Sunday, February 11, 2007

oh, for some dancing angels

DarwinCatholic recently had an excellent (and discussion-provoking) post on anti-evolution arguments (specifically those in Ann Coulter's book Godless.) The whole is worth reading, but one reference in particular got me mulling over some things I'd recently read. We Catholics are notable hair-splitters (which is fine mental exercise,) but I'm beginning to think the reason Sister used to answer so many questions with "It's a mystery!" was that she knew what was coming if she got into specifics. Staunch defense of the faith is admirable, but it's important to make sure it's actually a point of faith that is being defended. It's also important not to run roughshod over the beatitudes while defending the faith; that tends to negate any good that may be accomplished.

Monogenism--the idea that all humanity stems from one pair of ancestors--seems to lead to more fisticuffs among the bretheren and sisteren in Catholic blog comboxes than any other, excepting maybe sex and liturgical music. Oh, it can get nasty in there. I've actually gotten to a point very close to yelling at the screen, "YOU ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST! YOU ARE PROBABLY IN PERFECT AGREEMENT ON 90% OR BETTER OF ALL POINTS OF DOCTRINE! YOU ARE HAVING A MINOR DISAGREEMENT ON A VERY ESOTERIC THEOLOGICAL POINT! STOP CALLING EACH OTHER NAMES! AND GO TO YOUR ROOMS! NOW!!!" You wouldn't think it would be the sort of topic that would result in the throwing of virtual crockery among Catholics as the Church never objected to the theory of evolution (on the other hand, I guess you wouldn't have expected the question of whether Christ had one will or two to result in the throwing of actual crockery in the 7th century--but it did.)

That idea, regardless of whether it's approached biblically or biologically, tends to end up all tied up in an absolutely literal reading of the first several chapters of Genesis. A literal reading of Genesis leaves some unanswered questions. While initially only one couple (and subsequently their offspring) are mentioned, somewhere about the time Cain reduces the human population by one by murdering his brother Abel we start getting some hints that he and his parents are not alone in the world:
...anyone may kill me at sight. (Gen. 4:15) NAB
I don't know about you, but I think if he had been thinking of his father Adam the words would have come out differently. Then, out of the blue, Cain acquires a wife and fathers Enoch.

It is at this point that the tizzies start. If there are no other people in the world, then Cain must be (horrors) marrying his sister! On the other hand, maybe there were other humanoids who were not ensouled, and the children of Adam and Eve interbred with them--but that would be icky, too, because they wouldn't really be humans. Add in the reference to humans interbreeding with the Nephilim in Gen. 6, and you've got a regular soap opera (or maybe a primetime medical drama.) We modern humans are understandably uncomfortable with either option. Sibling incest taboos have been pretty widespread, if not absolutely universal, throughout history (although Genesis later indicates that they were not in effect at this time: Abram and Sarai are half-siblings through their father Terah.) Likewise, humans interbreeding with something not quite human is a pretty creepy concept. But while the criterion for humanness with regard to the Creation is ensoulment, the presence or absence of a human soul doesn't necessarily have to have anything to do with species genetics. You could (in theory anyway) have souled humans and unsouled humans with identical DNA and the capacity to reproduce. For some reason the recent report of skeletal finds that suggested interbreeding might have taken place between Neandertals and Sapiens hominids came to mind, although I think that's probably an apples-and-oranges comparison.

One commenter on Darwin's post raised the objection that unsouled humans didn't fit with the concept of a merciful and loving God; I think that's a valid point. Which is why I'm less concerned with how God ensouled humanity than with the belief that He did. Likewise I'm less concerned with whether there is some sort of genetic basis for original sin than I am with the readily observable fact that we all bear its stain to some degree or another.

Jesus may well have explained all these matters to the apostles, but if He did, it didn't make it into any of the Gospels. Mebbe those were the things that the evangelists had to leave out because there just wasn't room--that which fell under "if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books..." (Jn. 21:25. NAB.) I'm inclined to think that the reason it wasn't written down is that, unlike that business about loving God and your neighbor, being like a child before God, feeding the hungry, etc., it wasn't critical to our development as Christians. I can see the Evangelist on Patmos now: "What to leave out...the prophecy of John?...the miracles?...that business about keeping His commandments? Or the skinny on where Cain got his wife?"

An odd analogy crept into my mind while I was mulling all this over, and refused to leave. I figure I'll conclude with it, even if it is silly, because it has stubbornly lingered between my ears. It might be problematic as it requires that a mythical (folkloric?) being stand in for God, whom I don't believe to be a mythical being. What the heck, so did Narnia. It sums up pretty well, though, where I've been trying to go with this:

There's an old CTW television special called Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. (It about figures I'd come around to a childrens' programming analogy eventually. Heck, I've spent the last twenty years raising kids; what did you expect?) One of the story lines of the program involves Big Bird's quest to solve the mystery of how Santa gets down chimneys. This is more dramatic than one would think as Bird is convinced (oh, that nasty Oscar!) that unless he can figure this out, no one will get any presents. He eventually dozes off on the roof while awaiting Santa's arrival. By the time his friends find him and bring him down to the warmth of his neighbors' apartment, Bird is in despair: he's missed Santa and will never solve the mystery! Neighbor Gordon brings him back down to earth simply by pointing out the filled stockings on the hearth, the gifts under the tree. "Does it look to you," he queries Bird, "like nobody's having Christmas around here?" Everything suddenly falls into place for Big Bird: Christmas comes, and Santa gets down that chimney, regardless of whether we understand all the details.

God is with us, who have both immortal souls and a sinful nature, regardless of whether we ever figure out all the details of our earthly origins.

Beloved, let us love one another,because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

1Jn 4:7 NAB

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