Death, Illness And The Theological Reasoning Behind “Creation Science”

Pic: Mycota (PD)

Pic: Mycota (PD)

Here is what it is in a nutshell: Fear of death. Which is actually a biggie. I mean you can scoff at it when you are in your 20’s and in perfect health, but if you or a loved one has terminal cancer, for example, it tends to occupy your thoughts.

When faced with death, people really want to know if there is anything on the other side, and if there is then it’s hopefully something pleasant; even heavenly.

The way Christians traditionally worked this out is that death is un-natural. God is love, yet for some reason, perfectly nice relatives and friends are periodically taken from us sometimes, after experiencing protracted periods of horrible pain. The reason for this, theologically, is that death is a judgement; a punishment for sin. God, in his righteousness, had to punish sin but he felt bad about it. He felt so bad about it that he decided to punish himself instead on our behalf, so that we wouldn’t have to suffer and die. So if you accept this sacrifice,you will still die, but at some later point,you will be brought back to life and there will be no more tears.

I’m not really trying to be crass, because suffering and death is no joke to me. I think any means people have to get through it and be at peace is a huge blessing.

2000 years of tradition goes a long way in helping people through this process. Hospitals, military bases, any place where there is a lot of dying going on are filled With chaplains and various clergy working to bring peace to people in their suffering. I have experienced this first-hand, and the comfort this tradition brings to people is a real and tangible thing. I don’t pooh pooh it at all, because in the dying process, being at peace is much preferred to writhing in physical (as well as existential) pain.

Now, you maybe wondering, what if anything, does the need for a belief in dinosaurs frolicking alongside humans possibly have to do with this?

I really feel like the vast majority of Christians aren’t Theologically concerned about dinosaurs, or wouldn’t be if not for certain literal minded people like Ken Ham, founder of “Answers In Genesis” and the Creation Museum

Taken extremely literally, the whole “substitutionary atonement” salvation scheme does have a monkey wrench thrown into it by evolutionary biology, as it is currently understood. The reason is because in the course of evolution, and the huge stretches of time involved, there have been millions and millions of generations of living things. In other words, millions and millions of deaths. Things have been living and dying from the beginning, and there was death long before there were human beings by millions of years. In light of this it makes no logical sense that physical death could be a judgement for human sin, and that opens up once again the whole question of why do people die, why does it suck so bad, and what if anything is on the other side?

In light of evolutionary biology, many of these tried and true theological answers fail – at least in an extremely literal sense. I will hasten to add, however, that there are different schools of thought in soteriology (the study of salvation) besides the substitutionary atonement such as “Christus Victor” but delving into that is beyond the scope of this essay.

Let’s just say that for the most part evolutionary biology, and modern geology put fundamentalists on very shaky ground, theologically speaking. The Creation Science museum is essentially ahuge exercise in rationalization and wishful thinking. Its all borne from insecurity on a monumental scale. Ham and his associates have chosen to prove (to themselves) that the Garden of Eden was an historical place where literally, all the living species that ever existed, once lived, but with no predation or physical death, or suffering of any kind.

What is at stake for them is that if they can’t prove this story as being literally true, they have no answers for why people die and no assurance that anything pleasant awaits them on the other side. They are instead faced with their own annihilation and the annihilation of their loved ones.

Yet for many people Christianity (and Science) still seems to work for them.

I recently lost my dad. He was an intelligent person who admired science and scientists, yet as he lay in hospice he was very much comforted by visits from Catholic priests and nuns,  and by praying and receiving communion. In fact, he would invite any chaplain or clergy into his room who offered to pray, whether they were Catholic, Protestant, Fundamentalist Christian or completely non-denominational.

I think that in the end he chose to go with the Catholics cuts to the heart of the difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants, especially fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are, in fact, Protestants, among Protestants. The Reformation itself was is in some ways a working out of a type of extreme literal-mindedness, or over-rationality. It’s the idea that as human beings, nothing is beyond our grasp of (rational) understanding. I believe that this is what led to the type of materialism Fundamentalists now pit themselves against.

You don’t see Roman Catholics debating evolutionists because – at least officially – the Roman Catholic Church has no beef with evolution. Creation Science is not taught in Catholic schools. To Roman Catholics these big questions are shrouded in mystery. Its more mystical. Some things are beyond us, yet there is reassurance that God loves and takes care of us.

Moving beyond contemporary and historical scandals and political squabbles, many of them rightly seen as horrible, the Roman Catholic Church is a very big Church. It is very broad based and diverse in its traditions. Within this diversity there are tie-ins to other mystical, even non-dual traditions, such as Buddhism.

The non-dual answer for death is that part of us is consciousness itself, and it is this best part of us, the only real part of us, lives on.

As my Dad lay in his hospital bed, barely able to speak, but still very aware, he was visited again by a particular Franciscan nun, with whom he had developed a strong connection. She told him that he did not need words to pray, and that he only needed to breath in and out: That each breath was a giving of thanks to God.

“Its so simple,” my father said.

In his last few days as he breathed in and out, there was a tangible peace in the room and all that he had left was his Love. I really feel that in that sense he lives on.

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  • n0b0d1

    “I mean you can scoff at it when you are in your 20′s and in perfect health” …if you’re kind of stupid.

