Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

Progressive Christian Social Action

Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

I have a collection of children’s books about creation that I read to my grandchildren and to the Sunday school children in my church. Some of the books present the seven-day sequence from Genesis 1, with colorful pictures showing the emergence of light and dark, heavenly bodies, plants, sea life and birds, and finally animals and human beings. Some books are based on the story of Adam and Eve. Jane Ray’s Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, on the other hand, tells the creation story, which has a completely different order of creation, by saying: “At the very beginning of the world the earth was a dry and dusty place, where nothing could live and nothing could grow. So God made a mist which watered the ground all over. Then with his great hands, he formed the first man of the clay of the newly watered earth.”

Other picture books on creation are more loosely based on scripture. And God Created Squash by Martha Whitmore Hickman portrays God as an old man with long white hair and a beard, thinking up things to create. He puts his ear to the ground and says, “I’d like to hear something growing.” As he creates he walks around smelling flowers, tasting food, and enjoying the abundance of life. At the end he says, “I’ll be around. You may not see me. But I’ll be here—and there—wherever you are, whenever you need me. Even in the middle of the night.” Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root presents a feminine image of God: “When Big Momma made the world, she didn’t mess around… she rolled up her sleeves and went to it.” Big Momma, with a playful baby on her hip, takes mud and knits it together to create the world and everything in it, culminating in a huge ball of mud out of which emerge people of every race, size, and shape. They are, apparently, naked, to the delight of the children.

Each of these books is a creative contemporary expression of Judeo-Christian traditional teachings on creation. Each has its own unique twist based on the theological interpretation of the author. Christian tradition is not static. It develops in an ongoing way.

A Christian understanding of creation doesn’t rule out respect for science. I also read the children a science-based book about the origins of the universe called Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton, author of children’s classics such as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. Life Story begins with the birth of the Sun, “one of the millions and billions of stars that make up our galaxy.” It proceeds with a fascinating walk through geological time and the evolution of life on earth right up to the present. “And now it is your Life Story… The stage is set, the time is now, and the place wherever you are.”

I have never felt there was a conflict between reading the traditional storybooks that talk about God creating the world and children’s books based on science. These accounts of creation complement each other. The children aren’t confused. They know the Bible stories, they know about Jesus, and they know God’s love. They also know about stars, black holes, dinosaurs, and fossils.  . The scientific story of creation doesn’t negate an understanding of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the world.

This blog post is an excerpt from Sharon’s new book,  Love in a Time of Climate Change

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Christian Responsibility for Climate Change

Progressive Christian Social Action

Christian Responsibility for Climate Change

“How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was being destroyed?”                                                              Wendell Berry

As Hurricane Harvey devastates communities in Texas, catastrophic rains are also paralyzing cities in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, causing many deaths.  Some scientists, public figures, and even some reporters have spoken out about the links between climate change and the scientific projections of increasingly intense storms.  Conservative groups close to the Trump Administration are mobilizing to downplay, mock, or refute such assertions.

My new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, is an antidote to the anti-science, anti-environmental claims of the Religious Right.  The following includes an excerpt:

Christianity has been widely criticized for promoting a view of dominion that has contributed to ecological destruction.  In “The Historical Roots of the Ecologic Crisis,” a now-famous article written in 1967, author Lynn White Jr. charged that the Christian religion is primarily responsible for the ecological crisis, because its underlying ideology has supported unfettered exploitation of the earth.  White’s primary arguments centered around Judeo-Christian understandings of dominion, the origins of the scientific revolution in natural theology, the idea of perpetual progress rather than cyclical views of time, and the dualism of man versus nature.  White pointed to differences between Eastern Orthodox churches, which have focused more on creation spirituality, and churches in the West.  He claimed that Western Christianity is “the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen.”

There are merits to White’s critique of Christianity.  He based his primary argument on an interpretation of the Genesis creation stories, which he explained by saying, “God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule:  no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.”  As we have seen with the Christian Right, there are people who understand the stories of Genesis in this way, but White went further by claiming that this view undergirds Western culture.  He wrote: “Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature which are almost universally held… Despite Copernicus, all the cosmos rotates around our little globe.  Despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process.  We are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whims.”

The support of Donald Trump by white Evangelicals, who helped him win the election, seems to support White’s thesis.  Trump is appointing leaders and enacting policies that will be disastrous for creation and will bring further injustice to people.  In fact, his actions are so destructive that National Geographic is keeping a running list of changes his administration is making to environmental policy.  But this is just the latest and most extreme manifestation of a pattern of destruction that has been going on for centuries. Christian farmer and poet Wendell Berry asks a question that should be deeply considered by anyone who professes to follow Jesus: “How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was being destroyed?”

Rather than argue against White’s thesis, it seems more fruitful to acknowledge that attitudes he describes have done their share of harm and have contributed to ecological destruction.  We can also affirm his suggestion that Christians adopt an alternative theological model that motivates care for creation.

