The Homeless, Brentwood, Tennessee, and the Arrogance of Wealth

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homeless

If the sin of the poor is envy, the sins of the rich are arrogance, snobbery, and a lack of compassion for those less fortunate. No where has then been more in evidence recently than in Brentwood, Tennessee‘s treatment of the homeless from the Nashville area. The Nashville homeless have an innovative program in which the homeless sell a newspaper, The Contributor, produced by the homeless and formerly homeless. The paper costs a dollar and the vendor can keep most of that dollar plus any tips. Not only has this initiative empowered the homeless, it has led to many of them finding homes and jobs. In Nashville, most people have no problem with the homeless selling papers at intersections.

Not so in Brentwood, Tennessee, a community known for its wealth. The town of Brentwood has given tickets to several homeless vendors, claiming that their actions violate city law. The ACLU is supporting a lawsuit against the town of Brentwood. Even though the legal issues are an interesting topic, I would rather focus on the ethics of the rich who do not want their community “stained” by the poor and less fortunate. People who are taking responsibility and engaged in a legitimate business are banned because Brentwood believes such will lower the quality of life within its sheltered community. The upper middle classes and wealthy are becoming more isolated from the rest of their local communities, often living in self-contained gated communities with their own shops for groceries and consumer goods. They are, in effect, hiding from the real world. But no one can ignore poverty except at great moral cost. Too often the rich, like those rich condemned by both the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Christ, the author of I and II Timothy, and the epistle of James, either exploit the poor or ignore their plight, desiring to hide behind a facade of wealth and McMansions. Such a denial of reality has gone to the extreme in the past of one North Carolina town banning death–the town passed a law that no one could die in the city, and the body was taken out of the city before death was pronounced. While this law was later changed, it illustrates the unnatural desire of some of the wealthy to ignore unpleasant facts of life–poverty, disease, and death. The latter is the lot of all people–but the rich can at least reach out to help those who are poor and homeless. Surely paying a dollar to a homeless person for a paper is not a blight on Brentwood’s quality of life. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to go to Heaven.” Jesus’ statement does not absolve other classes of moral responsibility, but it does point out that with greater blessings come more, not less, responsibility to reach out to the less fortunate. This is not to say that every person in Brentwood lacks compassion for the homeless, nor am I claiming that Brentwood has no programs for the homeless. But banning sales of The Contributor cannot but reflect an underlying attitude in at least a good portion of Brentwood.

The Real Problem with Young Earth Creationism

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Cover of "Genesis Flood"

Cover of Genesis Flood

Christmas 1976 was exciting for me, since I tore open one of the wrappers, revealing a book I had long desired: Henry Morris’ and John Whitcomb’s The Genesis Flood. For days I sat rocking in the living room, poring over the book, fascinated with its “reconciliation” of science with the Genesis account of creation. I was a full-fledged convert to flood geology, the view that the fossils and geological formations today were primarily formed by the destructive action of the Genesis flood. The earth was only a few thousand years after all, dinosaurs lived along with man before the Flood, and my Christianity was at peace. I joined the Creation Research Society and considered getting a science degree to do “Christian Apologetics” by defending flood geology and finding alternatives in astronomy to the idea that the universe is several billion years old.

Seminary shattered my world, but not primarily because of the bad geology behind flood geology and young earth creationism. Rather, it was a method of studying the Bible to which I had not been previously exposed in the Churches of Christ except in courses designed to attack it. A historical-critical approach to the Bible convinced me that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). Rather, there were “sources,” J, E, P, and D, which were responsible for the Pentateuch. These sources were not necessarily single documents, but also included oral tradition–they might be considered different approaches ancient Jews had to editing the Pentateuch. But if Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch, had to make sense to the ancient Hebrews, J and P had to write material that was understandable to the people of the time period. So Genesis 1 reflects the ancient Hebrew cosmology–the flat earth, the dome of the firmanent in which there were holes for the fixed stars and a path for the sun and moon. Below was Sheol, the realm of the dead. This mythological picture was borrowed from the general culture of the Ancient Near East, with parallels in Sumerian and Babylonian narratives. Genesis reinterprets the ancient cosmology in a monotheistic way; the sun and moon become “great lights” created by God instead of gods. But the purpose of Genesis is not to give a scientific account of creation. The seven days of creation (since God’s rest is also part of that creation week) symbolizes the goodness and perfection of creation. Contemporary debates about the length of the days miss the point; the days are in mythological time, not time as we experience it. There is no good reason, then, to think that the Bible says anything about the age of the earth, the nature of geological processes, or whether God worked through direct creation or through an evolutionary process. Since the best science of today says that the earth is around four and a half billion years old, and the universe is over thirteen billion years old, the reasonable course for the Christian is to accept these dates unless science proves them faulty. And since the best scientific theory of life’s development is evolution, which is unmatched in explanatory power, the rational thing for Christians to believe is that God worked through an evolutionary process. The young-earth creationists, by their adherence to an outmoded theory of Biblical interpretation, hinder the efforts to reach Christians who are also interested in science. If these Christians believe that young earth creationism is the only alternative to atheism or agnosticism, they may give up their faith. But that is unnecessary. Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project is a devout Christian who accepts evolution. So is John Polkinghorne of Cambridge University, who is both a physicist and a theologian. The geneticist Francisco Ayala is a Christian who is also an evolutionary biologist. There is no need for Christians to through out their faith when they accept the findings of contemporary science. Young earth creationists are well-meaning, but in the end they are more destructive to faith and to science than they are helpful.