Sugary brain washing left a sour taste

AS I was sitting down to write this column, the doorbell rang.There on the step was a small, rotund woman in black, with a broad smile painted on in unfeasibly red lipstick.

AS I was sitting down to write this column, the doorbell rang.

There on the step was a small, rotund woman in black, with a broad smile painted on in unfeasibly red lipstick.

With her was a rather nervous-looking young man, and in her hand an open Bible.

She began at the very beginning.

“See these words?” she said: “'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.' Do you believe that?”

Well, no actually, I don't. If there ever was a creator of all things, it certainly didn't start there.

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Still, I feel I missed an opportunity. Instead of sending them, politely but firmly, away, I should have invited them in for coffee and a chat.

There wouldn't be time for an exegesis of the whole book, but I could have shown her some pictures and asked her opinion of them. What, for example, would she make of the nakedness and drunkenness of Noah?

It's a story less familiar than the flood and the ark, but one I think deserves to be better known. (Genesis 9, verses 20-25, if you're interested. There's a delightfully rude image of it among the medieval roof-bosses in the nave of Norwich cathedral.)

How literally would she take the age of Methuselah (969 years, according to Genesis)? Or the druggy apocalpytic visions of St John?

How would she explain or excuse the Old Testament savagery of the God who commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac?

Having turned those earnest souls away, I will never know the answer to those questions.

At least I didn't see them off at gunpoint, as I believe happened recently to some poor Jehovah's Witnesses in Ohio.

One can see two manifestations of typical American mania in that encounter. In that instance, much as I fail to share their curious thinking, my sympathies are entirely with the Witnesses.

One may not wish to be converted at the doorstep, but at least one can close the door on them without threatening violence.

It's not so easy for children to rebuff their teachers. And that's what I was about to write about when I was interrupted. Along with other parents, I attended a primary school assembly the other day.

Our little ones gave a short, charming presentation of their progress in learning French. It was heartwarming and impressive.

The assembly ended, however, in conventional manner, with a hymn.

Now, I like a good sing-song as much as the next man, and hymn-singing has always provided a ready excuse. But this particular ditty was a new one on me.

It began: “Who put the colours in the rainbow?”

The accurate, scientific answer to this is: “No one.” But you don't expect accuracy and science from a hymn.

Almost every line began with a “who”, implying personal involvement. Implying, in fact, that that first line of Genesis - “In the beginning God created…” - is literally true.

Then came the line: “It surely can't be chance.”

Well yes, actually, it can. The camel's hump, the giraffe's neck, even our perception of refracted light in a rainbow, are all results of evolution.

But you can't expect children to question so closely what they are taught to sing from the age of five.

It's not just the religious brainwashing I object to - though I do. It's the virulently anti-scientific attitude that is being instilled - the opposite, surely, of what a responsible educational establishment should be doing.

It's an invitation not to open young minds, but to close them.

Sugaring it with pretty words and a nice sing-along tune is like perverting kids with sweeties.

And these aren't even strangers offering the sweets - it's the children's trusted teachers.

And it's going on every day in a school near you.

AT lunch last Saturday, with West Indies already struggling badly in their reply to England's mammoth 570 for seven declared, Sky rubbed salt in the tourists' wounds.

The interval entertainment was a programme of tribute to the great Viv Richards, the mightiest batsman of our lifetimes.

Between clips of Richards in his imperious pomp, on to the screen came Sir Garfield Sobers, Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kallicharran, Wes Hall, Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding and Curtly Ambrose.

The very sight of those faces, aging though they now are, was enough to revive memories of a time when cricket was more glorious - especially for the West Indies.

What would a team of those talents have done to the present England side?

One suspects that even now they would be more than a match for their current West Indian successors.

Two summers ago, when England triumphed over Australia, it was cause for celebration.

Seeing Michael Vaughan's side inflict defeat of record proportions on West Indies is altogether different.

It isn't England's glory we're seeing, but the fall of a once great and glorious cricket nation to the status of a Bangladesh or Zimbabwe. And that is something not to celebrate, but to mourn.