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Friday, April 16, 2010

Musings on Science and Creation

I was watching a PBS special program recently, part of their Nova series. I find Nova to be absolutely fascinating because it frequently deals with the natural historical record of the universe. This particular episode was on the topic of "blue hole" diving in the Bahamas. I had never heard of blue hole diving, but soon learned that it is a type of very dangerous, but potentially highly rewarding cave diving. Thousands of years ago, sea level was not so high as it is today in our era. The Bahamian Islands are composed largely of coral, and natural erosion forces have created a network of spectacular underwater caves which often have a depth of 250 feet or more. In these miniaturized ecosystems, there are eons worth of sediment, stalactites, mixtures of fresh water and salt water (responding to the ground table and sea level), and assorted chemistries attributable to the life forms which inhabit such caves. The caves are a natural museum for the preservation of the skeletal remains of past life which at one time surrounded the blue hole. Bones and shells which are frequently found are of nearly museum quality, naturally preserved by the waters, and virtually undisturbed for nearly their entire existence.

Many ideas raced through my mind as I processed what was unfolding on my TV screen. At one point, geologists were shown slicing one of the cave's stalactites, using a high speed diamond tipped saw blade. The cutting revealed many layers, each of which indicated a season, and the climactic conditions that existed in each season, extending back even through several ice ages. While there is no natural iron content in the Bahamas, there were deposits of iron dust in the layer immediately preceding each ice age. I learned that each ice age is anticipated by a massive build up of dust from the Sahara Desert across the ocean, known for its high iron content. Interesting.

Those who watched this show, depending on their particular beliefs or agenda related to God, might see this and think to themselves, "Ah, more evidence invalidating the Genesis account of creation!" But, does it really, or is this yet another example of seemingly sophisticated but in reality simplistic thinking in which we humans often indulge? Who told us that the earth is only approximately 6,000 years old? That is written nowhere. It is a guess, based largely on interpretation. Even if one embraces the so-called "gap theory" creationism, who told us that each day of the Genesis account is an actual 24 hour day? Certainly, we're all familiar with the scriptures which indicate that for God, a day is as a thousand years, but who is to say that even that is literal, as opposed to a figurative description to make the relativity of time and space understandable for a generation of humanity which largely predated modern science? These are all man-made assumptions, some of which are actually taught as part of the official doctrines or dogma of different church groups. But, they are no different from any other extra-biblical teachings which frequently dog organized religion. It is an attempt to legalistically spell out all of the specifics, and to provide answers that are often not even implied. If a Creator wanted us to focus primarily on our own human lives, wouldn't there be a little mystery behind the ultimate beginning of mankind, and the ultimate fulfillment, or end?

Time as we know it is relative to a fixed point in the universe, broadly our own solar system, and specifically our planet. Our time is not absolute for the entire universe. As an example, as we examine what might constitute a day, or a year, relative to the rotation and orbit of the planet Uranus, it's a no brainer that these values will differ quite widely from what we experience on planet Earth. Since these values would vary exponentially throughout the cosmos, for an eternal, omniscient being to communicate with His charges, He would need to link Himself to their own understanding of these things, although He Himself is not constrained or confined by such boundaries. He would have no problem understanding us, but the probability of our own human miscommunication, or misunderstanding relative to Him and amongst ourselves would be high. This is especially true of the generations of people who lived prior to Copernicus, Galileo, and our own Albert Einstein. The time periods in the creation narrative, at least as seen from the Creator's perspectives, would be subject to skew as interpreted by man.

The only terms a writer could use to describe elapsed time to a bunch of pre-Einstein goat herders would be the relative words "day" and "night". If this written description was indeed inspired by the aforementioned Creator, He would have known that once mankind developed sufficiently to understand relativity, the description would still remain appropriate in its reinterpreted, or expanded form. Whether a creator used a slow, gradual method of creation (evolution), or a fast, instant process is largely irrelevant. The creation narrative in Genesis can lend itself to the "Big Bang", expanding universe, and the evolutionary process just as well as it can to instantaneous creation, although to me it makes more sense for an eternal being to take His time. There would be no need for hurry.

