Tuesday, 15 October 2013

God vs the International Space Station

My eldest daughter goes to a Catholic school, as of about five weeks ago. When me and the missus were talking about what school she would go to, this seemed like a great idea. We both went to Catholic schools, and in fact when we first met, we bonded cosily about how innately funny members of the clergy were in a learning environment. "We used to have Brothers teaching at my school, wearing habits with hoods and a knotted rope for a belt!" giggled the missus.

What we didn't realise is that Catholicism has been going a bit funny since we were at school. Evidence of this started to arrive after a couple of weeks through our daughter, who had nothing to tell us about playing or doing sums or reading stories or making new friends, but lots to tell us about God and saying prayers and how God lives in the sky. It is worth me mentioning before I go any further that the school isn't run by the baddies out of The Da Vinci Code or anything, it's a normal state school that has to teach the National Curriculum and is located conveniently close to the curry restaurant that we sometimes get takeaways from on a Friday night.

I didn't realise it, but the scene was being set for an epic clash of ideologies.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter asked me about space. I fired up the computer and showed her some pictures of the International Space Station, where you could see the Earth in the background and the land and sea lying beneath the clouds. I found NASA's Spot the Station website and showed her how if she wanted, we could get up early in the morning and see if we could see the space station through our binoculars. She was really excited about this, and she asked if we could get up one Sunday morning so that we could have a go at spotting the space station.

Then, the evening before, she walked up to me looking a bit nervous. She wasn't giving me eye contact, which is unusual for someone who is very comfortable with using the Fierce Stare as a negotiating tactic.

"Daddy, I don't want to get up and look for the space station. I'm a bit worried about space." she said.

"That's alright, Kate," I said, "it would have meant getting up in the middle of the night and we both would have been a bit sleepy the next day. Just let me know if you change you mind."

And I didn't think anything more about it. Until the younger daughter got us up in the middle of the night to tell us how unhappy she was about cutting her first tooth. And then, as I was falling asleep again, I realised: She was worried about God and the Space Station meeting.  Her teacher at school had told her that God lived up int he sky - told her in fact, that he hung around in more or less the same neighbourhood as the space station, and she was worried about them bumping into each other. Kate had cooked up a very literal clash of science and religion.

I am fairly well disposed towards religion. As I said a bit further up, me and Mrs L had really quite positive experiences of Catholicism when we were growing up which emphasised things like feeling yourself to have a place in the world, and a cultural heritage;  and looking out for your friends or family and feeling that they would look out for you too. The impression I think we both got of Catholicism was that it was big, but comfortable with its absurdities and its place in the world. If you'd asked me, I would have probably said that most of the Catholics I grew up with would have been comfortable with the idea that science is what you use to tell you about the world, and religion is what you use to put you enquiry within a moral framework. I would have been very surprised if you'd have told me that anyone could have honestly got that the other way round, thinking that dogma is important enough to get in the way of learning about the world. It's not just the god and the space station either. Over the last couple of weeks, I've heard the parish priest say that Martin Luther was wrong because he protested, and that Catholics can't - can't - support gay marriage, because it doesn't conform to what the Church says marriage is. "Religion should make you feel uncomfortable." said the priest. And it does.

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