A little while ago, his Holiness the Pope received in audience a group of educational professionals who presented themselves as the Turbo Teachers for Instantaneous Creationism.
The things an elderly Pontiff has to go through to keep up with the world outside…
Their spokesman wore a shabby beige turtleneck, unpolished sandals, a beard that needed trimming, and a brand new tailor-made suit jacket. The Pope sighed. Back in the old days in Tübingen, he often had had to deal with New Theologians who favoured the same dress code. The memory alone wearied him terribly. His interlocutor, however, was full of cheer and jumped into the conversation with gusto.
‘Your Holiness, before anything, I have a confession to make.’
‘Go on, my son’
‘Holy Father: not all of us here are Catholics.’
Now why was the Pope not overly surprised?
‘As a matter of fact, Holy Father, many of us are not even believers in the strict sense of the word. We are schoolteachers with a theological problem. That’s why we came to see you.’
A theological problem? How, the Pope wondered, does an infidel get a theological problem? Fish, on the average, rarely run into aerodynamic trouble. Circles don’t worry about their angles. ‘I am most sorry to hear so,’ the Pope spoke. ‘What may be its nature?’
Darwin? Well, small surprise, the Pope thought. We all have a problem with Darwin. And with Galileo, Keppler, Copernicus, Marx, Einstein, Freud, not to mention that Madonna woman and Harry Potter. ‘I see,’ the Pope said. He had no inkling what the fellow was getting at.
‘He is too slow.’
‘Beg your pardon?’
‘Darwin. He’s by far too slow. Another confession, Your Holiness: most of us here think his ideas make a lot of sense. I’m sorry if that hurts. But if you look at all the evidence… The fossils… The human genome… The Platypus… The… The-’
‘The Spotted Galapagos Turtle Dove,’ the Pope volunteered.
‘Precisely! If you look at all those, you can’t get around it. The man had a point. A very strong point. However, we here, and many hard-pressed professionals like us, have to teach his theories in biology class. And that’s another cup of tea. You see: the man deals in hundreds of millions of years. For one petty creation only! The kids just won’t buy that anymore, Holiness! Today’s young adolescents demand instant satisfaction. No beating around the bush. No inertia! A high-speed, exciting story. Something that moves, you know? That don’t stall. That gives ‘m a thrill. Evolution simply doesn’t do that. All of us here know from experience: you Darwin, you do lose. That’s a little joke of mine. Win – Lose, see?’
The Pope forced his facial muscles into his most sincere smile. He had heard better jokes from octogenarian Carthusians under a vow of silence.
‘That’s why our group has decided to return to the Biblical story of Creation. Now there you have a tale you can sell to these Digital Children! No halting the narrative to have the dinosaurs die out. No Sinanthropus Pekinensis being gobbled up by beefy Neanderthalers before those are themselves cruelly knocked out of existence by Crô Mignons, with none of the earlier humanoid variations leading anywhere… No: progress straight and simple: heaven, earth, seas, plants, beasts, man! And in that order if you please! That’s a godsend for a teacher in front of 25 twitchy Twitterkids! That’s what we need on the curriculum!’
‘And you can teach it in two hours, instead of an entire semester,’ a crumpled, chubby fellow at the far end of the table chipped in.
The Pope sighed. Here you always thought you’d seen it all, but there was still more lunacy to meet in this mad mad mad mad world. For a century now, the greatest minds of the Church had struggled to keep Divine Creation in the picture. The harder they tried, the less they succeeded. And just when you think all is lost, children are returned to Scripture so as to cater to their lust for instant satisfaction? Who ever heard of such a thing? He was ready to give these Turbo Teachers a piece of his mind. But then he remembered something a predecessor of his had said, back in the turbulent 60s. He said: “I don’t know what it means when a longhaired hippie writes JESUS on his T-shirt, but it is a start!” Yeah, the Pope thought. Old Paul was nobody’s fool…
‘I appreciate your dilemma,’ he spoke at last, picking his words carefully. ‘And if teaching the beautiful beginning of Genesis is your solution, then you have of course my blessing.’
Now what? the Pope wondered.
‘The Biblical story takes six days, Holiness…’
Does it now? the Pope almost asked. Oh, it was hard – very hard - not to give in to temptation and treat this fellow to a goodly dose of German sarcasm. But Pride is a sin and Patience a virtue. ‘I know,’ he said once he had swallowed, putting the most tolerant tone possible into his voice.
‘Of course you do. And that’s a problem.’
‘It is, Your Holiness. Your Holiness: let’s not beat around the bush here…? Let’s put our cards on the table? You rarely meet young people in the wild, and you never meet the kind of kids we are up against. So take it from me, sir: they are animals! They give you lip at the least occasion. They have no patience whatsoever. Their concentration span is about as long-lived as a soap bubble. Six days, sir! That’s an eternity to them! Their most meaningful relationships don’t last that long! They are used to creating entire mid-term papers with three clicks of the mouse! They put together a feature film length movie in a minute and a half! A whole day seems like a thousand years to them! So imagine six! Six!’
Oh, don’t, DON’T tell me, the Pope screamed inwardly. He also was nobody’s fool. He began to suspect where this was going…
‘You mean to say God’s Divine Creation took too much time…?’ he probed.
‘TAKES too much time, Your Holiness! I’m not criticizing God’s output or his efficiency. It’s just that… To make that quarter drop in the timeslot of our pupils’ heads, can’t we perhaps reduce the timespan a little somewhat? God is omnipotent, right? So why does he need six full days? Seems to me that – if He wished - He could do the same job considerably quicker?’
‘Six hours, you mean?’
There was an uneasy pause.
‘Your Holiness… Why be so specific? What good is that to anyone? Look, all we are asking here is some room to maneuver. We don’t expect you to rewrite Scripture… We understand that’s not usually done on request. But you are, when push comes to shove, the ultimate authority on these matters, aren’t you? Isn’t there a way you might solicit a somewhat freer translation of the original wording? I don’t know… Your Hebrew surely is better than mine… Could we have a version which speaks of, say, Six Units Real Time? Or something of the sort? You give me that, and I promise you that half the schools in the Western World will be teaching Divine Creation before the decade is out! No more Darwinism. No more Mendel or Kropotkin or Linneaus! Only God as the Express Demiurg. Is that a fair deal or what?’
Once the Turbo Teachers for Creative Something-or-Other were gone, the Holy Father flipped open his cell phone and dialled a number. ‘Doctor Funes?’ he asked when the phone was picked up. ‘Tell me: that little pet project of yours? The reconciliation of Evolutionary Theory with Biblical Creation? How’s that coming along?’ He listened for a moment, then spoke with a terse voice. ‘Fray José: in the name of common sense and everything that’s holy, would you please please please hurry up with it?!’
Earlier this month, Fray José Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, came out with a declaration that the Big Bang Theory is not necessarily in contradiction to the message of the Bible…
So it goes, dear reader. So it goes…