Some might wonder about Adam and Eve, whether they were literal created beings, or byproducts of a guided evolutionary process. Part of any creative process involves introducing components into a project at the time the project is prepared for them. Those who have maintained aquariums and terrariums have a deep appreciation for this ecological principle. Anthropologists acknowledge that the human species made an incredible, observable leap forward in terms of accumulated intelligence and ability to preserve and share this intelligence dating from approximately 10,000 years ago. Despite the denials of the 6,000 year/literal 24 hour types of creationists, we know that there are distinct sets of fossils related to specific stages of mankind's development. There is adequate room for the introduction of an Adam, and an Eve into this system. At some point or other in an evolutionary process, one would expect to find the first beings with modern brains, both hemispheres communicating under single control, and for these to be common ancestors for all people with some version of that modern brain today. A Christian would be quick to point out that the writers of the New Testament believed in Adam. Both Jesus and Paul seem to have been convinced that the characters in the Old Testament literally did exist.

Do our geological records invalidate the Bible? As a truth seeker, I don't know that I'd be comfortable rushing to such a judgment. Science presents a neutral evidentiary trail, and often seeks to interpret or explain it. In its purest form, it neither presumes, nor denies a creator. That is left to the individual. The modern church has no problem whatsoever in incorporating Galileo's now much confirmed model of our solar system, and the other astral bodies into belief, although this must have been a source of residual confusion and debate during the generations surrounding his lifetime. What of Darwin's more recent research, and much of our modern science? Is it not possible that the church today and some prominent Christians are behaving in a way similar to the that of the church during the time of the Renaissance? And, would we really respect their integrity if they did not treat their cherished beliefs in a loving, repspectful way, cherishing them, and attempting to preserve them? That is exactly what we'd hope for them to do.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Would UCG be a Good Fit for TBN?

Again, I'd planned to post another in a series of pre-written posts, but, always sensitive to the latest trend, and wanting to be on the cutting edge of all of the breaking news in COGdom, I thought it might be good to tackle this question.

The ACOGs believe that it is their "Great Commission" to preach the Armstrong version of the gospel around the world prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Yet, compared to the early pioneering efforts of both HWA and GTA, they are virtually invisible. It was once true that when one mentioned the name "Armstrong", there was instant recognition, and the ministry of HWA, or later GTA, was considered to be just as recognizable as that of Billy Graham, Rex Humbard, AA Allen, Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, and others. No ACOG splinter member in his or her right mind would even attempt to compare the World Tomorrow "cookie cutter" offspring of any of the splinter groups to some of the major evangelists of today, such as Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, James and Betty Robison, Jack Van Impe, Charles Stanley, and a plethora of others.

If indeed, much of the shakeup at UCG is due to differing opinions on diverting funds to increased usage of the media, (and rumors of this type of discord have surfaced before), then it would be of interest to consider one of the primary scenarios available to them.

In the sixties and seventies, there were no huge Christian networks. Religious broadcasters negotiated directly with the management of the stations which they considered desirable in terms of ability to reach their core audience. Many of these broadcasters used what was called "clear channel" AM radio stations. In any given area, smaller, local AM stations were compelled to sign off, or finish their broadcast day at sunset, if they happened to be operating on the same frequency as the huge powerhouse 50,000 and more watt "clear channel" stations. The large stations would then "turn up" their power, giving them incredible coverage throughout their region. At ten in the evening, one could receive WABC, New York in Jekyll Island, Georgia. Or, WLS, Chicago in the mountain towns of Pennsylvania. On the West Coast, one could listen to
the Wolfman Jack program, broadcast from XERB, Monterey Mexico, up in Oregon! (Remember American Graffiti?). These "clear channel" stations were very desirable to radio evangelists, and if you happen to have a very old Plain Truth, you would see from the radio log that most of the stations carrying "The World Tomorrow" were such stations. But, something happened! With improved technology, the ability to broadcast in stereo, FM radio all but ghettoized AM radio, starting in the 1970s.

