The Vice-Principal evidently said recently, “As Christian teachers it is essential we are able to counter the anti-Creationalist position. It must be our duty as Christian teachers to counter these false doctrines as well founded insights”.
Now this really worried me. My coffee was starting to get cold! My own faith did not depend on being able to prove the detail of an explanation of Creation first described in language appropriate to five thousand years ago. To deny that our developing knowledge, gained since then, undermined a position of faith frightened me. It seemed not only intellectually naïve but spiritually vacuous; God made us with brains to understand new ideas, however challenging this might be. Surely “revealed wisdom” did not stop two thousand years ago.
The Guardian has seen in this a possible story of public interest. I’m sure it’s right to do so. The public is interested in such matters. And so too should we be. The Guardian approached Richard Dawkin (the author of “The Selfish Gene”) who said, “These men disgrace the honourable profession of teacher. By comparison, real teachers, teachers who respect truth and evidence whether in science or history, have so much more to offer. Today’s children are blessed with the opportunity to open their minds to the shattering wonder of their own existence, the nature of life and its remarkable provenance in a yet more remarkable universe. Teachers who help to open young minds perform a duty that is as near sacred as I will admit. Ignorant, close-minded, false teachers who stand in their way come as close as I can reckon to committing true sacrilege”.
The Guardian sensed it was having a field day. In it’s third leader it stated, “Understandably Professor Richard Dawkin is incensed at the idea of Creationism being taught to children at the tax payer’s expense. However, many parents in Gateshead are unperturbed, and understandably more interested in good results than in details of the biology syllabus”.
Read that again. “More interested in good results than in the details of the biology syllabus”.
That is a mind-numbing assumption for anyone to make. Presumably a fair proportion of the potential parents who make the school three times over subscribed are doing so because the school has a sense of purpose, of values, of direction and is staffed by teachers who care and can see in each child a spark of the divine. They care because they have a faith, and that faith can’t be measured simply in terms of “the details of the biology syllabus”.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education and Skills simply compounded the misunderstanding. “What schools need to do is to teach the national curriculum in an impartial way. Personal doctrines should not override anything that should be taught in the curriculum”.
That, surely, has to be the most worrying statement in the whole of this sorry story. By whose standard is the national curriculum “impartial”?
A touch of humility is needed. Pope John Paul II said “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes”.
Three hundred and seventy-five years before that Galileo had expressed this most beautifully, “The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach how one goes to Heaven, not how Heaven goes”.
So, where do I dare to stand?
I guess I’m back with Adam. I’ve bitten into the apple of the tree of knowledge. As such I have to make decisions every day, almost every minute of every day, between what I think – with the knowledge that I’ve inherited from my forbearers, and that extra knowledge that comes to us as the years roll by and the human race discovers more and more – between what I honestly believe is right and wrong. This is no easy task, balancing the wisdom of the ages, with the new and often untested insights. But that is the challenge of being human.
Let me put that into context. Last week I was in Dublin. I, a Protestant, was in lengthy discussion with individuals in the Catholic hierarchy about the nature of spirituality in the 21st Century. As a student in that city forty years ago, you Catholics were being told by the then Archbishop of Dublin that it was “a mortal sin” for you to attend Trinity College where I was then a student – presumably I was the implied threat!
Last Thursday week I was in an ex-convent in County Galway, now a nursing home, holding the hand of a dying farmer (who used to live very near us) and saying prayers together… yet only some twenty years ago the priest of his parish was forbidding his parishioners to attend the funeral of any Protestant.
“We have to rediscover the Jesus story as it was before Christianity, and humbly appraise what are the essentials of our faith, and abandon the historical baggage”.