Thursday, June 16, 2005


Connie Morris: Biblical Literalist

Why We Need Truce in the Culture Wars

You have to admire, in a perverse sort of way, the courage of Kansas State School Board member Connie Morris. She is quoted in the Kansas City Star as saying evolution is "... an age old fairy tale."

According to the Star, Ms. Morris "... takes biblical creation accounts literally..." That would make her a Biblical literalist.

This world view has been deconstructed elsewhere.

When approaching someone who has chosen Biblical literalism, arguing the merits of evolution versus creationism wastes considerable effort. It's like critiquing Wag the Dog when asked for your opinion of Bush's latest speech.

The deeper issues are what constitutes religious expression and how we must limit religious expression to preserve our basic freedoms.

Creationism results from what I would call a stunted or truncated understanding of the Bible. It is religion, pure and simple; specifically Judeo-Christian-Muslim religion at that.

If the understanding of science evolves to the point Creationism becomes the theory of choice, then we would have to reconsider, rethink and revise. But it hasn't.

The founding fathers, remembering the persecutions of their fathers, went to great lengths to keep matters of church and state separate. In fact, the phrase "wall of separation" between church and state first appears in a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut. The wall as it exists today is a fairly recent construction, going back to 1947's Everson vs Board of Education. The exact phrase in the Bill of Rights Establishment Clause is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." interpretation of that clause and looking to the intent of the Founding Fathers has guided the court in constructing the wall.

The secular world addresses truth in scientific terms, not Biblical. Assertions about the nature of this world are best left to science; assertions about the spiritual side of the world should be the proper realm of theology.

Creationism lies on the religion side, public education on the secular, state side.

It is too easy to dismiss Connie Morris as simple minded, arrogant and ignorant. She made a choice to believe in the literal truth of the Bible, and is acting in accordance with that choice. That choice is shared by many of this world's best and brightest. But why do people walk that path? What, in her experience, led her to her conclusions? Moreover, how can people who believe differently reach out in dialog to the Connie Morris's of this world? She speaks the language of the true believer, a tongue we must become fluent in. (One doubts the vocabulary includes pointy-headed intellectual words like "deconstruct.")

This is the big question. Connie Morris, in taking a narrow, constricted view of her religion and the moral choices it offers, shares the dogged determination to force her views on the rest of us with people like Osama Bin Laden. He, too, believes in the literal truth of his holy book, and believes he acts in accordance with Scripture. We will never argue Ms Morris, or Osama, into what we consider enlightenment; shouting at her across the great divide accomplishes nothing. Jesus and the Bible teach us not to repay evil with evil. We cannot answer the arrogance of one view-point with arrogance of our own. Not if we hope for peace.

What we can do, and should do, is try to understand. If we first listen to her view, we may learn new things. If we still think we are right, we may be able to ask her questions that would lead her to realize the Bible is far too great a text to be reduced to a single, narrow interpretation. But these questions cannot be from a condescending, superior attitude. To engage another, one's own self must be engaged.

We can only speculate - how far have her studies of the Bible taken her? Has she actually studied it for herself, or relied on someone else to interpret it for her? Does she know the great body of writings that comment on the Bible? What does she think of Jesus's parable of the Prodigal Son? (I find that people who take the Bible literally often have a lot of trouble with that story.) What does a "new covenant" mean? Those are questions I'd like to ask Connie Morris.

If you believed God inspired your work on the school board, warding off the sins of pride and arrogance would require saintly efforts. It may be difficult to get past the hostility embedded in a viewpoint that considers itself inherently superior and God inspired. Thus any dialog must be in her language; not ours.

But to engage in dialog, we must first declare a truce.

I live in hope, my religion is one of hope, and I act on that. Doubts beset me at every turn; most likely, genuine dialog with the Connie Morris's of this world has the same chance of happening as a dialog with Osama.

The effort to reach out is almost certainly futile, but without truce, we risk dire consequences. If we do not reach out, do not try to engage the Connie Morris's, we condemn ourselves to perpetual cultural war. Thus:

A prolonged culture war will lead, is leading to mutual hate, fear and mistrust. Given a sufficient divide, enough hate, physical conflict becomes inevitable.

Culture war leads to shooting war.

Write to me, Connie. Let's talk.

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