The former Sixth Class teacher from the primary school in the last parish was in church. Giving her a big hug (once one is over fifty, hugs seem more acceptable), I remembered the classes of very bright pupils she taught. Did they ever give her a hard time? They certainly gave me a hard time.
There was one Friday morning when we tried to look at Genesis Chapter 1.
‘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 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.
They would probably have smiled at Milan Kundera’s 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.