Orwell Versus Tolkien: Human Nature

Human Evolution Garden of Eden

Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son: Orwell Versus Tolkien is a series of posts which seek to compare key components of the worldviews presented in Orwell’s 1984 and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by considering excerpts in tandem.

In establishing the worldviews of both 1984 and The Lord of the Rings, one can almost assume certain facets of the theories that follow. However, before more abstract subjects are considered, it is a necessary act to establish the overarching view of human nature which accompanies each worldview. Concepts of human nature are perhaps the most critical portion of a worldview, since it is this which directly affects how one sees almost every intangible or abstract component of life. One cannot understand hope, justice, freedom, love, or any other principle without first understanding human beings, because these ideas are directly linked with a facet of humanity which is not immediately visible in the rest of nature: Imagination. Without imagination, it is impossible to speak of anything beyond immediate, tangible experience. So how we perceive human beings, and thus their capacity to imagine, seriously impacts how we understand those things which are most important to the human experience. Both books manage to give a distinct image of human nature, and although there are a few passages that point to this understanding clearly, as a general rule the concept of human nature tends to rest beneath most of the overt messages of the book, propping them up and introducing both conflict and solutions.

Consider Orwell’s depiction of human nature. This scene comes on the brink of Winston and Julia’s first time having sex. As a rule, sex is forbidden between Party members who are physically attracted to one another. The very first act of rebellion which the two heroes of the story engage in is to sneak off to a field and have sexual intercourse.

“Listen. The more men you’ve had, the more I love you. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, perfectly.”

“I hate purity, I hate goodness! I don’t want any virtue to exist anywhere! I want everyone to be corrupt to the bones.”

“Well then, I ought to suit you, dear. I’m corrupt to the bones.”

“You like doing this? I don’t mean simply me: I mean the thing in itself?”

“I adore it.”

That was above all what he wanted to hear. Not merely the love of one person, but the animal instinct, the simple undifferentiated desire: that was the force that would tear the Party to pieces. He pressed her down upon the grass, among the fallen bluebells. This time there was no difficulty. Presently the rising and falling of their breasts slowed to normal speed, and in a sort of pleasant helplessness they fell apart.

Because of the naturalist humanist perspective which is presented by 1984, human nature is linked very closely with “animal instinct”. If there is no active God, then human beings are only different insofar as they have evolved beyond other animals. As a result, those things which are most natural to human beings are often those things which are most animal-like: sex, consumption, violence… essentially, anything which contains that “pleasant helplessness”. Of course, reason and intelligence play a factor here. There’s no sense that Orwell is denying that humans can think. After all, Winston is very thoughtful and deliberate in his defiance of the Party. But ultimately, those things which are central to the human being are individual desires which run contrary to the cold reason of the Collective.

However, this establishes a conflict in itself. For the Party, which understands this side of people, utilizes instincts to exert control. One example is the constant warfare which takes place in the society. By creating a sense of fear — and a very powerful desire for safety — the Party manages to convince members to suppress their other desires. This is also seen in a more direct sense, where the Thought Police manage to bring about even more fear for the individual. So afraid are Winston and his fellow citizens that they can literally control their external features from demonstrating any emotions, to avoid the ever-present eyes of the Party. But, because of the acknowledgement that other animal instincts will emerge eventually, the Party also arranges for a variety of events — the Two-Minute Hate, Hate Week, show trials — which allow an outburst of anger and violence periodically. In a sense, this societal suppression is a dampening of human nature. In another sense, though, it fulfils human nature, since we are naturally collective beings.

The result is a very Freudian depiction of human beings. The Freudian model is Id (desires) -> Ego (reason) -> Superego (society). In 1984, the animal desires are present and undeniable, but the society’s desires and power are sufficient to generally oppress the individual desires. The result is that men and women generally suppress those desires for long-term preservation, and find ways to express those desires in more constructive, socially-acceptable ways. In the case of Winston and Julia, the Ego seems to have found a way around the Superego, but the entire time it is apparent that their rebellion will be short-lived.

