Origins and eleven year olds

Oct 6th, 2009 | By | Category: Spirituality

“But the Moon didn’t begin like that; it came from something hitting the Earth and throwing rock into space”.

“I know, but this stuff was written two and a half thousand years ago.  They didn’t have our scientific knowledge.  They were trying to understand the universe as the saw it and to say they believed God was behind it”

He looked at me, unconvinced.

The RE textbook was dealing with Genesis Chapter 1 and trying to deal with the theme of ‘creation’ in a positive and very green way, yet even eleven year olds were very sceptical about whether the church had anything to say.  Questions about climate change and its impact on poor people aroused much more interest than anything else in the lesson.

Reading Milan Kundera at lunchtime, they would probably have smiled at his take on the story:

“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion that he had usurped himself over the cow and the horse. Yes, the right to kill a or a cow is the only thing all of mankind can agree upon, even during the bloodiest of wars.

The reason we take that right for granted is that we stand. at the top of the hierarchy. But let a third party enter the game-a visitor from another planet, for example, someone to whom God says, “Thou shalt have dominion over creatures of all other stars” -and all at once taking Genesis for granted becomes problematical. Perhaps a man hitched to the cart of a Martian or roasted on the spit by inhabitants of the Milky. Way will recall the veal cutlet he used to slice on his dinner plate and apologize (belatedly!) to the cow”.

In a post-modern world, Kundera’s perspective on the Genesis story has the same standing as the claims of a biblical literalist, who asserts that the verses of Genesis 1 are an accurate account of the origins of the universe.  Circular arguments about authority are a pointless exercise; no-one is persuaded by the logic of someone claiming something is authoritative for everyone because the people whom they believe to be authoritative say it is so.  Such logic underlies belief in the authority of the Pope – only people who believe that the Pope speaks with authority regard what he says is authoritative; say one does not recognize his authority and his words become an opinion amongst many other opinions.

Most Christians have failed to properly recognize the realities of the times, believing that simply repeating the things they believe to be true is enough to persuade people.  Repeating assertions is easier than engaging with people who believe that they also know something of the truth.  It is often the people who loudly claim to be the most anxious to spread the Good News who are least prepared to engage, in an open and honest manner, with people who think differently from themselves.

If there are serious questions raised by a class of eleven year olds in the safe ground of a church school in a middle class community, then anyone serious about evangelism needs to ask questions about the content of the message being preached.

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  1. I am aware that this makes me sound like a wooly liberal – and a lazy one at that – but there is a fine school of thought that says ‘whatever makes you happy…’

    A great many Christian people with whom I associate appear to be so ‘settled’ in their belief that they don’t even feel the need to try to engage others in discussion. The Church of England appears to be a great big middle-class security blanket.

  2. ‘Whatever makes you happy’ is very post-modern! If everything is relative, and there are no absolutes, then a utilitarian approach to happiness makes sense.

    Not having lived in England since 1983, I don’t know much about the Church of England. The “Church Times” which comes by post each week conveys a sense of an organization preoccupied with itself, though that probably applies as much to churches here.

  3. I often find that children have a pragmatic approach to this question. In one compartment, they can happily rhyme off orthodox Christian biblical stories while in church, Sunday school, religion in school, whatever. In the other compartment, they live according to more rational thought and the web of human relations around them. The first doesn’t undermine, nor even impinge on, the second.

  4. It’s not only children who compartmentalise, I find adults do it as well. It can mean that the faith of even a very devout person may in no way inform the ethical decisions they take.

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