In a moment, I will say something you've probably never read in an opinion column.
Last week, you see, I wrote about Sarah Palin's attempt to ban books when she was a small-town mayor. In the process, I noted that "we all have questions" for Palin. Among them: "Does she really take the parable of Adam and Eve as literal truth?"
Which unleashed a flood of e-mails from people angry that I had demoted the Christian creation story to the status of parable and suggested by implication that anyone who believes it is, as one reader put it, a "fool."
Which brings us to those seldom-used words:
You're right. I apologize.
Let me be clear: I don't believe the Bible's account of creation. Never have. Leaving aside Darwin and taking the story on its own merits, there are still holes in it big enough to walk a dinosaur through. Not the least of which is the conundrum of how, short of incest, humanity reproduced itself if there was only one family on Earth.
And had I framed my question more narrowly - Does Sarah Palin really want the Bible story of creation taught in schools? - you'd be reading no mea culpa here. Science classes are for science and faith is not science. Nor, in a pluralistic society, does anyone have the right to impose faith on someone else.
But I didn't pose a narrow question. Instead, I airily dismissed a belief I don't share, yet a belief which, in and of itself, hurts no one, marginalizes no one, and is a fundament of faith for millions.
That was needlessly (as opposed to necessarily) disrespectful. It also was arrogant. Which is, oddly enough, the one trait of the lately resurgent atheist movement that vexes me. I'm not affronted by their unbelief, per se. But among some atheists there is often a stick-in-the-eye condescension to their expression thereof - let Bill Maher stand as its avatar - that really gets tiresome.
In fairness to atheists, though, I've always suspected that was a reaction to the equally irksome arrogance some religious conservatives - let the Rev. Jerry Falwell stand as avatar - have exuded upon the rest of us for 30 years.
If you sense angels moonwalking on the head of a pin here, you're right. My problem is that within the confines of this debate as it is usually construed, I am neither fish nor fowl. I can no more buy unbelief than I can Adam and Eve and for the same reason: holes big enough to float an ark through. Not least of which is this: OK, there was a Big Bang. Who lit the fuse?
I've said before that some of us will never believe; some of us will always believe without question. And some of us will always believe "with" questions. I am in the last camp. In the stillness of their own souls, I suspect most people are. Indeed, I suspect that's the largest camp on the planet.
And yes, a reasonable person of whatever theological bent might wonder how and where you draw the line. If you question Adam and Eve, why not question all of it? Isn't life after death just as unlikely as a world created in seven days?
I can give no answer that satisfies intellect. Which is, I suppose, the very nature of faith.
It is, however, too often the case in these contentious days that faith devolves into loud, insoluble arguments like this one over how human life came to be. Meanwhile, there's a comparative silence about how we treat each other while we are here.
Maybe we should let creation take care of itself. Heck, it already has.
But see, the Bible also says do for one another, serve and sacrifice for the least of these among us. So when I hear the debate about creation, I wonder: where is the debate about ministering to the broken, lifting the fallen, tending the sick? Why isn't it at least as loud as this one is? Where is the urgent exhortation to step out from the confines of your own life and help someone else?
That, too, is faith.