I'm a Certified Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church, and from time to time I bring presentations to churches or small groups. This Sunday, in a sort of belated Darwin Day, I brought a message to my home congregation. I won't bore you with the whole thing, but here is a bulleted list of questions that I asked some children as sort of a prelude to the sermon.

Some points for the ‘Children’s Time’:

● The story you heard about Adam, Eve and the snake is sometimes called ‘The Fall’. In the story, Adam and Eve defy God’s will. They do what they’ve been told not to do, and because they’ve broken God’s law, they can no longer stay in the beautiful Garden of Eden. They are kicked out of Paradise, and now they will always struggle. Life is hard! How do you think they feel?

● In the story, God asks Adam why he ate the apple. Who does Adam blame?

● Eve doesn’t take the blame, either. Who did she blame?

● The snake in the story also gets blamed. But if someone you know, someone at school asked you to do something that you knew was wrong, would it be OK to do it as long as you have someone else to blame?

● If we know the difference between right and wrong, we have to accept responsibility for bad choices. Do you think snakes know the difference between right and wrong? Have you ever met a talking snake?

● Here are some different kinds of snakes. Many people don’t like snakes, but I think many of them are beautiful to look at. They come in lots of different sizes and colors. Some live in the desert, some live in the forest. Some are poisonous, and some are not. But, interestingly enough, none of them talk. There don’t seem to be any talking snakes! What holiday did we just celebrate?

● Hearts on Valentine’s Day are a symbol for love and caring for each other. We don’t actually take our hearts out of our chests, all gooshy and beating, and give them to each other. It’s just a symbol. In the same way, the snake in the story of the Fall is a symbol...for temptation.

● It’s important to remember that the story of the Fall is not a history lesson. It’s not a science textbook. It’s a traditional story that tells us something true: human beings make mistakes, and sometimes we do the wrong thing. When that happens, we feel ashamed and separated from God, just like Adam and Eve did.

● But the Bible tells us that there’s more to the story. God didn’t give up on Adam and Eve. In fact, God never gives up on any of us. His love is really greater than any of us can understand. Christians believe that God’s love is bigger than any of our mistakes—which is a good thing, because we make a lot of them. Even when things seem really hopeless, God still loves us. That’s why he sent Jesus, to show us the Way, so that we can know his love and overcome the temptations of this world. You might say that Jesus is God’s way of giving a Valentine to the whole world.


Forthekids said...

[a child raises their hand...]

"So, the fall is a made up story that tells us about something that is true (that we sin)...would that kinda be like the story of Jesus rising from the dead? I mean, scientifically, snakes don't talk, and Adam and Eve weren't "created" (they didn't even really exist)....and scientifically, men don't rise from the dead.

So, teacher...just which stories in the bible are "true", and how do we know?

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

First of all, there is no way that I am in the position to state encyclopediacally what parts of the Bible describe things that really happened, and which are best interpreted otherwise. So I have no beef with claims about miracles or prophecies per se. I have no bias against supernatural claims, as long as they stay where they belong, which is to say in the practice of one's faith.

Secondly, no one is saying that the story is 'false', merely that it requires some interpretation. You seem to be channelling some species of Biblical literalism, Ftk---though of course, you are doubtless aware that even fundamentalists find it necessary to interpret some scriptures in a non-literal fashion.

Anyway, the point is not whether or not a literal snake talked or not, but that it is not necessary to bet the farm on snake-talking in order to believe that the God described in the Bible exists. I said the snake was a symbol for 'temptation', and as you well know most Christians believe that the snake is a stand-in for the Tempter.

Speaking of which, I'm going to tempt fate and put my cards on the table in the hope that you'll tell me what you believe. I've gotten a lot of flak from partisans on both sides of the evo-creo wars for being reticent to share my beliefs, so I'm trying to make a good-faith (heh) effort on this blog to be forthcoming.

So, here's my cards: I believe the early parts of Genesis are strung together from multiple sources, not written by one person at one time and place. Some of the sources are traditional tales that are older than the Bible and which are derived from the surrounding culture, such as the story of Babel or parts of the Flood narrative. Other items were never meant to be viewed as historical, but are poetic passages almost certainly part of a seasonal liturgy (The first story in Genesis comes to mind).

BTW, I don't think a person has to be a biologist or even have any interest in science at all to come to some of the above conclusions. Most seminaries, including rather conservative ones, teach this stuff purely out of interest in addressing textual questions.

So...what do you think? Do you think Genesis is a seamless narrative, all one source, inspired down to the last unwritten vowel, as dictated to Moses himself, or...? I'm genuinely interested.

James F. McGrath said...

Most people would, if they use common sense, at the very least acknowledge that stories with talking animals are not factual historical reporting.

So, FTK, what's your argument for ignoring common sense, and everything we know about reading, when reading the Bible? Why would God inspire the writing of literature that has clues on how to read it, and yet expect people to ignore those clues and impose a modernistic literalism on them?

We also have help determining whether stories are factual from all the relevant scientific data, archaeology, and simple observation. Presumably you don't think the sky is a literal dome, but that is what the word used in Genesis 1 means. How do you decide what is accurate/factual and what is not?

fielding said...

James, it seems to me that forthekids has asked a fair question...if one story is to be taken as allegory because it is against our experiences, where does that end? If the resurrection of Jesus is a central tenet, as it is for most Christians, how can that be shown to be non-allegorical? You develop the issue well in your linked post (noting that a story written with universal names is probably meant to be universal), but how do you go the other direction? Common sense suggests that the Jesus story is untrue; is it? It seems very easy to deal with these questions when we're looking at more patently mythological stories like much of the early OT prehistory. In later texts, people could surely disagree about where to draw the line between fact and allegory.

Not meant as an attack, by the way, James, and since I have just discovered your blog I may find that you've already addressed this elsewhere.

I like Scott's reply, but wonder if there is no moment at which one has to "bet the farm" on resurrection in order to maintain a Christian faith.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

There are 'non-negotiables' as far as I'm concerned, but I think the best way to respect the text is to ask each believer to grapple with it, and so I'm reluctant to pose too many qualifiers, especially since I think our affirmations are all filtered through the nature of belief, which is always fantastic.

For example, I believe in the Resurrection, but I can't be too certain what it is I'm affirming, because that touches on the nature of Christ, and theologians have been yammering on that point for ages without coming to a definite conclusion. I can believe in the Resurrection without being an expert on what resurrection of any sort might mean. Ack. Words fail me, but I hope the gist of it comes across.

BTW, gentle folk, thanks for your thoughtful posts.

fielding said...

That might be as clear as it can be said, when you're talking about the ancient and the numinous, unless you take it all, hook, line, and talking snake. We all have to acknowledge that we are not experts.

By the way, I'm a first-time poster here and I forgot to put my own cards on the table as you have done. I'm a longtime atheist and I've enjoyed your posts at Pharyngula and admired your dedication to reasonable, civil discussion even when you're getting the Pharyngula Pileon. This post caught my eye because I did wonder what you think and believe. I've been studying biblical Hebrew and have encountered the ideas you put forth about the origins of the Pentateuch, and that made me curious about how people who know the history and have faith use those texts in their lives. Thanks for raising the issue and taking the risk of sharing your views in the internet wilderness.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Fielding, you made my day. In the real world, I'm probably as cantankerous and difficult as the next person but I really do try to promote civil, informed and honest discussion when advocating for the things I believe in on-line. It's nice to be appreciated...thanks!