Category Archives: Christianity

Evolution and What Catholics Should Teach Their Children about Adam and Eve

My name is Sarah Martinez, and I am a Catholic and an evolutionist.  Whew.  That felt good to say.

When I was 17, I found myself in a cultural anthropology college course.   And mostly, I hated it.  My professor was an insufferable woman with a bad dye job who routinely made over-the-shoulder swipes at Christianity, as she wrote about religious tolerance on the whiteboard;  who constructed a midterm so ridiculous, the entire class–the entire class— failed it.  (I spent the next quarter doing every ounce of extra credit listed on the syllabus,  and then wrote a paper summarizing the movie, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and managed to get an A on my transcripts for that class.)

So, I hated that class and to this day,  I will tell you that I prefer sociology out of pure spite.  But I wasn’t asleep through it.  I did learn things.  And what I learned was that evolution, a concept I had seen “debunked” through a handful of documentaries and essays in high school and understood was the very apex of anti-Christian science, made sense.  A lot of sense, actually.  There was physical evidence in bones, genetic evidence in our DNA.  I was fascinated and taken by the way animal physiology (humans included) adapted to its environment.

What I didn’t understand was how this fit in with the Bible, exactly.   Taking the story of Adam and Eve and The Fall at face value, I couldn’t figure out how the pieces fit together.  I was, in a word, confused.  This shift in thinking, along with many other things, pushed me towards the moment when I said to my mom, “I don’t know if I believe in God anymore.”   I still went to church and tried to be good, and said my prayers, but my heart wasn’t in it.   It was awful.  Catholics are taught that the most terrible torment the souls in hell suffer is distance from God.  I believe that 100 percent.

I eventually recovered, though it took moving out of state where there was a church with more regular sacraments, and more available clergy.  I “got rid” of the origin problem by deciding that I would just take God’s word for it,  stop wondering,  and assume that evolution fit in with creation somehow.  Besides, if God created me, did the little details regarding “how” matter?    I put it in the back of my mind, and would content myself to just shift uncomfortably when someone mentioned evolution, unsure whether to agree or not.    But permeating all the time was the shadow of doubt that asked if I could not believe this part of  Scripture, what parts could I believe?  I was feeling perhaps like Lord Byron when he said,  “There is something pagan in me that I cannot shake off.  In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything.”  I wondered what my Catholic friends would think if they knew I was at the very least an evolutionist “sympathizer.”

Then I read this. 

One article, that had  all the same pieces I had, but had the thing I didn’t: a way to string them together.  With the words of theological BFFs,  St. Thomas of Aquinas and St. Augustine about how Adam and Eve and The Fall fit in with the empirical evidence set forth to support evolution, (long before Darwin, by the way) I finally had a clear, crisp picture of how the Creation of Man really happened.  I read it half a dozen times yesterday and was practically bouncing in my office chair.  It seems silly to attribute so much joy of intellect to a single internet article, but there you go. Read the entire thing.  (I will be checking the stats, people.)

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale.  One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin.  One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.

But with the joy, came a little bit of disappointment; in fact, a little anger.  Anger at every Catholic teacher I ever had who couldn’t be bothered to do the minimal amount of research to figure out why evolution is a genetic, scientific fact, and either never found, or ignored, the words of two of the most well-quoted Saints of our religion who supported it.  They let me fall into the trap of learning science without the corresponding religion, and religion without the corresponding science, and I became discouraged and befuddled because I learned from neither how to reconcile the two, when they can be so easily reconciled.  I almost lost my faith because of it.  The fact that had I heard the simple arguments laid out in this one article two years ago,  I may have been saved from that brief, though hellish lapse in belief.

To a lesser degree, I once felt similarly aggrieved while reading a Catholic publication.  The well-intended, and surely virtuous articles were poorly written and strewn with logical fallacy.  I have heard sermons where priests throw incorrect dates and information, and don’t worry a whole lot about it because… well, you tell me.  I have sat through homilies cringing, and hoping that there are no newcomers in the room;  the Catholics here will understand, the hopeful agnostic sitting across the aisle from me, waiting for proof that Christians have intellectual reasons behind their faith may not be so impressed.

