Saturday, June 7, 2014
The Extended Family
All through my childhood the scene played itself out countless times. The location was the small Nazarene church in Georgetown, South Carolina my grandparents belonged. Up on the pulpit was more than likely a middle aged man or someone slightly older, although there were occasions when it was a young and up and coming minister, giving an impassioned sermon filled with hellfire and brimstone. Such sermons always hit on eternal damnation for sinners and how only in accepting Jesus could any person win salvation. The other subjects usually hit upon was the imminent Rapture, who was the Antichrist, and just how bad was the seven years of tribulation going to be for those left behind.
The congregation, would be a collection of properly dressed ladies waving fans to keep cool with the printed image of a caring, white Jesus on the cheap paper. From my observations over those long ago years, these ladies of the highest virtue would look at the various ministers with a combination of fear, respect, and believe it or not, outright lust.
The menfolk, well there were three options when it came to them. The first being the tired, Georgetown was a mill town with many of the men in attendance either just coming off shift or about to go on. The second were the bored, these guys would spend most of the service dreaming of being in a deer stand or on Winyah Bay fishing. The final segment were the true believers who hung on every word the minister spoke and often quietly looked down on the the other two groups since they figured their attitudes made them God's favorite.
Depending on the type of sermon being preached science in general was always a handy issue to get the good folks worked up about. But what could really inflame the religious masses was the subject of evolution. There was just something, dare I say genetic, in the outright rejection that humans, God's most special creation, could ever have descended from the ignorant apes. For those not raised in the American South, there is another aspect of this rejection of evolution and it had to do with the dark skinned nature of gorillas and chimpanzees, but that is not something I will touch on here.
To the congregation, the idea that humans came from what they often mistakenly called “monkeys” was something akin to an adult believing in the Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I have to be fair here, this belief was not limited to my hometown and as anyone with current knowledge of the religious situation in this country this idea is very much alive even now.
So you can imagine the utter surprise when a visiting minister ascended to the pulpit one Sunday to tell the surprised people before him that scientists were now claiming that humans not only came from apes but lizards and fish. Yeah, the concept of evolution was so alien and misunderstood that they somehow limited it to just what effected them and the animals they closely resembled. Of course, whenever these types of sermons were preached so was the bogus idea that as Charles Darwin lay on his deathbed he either recanted his theory of evolution while praying to God for forgiveness, or went into spasms proclaiming the devil had already begun torturing him before he even expelled his last breath.
Numerous people have wondered about how some can utterly reject the theory of evolution despite a constantly growing fossil record along with DNA research that literally links humanity with every other living creature on the planet. For many this rejection has to do with what they perceive as their place in the universe, if they are not in some fashion God's special creation then life itself has lost all meaning. I can somewhat understand and excuse this idea for all those uncounted souls who suffered and toiled all through history and before for some king, emperor, tribal chief, or some other asshole with delusions of grandeur and the weapons and muscle to back it up.
Back when vast majority of people spent their entire lives scrapping by a meager existence the belief that all the crap they have to put up with in this life would be rewarded in the next was the only thing that allowed them to continue. To paraphrase a line I once heard in a time travel movie, the only thing worse than dying during a Dark Age was having to live through one. So they penned all their hopes on whatever paradise was suppose to lay beyond the Pearly Gates.
Another aspect of this rejection was the obscure passage in the Bible about how God created us in his image. Somehow this was taken to mean that the creator of the entire universe actually had a need for a human body with arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Even as a kid I could never understand how people took this to have a literal meaning. One word of advice to give to any overly curious kid whose grandparents send them to Sunday school, tell them never to suggest that maybe God looks like a gorilla.
Now I was always a bit of a problem child when it came to religious dogma, but it wasn't until I was much older and learned how all life on this planet is related genetically. That you can trace the ancestry of life all the way back to some mysterious age when the oceans of the early Earth was a caldron of mixing primitive proteins. Yes, how that unaided chemistry experiment eventually crossed the line to life is still unknown but I'm going hazard a guess that we will one day find a scientific answer.
Understand I'm agnostic, but I find nothing more spiritual than the FACT that I, along with the rest of the human race is tried to everything other living thing down to the bacteria living thousands of meters in the dark and cold bottom of the ocean. If anything does suggests a universal creator, it is that undeniable concept.
Of course, in my mind this cancels out the other strange passage in the Bible that God gave us dominion over the Earth. Since we are a part of the whole instead of something that stands outside it this means we have to care for and protect what is in essence, our extended family. It will surprise some but there is a trend in some Christian churches to view humanity's relationship with the rest of the planet in just that manner. If one there one thing that will save our misbegotten species it is my hope that attitude will spread.