Righting America

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Creationism and The Rapture Are Perverse Rhetorics | Righting America

by Rodney Kennedy 

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His seventh book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, has recently been published. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear soon. 

An artistic drawing of an armored skeletal zombie-alien battling a human-like warrior from the movie Alien Vs. Predator.
Alien vs. Predator via wallpapers.com.

Alien vs. Predator manages to be a cross-genre film encompassing science fiction, horror, and action. This essay pertains to the existence of two perverse theological oddities, that also include science fiction, horror, and action: creationism, and the rapture. The theme of this article argues that creationism and the rapture are unnecessary accretions to Christian theology and are perversions. Creationism is the alien, and the rapture is the predator. 

Such an unusual trope requires explanation. Creationism is an alien theology overlayed onto Genesis 1 – 11 to promote a right-wing agenda. This right-wing agenda includes creationists, rapture believers, revisionist historians, family values promoters. The “leaders” often appear together at evangelical gatherings. They are linked together with overlapping agendas that are identical to evangelical literalism. Hiding in the bushes of creationism and the rapture is a simplistic attempt to use Scripture to achieve the political goals of restoring America to its supposedly Christian roots. 

Creationism and rapture are perverse theologies whose rhetoric perverts Scripture, misinterprets metaphorical texts, and promotes dangerous fantasies. 

Literalism: The Tower of Babel for Creationism and Rapture 

A glaring weakness of creationism and the rapture relates to their complete dependence on a literal reading of the Bible. The idea of a literal truth Bible is mapped onto the theories of creation and rapture, thus making both theories inadequate. 

To establish the kingdom of literalism, fundamentalists must destroy the literary complexity of the Bible and its vast army of symbols. This crusade, like the attempt of numerous Popes to conquer the Holy Land, has claimed many victims. The Templar Knights of literalism have hacked, burned, and destroyed as many of the metaphors of the Bible as possible. Those they haven’t killed, they have imprisoned, so that the symbolic language of the Bible no longer speaks with ambiguity and aliveness. The remaining symbols, locked in the Fundamentalist State Prison of Certainty, are kept in solitary confinement with no visitors allowed. 

Creationism and rapture share this perverted attempt to literalize texts of Scripture. These two right-wing ideologies once upon a time said, “‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be destroyed by these liberals.” 

The literalizing of metaphorical texts is rhetorical murder. Metaphors, similes, analogies, stories, legends, and myths are intended as defenses against literalism. This collection of rhetorical weapons against literalism may be dubbed “troping.” While I think creationism and the rapture are “tripping” (a drug metaphor), I will be “troping” this pair of perverse theologies. 

Genesis 1 Is a Poem 

Creationists take the poetry of Genesis 1 and attempt to literalize it. They refuse to see this as a liturgical act, a litany of praise. They ignore the:

  • Genre of the text – poetry.
  • Liturgical usage of the text in Hebrew worship. 
  • Language of the text – worship. 

The words of worship stick out in the poem: “It was good” appears six times in the text and “Very good” in the ending line of the poem. “There was evening and there was morning” are liturgical lines, not a dating of the length of the creative process. Genesis 1 has more in common with Psalm 8 than with any scientific account. 

The poet Mary Oliver says, “When we talk about ‘a figure of speech,’ we are talking about an instance of figurative language.” Literalizing the poetry of Genesis 1 is like literalizing Byron’s “rose.” When Robert Burns wrote, “O, my Luve is like a red, red rose,” that rose is an image. Burns is not saying he is in love with a rose. 

Creationism and the rapture add nothing to the epistemic value of Christian faith. I poke fun at creationism and the rapture because both ideas could disappear from Christian conversation and nothing would change. “In beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” “Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.” That is sufficient. 


Rowan Williams says, “I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories. Whatever the biblical account of creation is, it’s not a theory alongside theories. It’s not as if the writer of Genesis or whatever sat down and said well, how am I going to explain all this… ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…’” 

A category mistake is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category, or, alternatively, a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property. For an advertising analogy, it is like other animals trying to be the Cadbury Easter Bunny. A pair of bunny ears does not make a rabbit out of a dog, cat, or mouse. 

