Thursday, 22 May 2014

Inappropriate Nativity


We recently received a damning report about our son's performance at school. It got me quite annoyed, this report, but not because it said my son wasn't doing well at school; it annoyed me because the report included all sorts of feedback that school never bothered to provide us of its own initiative.
One of those damning inputs we have received talked about our son discussing "topics that are not age appropriate e.g. Religion theories - what is true etc [sic]". Thus, according to our school, asking existential questions to do with the core of our view of the world is inappropriate if one is a child. What a great educational institution our school turned out to be!

Obviously, my son gets these things at home. However, the reality is we do not discuss religion in detail at home much. My son is familiar with many of the scientific theories on how we got to where we are today - the big bang, evolution by natural selection - and probably more so than the bulk of most adults. But religion is rarely discussed.
One religious thing we did find ourselves discussing on several occasions is Jesus' Nativity story. Probably because he has been exposed to it since his early childhood, and probably because he gets re-exposed to it every year around the time of Christmas.
A repeating theme, whenever my son mentions this story, is him questioning the star that showed up in the sky and pinpointed Jesus' birthplace. How can a star achieve that? How can it show up all of a sudden? How come it didn't swallow the earth given stars' size and gravity? These are the types of questions he asks.
I tried to explain that if you believe in these things then you believe the all powerful God can create some sort of a star that qualifies for the purposes of the story. However, I also point out that the story is much more acceptable if we read it from the point of view of the sheep herding nomad tribes from which the story originally oriented. These folks had no idea what stars are; they did not even have the capacity to imagine what they are. To them, the stars were dots up there in the sky, and the sky was probably conceived as some sort of a ceiling that's hanging a few hundred meters above the [flat] ground. There was no way they could have a clue as to the real scale of distances involved here.
When one conceives of one's environment in such a way, the story of Jesus' star makes perfect sense. The problem is, today we know better; today we know what the true nature of stars really is. Yet most of us are taught to take the Nativity story at face value. Most of us, especially those taking CRE (Christian Religious Education) at school, are actually taught this story.
But when some of us stop to ask questions about this obviously badly made up story, then those people are labeled "inappropriate".

While on a roll here, I would like to note religion fails not only in its made up stuff. It also fails in the stuff that's absent from its scriptures.
It's nice of God to tell us about the stars that guide people and all. But if God is so almighty, why couldn't he tell us about electricity? Or radioactivity? Or basic astronomy? It is perhaps telling that on the few occasions the Bible does try its hand in science, it gets it wrong. As is the case with declaring a value of 3 for Pi.
But yeah, kids should not ask questions about that. That would be inappropriate.


Image by Cliff Muller, Creative Commons licence

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