The Lord of the Rings has a very different concept of human nature. Because it is flowing from a Christian worldview, Tolkien’s writing focuses on a very different contrast than the Freudian model. Consider this passage, which comes on the wake of Gandalf explaining to Frodo the life story of Gollum:

“Gollum!” cried Frodo.”Gollum? Do you mean that this is the very Gollum-creature that Bilbo met? How loathsome!”

“I think it is a sad story,” said the wizard, “and it might have happened to others, even to some hobbits that I have known.”

“I can’t believe that Gollum was connected with hobbits, however distantly,” said Frodo with some heat. “What an abominable notion!”

“It is true, all the same,” replied Gandalf. “About their origins, at any rate, I know more than hobbits do themselves. And even Bilbo’s story suggests the kinship. There was a great deal in the background of their minds and memories that was very similar. They understood one another remarkably well, very much better than a hobbit would understand, say, a Dwarf, or an Orc, or even and Elf. Think of the riddles they both knew, for one thing.”

“Yes,” said Frodo. “Though other folks besides hobbits ask riddles, and of much the same sort. And hobbits don’t cheat. Gollum meant to cheat all the time. He was just trying to put poor Bilbo off his guard. And I daresay it amused his wickedness to start a game which might end in providing him with an easy victim, but if he lost would not hurt him.”

“Only too true, I fear,” said Gandalf. “But there was something else in it, I think, which you don’t see yet. Even Gollum was not wholly ruined. He had proved tougher than even one of the Wise would have guessed — as a hobbit might. There was a little corner of his mind that was still his own, and light came through it, as though a chink in the dark: light out of the past. It was actually pleasant, I think, to hear a kindly voice again, bringing up memories of wind, and trees, and sun on the grass, and such forgotten things.”

The Christian perspective offers a binary in place of a trinity for human nature. Men were created perfect and in the image of God. In their “natural” state, they would live collectively, and appreciate one another’s company. The Shire is an idyllic portrayal of a quasi-human society, such that one can perhaps see it as a pre-fallen world. Hobbits have minor conflicts, but these do not result in violence, but simple disgruntlement. In general, they live comfortably, close to the land (even living in pits), close to one another (giving and getting gifts at least once a week), and close to God (the Shire is the point which is geographically closest to “Heaven” in Tolkien’s maps). However, another component of human nature is the fallen portion — Sin. In this excerpt, the Ring which Gollum found impacted his life for the worse. The influence of Sin not only affects the individual, it permeates him, replacing his nature with a new one which is tainted and ugly. So different is a person under the Ring’s influence that it is disgusting to compare the idyllic human to him. And yet, it is inevitable and necessary to understand concepts like good, evil, and salvation. All of these depend on the interplay of the two sides of humanity, and the conclusion that something within the individual is potentially good still, even when the Ring has impacted them so.

In both books, and thus both worldviews, humans are depicted as part of an internal conflict which defines their self as well as the society around them. The real difference between the two is centred around the overall worldview. In Orwell’s writing, humans are evolved animals, and thus expressing animal instincts is a manifestation of freedom while society is an entirely oppressive force. In Tolkien’s writing, humans are endowed with good traits by God, and evil traits subvert this goodness by exerting their own influence. The human is shaped much more by external forces than by themselves. Both of these will set up the primary conflicts and resolutions (or lack thereof) within the books.

Orwell Versus Tolkien: Worldviews

1984 LOTR Cover

Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son: Orwell Versus Tolkien is a series of posts which seek to compare key components of the worldviews presented in Orwell’s 1984 and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by considering excerpts in tandem.

