the resuscitation of the corpse of Jesus (and its subsequent travel through the Milky Way to heaven), the return of same body in the clouds in the very near future to take care of the infidels, dinosaurs and cavemen hanging out together in the Garden of Eden, Noah floating a boat with two of every kind of animal on board, Jonah spending three days in the belly of a fish (and being belched up to tell about it) are fun, funny, and entertaining tales.
Yet apparently according to polls, and Karl Rove would know, Americans think is it more pious to believe these tales as historically accurate and thus "true" than not to do so. People are taught that they are good, moral, and faithful to truth, beauty and God if they put these stories on a par (and even above par) with enlightenment thinking.
It is up to clergy to stop cowering to religious dogma and to the defenders of said dogma and to start preaching that it is no virtue to equate myths with history, superstition with science, and fantasy with reality.
Relying on "the science" of Creationism will not help you with your next flu shot. We did not learn to walk on the moon, cure diseases, and turn on the lights because we really, really, really believed that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
We have a lot of issues to deal with as a human race. The same science that brought us electricity also brought us nuclear missiles. Now, it is time for the voices of spirituality, morality, and ethics, to listen and to speak. The values of stewardship, compassion, wisdom, justice, sharing the bounty of Earth, non-violence, self-sacrifice, and love of neighbor and enemy, are the treasures in the field of our religious tradition.
But when the clergy are so afraid of fundamentalist bullies that they can't even help their congregations understand the historical roots of their own religious stories, we get what we deserve--a country that thinks it is virtuous to believe in the Virgin Birth as opposed to Evolution. To quote Wills:
The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. It is not what they had experienced from this country in the past. In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies.
Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed. (Read More)
It may be time for clergy to encourage parishioners to tithe their income and give it to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The church is doing its best to blow out the light of enlightenment. Someone needs to keep it lit.