to religious teaching found that (without exception, as far as 1 could make out) those interviewed found it boring. meaningless, unbelievable and irrelevant to their current lives.
They were taught "Bible stories" without apparently. any reference to their historical, moral or even religious meaning, and given a fundamentalist view of what was told in them with. inevitably, disillusion setting in when they found that the universe wasn't suddenly brought into being on a Monday morning several thousand years ago. it seems a sad tale of lost chances.
A Catholic upbringing left me and my contemporaries fairly, though not totally, ignorant of the Old Testament. We knew the mainstream_ stories, but when in my List two years I went to an Anglican ....hoot I found myself lacking what y tat might call cultural familiarity with the Bible, compared with other people there. The circle has been turning since, biblical studies becoming very much more important in Catholic education, while religious teaching in other schools (too big a subject for me to deal with here) seems either to have remained as Old Testament stories or to have taken off in all kinds of directions not specifically biblical but not particularly Christian either.
In the recent At Home with Our Father by the Brentwood Religious F.Mication Service (published by Mayhew-McCrimmon), based on tr Anthony Batten's books. advice is given to parents to keep the family Bible "in a place of honour where it will he seen and used ...
"Let your child see you using your Bible and treating it with reverence." it goes on. But "The Bible is not a child's book .. . some Old Testament stories, no matter how simply told or beautifully illustrated. contain ideas beyond the capacity of young Children. "If used too early, they may only cause confusion and misunderstanding, and he harmful to future development." It is a subject to treat carefully. if not gingerly, then, in a society rapidly becoming not just nonbiblical in culture but non-Christian in belief. attitude and feeling.
For this very reason, since television is the strongest cultural influence of our time, particularly among the young, a series of biblical programmes as good as Molly Cox's "In the Beginning" a couple of years ago must have had
important effects certainly incalculable ones.
Now, in the wake of t he programmes, come the books, two to begin with, handsomely produced and illustrated and, to my mind, very useful indeed. The Creation has illustrations by Graham McCallum, The Family of Abraham by Paul Birkbeck; the text in both is by Molly Cox. Collins publish the hardback edition at £2.95, lions the paperback at 60p. The pictures are in both books excellent -delicate yet robust. They have beauty and in just the right sense of the word suggestiveness. I think I like The Creation more than the other, perhaps because it has the impossi• ble task of suggesting creation itself, the unknowable processes of life-giving, and so seeks a greater degree of poetic. nonrepresentational truth than the other.
This is concerned. inevitably, with stories and events (Abraham and Isaac, Joseph and his brothers). In the story of Eden, .Graham McCallum's serpent wonderfully suggests evil, as his landscapes suggest grandeur and newness: the prostrate figures after the Fall suggest nudity and shame where the casual figures before it suggest nakedness and innocence.
Cain's expression suggests every brand of frustration and envy. The embryo at the end (much like the one at the end of the film 2001) suggests everything that is both,new
and old the undeveloped. the future. the ages that have brought it to this degree of development.
The lest I like even better. It is more than helpful: it is, in a plain way, an eye-opener, a means Of expressing to the young what is often inexpressible. It never lies. and the great thing. even with very small children, is not to lie to them; and it knows very weal the difference between myth, poetry, legend and speculation, with which a small child, if given them properly can cope, and invention-used-as-fact, with which it cannot he expected to.
The introduction reminds children that other faiths besides Christianity and Judaism have their huh hooks and prayers. their rituals and their esplanations for the meaning of life.
The whole thing is suffused with a sense or wonder, immensity, beauty and, in the right sense, humility; before the strangeness and mystery of creation, a proper sense of awe, speculation and open-mindedness than has nothing woolly about it.
I can hardly recommend these excellent little hooks too warmly to anyone in touch with young children: to teachers, yes, but perhaps even more strongly to parents, who so often find it hard to put across great truths, large concepts, in the right way and with the right degree of simplicity without simple-mindedness.