Having just finished George Orwell’s 1984 Thursday night (okay, technically Friday morning…), I felt an intriguing desire to reread Lord of the Rings. This is an interesting circumstance for a couple reasons. First, as a bit of a side note, I’m surprised I had never felt the urge to read 1984 in the past, since it is considered a staple of political thought and I am studying politics at Trent University. Also, I don’t often reread books, so the desire to read The Lord of the Rings a second time is a testament to the degree of love I have for the work, as well as the power of my thoughts concerning 1984. But the real reason behind this desire, I believe, is because both books consider very similar topics — albeit in a very different manner — but that each discusses those topics from a different worldview. Orwell’s thoughts are very much derived from a natural humanist viewpoint, while Tolkien’s writing conveys a deeply Christian understanding on issues. It is this difference in worldview that drew me to The Lord of the Rings in response to 1984, and which has inspired this series of posts.

Before considering specific issues, this first post is designed to establish a mutual understanding of what is meant by each worldview. Consider this passage from 1984:

“I know that you will fail. There is something in the universe — I don’t know, some spirit, some principle — that you will never overcome.”

“Do you believe in God, Winston?”


“Then what is it, this principle that will defeat us?”

“I don’t know. The spirit of Man.”

“And do you consider yourself a man?”


“If you are a man, Winston, you are the last man. Your kind is extinct; we are the inheritors. Do you understand that you are alone? You are outside history, you are nonexistent.” His manner changed and he said more harshly: “And you consider yourself morally superior to us, with our lies and our cruelty?”

“Yes, I consider myself morally superior.”

1984 contains a powerful interplay between a natural humanist perspective on morality, and an entirely subjective perspective on morality. It was very well done, and without giving too much away, it’s sufficient to say that the subjective perspective wins out in the book, at least as far as maintaining power is concerned (which you could see coming from the start — it’s a dystopic novel). This passage provides a perfect example of what I will refer to as “natural humanism”. This philosophy consists of two components. First, it is naturalist, in that it denies the existence of God, or at least it denies his presence and interference in human affairs. Second, it is humanist, in that it attempts to place some value on human life by depending on empirical commonalities. Although the subjective moralists win in the book, the emotions of the reader are clearly drawn out in favour of Winston the Humanist, who believes in freedom and the goodness of human nature.

This particular scene demonstrates both aspects effectively, although both are at constant play throughout the novel. First, the concept that God is the central figure of the story is undermined, with the statement by Winston that he does not believe that God exists. This is in fact a bit misleading, as Winston entertained the idea of God earlier in the book, stating that he sometimes believes it, sometimes doesn’t. However, what is clear is that even if a God does exist, he doesn’t intervene in human affairs, doesn’t stand up for Winston, and any morality is not intrinsically derived from him or his nature. This is a very good picture of naturalism, as it does not necessarily deny that there is a God, but it holds to the fact that he does not directly alter the flow of nature Nature is absolute and autonomous.

This scene also demonstrates the humanist aspect of the book effectively, with the statements that follow the discounting of God. First, the idea that there is some indomitable “spirit of Man” which exists. This spirit is individualist, although also universal and communal. It believes in truth and the value of the observed. It follows natural inclinations, such as desiring sexual intercourse and loving music. It exists most freely — although most unconsciously — within uneducated people. Although the characteristics vary from argument to argument, this is essentially the core idea of humanism — that common values and traits give human beings as individuals some moral value. Thus, when Winston says that he is morally superior, it is on the grounds that he accepts what he observes (which the Party attempts to alter — the “lies” mentioned by the interrogator, O’Brien), and he values human life (which the Party doesn’t, as demonstrated by the torture surrounding this excerpt). Although O’Brien eventually forces Winston’s will to break, Orwell’s desire seems to be to stand up for these things which Winston himself represents, and the dystopia is made complete when it manages to overcome Winston’s resistance. Just because lies may hold some power does not mean they are correct — which is the core of Orwell’s humanist argument.

Combined, the two form a naturalist humanist perspective, which is the core of all of Orwell’s implied or stated arguments within the novel.

