Logical and Moral Problems with Literal Readings of Genesis’ Creation Narratives: More from Osborn

As I mentioned previously, I recently read Osborn’s book (pictured right). Now I’m working on sharing some of the more interesting bits with you, gentle readers. Today I want to combine an early portion of Osborn’s work with a later portion, because I think that their combination makes quite an impact.

Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014).

The first chunk has to do with the logical difficulties (problems?) that arise when trying to read the creation narratives (yes, use of the plural there is correct, as it seems I must endlessly tell my students…) in Genesis as a unified whole. In other words, what shenanigans occur when you try to harmonize Genesis 1 and Genesis 2?
Here . . . is what we must picture happening in the daylight hours of day six of the creation by any reading that flattens Gensis 1 and 2 into a single linear historical narrative with an eye to scientific correspondence and strict chronological sequence rather than to things such as literary technique and complimentary theological meanings.

At the start of day six, God commands the earth to “bring for the living creature after his kind,” and the earth brings forth cattle, reptiles and wild animals (Gen 1:24). Only after the land animals have come forth from the earth (ignoring the plain implication of Genesis 2:18-19) does God create Adam from out of the same dust of the ground and breath into him the breath of life (Gen 2:7). God next creates the Garden (for somewhat inexplicable reasons considering the entire world is already a verdant, nonthreatening oasis in this account), placing Adam in it with instructions to till and to keep the Eden paradise and to avoid the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and evil (Gen 2:15-17). Adam commences tilling the land but is, apparently, immediately filled with feelings of ennui and loneliness. God decides it is not good for just-created Adam to be alone (Gen 2:18). At once a massive stampede of animals (until then apparently hidden from Adam’s sight as he worked the Garden) comes crawling, flapping and galloping past the no-doubt-bewildered man who only came into being hours (if not minutes or seconds) before. According to the text, the procession includes “every” beast of the field and bird of the air. Adam hastily names the creatures but no suitable partner is found for him (Gen 2:20). God at this point induces sleep…, removes a rib, creates woman, revives Adam and offers introductions (Gen 2:22-23). [pp. 53–54]
That’s it. Have yourselves a nice chuckle. There you are. Finished? Good. I can’t deny that this is a bit humorous. But it is dangerous to take this sort of reading too lightly precisely because of the sort of consequences it can have in other areas. That’s the thing about theology—if you put your foot wrong in one area, there’s sure to be unfortunate consequences in another area. That’s where we move from the sort of illogical silliness of the above to the immoral neglect of the following. Osborn highlights the impact made by readings like that lampooned above on how a great many people treat what Christians want to claim as God’s good creation.
There may in fact be a fateful connection between longstanding Christian readings of Genesis and Christian complicity in the destruction of the planet . . . .

Why, after all, should believers care about the nine billion animals butchered annually in the United States—the cattle routinely dismembered alive, the hogs plunged still conscious into vats of boiling water, the birds packed so tightly into cages to be trucked thousands of miles that they often arrive crushed and suffocated on delivery—if the God we worship is a God whose creation is simply a mode of “stamping” animals into existence by verbal decree before delivering them over to humans for their instrumental “dominion” / consumption? Why should Christians care about the abuse inflicted every second of every day upon sentient creatures in slaughterhouses around the world if the divine benediction was immediately superseded by a divine malediction or “curse” upon all animals? And if the world is bound for a fiery conflagration in the near future in which all animals will be destroyed by God anyway, was many fundamentalist Christians believe, why should we care about their suffering in the present or invest our time and energy in alleviating their pain? Shouldn’t we instead devote ourselves to “evangelism” (ignoring the fact that the greatest likely cause of planetary destruction is not divine intervention but the rapaciousness of human beings themselves, or that the euangelion of Christ in the New Testament is a summons to dikaiosyne, which means not simply righteousness but justice)? Or again, if humans have no intimate familial relationship with the rest of the animal world, why shouldn’t human “subduing” take the form of unrestrained predation and violence upon other creatures?

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