A patronizing letter to the author of Genesis
Answering Richard Holloway’s anti-Christian diatribe.
The following open letter is CMI’s response to an article published in The Scotsman by the Right Reverend Richard Holloway,1a former Bishop of Edinburgh (1986–2000), professor of divinity, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and patron of LGBT Youth Scotland.
The reader is encouraged to first read Holloway’s letter in its entirety (with discretion as his language and tone at several points may be offensive to some of our readers), then to return to read Gavin Cox’s response:
Dear Richard Holloway,
I recently read your rather condescending “Letter to the author of the book of Genesis.”2 The way you have misunderstood Genesis bothers me greatly. In fact, not understanding it has brought the church you once served to a moment of great danger, a danger I want to tell you about. Furthermore, the “Author of Genesis” to whom you addressed your letter didn’t just live three thousand years ago as you state, for ultimately He is God—and He is alive and well today.
You describe Genesis as a “great poem”, “parable”, “fable” even a “great fiction”, but this is not how Jesus, or the New Testament writers read Genesis. They treated it as history, and built their theology on it. You won’t appreciate me pointing this out, but there are people alive in our time who insist on reading Genesis that way—theological scholars and prominent church leaders. The laws of Hebrew grammar demonstrate Genesis was written as an historical, narrative not as poetry and certainly not as fiction.
You quote Genesis 1:27–28, but mistakenly claim that following God’s instructions will result in the planet’s destruction. How you twist Scripture Richard! The opposite is true: rebelling against the Maker’s instructions has caused all the problems. God in His wisdom gave humans—in their perfect, sinless state—stewardship and responsibility for creation.3 It was never meant to be a license to destroy as you so wilfully and incorrectly interpret it. You state:
“I want to pause for a moment to reflect on what you thought you were doing when these words came to you. … In a single sentence you captured humanity’s arrogance, its belief that it owned or had dominion over the earth, and could do anything it liked with it. And that’s what we have done. The planet is marked with the smudge and ugliness of our abuse of it. It is littered with the debris of our greed.”
Those final sentences are true, but this is the result of sin, not of following God’s instructions in Genesis. Genesis is clear, and you even quote it: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). This is not fiction; we ignore these words at our peril. Genesis gives humanity ultimate worth, because we are created in His image.
Moral and ethical decay
When leaders in the church stopped viewing Genesis as historical, they consequently left the moral implications of its truth claims undefended. As the Judeo-Christian foundations of western society became ever more eroded by anti-biblical thinking, the moral claims based upon those foundations were themselves eroded. This resulted in society’s moral decline, which included the legalised murder of the unborn. Since then, a silent genocide has been perpetrated upon them—because people officially abandoned the ethical implications of being made in God’s image. And in your own writings you commit the same grave error by excluding God’s Word as the foundation to ethics.4 You reject Genesis as being anything other than quaint ‘myth’, and certainly not to be relied upon as the basis for morality in modern life.
Furthermore, Genesis defines who we are as human beings, made by God as male and female. And yet today, even this fundamental truth is being reinterpreted to suit the latest fashion and thinking. To redefine basic biological reality is foolhardy indeed, and we are seeing the consequences of this damaging confusion and irresponsible thinking in society today. Again, your own writings question the wisdom of a divinely ordained distinction between the sexes.5
The biblical definition of marriage is clearly defined in Genesis as a life-long union being between one man and one woman. However, you feel at liberty to re-define this sacred, divinely-sanctioned institution and celebrate the resulting confusion within the church.6
People like me who consider Genesis as real history are deemed as “literalists” in your eyes. It’s a position you obviously despise, judging by your scoffing, demeaning language and offensive innuendo. But we do read Genesis correctly, not literalistically, but according to the rules of literature.
Idolatry of the creation
Despite your claim, reading Genesis as history doesn’t lead us to invent a vengeful god:
“There are literalists out there who believe this is what God actually wants. And because they don’t know how to read, they’ve come up with a god who hates the world so much he is coming soon to destroy it and everything in it… [so let it burn].”
How you contort the Bible so! It is as if you had never read John 3:16. But yes, I do believe that God will return to bring final judgment to humanity for the sin committed primarily against Him, and secondarily against His creation (2 Peter 3:3–8)—scoffers beware!
And here you have the priorities reversed, because you consider sin against the environment as the highest crime. The most sacred religion in your eyes is worship of the Creation, rather than the Creator. Romans chapter one describes this brand of heresy all too well (Romans 1:25–26) and its resulting moral decay in society.
Finally, you rejoice in the fact that people are rebel sinners:
“The good news is that young people everywhere are rebelling against humanity’s God-given right to destroy the earth, their home. Their religion is love of the little blue planet that bore them and sustains them. And they are fighting hard to save it. You’d admire them.”