The problem, I have felt for a long time is this:  Most Catholics in authority to instruct, do not take their role as teacher seriously.   For all their warnings of the world’s dangers, they do not seem to truly understand that lay people are barraged daily by a world that wants them to doubt;  that wants to kill God and smite religion. And that the world will use science, of which God Himself is the author,  and our rational minds, which He gave us to understand it, to do so. They still make modern science an enemy, just as modern science makes religion the enemy.  As if you cannot be both an evolutionist and also believe that an Almighty God created the means for the world to evolve.

I’m going to link to another Marc Barnes post again on Catholics using their talents to be the best, and where he quotes C.S. Lewis,

“‘Great works’ (of art) and “good works” (of charity) had better also be Good Work. Let choirs sing well or not at all…”

I’ll even link Marc a second time where he advises us to “Be Awesome.

Am I saying you have to be a good writer to write? No! Am I saying that God is only appreciative of well-written work? No! Am I saying that if you are writing for a Catholic publication you should realize that you are, in a very real sense, an ambassador for the Church, and that as such it your duty to excel in your craft, to make it the best that it can be so that the truth and beauty of Church’s teaching will be revealed through it, not hindered by it? Yes.

Here’s another great article on why it is necessary for Christians to believe in evolution.

Anyway,  when I have children,  I’ll read them Genesis, and they’ll have picture books with Adam and Eve in a paradise, and a little snake in a tree for the sake of illustration.   But then I’ll bring out a stack of works by Aquinas and Augustine and a modern science book, and explain what all of it really means.

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Christians in War

This past week marked the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  Here is an interview with WWII Catholic chaplain,  Rev. George B. Zabelka who repents that he did not counsel against the dropping of the two atomic bombs.  At times, it feels like a punch in a gut.

I’m not really sure where to start, myself.  This is a stark subject for me.  It makes me question the greatness of my country, and the greatness of the Church who did not oppose something so horrendous.  As I write, I feel halted, as if I’m channeling Hemingway.

First of all, I don’t oppose war itself.  Like many parts of life, I consider it unfortunate and horrible, but inevitable and often necessary.   There are, however, just wars and unjust wars, and the line between the two are often blurred.  And even if one side has a just cause, does not mean that all the men behind it are entirely just themselves, nor the methods they use just.

Perhaps I was just naive about this for a long time, but I spent most of my life believing that, whatever you said about Vietnam or the Iraq War,  one war we could all get behind was World War II.   The Japanese brought us into it with an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor,  and Hitler needed to be stopped.  If there was a line between Good and Evil,  the sides upon which the Allies and the Axis stood were clear.  We were The Good Guys, they were The Bad Guys.

The evidence was there:  the Axis was undeniably evil and committed horrible crimes against humanity. On one side of the world, they were murdering millions of Jews, Catholics and other minorities and were bulldozing Europe in the process.   On the other side of the world,  Japan had a raging case of The Little Guy Who Snapped,  wanted to be treated as one of the World Powers, and they needed the United States out of the way.    It was truly a noble war, proving to all the goodness of America, as well as its greatness.  The only reason to blush, for our part, being that now we get to take a collective look in the mirror and see ourselves wearing a t-shirt reading, “My grandfather went to Midway and all I got was The Baby Boomer generation.” (The Baby Boomers alone make me like grenades a little more.)

But does The Bad Guys being bad make the opposition The Good Guys?   World War II,  even if it was a just cause, was not won without making extremely amoral, and anti-Christian compromises.   We may have stopped Hitler, but only by aligning ourselves with Stalin, who was responsible for anywhere from three to six times the genocide that Hitler was.

And we ended the Pacific War with the murder of 250,000 civilians, and somehow, this slips under the genocide radar.

For the first three centuries, the three centuries closest to Christ, the Church was a pacifist Church. With Constantine the church accepted the pagan Roman ethic of a just war and slowly began to involve its membership in mass slaughter, first for the state and later for the faith.

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, whatever other differences they may have had on theological esoterica, all agreed that Jesus’ clear and unambiguous teaching on the rejection of violence and on love of enemies was not to be taken seriously. And so each of the major branches of Christianity by different theological methods modified our Lord’s teaching in these matters until all three were able to do what Jesus rejected, that is, take an eye for an eye, slaughter, maim, torture.