On the other hand, Tolkien’s writing takes a different bent. Consider this passage from The Lord of the Rings:

Frodo sighed and was asleep almost before the words were spoken. Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo’s hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding place and looked out. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

The Lord of the Rings is not written from an overtly Christian viewpoint. Unlike C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings is not directly allegorical.  There is no reference to the Christian God (although the prequel, The Silmarillion, is much more theologically-constructed). There is not even a Christ figure, unlike a series like Harry Potter. However, despite this, Tolkien’s masterpiece is embedded with Christianity. In some senses, this is represented by God appearing behind the scenes in the text. In other senses, it is conveyed through the absense of God. Tolkien’s book ends on a rather melancholy note, and it is said that the reason for this, as stated by Tolkien, is that the lack of Christ means that ultimately these characters have no true purpose in life. He apparently could not bring himself to write a sequel because the future of Middle Earth is far darker than even The Lord of the Rings.

However, for the sake of comparing the two books, the most important aspect of Tolkien’s work is the Christian Worldview which lies underneath the entire book. This passage is an excellent sample, and one I will refer to again. There is no universal Christian Worldview, however certain characteristics are essential, and it is these which Tolkien uses in The Lord of the Rings. One is that God exists, in and of himself, from eternity past to eternity future. Another is that he created the world, and ultimately he has control over the world, and can stop the world from existing as easily as he created it. These are important factors in Sam’s realization in Mordor. By looking out upon the sky, he is considering the limited nature of the world and his own circumstances. The conclusion — that it is all unimportant in the grand scheme of things — is only reached because of the eternity which Sam observes. Although Tolkien does not state that God is the reason for this, it is clear that God’s eternity is the factor Tolkien is pointing us to. A Christian worldview is key to understanding The Lord of the Rings‘ interpretation of things like freedom, hope, humanity, and morality.

These two worldviews can be compared through the two works. Both give an excellent perspective on the main problems faced by each worldview, and the ways that they deal with those problems. Without going into detail of the arguments to be presented later in the series, it is important to establish that each of these worldviews is present and consistently applied within the books, because the overall impact of each one largely rests on the underlying assumptions and solutions to problems.

The great leveler

Access to the internet is a great leveler of society. The professionals, the experts, are losing their hegemony over people.

I first thought of this when an acquaintance at work told us that she had sold her home. The internet enabled her to cut her real estate agent out of the transaction. She saved more than $20,000.

Her house had been on the market for about six months, and she didn’t feel that her real estate agent was working hard enough on her behalf. So she listed the home on Grapevine, an online service which promises to give you the tools you need to sell your home yourself. Just a few weeks later, her home sold for a good price.

Maybe the timing was just a coincidence. But we know for sure that she saved a substantial amount of money. I can only imagine how real estate agents feel about this, knowing that their professional services are becoming expendable.

What about religious experts and professional clergy? Consider the following example.

Via Jewish Atheist, I came across this fascinating cry of alarm from Rabbi Horowitz:

I’m sorry to put a damper on things, but I just don’t know how to phrase this any other way. We are running out of time. …

I am getting a new wave of parents begging me to speak to their children. The profile is chillingly similar: 13-14 years old boys and girls. High achieving in school. No emotional problems; great, respectful kids from great homes. Well adjusted. They just don’t want to be frum [observant]. Period. They are eating on Yom Kippur, not keeping Shabbos, not keeping kosher; et al.

No anger, no drugs, no promiscuous activity. They are just not buying what we are selling. …

The kids are finding each other via cell phones, chat groups, Facebook and My Space. They are “making their own minyan.” [A minyan is a group of Jews large enough to form a quorum for worship.] Many minyanim in fact. …

May Hashem [i.e., God] give us the wisdom and courage to make the changes that are necessary to reverse these frightening trends.

The key statement is, “The kids are finding each other via cell phones, chat groups, Facebook and My Space. They are ‘making their own minyan.'”

Here again, the internet is the great leveler. Religion maintains its grip on people when they are isolated, insulated from the corroding influence of people who think differently. But no one who has internet access is isolated. The great wide world is only a click of a mouse away.

