Book of Genesis Current Hot-Button Issues And Cultural Debates In Practice
Getting Biblical in Daily Life
Creationism vs. Evolution
The debate (slash all-out brawl) over creationism and evolution has been going strong in the United States since at least the 1920s. Remember the Scopes trial in 1925? Now? How about the 1955 play turned 1960s movie Inherit the Wind? Let's just say things got messy. And legal.
A few different threads are woven together in this complicated debate, which includes about a zillion questions, five of which are as follows:
- Should the Bible be read literally?
- To what degree are Church and State to be separated?
- What are our family values, and how should public schools promote them?
- What constitutes "good science"?
- What quality of secondary education should be provided in public schools? And what counts as "quality"?
At its most basic, the debate is whether or not school-aged children should learn the theory of evolution in their science classes. The objection of "creationists" is that the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2 detail the actual events of the origin of the cosmos. That would mean that the theory of evolution studied in the biological sciences (think Charles Darwin) is wrong. Creationists offer purportedly scientific arguments to back up their claims that the world was created in six days and is relatively young. Here's the problem: mainstream scientists flat out disagree.
In 1981, the state legislatures of Arkansas and Louisiana sanctioned that equal attention be given in science classes to evolutionist and creationist theories. But Federal courts and ultimately the Supreme Court in 1987 rejected this law, deeming creationism inherently religious. That means teaching it would be a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion.
Oh, one last thing. If we do accept Genesis as the true recounting of the origins of the cosmos, which creation story do we go by? The one told in 1:1-2:4 or the one told in 2:4-25? That's another debate all together. So go on—debate.
Female Subordination and Patriarchy
Patriarchy has been a global phenomenon and ideology for quite a while (Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera haven't always been around, you know). And in the book of Genesis, it begins with a rib—Adam's rib, that is, from which God created Eve (2:18-25). Some religious groups will point to this fact as "natural" or "God-ordained" support for the subordination of women to men. Other groups read the same passage and interpret the female in the story as an equal partner for the man, or even as Human 2.0, a new and improved model of Adam.
Beyond the creation story, there's no question that the family structure of Genesis is patriarchal. After all, the covenant gets passed down from Abraham through his sons. Oh, and men marry more than one wife, the women are given in marriage by men, and the main female task is to make babies. So yeah.
While the women of Genesis are never totally free of the patriarchal ideologies that inform their behaviors (they all really want to have babies, for example, and allow themselves to be given in marriage), they still try to act and influence affairs in a world that is ruled by men. They often even resort to trickery and disguise to get what they want. Just think of Lot's daughters (19:29-38), Rebekah (27), and Tamar (38). Regardless of how they do it, though, more often than not they get what they want. And in the process, they are shown to be central actors to the unfolding of God's plans for the world.
The tradition of patriarchy and female subordination persists to this day, and unfortunately, Genesis probably helps it along. Want to challenge it? We dare you to write a feminist reading of Genesis. Come on, it'll be fun.
The Israel-Palestine Conflict
In Genesis, God repeatedly promises first Abraham and then Isaac and Jacob that their offspring will come to possess the land of Canaan. Don't believe us? Check out 12:5-7. 13:14-15, 15:7, 17:8, 26:2-3, 28:13, 35:12, 46:3-4… whew. Canaan is a little strip of land on the east coast of the Mediterranean known today as Israel-Palestine (check out "Promised Land" under Symbols for more on that).
Oh, there's just one problem: the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are right smack in the middle of the land that God promised to Israel, and the Palestinians lay claim to ownership of this land. Cue major tension, heated debates, and deadly wars.
Genesis undoubtedly conditions the religious understandings behind this conflict. But the conflict has grown well beyond the pages of this book and poses quite a dicey set of problems, which include:
- the legacy of conflict between Judeo-Christians and Muslims;
- the issue of how to respond to the Holocaust;
- and the messy aftermath of European colonialism.
Once again, Genesis is only the beginning. Pun intended.