Today, November 29th, 2012, Pat Robertson challenged creationism.
What. The. Fuck?
Now, I’m not complaining that a famously conservative man of God argued against Young Earth Creationism – I’m just confused. My world view has taken a heavy blow to the head. Confusion aside, I think it’s great. I am convinced that the cultural gulf between people of science and people of religion is both harmful and unnecessary, so it tickles my tummy to see a conservative media power like Pat Robertson suggest that dinosaurs could have existed in a Created world.
Still, that sense of living in a world where nothing makes sense. . . lingers.
Pat Robertson – Taking unpredictable stances since November 29, 2012.
All kidding aside (“Just joshing ya, Patty Rob.”), Robertson did manage to say something that struck a nervous note in my stomach. After taking a question submitted by a 700 Club viewer who was worried that her family might go to hell for questioning Creationism, Robertson responded by discrediting James Ussher, a former Archbishop of Ireland and the man who is credited with creating the 6- to 10-thousand year existential time frame that underlies Young Earth Creationism. According to Pat, Ussher, “wasn’t inspired by the Lord when he said that it all took 6,000 years.”
Pat Robertson – Pointing out the obvious since November 29, 2012.
My first thought, after reading those words, was, “Well, yeah. Obviously.”
My second thought, after reading those words, was, “Holy shit, people really thought that crap was Holy Spirit inspired.”
After a nervous internal pause, my third thought was, “How does anyone ever know if what they think is the Holy Spirit upon them is. . . actually the Holy Spirit upon them?”
This question makes me nervous, to be honest, because it’s the hardest question I’ve had to confront since I left the safety of skepticism to embrace faith. My quandary can be summed up thusly:
When two or more parties disagree on any given point, and all parties involved are convinced that the Holy Spirit is guiding them to a conclusion that reflects God’s will, how do we know who is right?
In the Old Testament, such questions were answered by the theological equivalent of a West Side Story Jets/Sharks rumble – a good, ol’ fashioned Miracle Fight. Each side would throw down some deific kung fu, and the side with the most impressive magic was the winner (spoiler: it was God).
YHVH – Winning Miracle Fights since the Big Bang.
Since the Miracle Fight doesn’t seem to be an option these days, the question lacks a clear-cut answer. For years, my rational-skeptic mindset provided me with a comfortingly simple explanation for this question. In my mind, neither party was right. In fact, because both parties believed that they were getting orders from on high, it showed a dangerous mental deficiency, and it would really be better for everyone involved if someone a little more emotionally stable took the reins.
A part of me still wishes I could take the easy way out and just assume that nobody gets inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the fact of the matter is that I have been changed by personal experience that teaches me the fallacy of simple answers. That goes for almost all simple answers, by the way – so someone saying, “I’m right because God told me I am right” is, for better or for worse, just as unconvincing as “neither side is right because there is no God.”
I’ve heard that scripture is the answer to this quandary – the person who is right will be the person whose position is supported by scripture, end of story. This worked wonders for the anti-abolitionists preachers of the American pre-war South. In fact, according to a famous sermon given by Georgian minister Joseph Ruggles Wilson,
“Now, we have already seen that the Holy Spirit employs words which He has intended to be understood as distinctly enunciating the existence of domestic servitude–that He has sent to all the world a volume of truth, which is indisputably addressed to men who hold slaves and to the slaves who possess masters–and that, from the connections in which these highly suggestive words occur, He has included slavery as an organizing element in that family order which lies at the very foundation of Church and State.”
See that? The Holy Spirit gives us words which tell us that slavery is okay! But what would happen if a Christian abolitionist felt compelled (by the same Holy Spirit) to declare that slavery was against God’s will? The two people couldn’t both be hearing the voice of God giving His will, could they? Well, if the question is to be settled by scripture, the abolitionist has a much harder case to present. The fact is, the argument that God supports slavery has some pretty strong support in both the Old Testament (Exo 21:2-6, Lev 25:44-46) and the new (Eph 6:5, 1 Tim 6:1-2). And if you ask people who right now are arguing against gay marriage, a common reasoning for their stance is that homosexuality is prohibited in both the OT and NT.
And yet, I am thoroughly convinced that God was, in that argument, on the side of the abolitionist. I imagine I’ll be able to find very few people who disagree with me on this point.
So if two or more people can be equally convinced that they are doing the inspired work of God as given to them by the Holy Spirit, and those people are doing opposite things (one supporting slavery, one supporting the abolition of slavery), and scripture does not give us an obvious answer to the debate, what is our next step? Do we turn to classical philosophy for our answer? Do we kibitz with folks of alternate faiths to get their take? Do we (stay with me now) turn to science for insight? Or do we just ask a Magic 8 Ball and hope for the best?
Magic 8 Ball – Providing answers (to stoners) since 1972.
I’ve presented this question to folks of various backgrounds and different times in my life, and so far I haven’t found an easy answer. Some people, when presented with this conundrum, just kind of double-down on the scripture answer.
Them : “Go to scripture – the Holy Spirit will never disagree with the Bible!”
Me: “But what happens when scripture doesn’t give a clear answer, or more clearly supports a side that history shows is completely wrong?”
Them: “. . . .Go to scripture.”
I’ve found this response to be less than helpful. So I’m asking you guys for your take! Has this happened to you? Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit compel you to take a stance that is the opposite of someone else’s Holy-Spirit-fueled stance? How do you know that you’re right? How do you make the argument that the other person is wrong?
And sub question – for extra intriguing conversation – did you ever have to reverse a stance that you were once convinced was the will of God? How did you deal with that? Give me your thoughts, and as a reward, I’ll stop beating a dead horse with my caption jokes.
Dan Mitchell – Totally being a dick and refusing to stop using the same stupid joke gimmick since 27 minutes ago.
Okay, I’m done. This is all of the world-shattering I can handle for one day. I need to get away from the internet before I find out that Sean Harris supports gay marriage and my brain liquefies.