Priests, Ministers, Monkeys, and Truth

If I were to speak of my main goal in my work at this website and my other website, Acts of Being, I would say this:

I’m trying to build a vocabulary and stock of concepts that would allow Christians to speak truthfully to the greatest extent allowed by our current stock of knowledge (early in the 21st century).

Recently, I heard a homily by a new priest. While wishing to remain respectful of a man with some very good qualities, I have to say I was horrified at the way he dealt with a situation. He was speaking of a young girl who came to him and announced sadly, “Somebody told me we’re descended from monkeys and that means we’re no good,” or words to that effect. His response, as far as I understood his incoherence at that point, was to tell her she wasn’t descended from monkeys.

I could have been listening to a fundamentalist preacher who’d stepped out of the pages of a Flannery O’Connor novel. That’s not all bad. One of the points she was making in her novels was: those fundamentalist preachers had remembered some truths (such as the all-encompassing demands of faith) which had been forgotten by more liberal clergymen as well as by the skeptics of our age. Admitting that, I’d say that a Catholic priest should be educated well enough to realize that we are descended from monkeys (and also to know that St. Augustine admitted the possibility of a descent from some non-human species back in The City of God, 1400 years before the birth of Darwin). It’s the duty of a faithful clergyman, Protestant or Catholic, to deal truthfully and openly with the world as God made it and to be able to understand that world and the Biblical messages as part of the same story.

If the best a clergyman can do in defending human morality is to sneer unintelligently at the idea that we’re descended from monkeys, then he shouldn’t be in the pulpit. Over the course of her life, that girl will realize she does share a common ancestor with monkeys and, assuming that she does no better in finding an intelligent Christian understanding of the human condition, she’ll see a straightforward scientific fact as being in conflict with her worth as a human being and in conflict with her faith. She might even realize that our modern medical technology was developed by research that assumes we’re members of the animal kingdom, descended from ‘monkeys’ and metabolically very similar to pigs in important ways. She’ll see Christian clergymen who have no intelligent way to speak about human nature go into the hospital to take advantage of all that technology which assumes we’re — yes — descended from monkeys.

At the same time that I see a deep problem here, I can understand why the typical clergyman has neither the time nor the talent for the particular task of engaging in large and eclectic readings and then interpreting a vast body of human knowledge from the viewpoint of a Christian. What I can’t understand is why so few of those clergymen have good enough instincts to realize there’s a problem. The skeptics and atheists are winning the battle of the minds to a greater extent than some realize and they’re winning partly because of the intellectual incompetence of Christian clergymen who haven’t clue how to deal with modern science from the viewpoint of Christianity. So, they sneer at the idea that we’re descended from monkeys and they continue to talk as if Adam and Eve literally existed. Those who then admit to the truth of biological evolution make the weakness of their positions all the more obvious.

If it’s really necessary for either the Catholic Church or Protestant churches to ordain men who have poorly developed minds, for whatever reason, those men should at least have better scripts to read from. Neither the ordinary church-goer nor the children in formation should have to live in two domains of truth, one which he or she leaves behind when walking out of church at 11:00 on Sunday morning, that same one which is left behind even by those priests and ministers when they walk into a hospital.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Biblical interpretation, Christianity, Education, Evolution, Modern culture, religion and science

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