There is an ugly truth why some segments of white American society are so fierce in their defense of creationism. Simply put, that reason is white supremacy.
But without a critical examination of creationism within the context of those religious cultures that support and espouse it, one can easily overlook the racism that is at its core and the tribalistic ethos that breathed it into life.
If we peer through the mists of time to the earliest organized societies, we find that tribalism steered religious iconography for millennia. Seemingly alone and frightened in a world they did not understand, ancient humans envisioned a kindly and protective deity that would shelter them and make sense of their world. To make these protective deities relatable and easier to understand, they were given human qualities. Another word for creating a deity in one’s own human image is “anthropomorphism.” This word is derived from a combination of two Greek words: anthropos, “human” and morphe “form.” And by creating deities in the form of humans, humans were thus in the form of the gods.
Throughout human history, religious iconography often has attributed human qualities to divine beings. But this attribution varied from group to group, or more concisely, from tribe to tribe, sometimes even creating different versions of the same god. For this reason, across the globe, deities were not generically human, but were attributed qualities of the people in the tribes who worshipped them. So, gods became not only anthropomorphic, but ethnomorphic as well. For this reason, representations of the Hindu god Brahma do not resemble Brad Pitt, nor do depictions of Olorun, the creator god found in Nigerian culture, look like Charlton Heston.
By the Middle Ages, Christianity was securely the dominant religion in Europe, having eliminated the more ancient beliefs such as those held by Druids and worshippers of Isis. And with dominance comes control. God, Christ and the angels all were represented as having European features and pale skin. As far back as the late 13th century, the devil was portrayed as black in color. The writings of the monk Caesarius of the abbey of Heisterbach from that period contain references to the devil and demons as having black skin.
The Book of Genesis’ account of “In the beginning…” was transformed into a Eurocentric narrative with Adam and Eve as people with light skin giving birth to the human race. This article of faith in its European ethnomorphic form is as much a religious dogma to many Americana Christian creationists as are the Ten Commandments.
It has been, and continues to be, heresy to suggest that the darker people of the world – who many creationists believe carry the mark of Cain – were created in God’s image. This would remove people with light skin from the pinnacle of God’s divine plan, or at the very least, relegate them to sharing God’s grace with those whom Western culture enslaved and devalued.
This hoarding of God’s goodness was bolstered by the fact that art, history, culture and religion all grew out of what people know best. The famous Renaissance artists Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael never articulated a saint or angel as having the appearance of an Asian or African because the historiography that informed their world view, and thus their sense of the cosmological, was constricted by their European tribe.
Anthropologists tell us that a “tribe” is, in part, a form of human social organization based on a set of smaller groups having political integration and defined by traditions of common descent, language, culture and ideology. Europeans often avoid the term “tribe” in favor of “nation” or “kingdom” when describing their social organizations and assign lesser degrees of civilization to tribal units. But a tribe by any other name is still a tribe, and tribal behavior is one defining factor when a common language, culture and ideology control it.
European tribal ethos is clouded by racism on many levels and in many ways. And when it was transported across the Atlantic Ocean, beginning in the late 15th century, it found fertile ground where it could run rampant with the genocide of the original inhabitants and the importation of enslaved labor from Africa. It was not by accident that European priests stepped off the boats with the first Spanish adventurers; and every subsequent wave of colonists brought their ethnocentric gods with them. The importation of their version of creator and the redeemer asserted their privilege to claim all that they surveyed – in the name of their god.
We should not attempt to deny the fact that religion was used to justify many forms of racist evil that landed on America’s shores as this society marched towards its present-day existence. This racism still exists in America’s DNA. So deeply is it embedded in the American ethos that, in many Black churches across this country, the image of a white Jesus is the central point of focus. And some Black churchgoers do not push back more rigorously against the common practice of depicting Adam and Eve as European-looking people with light skin, as they gave birth to the human race, despite the scientific evidence that the first humans, and the ancestors of us all, were inhabitants of Africa and had dark skin.
It is not likely that many white Americans will come to see their god as anything other than a white anthropomorphic deity, because creationism, coupled with a white Adam and Eve created in the image of their god, secures their place at the top of the hierarchy of all things. But it is important that people of good conscience conduct their lives with the understanding that this is a version of a god that tribalism, born of white supremacy, has created.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia. His earlier commentaries may be found at https://oblayton1.medium.com/