Erudite religious experts watch as the knowledge they have accumulated through painstaking study decreases in value. Esoteric traditions which have been handed down from one generation to the next, from time immemorial, are now spurned like a would-be lover who is out of his depth.

The conflict between modernity and ancient cultures and religions fascinates me. It doesn’t frighten me, because I’m convinced that anything that is worth preserving will find a way to survive. Call it evolution if you want:  the survival of what contributes to the public weal. Or have a little faith in God:  if your religion is true, God’s will surely cannot be subverted by the internet.

In the meantime, religion can no longer succeed by default — by cloistering another generation of children, ensuring that they never encounter an alternative worldview.

The ‘net is indeed a great leveler. For a person like me, whose instincts are anti-establishment, it’s a welcome development.

He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things,and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

Atheists in military service

This is a follow-up to an earlier, controversial post, Religious institutions as a counterweight to the state. Here’s my quote of the day:

Before I got to be the rank I am I had to keep my head down and my mouth shut. I had commanding officers who made it clear that they wouldn’t tolerate atheism in their ranks.

Master Sgt. Kathleen Johnson, who founded the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and who will be deployed to Iraq this fall.

Michael / Snaars provided the link to that article in a comment on my post.

I ought to know by now how different the atmosphere is in the USA as compared to Canada. Here, the atheism of a soldier would absolutely not be an issue.

It is certainly not my intention to deny the contribution atheists are making in the US military. I have no doubt that atheists are willing to lay down their lives for the sake of their country. But the issue I raised in the earlier post is different, for two reasons.

First, the fight would be (in a sense) against one’s country:  i.e., against its government. Second, because it wouldn’t be a question of joining an existing institution (the military) but of having institutions of one’s own that can call forth a loyalty higher than that of one’s loyalty to one’s country.

Religion is a powerful motivator; it takes institutional forms which provide a ready mechanism to organize masses of individuals; and inevitably there is some tension between one’s religion and the state, as two entities that make competing claims on one’s allegiance. (With the notable exception of theocracies, which I deplore as strenuously as Snaars and Juggling Mother do.)

For the above reasons, church / monastery / synagogue function as potential counterweights to the state, should the state take a totalitarian turn. Given the technological sophistication of the modern state, with its formidable powers of surveillance including the ability to track people’s movements, this is an issue that everyone ought to be alert to.

Atheists who hope that one day all religious institutions will go belly up do not appear to be taking this issue into consideration in their calculations. I believe that is an extremely significant omission in their public arguments.

That was the argument of my earlier post, and frankly I was surprised that it would be a controversial position.

For my part, I continue to doubt that atheists have any comparable institutions to take over this role from churches, synagogues, and monasteries. Others disagree, and they are welcome to do so. But they ought to acknowledge the magnitude of the risk involved here.

Craps, anyone?

Religious institutions as a counterweight to the state

It’s very clear that the Burmese people are no longer afraid of the Burmese military. The violence and killing of Buddhist monks have taken away their fear of confrontation.
(Aung Naing Oo, activist.)

Burmese monks take to the streets

(Photo: AFP/Getty; originated with the Mizzima News website; taken 24 September, 2007. I picked it up from Andrew Sullivan‘s blog.)

Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris see religion as the enemy of freedom. They ought to know better; their position reveals extraordinary shortsightedness.

No institution presents a greater threat to freedom than the modern, technologically sophisticated state. Religion, in its institutionalized form — church, synagogue, monastery — is a crucially important counterweight to the state.

The protests in Burma (Myanmar) began late last month after the government sharply raised fuel prices. Guardian Unlimited reports:

Arrests and intimidation kept the demonstrations small and scattered until the monks entered the fray. On Sunday, around 20,000 people — including thousands of monks — filled the streets of Rangoon. …

Monks have played an important role in protests, first against British colonialism and later against the military junta, taking a big part in the failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion.

From Channel 4 news:

We saw buses crammed with saffron-robed monks spilling out of the doors and windows, heading to Shwedagon pagoda. People cheered them as they went; some bowed admiringly, their hands held out in supplication.

