Some time in the 1980s, I think, a neighbor of mine, the sleepy Floyd River, gave up a hunk of something some farmer dug up and had analyzed. Experts determined it was the tooth of a mammoth. I saw it yesterday, saw the news story, too. Listen, this thing is huge.
Not having ever seen the tooth of a mammoth before, I might have walked right by it, assuming it was granite. I've seen molars before, of course, but not something the size of a shotput. But there it was in the middle of a local museum along with other artifacts, like a wonderful old immigrant chest, a dozen or more traditional Dutch costumes, and a nifty chunk of bone with a couple of holes through it, good for straightening arrows, a little old Lakota invention.
I'm no geologist. I admit I was blessedly more attracted to the Native collection of stuff; but it's the mammoth's tooth that I'm thinking about this morning, after reading the strange news that none other than Pat Robertson--the TV preacher who likely has fewer disciples than he or those who hate him think he does--announced to the world that the earth isn't 6000 years old, an opinion he claimed would lead to his early demise because, he said, he'd probably be hung for saying it.
To a goodly percentage of the world's population, the idea that the earth isn't 6000 years old is not breaking news. The story was on the wire because Pat Robertson said it. Sheesh, one of evangelical America's most prominent citizen comes right out and declares--thus saith the 700 Club!--what zillions of Republicans either don't believe or are afraid to admit, Marco Rubio among them just last week. News flash!--geologists are neither atheists nor liars.
My mother would say I'm spotten now, a wonderful old Dutch expression that made it through the sieve of the six generations of American life racked up in my DNA. Spotten means to sport with or make fun of especially religious ideas or elements. Spotten is singing "Shine, Jesus, Shine" with a clothespin on your nose, and it's not becoming.
And the reason is clear here: there are wonderful Christians, well-meaning Christians, Christians who do all kinds of good works at soup kitchens, Christians who love their neighbors as themselves, Christians who worship not only weekly, but daily, Christians who honestly and truly believe that the Genesis story, taken literally, not figuratively, read word-for-word, not metaphorically, is the base of the scaffolding of their faith and therefore believe that the world is, as they believe the Bible says, precisely 6000 years old. In this case, she'd tell me not to "spot" (pronounced "spawt" with a bit of a Dutch curl) because she's sure, as I am, that good, good people could well be thrown into sloughs of despondency over Robertson's almost cavalier game-changer.
She's right. It's sort of like Ben Franklin discovering that lightning was electrical, that there was a perfectly sound scientific explanation for those bolts that hammered people in the darkness of their unbelief. Today, I'm sure, even Christian schools teach Franklin; but in the 18th century, when old Ben was flying his kites, good Christian people found it horrifying to believe that lightning was a product of electrical charges and not something somehow spun out of God's own fingers for reasons totally his own. I was taught myself by sweet Christian teachers that dinosaurs were probably the evil fabrication of Darwinists.
I think I know people who are thinking today that Pat Robertson has gone over to the dark side, and I do feel sorry for them--I really do, because why on earth should I believe that that two-fisted handful of hard whatever-it-is is the tooth of a hairy mammal? Who said so anyway? And why should I believe him or her? Do they know what the Bible says?
It's no joy to watch faith break, but it happens all the time. There are times when kites teach us as much about lightning as scripture, and when the sleepy Floyd just outside my window offers object lessons too big to stay unearthed beneath its shallow waters.
Faith always has to pay attention, or so it seems to me. When it's blind, it's not useless, but neither can it be a guide.
And, even though I might have once upon a time or two been part of just such a mob, I do hope this time that no one hangs Pat Robertson.