Just because the views of the Christian Right are magnified just now doesn’t mean that all people who consider themselves Christian carry such views.  Many people seek truth and are open to the “weight of the evidence” of climate science as well as the science of evolutionary biology.   Many focus on the intrinsic value of creation, the glory of God revealed through creation, the kinship of human beings with other creatures, or the human responsibility to care for creation.  These attitudes support an understanding of the value of creation and the human responsibility in relation to the earth.

For more about the Religious Right and its anti-science and anti-environmental agenda, see Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right.   To learn more about right-wing Christian arguments against climate change and other issues, check out the Cornwall Institute.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

My New Book is Out!

Progressive Christian Social Action

My New Book is Out!

Hello friends.  I’m happy to announce that my new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, has finally been released.  I’m delighted with how it turned out and thrilled to be holding copies in my hand.  It will be available in local bookstores here in Nevada County when I receive a shipment next week.  It’s already available through online distributors. You, my friends, can help boost its visibility by ordering a copy, reading the book, and posting a review.  Find it at Amazon here.

This book offers a spiritually-based approach to climate change that is informed by both science and theology.  It makes the case that the spiritual principle of loving God and neighbor is the only foundation strong enough to take us through this grave global crisis.   While the book primarily addresses Christians, it also speaks to people of other faith and philosophical traditions who care about the earth and seek a peaceful and just world.

It was a year ago that I signed the book contract with Fortress Press and started working seriously on Love in a Time of Climate Change:  Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice.  I felt that I needed to present a progressive alternative to the anti-science biblical literalism of the Religious Right, which helped to elect Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed climate change skeptic.  (For more on this theme, see Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right.)  This book does just that by:

  • Presenting an overview of climate change and its implications for churches, poor and vulnerable people, future generations, and creation itself;
  • Exploring the themes of creation and justice in the context of climate change;
  • Using resources drawn from scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to inform, challenge, and encourage readers to form their own conclusions;
  • Offering hope for the future based on spiritual awakening and the need for a broad-based movement that includes various constituencies working together for peace, justice, and caring for the natural world;
  • Proposing activities that people can take beyond personal lifestyle change to help build the global movement for climate justice.

I’ll be presenting Love in a Time of Climate Change at several upcoming public events, which I’ll announce soon.  I’m scheduled to go on the road (or, rather, on the train) in November, with several presentations scheduled, including in Boston and New York.  It’s an exciting time.

Meanwhile, climate change continues to progress, a reality that motivates me to keep on with my work, in solidarity with all of you who continue working for a world that is habitable and abundant the children and upcoming generations.  May we work together with the Spirit of the universe, who surely is with us in this struggle.

 

Find out more about the book at Love in a Time of Climate Change at this website, where you can find the Table of ContentsInitial Endorsements, and several excerpts.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

 

Beyond the Spectacles

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Beyond the Spectacles

As the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration enthrall the public, Republicans continue to push their unjust and oppressive agenda.  For one thing, they are trying to repeal laws that keep the Internet free and accessible.  Today I made calls as part of the Internet-Wide Day of Net Neutrality, which the organizers have made very easy to do.

The shameful policies of the Trump Administration (and the Republicans) were apparent at the recent G-20 meetings, and were especially obvious in the sidelining of the U.S. president in his refusal to engage with world leaders on the issue of climate change.  Still, some have found a silver lining in that cloud of U.S. non-participation.  Because the United States has regularly blocked strong and binding climate legislation, the rest of the global community may be able to craft a stronger position than would have been possible otherwise.  The G-20 events highlight not only the disaster of the presidency of Donald Trump, but of the problems inherent in U.S.-style politics, captured by corporations, dark money, and ideologically-driven special interests, especially the Religious Right.  (See Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right.)

Meanwhile, heat records are (again) breaking and wildfires are blazing throughout the Western United States.  And now we’ve gotten word that a trillion-ton iceberg has broken off (“calved”) from the Larsen Ice Shelf; it is so big that maps of Antarctica will need to be redrawn.  There are calls to name it the “ExxonKnew” Iceberg, since internal studies show that Exxon-Mobil has known that their products would cause climate change for decades, even while they created a massive public relations establishment promoting climate change denial.  And ironically, Rex Tillerson was CEO of Exxon-Mobil from 2006 until 2016, before he was appointed to the prominent position of U.S. Secretary of State.

My new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, addresses the ideology and mechanisms that underlie the present U.S. and global system, leading to problems that are illustrated by, but also go far beyond, the ongoing shocks of the (hopefully short-lived) Trump presidency, and which create a momentum that not only harms people’s lives but endangers life on earth.  For example, preview Corporate Influences on Climate Policy in “Chapter 10, Reason:  Climate Justice and Common Sense.”  The following call to action is also an excerpt from that chapter:

“Whatever we do, it is important to keep in mind that we are not acting in isolation, but contributing to the larger movement for climate justice. We are doing our small part to awaken people to what is at stake and to point in the direction of hope.

