Euro-American evangelicals, supposedly empowered by the recent election, are demanding that public schools teach the religious concept of creationism (a literal reading of Genesis 1-2).
My question is which creation story should be taught? After all, anyone who has taken the time to actually read Genesis 1-2 knows that two different creation stories exist.
Don’t take my word for it, read the first account (1:1-2:4) and make a list of the order of creation, then compare it with the second account (2:5-2:25).
The first story lists the order of creation as follows: Day 0, formless void; Day 1, light; Day 2, the heavens; Day 3, land and vegetation; Day 4, the sun and moon; Day 5, the living creatures in the water and air; Day 6, the living creatures on the land and humans (both male and female); Day 7, God rested.
By contrast, the second story lists the order as Day 1, there is land; Day 2, water surfaces onto the land; Day 3, man; Day 4, Eden (plants); Day 5, animals; and Day 6, woman.
Does this mean that the Bible contradicts itself and thus is no longer valid as a source of truth? Only if you have a very narrow view of God and the purpose of Scripture.
Genesis exists not to be proven scientifically accurate or false. The two Creation stories teach the fundamental truth that all that is–God created!
The first creation story, for anyone who bothered to read it in Hebrew, is more like a psalm, a song to God’s magnificence. And like most songs, poetic license is expected.
The second creation story is a parable, a lesson answering several theological questions: What is God? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why is there evil?
There is a cultural push within legislative state houses and local school boards, attempting to include creationism within the school curricula, which will be taught alongside evolutionary theory. This group wants to reconcile the Bible with science in order to create a harmonious worldview, an endeavor undertaken by some scholars within academia.
Yet, putting God under a microscope renders the Bible into a science book as discussions develop over the meaning of the word “day” in the Creation story. Was a day 24 hours, or was a day a million years? Frankly–I don’t care.
What I do find interesting is that most biblical scholars from the margins of society usually do not participate in such debates. When a people live under oppressive structures, they turn to the Bible for the strength to survive another day, not to figure out how long a day lasted in Genesis 1.
The Bible is not read with the intellectual curiosity of solving cosmic mysteries. Rather, most people of color look to the text to find guidance in dealing with daily life, a life usually marked by struggles and hardships.
Debates over the scientific validity of the Bible become a luxurious privilege for those who do not endure oppressive and discriminating structures. For many in the dominant culture, the objective in reading the Bible is to answer such questions, and usually with simple answers.
Regardless of the answer, whether it appeals to the fundamentalists or the liberals, the overall dominant culture reads the text through the lens of modernity, even while protesting the present-day ramifications of the Enlightenment.
“Does God exist?” becomes the overall quest of those residing within the dominant culture. In contrast, from the margins of society the question becomes, “What is the character of this God that we claim exists?”
While the evangelistic mission of many Euro-Americans is to convince the nonbeliever to believe, those who reside on the underside of society see their evangelistic venture to be that of convincing of the nonperson of his or her humanity based on the image of God that dwells within them.
Because those at the center ask different questions than those who reside on the margins of society, the Bible provides different answers.
The dominant culture usually looks for answers to questions that are simply unimportant to the social location of those living under oppressive structures.
For example, a student once asked me if I supported prayer in schools. I replied that I supported books, computers and microscopes in schools, because the schools within the barrios and ghettos of this country lack these basic necessities that are needed to equip children from the margins to compete in the global marketplace.
Prayer in schools becomes a luxury debated in those predominately white school systems that have already obtained most of what is necessary to provide their children with a competitive education.
So, should a religious story be taught as scientific fact? I remain amazed at the things Euro-American evangelicals consider crucial!
Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.