Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mark Shea on Reading Genesis 1-11

Celebrated Catholic blogger, Mark Shea, recently answered a question from a reader concering how one is to read Genesis 1-11. The question:

I’ve got sort of a followup question to the one somebody asked you about Abraham in a recent NCR article of yours. It’s about how to read Genesis 1-11. I’ve heard that Catholics tend to read those chapters as containing figurative language, and I noticed that one commenter in the article said that Catholics take them as allegorical. I’ve been increasingly struggling with how to read those chapters myself recently, and I was wondering if you could help me.

To read his helpful response, go here. However, to discuss your thoughts on this NCR article go to the comments sections!


Daniel Norman McNamara said...

Dear Timothy,
To be sure, this issue is one that comes up constantly. Obviously one that a lot of readers may care to share their own experiences about. I sometimes approach this with adults by posing the question of whether a story can be true whether or not it actually happened. At least this approach has the advantage of getting the discussion started. Adults usually have a wealth of experience (movies, plays, poems, novels,songs etc) from which to see that something can be true and/or significant for their lives whether or not the events being described ever happened, or happened in precisely the way depicted. That God would choose to reveal himself to us in ways other than "historical narrative" is a new thought for many in our modern culture. And to be sure, many of our Christian brethern hold very different views about this. This is understandable. We view many things differently! Timothy, thanks for posting this article. I hope others will "wade in" to this one. Daniel Norman McNamara, Rockledge, FL

Chrysostom said...

I read it as literally as any Protestant. (Well, maybe not as literally as some fundamentalists.) As far as I understand it, young-earth creationism (if that's where one wishes to take a literal reading) has never been condemned by the Church, nor has theistic evolutionism (only atheistic Darwinism has, I believe, along with the slew of reductionist materialism, albeit I tend to hew to the anathemas of Vatican I and the Syllabus of Errors myself).

I tend to fall towards the more conservative or traditional end of that spectrum, never coming further than progressive day-age creationism, whereas most I know tend to fall towards the intelligent design/theistic evolution/framework interpretation readings. I can respect a reading of theistic evolution, as it portrays an almighty God who played an ultimate gambit with the laws of nature, setting from the beginning of time the gradual emergence of the soul in to creation: but, if that, why the need for Christ? Did God pre-program every miracle in to nature at the beginning of time, and then ignore it? If God does not intervene in our affairs - if he did not raise Christ from the grave - then our faith is a fool's belief, and held in vain, according to the Apostle. It is far too close to the god of the Deists or Pantheists for the comfort of Christianity.

However, from my reading of the Catechism, reading the first three chapters of Genesis as pure metaphor of events that never happened - fiction, as in a film, in order to send a message - is condemned. "For all senses of scripture are based on the literal"..."We do hold and affirm that this records a real, primeval event, and is described using figurative language".

That, to me, says, "It probably wasn't an apple", or, "Not the entire earth was submerged in the flood, only all of Northern Africa and the Middle East", not that, "It's a metaphor". As much as when we retroject our modern notions of narrative history or scientific writing in to the text improperly, we perform just as much eisegesis by retrojecting our modern concepts of "life as art" or as metaphor.