    I’d always assumed all of the absurd excesses of the early-20-something demographic were in direct response (and denial) to the realization of mortality. YOLO!

    • Anti-Crowley

      Nailed it.

    • Earthstar

      Many people do scoff at death when in their 20’s and are in good health. Death is real but still seems a far off and as a result, most people don’t take good care of their health or body until damage and wear begin to accumulate and they look and feel years older than they should.

  • Gjallarbru

    Personnally, it is not dying I’m afraid of, it is dying badly of a slow agonizing death. I would take getting hit hard by a bus over many other deaths. But what will come, I have no say about.

    In old mystery schools, it was said that to receive initiation was to learn how to die. This is where many religions fail. They teach what you need to do now, so that you get something later, after death. They promise things, but do not much speak of the process of death. Religions do not teach the approach of death, they don’t teach you “how” to die. What should you do, how should you react to your own death, that is what fails. In religions, few understand those type of subtleties.

    Of course, there is the samuraï approach where one imagine his own death as often as possible. That way, once death actually occurs, the process is not so discomforting.

    So yes, there are many religious and philosophical currents out there that were created solely because some had trouble dealing with death. In my opinion, the author is entirely correct.

  • BuzzCoastin

    birth is your death certificate
    so die while you’re alive and be really dead
    then
    do whatever you feel like doing

  • BuzzCoastin

    I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

    • Reuben_the_Red

      As a man once said, “Now you’re lookin’ at a man that’s gettin’ kinda mad/ I had lots of luck but it’s all been bad/ No matter how I struggle and strive/ I’ll never get out of this world alive.” Still no excuse for placing faith in an off-world patriarchal bully deity, and heaping scorn on those who appreciate that the world we live in is much older than we can wrap our minds around.

  • Juan

    Excellent piece Ted:)
    I am no fan of the Catholic Church either, but as you suggest, they can and do bring much comfort to people who are dying. They know how to do rites of passage very well. I found this when one of my brothers died in a state hospital. They had a priest come in and do a mass for him. Whatever my own issues with them might be, the gesture was very much appreciated.

    • Ted Heistman

      Yeah, That’s kind of how feel. Also it was a plus that My Dad’s priest was a former Airborne Ranger. My Dad was a pretty tough guy and a veteran also and they really hit it off well.

  • Andrew
  • lifobryan

    Excellent piece – thank you for writing & sharing. I lost my mother to cancer several years ago, and much of your experience resonates with mine. I have long since left the fundamentalist (literalist creationist) world that I grew up in … and as much as I scoff at it now, I have to say that I’m glad my mother had that faith with her at the end. I can no longer look through the literalist eyes of my youth … but I can recall experiencing the “magic” that is at the heart of any spirituality, regardless of belief model or institutional practice. Whatever my current thoughts on the model or its myths, it helped someone I love through her darkest hours.

    “But that the dread of something after death, the Undiscovered Country, from whose bourn no traveler returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of.”

    • Ted Heistman

      Thank you sorry for your loss.I think in hospice you realize the comfort faith gives to people. Where is the quote from?

      • lifobryan

        Exactly. During my mother’s hospice time, intellect & argument had very little healing power. At the time, I found myself seeing religion as a very effective “opiate” (though not in the Marxist sense, as I normally would have). Faith provided emotional comfort for my mother, just as morphine & other medications gave her some physical comfort. Funny how that works.

        Thanks for the kind words – and I’m sorry for your loss as well.

        The quote is at the end of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

        • Calypso_1

          It’s nice to see opiate, within this context, used correctly.

  • Thad McKraken

    Great stuff as always Ted.

    • Ted Heistman

      Thanks, Man. Hey we both live in Super Bowl/legal weed states!

  • Ted Heistman

    I am very skeptical of that. I am interested in extending quality of life into old age however.

    • http://blog.trwolfe.com T.R. Wolfe

      To not die is to abandon the idea of being human altogether.

      • Ryan Williamson

        T.R. Wolfe, I appreciate your response. I have a quick question for you. Do you agree that medicine – especially lifesaving medicine – has benefited mankind? Modern medicine is pretty great compared to the medicine of the Middle Ages. The average person only lived to see their forties, and many people died from what would hardly merit a doctor’s visit in today’s world.

        • http://blog.trwolfe.com T.R. Wolfe

          Of course it has, but life extension and immortality are two wildly different things. This jives extremely well with Tom Robbins’ book, “Jitterbug Perfume.”

          • Ryan Williamson

            Interesting point. I agree with you — life extension and immortality are not the same. Immortality is concerned with preventing “absolute” death, while indefinite life extension is concerned with preventing “legal” death and promoting good health. An extended and potentially “indefinite” lifespan is simply a consequence.

            Legal death is basically a doctor proclaiming, “There is nothing more I can do for this patient. Modern medicine is simply too primitive to save him.”

            We both agree that medicine and good health are good for humanity. Do you also agree that the ability of man to create tools that better our quality of life is fundamental to the “idea” of being human?

          • http://blog.trwolfe.com T.R. Wolfe

            Absolutely. The problem is that many people create tools for the exact opposite.

  • http://blog.trwolfe.com T.R. Wolfe

    “Death is the road to awe.”

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