Working on an introduction to research on the reflections of Year 7 students, I began reading the work of Harold Loukes and Ronald Goldman. Published in the 1960s, their research shows Christian teachings were believed by only a small minority of school students.
More than fifty years later, Loukes and Goldman would not have been surprised that students had become ever more sceptical. There is an especially strong sense of scepticism among students about the idea, from the Creation story in the book of Genesis, that people should have dominion over the Earth and that they should be able to do as they wished with the environment.
Year 7 students would probably smile at Milan Kundera’s take on the Creation 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 the post-modern world inhabited by the Year 7 students, 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 Chapter 1 are an accurate account of the origins of the universe.
Anyone in a classroom knows that circular arguments about authority are a pointless exercise. No-one is going to be persuaded by the logic of someone who claims something is the truth for everyone because the people whom they themselves believe to be speaking the truth say it is the truth. Such logic underlies belief in the authority of the Pope. Only people who believe that the Pope speaks with authority believe what he says is authoritative. If people do not recognize his authority, then 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. If Loukes and Goldman had been heeded in the 1960s, the church might be very different now.