Tag Archives: Christianity

The age-old argument

The Tulsa World had a long piece Saturday about the rift between ” young Earth” and ” old Earth” Christians. Of all the things Christians (or anybody else) argue about, this has to be one of most pointless.

The argument is whether the Earth is a few thousand years old, which is what some interpret the Bible to say, or a few billion years old, which is what virtually everyone who knows anything about natural sciences say. Really, it’s about those who believe a literal reading of the Bible — for some, the King James Bible — trumps all else, and those who don’t. My own view, through the lens of a lifetime of working with words, is that no language is free of ambiguity, and the phrase “lost in translation” is not merely a cliche.

But I digress. The real question is “What difference does it make?”

Philosophically, morally, spiritually, what difference does it make to me whether the Earth is six thousand years old or six billion? Will I behave differently if it is one or the other? The answer is no. When and how the Earth was made has no bearing on my conduct, and it’s difficult to believe it affects anyone else’s. While this sort of thing might make an interesting discussion, obsessing over it is a detour down a theological dead end. It is the equivalent of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; more seriously, it diverts from the central message.

For some reason, we in the United States are particularly prone to pitting science against faith. This is disturbing because it encourages a mindset that puts wishful thinking ahead of objective evaluation of facts and circumstances.

My personal rule is that I never call an electrician to work on my plumbing. I call a plumber. He may turn out to be a bad plumber, an unscrupulous plumber, or a plumber who misdiagnoses the cause of my backed up sink or leaking kitchen drain, but on the whole I’m more likely to get better advice about plumbing from a plumber than I am from an electrician or a child psychologist or a priest.

So it is is with the age of the Earth. If the experts in the field say the earth is billions of years old, I’m inclined to go with that. But I am also quite aware that ideas change as more facts present themselves, and some day the consensus of science may change. That is the nature of science. It’s conclusions change to fit the facts, not the other way around.

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Why Christmas still matters

We all know that Christmas is not really Christmas. It is not Jesus’ birthday. In all likelihood, the date evolved from a combination of pagan festivals and Christian traditions centered on the winter solstice. Epiphany, which predates Christmas and is observed on Jan. 6, commemorates what might be thought of as Christianity’s spiritual birth. The origins of many of our Christmas traditions, including the exchanging of gifts, predate Christ.

One can only wonder what Jesus would think of a holiday in his honor whose most recognizable figure is a fat man in a red suit.

And that’s an improvement. In centuries past, Christmas was known more as a time of drunken revelry than religious contemplation. England’s seventeenth-century Puritan rulers outlawed the holiday, and it wasn’t generally celebrated in Boston until the 1850s. Even now, some Christians consider Christmas a blasphemy.

Today it sometimes seems as if Christmas’ primary purpose is sustaining the American economy. The annual tragic-comedy known as Black Friday — and its sanitized sequel, Cyber Monday — leaves one trying to envision the magi camping out in a Wal-Mart parking lot all night in order to get a good deal on gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Christmas has acquired a lot of baggage. It is used to sell luxury automobiles, milk chocolate snowmen and Victoria Secret lingerie. In honor of Christ’s birthday we eat too much, drink too much and fall asleep watching NBA tripleheaders on new 65-inch curved screen TVs.

And yet, with all the commercialization and crass exploitation, Christmas still matters. It matters because it reminds us that life is about more than ourselves. Christmas shopping serves its own strange greater purpose in our materialistic socieity: It makes us think about someone besides ourselves, even if it’s only to choose between the festive Dr. Seuss tie and a box of handkerchiefs for the office gift exchange.

Because that is the fundamental message of Christmas and the man it purports to celebrate. Life is not all about you. It is not about what you get, it is what you give. Stop and listen, in a checkout line or pew or middle of the night, and hear the whispers of a world — a universe and all that is, seen and unseen — that is bigger than any one of us, or even all of us.

And if that takes a sale on “Frozen” karaoke machines, so be it.

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