This is part 3 of this series. To start at part 1, click here.
As I was ushered out of Children’s Chapel into “Big Church,” I was increasingly aware of how the Bible’s Fantasy stories were handled by adults when the primary audience was other adults. Sure, my Sunday School teachers turned Bible stories into Moral Fables, but it was apparent that for the adults in my life, this was the only purpose of these tales.
At the time, I could not have identified the source of my dis-ease, but in moving from childhood to adolescence, a cancer grew in my heart’s space for stories of faith.
But then came the move that ultimately led to my departure from the conservative, evangelical tradition: these same teachers, preachers, and professors who turned the stories of the Bible into a Jewish-flavored Aesop’s Fables turned around and also called for unmitigated belief in the actuality of the events.
Let that sink in for a moment.
I was instructed to believe these tales only mattered if they could teach me something–they were didactic devices–but they also had to be more, they had to describe reality. The truths that were there to be gleaned apparently only counted if they were also accurate historical records. In short, they had to contain both,
1) doctrinal, theological, and moral truths conveying practical rules by which we could pattern our daily lives.
2) and actual history.
For example, I was taught that the primary doctrinal point in the Genesis creation story is humanity’s proclivity for fucking up God’s perfection. The story only mattered if I was able to glean the lesson that we were given a sinless, stainless world and we dropped the ball (or the fruit). God’s justified wrath over our bending of the world and ourselves must be satiated by a perfect sacrifice to return balance—ultimately leading to Jesus’s death on the cross.
That was the doctrinal point: a destructive piece of theology that I nonetheless believed for many years . . . which was easy, particularly when the story was transformed from the Fantasy of my youth to a theological trope and illustration.
But next came the didactic doubling back in which I was required to not only hold to this theological/doctrinal point, but also to believe that this text related accurate scientific and historical data: the world was created in six days and some indeterminate time after that point, the only two human beings in existence ate a piece of forbidden fruit–a failure whose consequences rippled throughout the cosmos, creating the cycles of natural and societal entropy we see today.
If I wanted to consider myself a follwer of Jesus, it was required that I, 1) believe in humanity’s primordial brokenness, and 2) six day creationism and the Fall as related in Genesis.
I was told the story’s poetic depth and emotive content came in third to its practical uses as theological illustration and scientific evidence. But the problem was that there were simply too many loose threads to be pulled, any one which could unravel the whole system if examined too closely.
So I was instructed to not look too closely. To trust my teachers and keep doubt or alternative readings at bay. In order to remain in my tribe, I was forced to believe in a particular reading of a story that seemed to offer many possible takes.
In essence, I was told my faith depended upon a willing suspension of disbelief.