I’m sorry for the insult in the title, but I’m just reciprocating Sullivan’s latest invective.
For a Catholic, Andrew Sullivan often has rational opinions. But his latest attack on me in The Daily Dish, “Must the story of the fall be true?”, isn’t one of them. And since he calls me “dumb”, and uses other strong language, I think I’m entitled to respond by saying this: Sullivan is a deluded Catholic who not only adheres to fairy tales, but seems to know very little about the history of his own faith.
Taking his cue from Ross Douthat’s similarly-themed piece in the New York Times, Sullivan goes after my attack on Mark Shea’s piece in the Catholic Register. I criticized Shea for “metaphorizing” the story of Adam and Eve, that is, admitting that it can’t be literally true but giving other explanations of how it could be figuratively “true.” In Shea’s case, he conceived of the Original Sin as some dude thinking an evil thought while sitting around drinking coffee. That, he claimed, doomed the rest of humanity to eternal sin and the need for expiation, requiring Jesus to come down to Earth and be crucified.
That’s a dumb scenario, of course. Better to give up the whole myth of original sin and expiation than engage in such ridiculous intellectual contortions. And, as I said in my earlier post on Douthat, the mental gymnastics of apologists determined to save their myths deserves no more respect than does the tenacious stupidity of fundamentalists.
At any rate, Sullivan makes this accusation: I am one of many deluded fools who thinks that the account of Genesis was meant to be taken seriously. From the outset it was an obvious metaphor, and intended to be seen as such!
There’s no evidence that the Garden of Eden was always regarded as figurative? Really? Has Coyne read the fucking thing? I defy anyone with a brain (or who hasn’t had his brain turned off by fundamentalism) to think it’s meant literally. It’s obviously meant metaphorically. It screams parable. Ross sees the exchange as saying something significant about the atheist mindset – and I largely agree with everything he says, except his definition of “fundamentalist” doesn’t seem to extend much past Pat Robertson. It certainly makes me want to take Jerry Coyne’s arguments less seriously. Someone this opposed to religion ought to have a modicum of education about it. The Dish, if you recall, had a long thread on this subject in August. No one was as dumb as Coyne.
What was Sullivan smoking when he wrote this? Among the people who have taken the Genesis story seriously are not only the fundamentalists he decries, but the theologians Thomas Aquinas and Augustine (who believed in Adam and Eve), many Popes, and nearly every Christian in the history of Christendom—at least until 1859. Many of my friends were taught that the Genesis story was true when they were churchgoing kids.Were these people brainless, as Sullivan implies? Were they simply impervious to the obvious metaphor?
Yes, I have read the “fucking thing” (it doesn’t take long), and yes, to many modern ears, aware of what Darwin found, it sounds metaphorical. But not to all of them. Nor did the story “scream parable” to two millennia of Christians, some of them living among us right now.
Finally, if Sullivan has an ear so finely attuned that it’s able to detect which parts of the Bible scream metaphor and which scream “literal truth,” then perhaps he’d grace us with his wisdom. Does he, for example, think that the virgin birth of Jesus, Jesus’s status as God’s son, and his crucifixion, Resurrection, and imminent return “scream metaphor” as well?
Is heaven also a metaphor? What about God himself? To my ear, those things scream “fiction”, which is the secular equivalent of “metaphor.” The thing about “sophisticated” apologists like Sullivan is that they always avoid telling us what Catholic doctrine they see as literally true. They know they’d look pretty bad if they said, for example, that crackers and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.
Like Ross Douthat, Sullivan misses the point. Of course the Bible sounds like fiction, because it is in its entirety. Good Catholics like Sullivan try to save their religion by reading those fictions as metaphors. You could do the same thing with any scripture, or any myth. But if he really considers himself a Catholic, then surely there’s something in Scripture that Sullivan sees as really, truly true. Could he please tell us what that is?
Unfortunately, Sullivan doesn’t allow comments on his website, so I can’t post this there. Perhaps, because he reads this site, he’ll come over here and grace us with his opinion. And perhaps he’d explain why, even if Eden didn’t exist, he’s so sure that there’s God and baby Jesus?