Monday, 14 March 2016

Creationism Lite?

It seems to me that much of the debate about homosexuality boils down to one basic theological question: the question of creationism versus evolution.  Most Christians now, apart from some extremely conservative believers, accept evolution as the scientific explanation of life. They do not believe that God literally made everything in six days. God created the world, they say, but he created it through evolution. But if they use expressions like “the divinely ordained  order of creation”, or “God’s plan for human life”, they are actually creationists at heart. Evolution is not just a way of explaining how we human beings “came from apes”. If we take its implications seriously, it is a fundamental fact about the nature of the universe, the way things are. There is no order laid down from the beginning. The whole universe evolves: it always has and it always will.

The evolution of life mostly happens by accidental mutations, only a small minority of which give rise to a survival advantage that is reproduced in subsequent generations. Often they produce a one-off anomaly or a variation that has little or no effect on survival. In spite of what the Bible says about God creating male and female, we know from actual experience that sometimes babies are born with mixed male and female characteristics. When this is an obvious physical fact it cannot be denied, but when it is psychological – someone feeling they are a woman in a male body or a man in a female body  – it can be very hard to convince other people of it, and this causes enormous pain to the person involved. Similarly, it is all very well to quote the Bible about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife (Genesis 2:24), but there are men and women in whom this instinct is not present: they have a deep need to cleave to someone of the same sex. Again, because this is not physically obvious, some people deny it, saying that homosexuality is a life style choice and so causing a lot of hurt to those who know within themselves that it is not a choice. Whatever we may say about the “divine plan”, it doesn’t always seem to work.

If there is a creator God, we can best imagine him as an experimenter. His experiment with dinosaurs seemed to work for a few million years, but proved non-viable in the long run. He is currently experimenting with human beings. Among them are lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transsexuals and lots of other variations. Experience, not abstract theory, will tell us whether they work or not.

This kind of perception of God is in fact reflected in parts of the Bible. Even in Genesis we are told that when God saw the way human beings were behaving he regretted that he had created them and decided to destroy them with a flood. Just one man seemed to be an exception to the general sinfulness of humanity, so God arranged for him and his family to survive. Then, after the flood was over, he regretted what he had done and resolved never to destroy the world with a flood again. But the subsequent story of Noah and his descendants shows that in any case sparing him and his family wasn’t such a bright idea as it had seemed! The Bible itself seems to suggest that there is no fixed “divine plan”: God keeps experimenting, and sometimes gets it wrong.

God is also open to persuasion by human beings. Abraham haggled with God over how many righteous people it would need to stop him destroying Sodom. Soon after bringing the Israelites out of Egypt God found them so ungrateful and rebellious that he wanted to destroy them, but Moses persuaded him not to. God sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh to tell them that it would be destroyed in forty days, but when the people repented and prayed he changed his mind. We tend to dismiss stories like this as examples of a primitive view of God, but perhaps they are telling us something very profound. This is a dynamic, evolving, unpredictable, open-ended  universe, and so is God’s relationship with the human race.

If this is so, there is no divine blueprint, no preordained order, and the moral decisions we make should not be decided by eternal laws laid down by Scripture or by the “natural order”. Christian faith at its best has always been oriented to the future. Modern science has discovered things previously unknown and this has led to achievements once thought impossible – like flying, or having conversations with people thousands of miles away., or walking on the moon. In the same way a deepening understanding of human experience and a more attentive listening to previously unheard voices has taught us to welcome things once thought impermissible or “unnatural”. We have discovered things about human life that were previously unknown, or known only to minorities who were ignored or persecuted.

To base our morality on experience rather than law or “revelation” does not mean throwing all morality to the winds. Nor does it mean, as some people put it, turning our backs on God’s way and choosing our own. The God presented in the Bible may be unpredictable at times and even cruel, but through the many-sided conversation of the Bible another view emerges and comes to its full-blown expression in Jesus: a God who is pure, universal love. Guided by our faith in this kind of God we try in all the dilemmas of life to find the most loving solution. We can never be a hundred percent sure that we have found the right solution. In fact there is no “right” solution, only the “best” solution as it appears at the time. Science advances by experiment leading to theory and theory being tested by further experiment, and if this reflects the way the universe is, then our understanding of God and of morality have to proceed in the same way.