It seems a “sign” to me that seventeen hundred years of Christian terror and slaughter should arrive at August 9, 1945 when Catholics dropped the A-Bomb on top of the largest and first Catholic city in Japan. One would have thought that I, as a Catholic priest, would have spoken out against the atomic bombing of nuns. (Three orders of Catholic sisters were destroyed in Nagasaki that day.) One would have thought that I would have suggested that as a minimal standard of Catholic morality, Catholics shouldn’t bomb Catholic children. I didn’t.

I, like that Catholic pilot of the Nagasaki plane, was heir to a Christianity that had for seventeen hundred years engaged in revenge, murder, torture, the pursuit of power and prerogative and violence, all in the name of our Lord.

I walked through the ruins of Nagasaki right after the war and visited the place where once stood the Urakami Cathedral. I picked up a piece of a censer from the rubble. When I look at it today I pray God forgives us for how we have distorted Christ’s teaching and destroyed His world by the distortion of that teaching. I was the Catholic chaplain who was there when this grotesque process, which began with Constantine, reached its lowest point – so far.

My thoughts on this are still evolving, and will probably continue to evolve for a long time.  But please read the rest of the interview.  For me, it was a turning point.  I used to be able to say I was not at all opposed to war and still, some of Rev. Zabelka’s anti-war and anti- military sentiments don’t sit well with me.   But it was an upheaval of all I thought I believed.  I now must question whether war is something I truly believe in, or something I have been conditioned to believe in.  Some things are worth dying for, yes, but is anything worth killing for? (excluding direct, immediate danger, in cases of self defense)

But were the Crusaders and the popes who commissioned them wrong?   Where does this leave soldiers who became saints?  St. Martin of Tours?  St. Joan of Arc? (it’s important to note, however, that in the latter’s case, God never directed her to kill anyone, and she never did.)   I can fortunately fall back on something  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters,

[T]ens of thousands […] will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self.  I believe that The Enemy [Screwtape, a demon, refers to God as ‘The Enemy”] disapproves many of these causes.  But that is where He is so unfair.  He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophisticated ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

This merciful quality of God is certainly a blessing, because as I read about Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I find myself less and less convinced that we have as many just reasons for war as we think we do.

Fish on Fridays: Catholics aren’t bothered, why are you?

I’ve only been to Bella Casa, a pizza place on  the corner of 16th and Farnam, a handful of times, but already I’m recognized by the owner as the girl who gets cheese pizza on Friday. 

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to have the once-a-week-vegetarian talk with people I know.  If I go out to eat in a group, I spend the most time looking over the menu, trying to find something meatless (and I don’t do fish), that will also satisfy my need for protein.   I’ve become accustomed to asking waiters what they recommend for vegetarians and with that becoming an increasingly popular trend for health or ethical reasons, they’re more than happy to help. 

It’s really not a big deal.  I actually really like veggie burgers, and grilled portobello mushrooms make a good, filling meat substitute without tasting like meat at all. 

But when I explain to people why I’m being such a high maintenence foodie,  I get the whole gamut of reactions.  Everything from interested questions, timidly insincere nods, to being publicly quizzed on whether or not I know why Catholics are called to abstain from meat.  “I bet you didn’t know that Pope So-and-So only instituted that practice because he had family in the fish mongering industry.”

Actually, I have heard that one before, several times, in fact, and I’ve done some research. I’ve found nothing conclusive to support that claim.   In fact, it was surprisingly hard to find anything that answered my question about when and why that tradition came into being, other than that we do it in memory of Our Lord’s Passion, though no one said why it was the meat of warm-blooded animals. 

I heard long ago (and found some others say it on various forums that popped up on Google) that because warm-blooded meat was a rich man’s food, and fish, a poor man’s food,  the pope wanted the rich to identify with the poor in this way.  This doesn’t seem likely to me either,  but a whole heck of a lot more likely than the idea that a pope was taking religion-changing measures to help out the fish industry during a time when, due to the availability of fish and the conditions of the majority, it was probably doing well enough on its own.  I get that there have been corrupt, power-seeking popes in the Church’s history, but I’m just not buying it.   

