Righting America

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Young Earth Creationism is Gnosticism Lite | 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 sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – has recently been published by Wipf and Stock (Cascades). And his newest book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, will come out in early 2023. 

Picture of a painting of the tree of Gnosis; Ruins with a centaur are on the left, white robbed figures are on the left, and a dragon is in the center.
Image via Pemptousia,com

Here’s my argument: Creationism represents a mild form of Gnosticism, and suffers from the same heretical illusions as Gnosticism. That is to say, Creationism’s default setting is Gnosticism, not Christian faith.

The Gnostic form of creation depends upon a series of mythological tales that are beyond belief. And while Creationism rejects the Gnostic demigods and the Gnostic creation myths, it has managed to imbibe the tendency of depending upon mythological tales for verification of faith. This Gnostic lite movement asks us to believe in a young earth, a literal Adam and Eve, the sons of God having sex with the daughters of men, Noah and the flood, and the tower of Babel, all the while making Genesis 1 – 11 an equal of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

In the second century the Gnostics were winning significant converts within the Christian community of Lyons and other areas of the Roman Empire. They did so by distorting Christian forms of thought and theological ideas, thus allowing the Gnostic “heresy” to be accepted by many as the truth of the Gospel. 

Creationists operate in much the same style, but with a lot more punch. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (AiG) has, in addition to his Creation Museum and his Ark Encounter, a wide national network that allows him to spread his distortions of creation to millions. Ham is part of an American evangelical community that numbers over 100 million believers in what some have described as a “parallel culture” that is determined to establish its beliefs as THE true form of Christianity. 

Gnosticism posits a system with three aspects. First there is the dramatic struggle within the “Pleroma.” The heavenly world is the Pleroma. This struggle leads to the fall of some of the deities into a lesser realm outside the Pleroma. These gods struggle to return to the higher realm. Second, there is the quasi-divine realm of the “Kenoma.” Third there is the Gnostic account of salvation. This includes the account of the “Cosmos.” This is the material realm below the Kenoma. This area is populated with numerous deities. This area is also populated by people who have chosen certain gods, some of whom represent the paths to salvation and some which do not. 

The important question is: How did the creation of a Cosmos occur from all of this mythology? Desire partnered with a “Demiurge,” who it turns out is the God of the Old Testament, the God of Israel. Israel’s God is the one who actually crafted the material world of the Cosmos from the nothing. Israel’s God, in this view, looks remarkably like any garden variety pagan God – a capricious, foul-tempered, self-serving, easily bored deity. Having brought the world into existence, this God proceeded to expel humans from the Garden of Eden and then destroy the world in a flood, saving only Noah and his family. This God is portrayed as a wrathful god capable of destroying everything. 

(Interestingly, this Gnostic God is very similar to the God who is presented at Ark Encounter, except AiG ramps up the divine destruction by suggesting the possibility that God slaughtered 20 billion human beings.)

Creationists avoid the complexities of Gnostic notions of creation by positing the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. God creating from nothing. There was God and six days later there was Earth. This is the central mythology of creationism. 

Of course, to get there creationists must ignore Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” In other words, in the Genesis story of creation, there was already something. 

But while this is in the Bible, the creationists cannot allow it. Instead, they assert that there was nothing and God spoke everything into existence. This is the primal myth that you are asked to embrace if you are to be a true believer. 

More generally, becoming a creationist involves embracing a series of mythological moves that brought human life into existence, moves that are not indicated in Scripture, and that are contradicted by what we know of science. 

The creation story of Genesis ignores the rest of the universe and only tells us how the Milky Way galaxy and the earth came into existence. There’s nothing in the biblical account of other galaxies, other planets, or the possibility of life in other parts of the universe. It is as if the universe appeared and was of no consequence to the development of earth. Science, of course, makes such an assertion laughable. 

Even more laughable is the notion that God “sorted” all this out in six twenty-four-hour days. 

The rather playful artistic creator of the Genesis creation myth in chapter 2 shows God and Adam engaging in the most basic principle of science: naming. “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.” Adam, the first scientist, named every living creature, but no mate was found to be his partner. 

Science has always been nothing more than organized common sense. This early and promising beginning for the discipline of science disappears in the creationists’ attack on science and their determination to make evolution the devil theory of the universe. This despite the fact that, as cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller puts it, “The specific objections raised against evolution are easily answered.” Miller points out that “evolution has never been on stronger scientific ground than it is today.” Creationism, pushing aside all evidence to the contrary, insists that we place all our faith in a mythology that is as misleading and ill-informed as that of the ancient Gnostic heresy. 

Ken Ham, like his Gnostic predecessors, prides himself on biblical exegesis. He invokes biblical authority for his creationist views, no matter how misguided. Ham rejects modern science, biblical criticism, and the faith of millions of non-fundamentalist Christians. He convinces his millions of followers that evolution is the “big lie.” 

For Ham, “the big lie” plays as large a part in his imagination as the “big lie” does in the mind of his beloved (still beloved?) Donald Trump. For example, in his book, The Lie, Ham quotes 2 Peter 2:1 – “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” Here’s Ham’s interpretation of this passage: “The Bible prophetically warns that in the last days false teachers will introduce destructive lies among the people. Their purpose is to bring God’s truth into disrepute and to exploit believers by telling them made-up and imagined stories. Such a lie is among us. That Lie is Evolution.” 

Now, it is obvious that 2 Peter has nothing at all to do with evolution, but – professional proof-texter that he is — Ham has claimed biblical authority in this bit of scriptural misuse. And like a seasoned politician, Ham turns this argument —  that he has introduced lies, brought God’s truth into disrepute, and exploited believers with made-up and imagined stories – against his accusers. An ancient Gnostic would revel in this sort of strategy.

Ham casts himself as a lonely warrior in a fight against all the assembled enemies of God. His movement takes on cosmic, apocalyptic dimensions. He becomes John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Luke Skywalker rolled into one strong man to save the universe from evolution and liberalism. Not bad for an Aussie who has so completely imbibed American mythology and stitched it into his daily defense of creationism. 

From his lofty perch above the fray, Ham fires away at every person that dares criticize him and his creationist views. I am a nobody in Ham’s universe, but when I penned an article critical of Ham in Word & Way, he broadcast the article to his millions of followers. They responded with gleeful attacks on me, the schools I attended, the schools where I have taught, the churches I have pastored. Hundreds of hateful, inaccurate Facebook posts flooded my page. 

As an ex-fundamentalist, well-trained in this sort of combat, I proceeded to respond on Ham’s blog to each vile post. After I had responded to the first twenty-five posts, my access to the post was blocked and my responses deleted. Only the Ham defenses remained intact. 

Was Ham terrified that a few of his acolytes might be persuaded by the views of a Baptist preacher who thinks so little of his creationism? 

The Gnostics believed that God selected a few special people when the Demiurge breathed out the psychic element into humans. This select few were a pneumatic, or spiritual element. These are the true elect or Illuminati. They represent a higher class of human being altogether and are the spiritual substance of the Pleroma itself. 

Watching Ham on television, reading his books, and scanning his daily Facebook posts, he projects himself as one of the Illuminati. He has been given the special revelation, the truth, the biblical authority to lead the rest of the common horde of humanity into the light. 

Unfortunately for those who have been sucked in, Ken Ham’s light is a Gnostic light of pure heresy.