Monday, November 17, 2008

Most Popular Fairytale?

Yesterday, while browsing in my local bookstore, I picked up a small 3x5 card dropped on the floor. On the front was printed, "The World's Ten Most Popular Things (Test Your Knowledge)." Below that are several questions such as, "Most popular name?" and "Most popular car?" After each question is a scratch-off like a lottery ticket revealing the answer ("Mohammed" and "VW Beetle", respectively).

The final question is "Most popular fairy tale?" No, the answer is not "Hansel and Gretel" or "Cinderella." Scratching off the answer reveals the world's most popular fairy tale is "Darwinian evolution." Surprise, you've just been set up. In truth, this card isn't a harmless hand-out featuring trivia; it's a witnessing tract produced by Living Waters Publications, a fundamentalist Christian publishing firm. A case of 100 of these scratch-off cards costs $8.00. Someone paid to get this tract into my hands, then left it behind at the bookstore with the hopes of me reading it.. Thank you, whoever you are, for I am going to analyze this publication.

Below the questions and answers is a long, dense paragraph in small print that tries to cram as many of the Evangelical Right's talking points as possible onto both sides. The paragraph reads:

"Do you believe the last one?" (Meaning that Darwinian Evolution is the world's most popular fairy tale.) "If you don't, go to and pick up $10,000--if you can provide just one living "transitional form." (I'll deal with this challenge in another entry.)

"Before you do," reads the tract, "test your knowledge one more time: What does someone have to do to go to Heaven?" How did a question about evolution suddenly turn into a religious quiz? Which religion's heaven are we talking about here?

"The answer is to look to the Ten Commandments." Ah, Living Waters is clearly referring to the Christian heaven. They cite the Ten Commandments, which is a set of Jewish laws provided by Jehovah to ancient Hebrews--a people who, by the way, had little to no concept of Heaven other than the place where Jehovah and other gods resided. Ancient Hebrews would have not understood the idea of them going to heaven given that they barely had an understanding of an afterlife. But some Christians have gleaned out the parts of the Jewish law that they like, ignored vast swaths of Jewish law that they don't, and mashed it with the apocalyptic teaching of Jesus and Paul, which allows them to judge others on their eternal destination.

"Have you loved God above all else? That's the requirement of the First Commandment." Is there a God? Which God do you mean? How can I love something that I can't interact with? Why would God be offended if I love my wife or son more than I love him--are his feelings that easy to bruise?

"Or have you broken the Second by making a god in your mind that you're comfortable with, a god to suit yourself--something the Bible calls 'idolatry'?" First, how can I make a god in my mind? Second, nowhere in the Bible is idolatry defined as a comfortable concept in my mind. Idolatry in the Bible is always associated with outward expressions of worship--not inward thoughts.

"Have you ever used God's name in vain?" Perhaps, but why would an omnipotent God care if I did? Incidentally, I don't think the Third Commandment is about the words we utter when we stub our toes but are more related to speaking curses against others while invoking God for powerful effect--in other words, using God to invoke magic. Which I have never done.

"Have you always honored your parents implicitly, and kept the Sabbath holy?" While I have not always obeyed my parents--particulary when they were raising me--I fully honor them today, implicitly and explicitly--and did so even when a child. I don't disobey people I don't honor--what's the point of rebelling against people that don't affect me? Even if I did, my parents have forgiven my childish slights and fully love me today. Why is that so difficult for God to do?

Also, I have not kept the Sabbath holy because I do not subscribe to the Jewish religion.

"Have you hated someone? The Bible says, 'whoever hates his brother is a murderer.'" Yes, I have hated people in the past, usually to no end. I have never murderered anyone, however. If someone feels that hating someone is just the same as murdering them, then perhaps we need to rewrite the American criminal code to allow trying and convicting people who hate others. But this would be silly, of course, as everyone has likely either hated or been hated by someone somewhere. Humans are an emotional species and hatred is easy to come by. I can see if someone might poetically compare the emotions of hatred with the emotions surrounded by murder, but to argue that hate equals literal murder is absurd. What's more, Psalm 105 states that God turns hearts to hatred to serve his purposes, so how can he then judge us for hating?

"The Seventh is, "You shall not commit adultery," but Jesus said, "Whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (the Seventh Commandment includes sex before marriage)." First, no the Seventh Commandment does not include pre-marital sex. It says "you shall not commit adultery." Throwing in other sins to make sure you've covered everyone is deceptive. Second, so what if Jesus thinks being attracted to someone of the opposite sex is the same as adultery--I disagree. Why should we be concerned with what an unmarried itinerant Jewish apocalyptic prophet thinks? If we didn't find other people attractive enough to want to have sex with them, there would be no reason to get married and bear children, and there goes the human race into extinction.

"On Judgement Day, will you be found to be innocent or guilty? Heaven or Hell?" Wait, are heaven and hell real? Where's your proof?

The rest of the tract spells out the traditional evangelical message--that God is horribly offended that we aren't perfect but he also provided us a loophole from eternal torture--namely, the temporary torture and death of an innocent man named Jesus. We are encouraged to pray a prayer of forgiveness, obey the Bible (an impossibility, by the way) and visit Living Waters website for more instructions (and to purchase more product, presumably.)

Philosophers have been wrestling with how to be a good person and have a rich and satisfying life for millenia. Living Waters starts with a tease about evolution, then layers on several accusatory questions to invoke guilt for being human, followed by an unsupportable story about how we can escape everlasting pain and torture--all on a three-by-five notecard.

Sorry, but I'm going to stick with my original answer to "What's the most popular fairy tale?" . . . Revealed Religion.

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