As a child I was taught that evolution was false and ridiculous--that species might evolve changes over time but never change to a different species. This has been called, by some, “microevolution”. And so, I was taught to scoff at the concept of macroevolution--that humans and other primates have a common ancestor. I was surprised when I started to learn that the theory of evolution is considered to be just as factual as any other scientific theory--gravity, relativity, etc. But that’s not the topic of this post.
What I wish to discuss in this post is the irony of the fact that Christianity (while condemning the concept of evolution) is itself an example of evolution. That is to say, Christianity has itself evolved a great deal over time. Of course, this evolution is different because it was a conscious made deliberately, not just nature sifting out the less-adapted species.
The Christianity found in the New Testament is quite different from the Christianity practiced now. One quite specific example is the concept of the devil and hell. You will not find these concepts discussed in the Bible. That’s because they’re not part of the original teaching of Christianity. The devil, with his goat legs, forked tail, horns, and trident, is a conglomeration of all of the gods worshipped by those of other religions. The trident is clearly that belonging to Poseidon, the goat legs from the idea of satyrs, the horns from minotaurs, etc. The idea was to condemn the worship of other religions by associating them with the concept of evil, and embodying this concept into a being who would be god’s arch-nemesis.
Christianity was strongly influenced by other religions. The traditions that we have relating to our Christian holidays are practices from other religions. The reason that we have a Christmas tree and hang lights on it is because pagans would see the sun waning in strength in the winter months. They would burn yule logs and roll them down the hill in the effort to relight the sun. The lights on our Christmas tree represent flames of a burning log that would be used to relight the sun to make the days longer and bring back summer.
Easter’s another fun one. We took the sign of fertility--the rabbit--and made him the symbol of a Christian holiday. And not just any Christian holiday, but one which symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus. By its origins, it is more a celebration of sexuality and fertility than of Christ.
So, why has Christianity changed? What has made it evolve? The desire to survive. Each living creature has the instinct to survive. When we, as humans, feel our life is in danger, we might panic, we might get a rush of adrenaline and be capable of things that we wouldn’t otherwise be capable of. Christianity as well has a desire to survive. It wants to be preserved (more accurately, since it’s silly to personify a religion, the leaders of Christianity wish to preserve their power). It adopted the rites of other religions in order to incorporate their believers. Just as the Borg, it assimilates other cultures.
And Christianity continues to change. One drastic change has been its attitude toward women. In the New Testament, Paul writes that women should not be allowed to speak in church. And this was the attitude of “good Christians” for many hundred years--that men were superior and women were only good for household activities. It was the man’s role to conduct business and see to legal affairs. The woman had no voice in politics or legal matters. In many cases, she was denied the right to own property. Since the feminist movement began, Christianity has had to change (albeit slowly and reluctantly) in order to survive. If a major religion were to still treat women the way they were treated a couple hundred years ago, they would lose all popularity. No one would attend because that kind of thinking is no longer tolerated in our society.
Christianity had another big change when our society finally integrated and began to treat all people equally, regardless of race. Prior to that time, many Christian religions (especially Mormonism) taught that people of certain races were inferior, simply because of their lineage. Brigham Young taught that black people were less valiant in the pre-Earth life and therefore came to this Earth as an inferior race as punishment for being less than fully-supportive of God’s plan. If a religion were to teach racism nowadays, as they taught back in the 50s and earlier, then they would become a fringe movement. In order to survive and maintain their membership, religions were forced to drop their racist beliefs. As reluctant as it was to do so, the Mormon church finally decided to treat black people as equal by revoking their ban on holding the priesthood and marrying white people.
The principle of natural selection is that those who are best adapted to survive environmental situations are more likely to survive and therefore their genes are more likely to be passed on to the next generation, thereby promoting “good” changes and weeding out “bad” ones. Just so, the desire to survive is what has caused Christianity to weed out bad ideas, such as racism and sexism, and to adapt to accept the views of the population, just as it accepted the views of pagans so long ago with Easter and Christmas.
And so, it is with greatest confidence that I predict that there will come a time (and it is not far off) where Christianity must accept the validity of gay marriages, or it will become a fringe movement. Just a few short decades ago, it was common (and popular) for Christians to teach that homosexuality is a perversion and that homosexuals are perverse. This idea is becoming far less popular now, and the major religions are moving away from it and saying less radical things. Currently, the most popular belief is (more or less) either “It’s okay to have homosexual feelings, just don’t act on them.” or “It’s okay for gay people to live as they choose, as long as they don’t call their relationships ‘marriages’.” While still bigoted, these statements are far less offensive than those taught in the past. Christianity is again evolving. The time will come when it will no longer to be popular to say that gay people should not be allowed to marry. And when that time comes, each religion must make the decision of whether to maintain its homophobic teachings and in doing so condemn itself to becoming a fringe religion or they must accept that there is nothing sinful or immoral about gay couples calling their relationship a “marriage”.