“Reason makes clear that building a strong movement to stabilize the climate means working in coalition with justice-oriented groups that have other priorities. By joining with pro-democracy organizations, we help to end corporate domination of government and build a peoples’ democracy. Another natural ally is the peace movement. War is deadly for humans and all life, and the U.S. military is one of the world’s largest consumers of fossil fuels. It also makes sense to work with groups that oppose toxic trade deals like the TPP.  Specific groups are listed in the Suggested Reading List at the back of this book.  Working together in a broad coalition of groups builds strength in solidarity and makes it possible to influence public policy in areas of trade, economics, racial justice, immigration reform, prison reform, war and peace, and climate justice. It also makes system change more likely.

“The movement for climate justice, together with allies in the broader movement for global justice, embodies faith that “another world is possible.” Together we seek to establish justice and build a global community in which all human lives, local communities, and the natural world are valued for themselves and not for how much wealth they deliver upwards. As we consider God’s call to climate justice, we turn now [In Chapter 11] to the experiences of people living and working on the front lines of climate change.”

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Progressive Christian Social Action

“Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” that is, environmentalism.

Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Note:  This article includes excerpts from my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, to be released by Fortress Press in July. 

Like many of you, I am appalled by many things that Donald Trump has said and done in the first months of his presidency, including his announcement that he’s pulling the United States out of the (largely symbolic) Paris Climate Agreement.  But we must look beyond the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration to see what’s really going on.  Now that Republicans dominate Congress, they are quietly working to enact regressive policies that have been in the works for decades, policies that target the poor, people who are sick, people of color, immigrants, women, our young and aged, and yes, the environment.

Donald Trump didn’t get elected in a vacuum.  He has lots of backers, including the Religious Right.  This primarily Christian constituency is aligned with conservative social, political, and economic interests and is a powerful and organized force in the Republican Party.  The cruel policies supported by those who espouse right-wing Christian beliefs are the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings about loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Religious Right also exerts a strong influence on the debate about climate change in the United States.  This conservative religious lobby’s talking points and policy proposals on energy and climate are largely indistinguishable from those of the fossil fuel industry. Recent initiatives have focused on Academic Freedom legislation, designed to “teach the controversy” about climate change in public schools. Legislation to this effect has been drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative secular organization that brings corporate leaders together with conservative lawmakers to draft model legislation on various issues to be presented in state legislatures. Teach the controversy legislation has also been supported by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and the Discovery Institute—a creationist think tank. This uninformed and deliberately confusing approach to climate change was reflected by then-candidate Donald Trump in a 2016 New York Times interview, when he said, “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind…. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

Right-wing Christian groups deny climate science and evolutionary science on the basis that they are unbiblical. The Cornwall Alliance’s website hosts a sign-on declaration, “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” stating that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” The Cornwall Alliance also offers a DVD called “Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” which outlines the dangers of the new and false “religion” of environmentalism. Not surprisingly, the organization also works to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Although political and economic interests help fund and influence the Christian Right’s opposition to climate science, there are also theological factors at work. An analysis of anti-environmental sentiment within the Religious Right reveals that some are convinced that concern for the environment is based on the worship of nature. Others, who believe in apocalyptic prophesies about the coming end times, feel that it is pointless to worry about climate change. What they hold in common, however, is their insistence that the creation stories in the book of Genesis must be taken literally.

Creationism, the belief that the creation stories of Genesis are scientific fact, is widespread among conservative Christians, who seek to introduce this doctrine even in public schools. This sets the creation stories in scripture in opposition to the scientific story of the origins and nature of the universe. Was the universe created in fifteen billion years or in seven days? In pre-scientific times, most believers did take the creation stories in Genesis literally, but times have changed. Scientific discoveries have revealed aspects of the universe unknown in ancient times.

One form of denial at work in these and other conversations about climate change is people’s refusal to consider facts or evidence that contradicts their worldview. Science is continually revealing new information about the natural world, its origins and interconnectedness, and the causes and impacts of planetary warming. Reason enables us to weigh the evidence, reflect on its implications, form rational conclusions, and make informed decisions as we consider how to respond to the earth’s changing climate in a reasonable way. But in the words of Naomi Klein, “it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered…”

The debate about climate change is political, not scientific, and confusion need not hold us back. Faith in the One who brought creation into being enables us to overcome denial, fear, and confusion as we seek truth about these issues.  Jesus insisted that the most important measure of human life is loving God above all and our earthly neighbors as ourselves.  In this time of climate change, love of God and neighbor requires honoring creation and working to establish justice for our human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, for our young and future generations, and for all creation.

 

Sharon’s new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, describes some of the ways that the Religious Right has impacted US climate policy, and explores the topic of climate change in a way that takes climate science seriously and is grounded in Jesus’ teachings and example. 

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For more information and an analysis on the Religious Right’s backing of Donald Trump’s policies on climate change, see “Politics, culture, or theology?  Why evangelicals back Trump on global warming,” by David Gibson. 

Sharon’s other blog postings about climate change can be found here.