In a letter to the editor published in Wednesday’s Orlando Sentinel, Colleen Berry criticized the Sentinel’s Sunday article “Private schools’ curriculum downplays slavery, says humans and dinosaurs lived together” by saying “The article blasted Christian-school texts for being, well, Christian.”
I’m a Christian, too – a Catholic Christian – and it seems that Ms. Berry and I have different ideas about what Christian values are.
By minimizing the horrors of slavery and denying the oppression of Jim Crow, the textbooks reviewed by the Sentinel’s reporters attempt to strip African-Americans of the dignity with which God created them. That doesn’t match my understanding of Christian values.
The texts also ignore the mistreatment of Native Americans – who were also created with the dignity of all of God’s children. That doesn’t seem to me to be particularly Christian, either.
One of the books reviewed by Sentinel reporters said that the Endangered Species Act is a “radical social agenda”. In 2015, Pope Francis released an encyclical on protecting the environment titled “Laudato si”. So for at least some Christians, protecting the environment is an important part of their spiritual mission.
And then there is the issue of whether Christians should agree with the findings of the scientific community on evolution and cosmology. Just to be clear – the age of the universe (13.8 billion years) and the development of life through the processes of evolution are not controversial in the scientific community.
But the theological issue of whether to accept those results is controversial.
Today, Christians still disagree about whether to heed St. Augustine’s warning.
The Catholic Church has not only welcomed the results of modern science during the last hundred years, but has occasionally provided leadership in this area. One of the pioneers of Big Bang cosmology was Jesuit priest Georges Lemaître, who published his first paper on this topic in 1931.
Many Protestant denominations also embrace the results of modern science.
This isn’t to say that Ms. Berry is alone in her beliefs, or that she should be denigrated for her views. Indeed, the 2014 Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Survey showed that 31% of Florida adults are Biblical literalists – and therefore believe that the universe and everything in it was created in six literal days about 10,000 years ago.
We should all be willing to admit that the challenges that arise in trying to teach science in pluralistic public schools under these circumstances are profound.
And everyone should deal with those challenges with the Christian values of compassion and civility – even if they aren’t Christians.