I have read that the Catholic Church has conceded that the earth is not the center of the universe and after four centuries has apologized for burning Giordano Bruno, a Dominican monk, at the stake for agreeing with Copernicus and has asked forgiveness for threatening to do the same to Galileo and   forcing him to eat his words. I have also read that the Pope has conceded that Darwin was on to something and that there is truth in the theory of evolution. The Baptists today, I surmise, concede the former but I read that they without a dissenting voice adamantly reject the latter. In fact, a Baptist pastor on behalf of his flock has implied that shootings by schoolchildren is the result of the teaching of evolution. Teaching it, he says, is “undermining their foundational values.”

Why would the truth of earth’s relatively insignificant position among the celestial bodies of the universe so disturb a church that it would go so far as to burn a member for believing it. I suspect when the inquisitors were at Bruno to change his mind that one of them pleaded: “But, Giordano, don’t you realized that even if your position is true, it must not be admitted by the church; for it would undermine the foundational values of the children and then all hell would break loose.” Giordano refused to recant and went bravely to his death and no more hell than usual broke loose.

The trouble with being dogmatic and arrogantly certain is that when one’s dogma is undermined it is ever so much more difficult to admit one’s error, particularly when one’s livelihood and an institution’s future are in the balance. The reason the Catholic Church burnt to death some of the great characters and minds of the ages is that its authority and power were threaten. It had a vested interest in ignorance and committed atrocities to perpetuate that ignorance. And so it is today with Baptists with regard to evolution. They have a vested interest in Creationism, and evolution threatens that interest. They have painted themselves into a theological corner with the dogma that every word in the Bible is literally true. If they had the power, I suspect, that some modern-day Giordanos would have met the same fate as the one of the16th century.

My children grew up at the table and I was there preaching, not just on Sunday but every day. My text invariably was politically liberal or theologically unorthodox or both. I deified FDR and castigated Hoover and all his tribe and I spoke reverently of Darwin and his theory and skeptically of Creationism and of much else in the New and Old Testaments. I did talk lovingly of Jesus and his message. However, neither of my children apparently are worse off for my having undermined Republican dogma or conventional religious beliefs. And If there is a heaven, I guess their chance will be as good as most earthlings wondering what this is all about.

As I see it, it is a disservice to children and to adults for a church and its pastors to announce with divine authority that all that is necessary for salvation is to believe literally every word of one book, namely, the Bible, to be baptized, to have faith and accept the grace of God. Then, to sit back smugly and wait for the rapture, at which time they will ascend while the non-believers gnash their teeth in envy.

Such teachings subvert the will to investigate the meaning and mystery of life, to read and associate with all those great minds who have questioned conventional wisdom, orthodox dogma and Neanderthal notions, and to live vicariously with all the free spirits and secular saints who have revealed truth and created beauty in words and works.

I cut my teeth on Baptist theology. I know whereof I speak. And I suggest that Baptists recognized that in the long run their best interest is to stop dragging their theological feet, to reconcile with Darwin and to stress Jesus’ message more and easy salvation less.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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