You are a blind leader of the blind Richard. There is nothing to rejoice in here. I hope many readers will have the presence of mind to peer through your sarcasm. You know full well that the Author of Genesis never gave us the right to “destroy the earth”, a home He entrusted us with. And these keen young eco-warriors can fight for all they’re worth, but they are not the ones ultimately in control. Like you, they have rejected the fact that this is God’s world, over which he made human beings His stewards (Genesis 1:26, 28). The writer of Genesis would not admire their futile actions as you speculate because, in their “love of the … planet” rather than its Creator, they have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25).
Future hope—imaginary and futile?
You conclude your anti-Genesis diatribe by quoting from Isaiah 11:6, which describes the future restoration of what was lost at the Curse; this is poetry as you rightly state.7 However, poetry doesn’t make the future hope of a restored Creation any the less real, because it isn’t mere poetry, rather it is divinely inspired prophecy. Only the Creator can promise to restore His Creation. It was marred by sin but “will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21)—when Christ comes again and restores all things. Saved people from every nation will one day worship Him for eternity in a restored paradise (Revelation 21:22–26).
However, if life evolved over 4.5 billion years as you believe,8 Darwin was correct when he wrote:
“What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature.”9
What is the point of your concern over the environment Richard, if only the fittest are going to survive? So let natural selection do her wasteful and horridly cruel work. To quote a favourite author of yours, Richard Dawkins, an evolved universe knows:
“no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”10
Frankly, if that is true, all your posturing and self-righteous words might as well fall on deaf ears. Such an evolutionary scheme applies to all life, from pond-scum to people. We may be here today but gone tomorrow, wiped-out by time and chance, or replaced by a fitter species. Planet Earth and eventually the universe will die—so we’re told—and then nothing, but eternal darkness. There really is no hope (therefore no gospel) according to Darwin.11
So in conclusion, it strikes me you entirely lack a sure foundation upon which to build truth, ethics, meaning and morality. Instead of building on Genesis and the hope of God’s unchanging Word, you have chosen the inescapable futility that goes hand-in-hand with having the evolutionary process as your foundation. But then again, you and those who follow your lead would have to take the author of Genesis seriously to avoid building on such quicksand. Tragically, I don’t see you doing that any time soon.
References and notes
- Bishop of Edinburgh in 1986 and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopalian Church in 1992, he retired in 2000. See: gresham.ac.uk/professors-and-speakers/professor-richard-holloway/; accessed 18 December 2019. Return to text.
- Holloway, R., Richard Holloway writes a letter to the author of the book of Genesis, scotsman.com/arts-and-culture/books/richard-holloway-writes-a-letter-to-the-author-of-the-book-of-genesis-1-5044785, 13 November 2019; accessed 16 December 2019. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The biblical roots of modern science: A Christian world view, and in particular a plain understanding of Scripture and Adam’s Fall, was essential for the rise of modern science, 29 September 2009, creation.com/biblical-roots. Return to text.
- “To suggest that [pro-life] is the only morally serious position, and that only they have any reverence for life, is demeaning to those of us who have wrestled with the issue and reach, however uncomfortably, different conclusions.” Holloway, R., Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out of Ethics, Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh, p. 124, 1999. Return to text.
- Holloway, R., Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity, Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh, p. 50, 2001. Return to text.
- Ref. 4, Holloway, pp. x–xi and 65. Return to text.
- Of course, some evangelical Christians also believe that this verse refers to a literal millennial reign of Christ to come. CMI takes a ‘no-position position’ on such eschatological differences among believers. Nevertheless, all agree that the future “new heaven and earth” will be a full restoration of what was lost at the Fall (Revelation 21:1–4, 22:3). Return to text.
- Holloway, R., A callous world: Richard Holloway finds Richard Dawkins insisting that nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent, in his collection of essays, A Devil’s Chaplain, theguardian.com, 15 February 2003. He states in this book review: “This is the best book of sermons I have read for years. So please go on preaching to us, Reverend Dawkins, and don’t mind the things they throw at you. After all, prophets always get stoned.” Return to text.
- Cited by Richard Dawkins in Dawkins, R. A Devil’s Chaplain, First Mariner Books, New York, p. 8, 2003. Return to text.
- Dawkins, R., River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life, Basic Books, New York, p. 133, 2005. Return to text.
- Indeed, he once wrote: “I’m sorry to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as divine revelation, and therefore not in Jesus as the son of God”, see: Darwin, C., letter to Frederick McDermott, darwinproject.ac.uk, 24 November 1880. Return to text.