Some years ago, I came across a blog entitled "The End of Christianity." Being a Christian myself, I supposed I should check it out.
Imagine my disappointment to discover that this blog, rather than being an astute socio-political analysis of development and likely future of Christendom, in general, and the institution of the Church Proper, in particular, was merely the ranting of a self-righteous atheist who apparently believes that biological science ~ specifically, the study of evolution ~ somehow "invalidates" the entirety of Christian Scripture. I actually laughed out loud, until I saw that not only was this fellow serious, but that there were some thousands of comments from readers who actually bought into his glaringly flawed "logic." My reaction turned from amusement to deep and profound disappointment at the mass-stupidity being displayed.
But I read further, and I discovered that there were also thousands of comments from self-proclaimed "Christians" (yes, I realize the irony of the fact that I fall into that category, too... more on that in a moment) who took the original blogger's stupidity regarding Scripture and heartily returned the favor in regard to science. In other words, these folks tried to claim that "there is no evidence to support evolution" (a false assertion of such magnitude that I lack the hyperbole to describe it accurately) and that "to be a Christian is to take every word in the Bible literally" (a falsehood of equal magnitude to the previous one).
So I posted a few replies and comments of my own, in an attempt at least to introduce some modicum of sanity to the discussion, but I soon realized that conversation was too far gone for me to make much difference. But I did come away from the experience with what I believe to be a valuable bit of insight, one I hope that you might find interesting, as well.
In order to share that insight with you, let me begin by presenting a pair of observations that I first noticed in that blog discussion years ago, and which I have since seen repeated many, many times in subsequent discussions of the same topic ~ observations which tend, I think, to be completely overlooked by many of the who participate most passionately in such conversations.
Observation 1: Many of my fellow Christians claim (either overtly, or tacitly by way of their own interpretations) that the only valid way to read Holy Scripture is literally. In other words, they believe that the words of the Bible must be taken at face value, and that any other way of deriving meaning from the text (such as interpreting Scripture symbolically or allegorically, for example, or examining the historical and/or cultural context in which a particular piece of Scripture was written) is not only invalid, but constitutes a twisting or perverting of God's Word. It's not that folks in this camp reject interpretations of Scripture that differ from their own; rather, these folks deny that they themselves are even interpreting Scripture in the first place ~ instead, they claim that the meaning is clear on the surface of the text.
Of course, when I encounter brothers or sisters in Christ who hold this view, I'm generally disappointed to find out that they typically are not fluent in ancient Hebrew or ancient Greek, the languages in which the texts of Holy Scripture were originally recorded ~ so I end up wondering how, indeed, they manage to take such texts "at face value," having to read them in translation as they do ... but that is beside the point, at the moment.
The point is that for my fellow Christians to claim, as some surely do, that the only conceivable way to interpret Scripture is literally (i.e., superficially, treating the sacred text as if it is, itself, a scientific textbook or a literal history) is an atrocity. To limit Scripture in that way is to heap contempt upon the millions of Christians, past and present, who have dedicated (and in many cases given) their lives to the service of the sublime, Divine Truths which Scripture preserves in symbol, parable, and allegory ~ not to mention heaping contempt upon the remarkable sages who found ways to represent, in the frail and inadequate medium of human language, the keys that allow us, as mere human beings, to enter into the transformative contemplation of God's ineffable Mysteries. "Literalists" who make this claim do unimaginable damage to the soul of Christianity, in essence raping the Divine teachings, degrading them and reducing them to profane absurdities.
Observation 2: There are some atheists who not only seem to think that modern sciences, such as geology, evolutionary biology, astronomy, etc., have "disproven" Scripture, but who also seem to take a great deal of pride in the belief that "science is on their side," so to speak, justifying their rejection of spirituality in general and Christianity in particular.
Now, those self-righteous atheists who mistakenly think, as some surely do, that, as one banner advertisement once claimed, "the major claims of Christianity are demonstrably false" and that modern geological and biological science in any way "disproves" the Bible or Christianity are apparently so galactically stupid that they not only lack any understanding of the major claims of Christianity or of the nature of the Bible, but they also fail to understand the nature of the modern science which they purport to admire in the first place.
These folks have no clue what spiritual texts are or how they work whatsoever, so they treat such texts as if they were intended to be scientific manuals or textbooks from a history class, such as we would teach in our modern culture. They have no concept of abstraction, symbol, or allegory, and they have zero understanding whatever of anything resembling a coherent philosophy. They have bought into the demonstrably false assumption that only those things which are tangible to the five senses are "real," and based on that false presumption they misinterpret Scripture, and then they proudly crow about how erroneous their own misinterpretations (which they mistake for actual Scripture) are.
More importantly, they abuse and pervert the scientific method in the process. The scientific method, the foundation of empirical investigation, is unsurpassed when it comes to examining the tangible, physical world. But it is only useful because of its rigid limitations. And one of those limitations is that only things which can be observed and/or measured tangibly are subject to scientific investigation. One cannot do better than the scientific method when it comes to discovering facts. But science is ~ by its own definition ~ useless when it comes to discovering truth. Abstractions, philosophies, theologies, etc. ~ these are all, by definition, beyond the purview of science.
And here is the key insight from these two observations: both parties, the fundamentalist/literalist Christians AND the self-righteous, materialistic atheists, are making the exact same mistake: they are taking Scripture literally, exclusively literally. Thus, both parties are galactically wrong, and for precisely the same reason. Yet, they remain at each other's throats, each thoroughly convinced of the other's error and of their own rectitude. Unbelievable.
It seems to me that both these "perspectives," if they can be called that, are a gross disservice to the viewpoints which they claim to represent:
Good scientists, for example, are well aware that empirical science by definition does not ~ CANNOT ~ address any question which cannot be tested by empirical (i.e., tangible, material) means. Thus, the question of whether or not god/a god/gods exist(s), for example, is clearly beyond the scope of science; science does not even ask that question, since there's no material way to test it. That question must perforce take us to the realm of philosophy.
Likewise, intelligent, educated Christians are acutely aware of the difference between the allegorical creation story in Genesis and the sciences of geology and biology. The latter concern themselves with facts; the former, with Truth.
And that last distinction may be the most important one, the one that's most often overlooked in our modern, western culture: that facts and Truth are not the same thing.
I welcome your comments, folks ~ let's get our own, and hopefully more enlightened, discussion going here, if we can.