But when we reached the Shwedagon pagoda just as the latest demonstration was gathering, we knew something was up. We saw plain-clothes government thugs threatening the monks. And we knew then that something had changed. One of them was standing above a group of monks, hanging off a railing and screaming at them. He shouted: “Do you want death? If you want death, try walking down this street.”

Just a few metres further along the road that runs in front of the gold-domed pagoda, other thugs wielding chunks of wood had surrounded about eight monks and were threatening them menacingly, almost girding them to take them on. …

When we came back to the pagoda the police and soldiers had sealed it off. Troops in crisp uniforms had taken up positions around the pagoda. There was a strong whiff of impending danger, and when the monks tried to begin their march, the troops moved in. The exuberance of recent days received a sharp reality check.

First came the tear gas, clouds of it hanging in the air as they tried to force the monks to disperse. But many stood their ground, some covering their faces with scarves and shouting defiantly. Then we heard the first crackles of gunfire. Here it was, what people had feared. The riot police and soldiers were moving in, and ready to spill blood.

Later, as the clashes intensified, so did the defiance. … The monks who had made it past the police cordons and seen some of their friends beaten severely, were cheered like conquering heroes by civilians who lined the streets.

For another such example, remember the defeat of communism in Poland. The popular revolution relied heavily on two institutions:  labour unions and the Roman Catholic Church.

Hitchens, Dawkins, and their ilk need to sit up and pay attention. Close the churches; open the door to totalitarianism.

The cautious theism of Canadians

Canadian Press and Decima Research have released the results of a survey showing that 60% of Canadians are theists. The Globe and Mail reports:

Canadians divide in essentially three groups on the issue of creation: 34 per cent of those polled said humans developed over millions of years under a process guided by God; 26 per cent said God created humans alone within the last 10,000 years or so; and 29 per cent said they believe evolution occurred with no help from God.

“These results reflect an essential Canadian tendency,” said pollster Bruce Anderson. “We are pretty secular, but pretty hesitant to embrace atheism.” …

Among respondents without a high-school diploma, 37 per cent said they believed God alone created humans less than 10,000 years ago, whereas only 15 per cent of university-educated respondents were strict creationists.

Rural respondents also had a plurality who believed in strict creationism at 34 per cent, whereas only 22 per cent of urban dwellers said they believed God alone created humans.

Mr. Anderson said the findings suggest Canadians lack consensus on creation, but also don’t view the issue as polarizing.

“It’s more as though for many, these feelings are unresolved,” he said. “We believe in a higher being, we know what we don’t know, are comfortable not knowing, and choose not to press our views upon one another.” …

The Canadian Press-Decima Research survey [of 1,000 respondents] is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

How Canadian of us to refuse to be polarized over the issue!

Origen, Augustine, and the Creation Museum

A Creation Museum recently opened in Kentucky. The designers had an agenda:  to advocate a literal interpretation of the account of creation in Genesis. The displays explicitly contrast Genesis with the scientific account of our origins, regarding the age of the earth, evolution, etc.

The museum is eliciting a lot of ridicule in the blogosphere. Jewish Atheist has had a couple of goes at it. And Media Czech at BlueGrassRoots describes his visit to the museum at considerable length. For example:

One of the most interesting discoveries of the museum is that The Flintstones was not merely a children’s’ cartoon, but rather a realistic depiction of man’s early interaction with their dinosaur friends. Never mind those foolish heathen scientists who say that humans came some 60 million years after the extinction of dinosaurs. The first image the visitor receives as he/she enters the museum is Eve/Pebbles Flintstone frolicking with her pet dinosaur, Dino. No worries for Pebbles, because this “velaciraptor” is a playful vegetarian pet here to serve you and be your buddy.

Andrew Sullivan and Aaron both referred me to the Media Czech post.

