This Blog and its author owe a lot to Charles Darwin. We all do, whether we have read “The Origin of Species” or not. Evolution – which, until recently, was called a theory – is an established, undeniable, scientific fact that has transformed the way we understand the world of the living, including ourselves. Darwin’s discovery of Natural Selection made him abandon the Christian faith of which he very nearly became an ordained minister. I feel I owe him not just this post but a whole score of reflections inspired by him. The first concerns his thoughts on the damage done to children by religious brainwashing :
I joined the Franciscans at the age of sixteen. At seventeen I donned the habit, sandals and tonsure of a Franciscan novice. Seven years later I was ordained a Catholic priest. Three years after that, I was sent to Paris to obtain a Diploma in Pastoral Catechetics (Religious Education) and a Doctorate in Theology. If you have read the preceding chapters, you know that I ended my career as a Franciscan and as a priest, before the full completion of my studies. You will, however, also remember that I spent the following ten years, in America, as a Director, and University Professor, of Religious Education.
When I now read Darwin, I shudder at having, with the best intentions in the world, contented myself with educating Catholic children and adults (as well as teachers and clergy) towards a more liberal understanding of their – and at the time, my – religion. I was thereby continuing to contribute to the myth of God the Creator, the Bible as His Revelation, and Mother Church as His infallible spokesperson. The following text of Darwin, from his “Autobiography”, will remain a thorn in my side for as long as I live : “Let us not underestimate the probability that constant education in believing in God in the mind of children produces an effect so powerful, which can be hereditary in their as yet not fully developed brains. It would be as difficult for them to reject belief in God as for a monkey to abandon its hate and instinctive fear of snakes”.
I am afraid that the damage I did in reinforcing the credulity of my students will lead many of them to condemn and reject the testimony of my book and this blog that I was mistaken, tragically mistaken. Some, however, may read this and recognize that I am now trying to correct my misguided guidance and inviting them to share the light I have been vouchsafed (!) to see !