Eventually, I found that the teaching is first mentioned in The Didache of the Apostles, written in the 1st Century.  Hey, good enough for me!  The Didache contains basically all the other core truths of Christianity.

Whatever happened in history, though, I can think of one reason that abstaining from meat on Fridays is good for Catholics: It reminds us of who we are.   Most of the week,  it’s easy to forget you’re Catholic.  Since high school, I’ve gone months at a time where every waking moment was spent either at a church, at a convent, with nuns and prayer schedules and in all other ways, identifying as Catholic in a routine that was just taken for granted.

Between August and December of last year, I worked at my Church and its school and went to Mass every day. When the semester ended and I got a paying job, I still went to Mass several times a week until moving to the other side of town made only Sunday Mass possible.  And I miss it.  I miss feeling as Catholic as I did.  And yet, there are people who’ve never had the opportunity to have daily reminders of who they are and their duty to the Church.  For all of us who have to live in the world and can’t spend life kneeling in Adoration, we have Fridays.  Fridays that make us think before we order a Bacon Double Cheeseburger: “Oh, shoot, it’s Friday. Guess I’ll go home and… make a PB&J.”  Whatever was in the heart and mind of the man who first gave us this duty, God surely saw the benefits of this. 

The same goes for my scapular, and my veil, and all the other little things required of Catholics that make us put in the little extra effort, that remind us that men are meant to be in the world and not of it.

I don’t mind explaining to people that there is one day a week that I don’t eat meat.  Some people are genuinely curious and thoughtful.  I’ve had very nice people, non-Catholics, say how much they love my scapular, and sound proud to show that they even recognize one when they see it. 

No, what bothers me is the people who presume to tell me that my traditions are dumb.  People who won’t say anything negative about Muslim women in a Hijab, (these are often feminists who, I would think, would be the first to recognize this as a gross injustice against women by their male oppressors. Instead they admire the courage it takes to go against the American-Judeo-Christian grain in such an open way.  Apparently, sticking it to one Man is more important than sticking it to another) or even acknowledge that they’ve noticed it out of fear of being accused of bigotry or hate, will openly laugh at my religion’s traditions.  Literally– the same individuals.   Jews have much more finicky diets than Catholics in regards to meat, (for much stranger reasons) and I don’t hear anyone scoffing at them.

“I went to Catholic school,” I said once.

“Oh, so that’s why you are the way you are,”  sneered my coworker.

“Probably.”

Replace “Catholic school” with “Buddhist monastary” or something like that, and I couldn’t imagine anyone having the gall to act like it’s anything less than extraordinary.  And dare I become indignant at this offense, and it just fans the flame, while being accused of a hate crime against any other racial, ethnic or religious group is seen as the ultimate taboo. 

People seem to think that most non-Christian religions are exotic, exciting and progressive (read: trendy) compared to stodgy ol’ Christianity.  Quote Gandhi and every 20-something (and anyone who read “Eat, Pray, Love”) in the room will solemnly nod in agreement; quote the Psalms–sublimely poetic, in even a superficial way– and you’re a religious fanatic.   Then they feel they need to fix you, to unravel those crazy ideals of yours when they’re obviously so 1489.  Outdated. Obsolete.  In so many words, I’ve been made aware my “corruption” is some people’s personal undertaking.  No, they don’t even pretend to respect my religious sensitivities.

Yes, I have a persecution complex.  Yes, this makes me angry that I, a bigoted, brainwashed, bitter (how’s that for alliteration?) Christian am more respectful of my tolerant, enlightened, open-minded liberal friends than they are of me.    It upsets me that some of my friends, who care about me, won’t read my writing because I spend too much time talking about “Catholic stuff.”  Yes, it hurts.  But that’s reality, and being Catholic is all about living in reality and dealing with it as it is. 

I’m probably preaching to the choir.  Pretty much all the Catholics I know will be nodding in agreement, I think.  We all know that the people who are crying out the loudest for “tolerance” are the ones most likely to be incited to anger or condescending antagonism  at the sight of a Catholic living his or her Faith.