Am I going to defend the Creation Museum? Nope. On the other hand, Media Czech’s post leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Here’s a guy who travelled about an hour to see the museum:  not because he was interested in exploring an alternative worldview, but for the express purpose of mocking it. And he made quite a production of it! The resultant post is more than 2,000 words in length, with 80 photographs. (Fellow bloggers will realize how much work is involved in uploading 80 photos!)

Mockery is not a very lofty pursuit. Sometimes it has a legitimate place in public discourse, provided that the mocker displays a deft touch. But Media Czech certainly isn’t deft. Daft, maybe:

While it’s fun to laugh at these idiots, the parents that take their kids to this museum are committing child abuse. [emphasis in original] There is no other way to put it. To present this idiocy to them as “science” and blatantly brainwash their kids by entertaining them with cool animatronic dinosaurs while they absorb these ridiculous stories is a goddamned crime.

Speaking as a father, I can tell you that parents do lots of well-meaning but misguided things. No responsible person should blur the line between those sorts of parenting choices and abusive parenting.

If it’s child abuse, it should be illegal. Law enforcement officers should intervene immediately and take those children out of their parents’ care.

I’d like to see Media Czech sit down with someone who was actually abused as a child and argue his point. I suspect it would get a rather chilly reception.

But Media Czech is onto a good thing here. He will get lots of visitors to his post — from the Andrew Sullivan link alone. The whole scenario leaves me in a cranky mood.

When I speak of “the whole scenario”, I include the Creation Museum itself. Well-meaning, I don’t doubt. But no more deft (no less daft) than Media Czech’s offensive post. It supplies an easy target for people who want to mock the Bible and the Christian faith. Toss ’em another softball, why don’t you?

The truth is, some Christians are not pre-scientific in their thinking. In fact, before science there were already educated Christians — prominent figures in Church history — who understood that Genesis 1 should not be pressed into literal history. That’s the point I want to make here.

For example, consider the debate over the age of the earth. According to Genesis 1, God created the world in six days. Human beings arrived on the scene within one week of creation. But is this the only legitimate way to read Genesis? Did God necessarily create the world in six 24-hour, literal days?

While this view (the “ordinary week” interpretation) historically has been the most common interpretation, there have always been prominent dissenters from this view, including Augustine. …

People in the ancient world knew that daylight comes from the sun, and early writers (e.g., Origen and Augustine) remarked on the fact that the sun was not created until the fourth day, sometimes citing it as a reason not to take these as ordinary, literal days. …

The creation of the sun on the fourth day is suggestive — as it would have been to the ancient audience — that the succession of days is not intended to be taken as a strict, chronological account and that something else is at work as an ordering principle in the text.

What that might be is not hard to see. For centuries it has been recognized that the six days of creation are divided into two sets of three. In the first set, God divides one thing from another: day from night, waters above from below, and waters below from each other. Classically, this is known as the work of division or distinction.

In the second three days, God goes back over the realms he produced by division and populates or adorns them. He populates the day and night with the sun, moon, and stars. He populates the waters above and below with birds and fish. And lastly he populates the land (between the divided waters) with animals and man. Classically, this is known as the work of adornment.

That this two-fold movement represents the ordering principle of Genesis 1 also is reflected at the beginning and end of the narrative. At the beginning we are told that “the earth was without form and void” (Gen. 1:2). The work of distinction cures the “without form” problem, and the work of adornment cures the “void” (empty) problem. Likewise, at the end of the narrative we are told “the heavens and the earth were finished [i.e., by distinction], and all the host of them [i.e., by adornment]” (2:1).

People have recognized for centuries that this is the ordering principle at work in Genesis 1 (e.g., see Aquinas, ST 1:74:1).

In other words, we’re dealing with a literary construct, not literal history. Welcome to the fascinating world of hermeneutics — the science of interpretation — where a text can be true without being literally true. Poets and painters express themselves like this, as have mystics down through the ages.

Of course, it requires some maturity to think this way; and maturity is arguably lacking on both sides of the debate. The Creation Museum is part of the problem, but Media Czech’s post isn’t very elevated either. Two thumbs down for both sides.

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