Is Religious Flexibility Really That Desirable?

Darwin Day is a celebration of science, evolution and, of course, naturalist Charles Darwin’s Feb. 12 birthday. It’s usually a favorite among atheist groups and college campuses, but this year, it has become something more. Meet “Evolution Sunday,” a compromise between science and Christianity. In a world where the common notion is that science and Christianity do not mesh, some believe that if the two could be made compatible, Christianity could regain the stubborn subset of the world lost to the authority of the scientific method.

To this end, last Sunday select church leaders chose to give sermons that focused on the compatibility of scientific and theological ideas. “[This demonstrates] to the American public that the shrill fundamentalist voices that are demanding that people have to choose between religion and science are simply wrong,” said Michael Zimmerman, organizer of the event.

Fundamentalists have not taken this quietly. Nor should they be expected to. Combining the two concepts is odd at best, though it sounds nice. A Christian is taught that the Bible is truth, but evolution clearly depicts an ever-changing world that is completely at odds with Genesis. Evolution is a picture of survival-dictated chaos, while Genesis speaks of control and design. The only reasons a church would choose to have both seems to be flexibility and mass appeal.

Maintaining a popular front does help keep the morals of old alive. While Catholics have bishops, priests and the pope, Protestants have no such hierarchy, which is partly what makes them so adaptable. Without need for uniform support, churches can speedily transform Darwin Day from the anti-theistic holiday it once was into an evangelical tool, merely by giving people the choice to have both. The rigors of traditional science cannot offer a similar claim in favor of religion.

Mass marketing may not cheapen the sanctity of religion, but it at least relegates it to the world of the ordinary. Pastor Joel Osteen openly runs his Lakewood Church — one of the largest in the country — like a business, patterning Sunday school after Disney World, and the building after an entertainment hall. Is Disney and rock music your idea of eternal Truth?

Flexibility has its price. Anyone who believes in the literal truth of the Bible would be at odds with Evolution Sunday. There has always been the duality of metaphor and literalism in the Bible, but drawing the line between the two is still a moot point. It’s nice that a few hundred churches, out of the millions that abound in the country, chose to promote the middle road between science and theology, but religion is based on faith and trust. Why compromise?

The result is an extension of the olive branch toward the sciences, but only a superficial one. It is only offered because some fear that the alternative is the preservation of literal Biblical truth to an alienating extent.

In the end, Evolution Sunday is a break from the atheistic tradition. Survival instincts encouraged the attempt of a good-sized number of Christian churches to step away from the conservative stereotype and pave a more moderate image. But such churches are surely wondering, late at night, whether they’ve lost something of their soul along the way.