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  • Patricia Wilcox

12. Religion In Harmony With Science


Some things just go in and out of fashion, like bellbottoms, bouffant hair and stiletto heels, (you’ll need to ask a woman over 60).


Back when I was a pre-teen undergoing religious instruction, our national statistics showed that pretty much everyone was 'religious', except for a few hardy atheists and communists.


Religion was for the most part like the recently ended war - not a polite topic of conversation - and attitudes to religion seemed to follow what would in future become the U.S. Armed Service’s attitude towards homosexuality of 'don't ask, don't tell'.   


I had always found Sunday School to be a kind of interesting story-telling event during which parables were like fairy tales where amazing things happened, of seas being parted and people walking on water. Every year I succeeded in my personal goal to win the annual Sunday School prize which was invariably a well chosen book, thus providing me with quality reading for the long school holidays ahead.  


However, these pleasant story telling sessions became increasingly troubling when the forthcoming Religious Confirmation classes began insisting I believe that hell lay beneath the surface of the planet, where souls of the unbelievers were condemned to eternal fire and brimstone, whilst heaven soared triumphantly above our heads, lorded over by a grey-bearded God on his throne, surrounded by adoring cherubim and seraphim.


At the same time, my science class taught contradictory things like the earth having a molten core, and the heavens being a vast universe of increasingly identifiable planets and supernovas.   

The creation story of Adam and Eve was similarly perplexing. God made Eve from one of Adam's ribs?  That didn't help the gender equity issues I struggled with, having been raised an only girl in a family of boys.


When my biology class that taught about the function of ectoskeletons and endoskeletons, this suggested to me that ribless Adam must have had a hard time manning up to whatever dinosaurs etc. still roamed the earth in his day, and required some powerful conquering. 


  Needless to say, I was labelled argumentative and certainly not encouraged for having such a 'thoughtful' attitude to my religious studies.


Eventually, nascent atheism triumphed over easy contentment with a double standard, and I knew the time had arrived to 'come out'. That phrase with all its later implications of shame and condemnation was how it felt to be announcing oneself as an atheist back in the early '60's.


Then, with the self-righteousness of the new convert, I insisted to my virtuous, pioneering mother, who had been one of the very first women Elders in the Presbyterian Church of NZ, that she arrange for me to be formally excommunicated from the local church which she and my father had personally helped to establish, thus carrying for them those same connotations of family shock and shame. 


But I had felt it wasn't enough to simply stop attending church services; I was making the bold point that I was no 'drop out', but a firm 'ex-believer' (an act that was extremely courageous at the time, yet merely symptomatic of present standards).  


It was only when I explored the Bahai teachings that I realised those early Bible stories were our 'Europeanised' Semitic creation stories; our 'Adam and Eve' were like 'Rangi and Papatuanuku', or much later, like the morality tales of Hans Christian Anderson. They served an important purpose at the time, but now was a new age; now it was essential that religion be in harmony with science.


"Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require." - Bahaullah