Creationism has always wanted to be a science. Not content with being bad theology, creationism set out on a quest to become a science. Decades of efforts led George McGready Price and Henry Morris to hammer out a kind of creation science. This led to the development of scientific creationism. Scorned and humiliated by all the disciplines of true science, creationists invented intelligent design. Creationism, in therapy, cries, “All I want is to be a science.” 

Creationism appears more out of place than a food truck in a land of five-star Michelin restaurants. Of all the science books ever written, the Bible never appears on the list. Ken Ham’s tortured attempts to insist that he does “true science,” is a rhetorical trick. Creationism is not science. 

Creationism: A Word Game, Not A Science

While creationists play with words, real scientists map the human genome. Creationism’s best effort in the attempt to be a science has been intelligent design. On inspection, “intelligent design” turns out to be a clever slogan not a science. It belongs with “It’s the economy stupid,” or “Make America great again,” not in a science lab with serious scientists. New clothes do not magically turn a religious idea into science. Dressing up creation science as an actual science is akin to the novel idea of evangelicals disinterring the body of Jim Crow, putting him in a red, white and blue suit, singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and insisting that neither Crow nor they are racists. Creationism’s word tricks feel more like “Wheel of Fortune” than actual science. 

An analysis of the creationist textbook, Of Pandas and People, was prepared by Barbara Forest, a professor at Southeastern University in Hammond, Louisiana. Her analysis and testimony anchored the defense of evolution in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. She demonstrated that the phrase “intelligent design” had been abruptly substituted for creationism in 1987. The change took place immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court branded creationism a religious doctrine. Changing “creationism” to “intelligent design” does not equate to science. It’s a rhetorical trick, a bit of academic plagiarism. Sneaky huh? 

Stripped of its artificial designs, its elaborate costumes, its attention to details filled with misinformation, creationism reveals that it is not a science. Instead, it’s a word game.

The Rapture 

The American obsession with the rapture parallels the fascination of moviegoers with science fiction, horror movies like Alien vs. Predator. The idea is that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.”  Based on the dispensational theory of an ex-Anglican priest, the rapture distorts scripture with a false reading of apocalyptic literature. 

The rapture doesn’t not have a single book as its primary biblical appeal. Rapture believers make use of texts all over the Bible. Bits and pieces of Ezekiel and Daniel, parts of Mark and Luke, and the entire book of Revelation prop up the rapture idea. But the strained attempt to take apocalyptic literature literally crashes on the same rocks that doom the ship of creationism. 

The rapture earns its tropological name of Predator because of the violence it unleashes on the earth at the second appearance of Jesus. Perhaps it is the danger that the rapture presents that makes it more terrifying than creationism. 

Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright asks, “We might begin by asking, ‘What view of the world is sustained, even legitimized, by the Left Behind ideology?  How might it be confronted and subverted by genuinely biblical thinking?’” He offers this answer: “For a start, is not the Left Behind mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon?” The rapture precludes giving serious attention to the most dangerous crisis facing the earth: climate change. The reality of climate change puts, for the first time, humanity on the endangered species list. 

I have imagined a debate with a learned and respected creationist. In my dream the creationist presents a long, detailed defense of his ideas. When my turn comes, for whatever reason, in the dream I have not prepared anything. Instead, I simply say, “Creationism is unnecessary to Christian faith” and sit down. I didn’t win the debate, but when I awakened from my dream, I was smiling. “Unnecessary” sums it up for me. Ken Ham’s propensity for circular, endless argument seduces progressives to dive into the murky waters of attempting to disprove creationism, when it disproves itself with its many words of defense.  

After all, when your explanation has no testable steps, there are no means to disprove it. It just sits there, almost like the smile on Alice’s Cheshire cat. Creationists, almost as a reflex action of someone being smashed in the face, appeal to the “mystery of God.” This is what Christians do when faced with evidence they can’t explain. When the best argument creationists have is to cough up old ideas from the 18th and 19th centuries which attribute every unexplained natural process to the direct involvement of God, they are reduced to mere personal incredulity. 

To creationism and the rapture I can only sing, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu, adieu, adieu.”