Paul and Jan Crouch suddenly came into the picture. They had a very small Television station in Orange County, California, which carried Christian programming. With much work, the support of the Christian Community, and the advent of satellite technology, they turned this into a powerhouse that revolutionized televangelism. Anyone who wishes to have any impact in terms of preaching the gospel today both recognizes, and is often overwhelmed by the incredible superiority of TBN around the world to any other Christian media capabilities.

Before I began to include TBN in my daily television watching experiences, I had focused on the word "trinity" in the acronym which defines the network. I had imagined that those who presented the individual shows were somewhat united in their doctrinal approach, probably, in fact, some of the evangelicals we had all heard about that seemed to be taking over the schools, the government, wooing Rush Limbaugh, and in general having a huge impact on the politics of the USA. But, that is simply not true. Many of the hosts or evangelists are evangelical, and some are Baptist. They preach classic Christianity, and are very mainstream. But, there are also Messianic Jews, who refer to Jesus as Yeshua, and tell of the blessings realized by those who keep the sabbath and holy days. Walter Pearson is Seventh Day Adventist, and recently has lectured not only on sabbath observance, but also on clean and unclean meats! Jack and Rexella Van Impe, Grant Jeffries, and David Jeremiah all base their ministry on prophecy and the end times. Now, they don't handle this topic in the angry, manipulative way to which we became accustomed, partially because they also believe in the Rapture. Considering the sheer diversity, I can picture ACOG ministers blending into this gumbo of Christianity. They would be accepted, no doubt. But, would they be as accepting of those who did not believe or preach their own views? That, IMO, would probably constitute the largest obstacle!

Many of the shows on TBN are funded by megachurches. The show consists of the evangelist's sermon or lecture the previous weekend (many have 4-5 identical services spread out over Saturday and Sunday). Some of the ACOGs, although geographically spread out, do have the same overall population as do these megachurches, which often, as it turns out, also believe in tithing. So, the financing would be there, and the financial picture would improve because viewers would also contribute, send in donations, and request CDs and monthly devotional booklets. Other shows are not set in a church congregation. Some are in the format of a variety program, others in the classic HWA form, in an office, behind a desk. Still others are organized in the talk show format. Again, there is no question that an ACOG evangelist would fit into all of this.

Finally, once one splinter made entry into the weekly schedule, and began enjoying success, there is no doubt that others would follow suit. In fact, some of the evangelists on TBN appear in one anothers' personal appearance conventions as featured guest lecturers. So, one could almost envision a Roy Holladay convention, in which Rod Meredith and Gerald Flurry are featured guest speakers. If one of the ACOGs succeeds in getting on TBN, it could actually end up reunifying the entire splintered Armstrong movement.

Clearly, there would seem to be an opportunity here, but somehow, I don't see it as ever coming to fruition. Within the Armstrong movement, there has always been the pervasive belief that there is "one true church", and that non-sabbatarian Christians are in fact "Christians, falsely so-called". This type of culture has isolated them from any type of Christian cooperatives, and it is a self-imposed three lock box. Following the Wisconsin LCG massacre, there was an outpouring of sympathy from the local Christian community. All ministers and members could seem to do was to complain about all of the "pagan" crosses used symbolically in this outpouring. When disasters occur, ACOG ministers warn members against sending any of their tithes to relief funds. While the World Tomorrow did appear during timeslots following the evangelists representing other church groups, it would be difficult to imagine an Armstrongite minister contracting with an evangelical network owner, or want to appear complicit with trinitarians, Sunday keepers, or cross wearers. The owners of the radio stations were secular. The owners of the Christian networks are competitors (read "Satan's People")

Is any of this even remotely being considered at UCG? I have no idea. Clearly, if the ACOGs are to survive and grow, they will need to come up with a more contemporary approach. We here on this website have a history of providing information for those who might be considering Armstrongism as their sole-source spiritual solution. I would suggest that we watch this situation carefully, and to be prepared to continue sharing our experiences in ways that help others avoid the toxicities which could come into their lives courtesy of these cults.