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Students should learn different creation stories

This column was originally published in the St. Petersburg Times on June 29, 1991.

Again this spring a school board in Central Florida was pressured to consider creationism in the curriculum. The supplicants consider their interpretation of the biblical account of creation to be the indisputable word of their, the only, true god. I object to this single version in view of the multicultural and multireligious composition of the student body.

I think it is a wonderful idea to teach the creation in its diverse presentation in accordance with the totality of the U.S. population. It could be made into an exciting class. I am sure pupils would love it, be attentive and responsive. It would stimulate respect for the universality of religion, past and present.

Let's tell the creation as told by Hindus, Taoists and Buddhists. I can recommend a USF Tibetan student who would present a most reverent lesson about the creation. And Tibetans are among the most religious and humane people.

But what about the students whose religion is based on Judeo-Christian roots and who still represent the majority? Among them are the African-American, Hispanic and U.S. native whose forefathers in many cases were converted forcibly. The stories of the African traditional religions are rich and venerable and need to be told to our U.S. students. And there are the Inuits (the proper name for the Eskimos), and the Native Americans from North, Central and South America. Their pre-Colombian religions all had the stories of the creation that should be presented. Some still are believed and celebrated.

Let me tell you what was told to me recently by a Salvadoran. There is a god called Cucumatz, the creator of the world and all living things. And he made light and darkness. Cucumatz tried three times to make the human being. Twice he was not satisfied. The first one was of clay, but useless. The second was made of wood and lived for millennia. The male was made of one kind of wood, the female another. He destroyed them in a huge hurricane. He made the present one with the help of a grindstone and corn seeds. The Salvadoran writer, Manuel Argue, writes, "No peasant home is without a grindstone and corn and tortillas are our whole life." They are more than food, they are part of the creation. The story of the creation of the Mayans, which is in written form, also evolves around corn and a single creator.

The creation as depicted in the Andean civilization is not too different from all the others. I spent much of my youth in the rural Bolivian highlands. The inhabitants still say that god the creator, called Viracocha, dispatched a male and his co-equal sister with a golden stick to establish a great human civilization on their soil. Where the stick sprouted should be their capital and main place of worship. Their son, Sinchi Roca, founded the empire and is forefather of the Inca emperors. Here we have a peaceful beginning with equality of the sexes and with no violence.

The richness of sources illustrates the universality of religion in mankind. It also shows a common core that can be easily seen. If students get to know the versions of creation, they will have greater reverence for life and religion. The U.S. classroom, which often is a microcosm of the world not equaled anywhere, is a wonderful place to talk about the creation as told by every student's religion, culture, roots or ethnicity.

Charles W. Arnade is a University of South Florida professor.

Students should learn different creation stories 09/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:22am]
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