Is Our Religious Education Religious? It Reflects Faith in Man and the Future

The Unitarian Register And The Universalist Leader, Mid-Summer 1961, p. 17

One of the questions most often asked in our denomination is: What is religious about our religions education? To answer it, one needs to pose himself a few questions: Do you believe that religion motivates the things you? Do you have a basically religious frame of reference, through which your values operate and through which they come to fruition in the sundry actions you perform? Most importantly, does the fact that you are a religious liberal make a difference in your behavior in personal relationships, community responsibilities, and world vision - in other words, before anyone can say whether the education he is giving his children is religious he must decide what religion is for him.

If we accept John Dewey's statement that religion is a quality of experience" (and thus avoid the theological definitions), the yardstick by which we measure our education becomes the actions which it motivates. If we believe, and I think most people do, that education is the process by which we share our cultural heritage, personal values, and hopes and dreams with the coming generation, religious education becomes the process by which we transmit the best that we envisage in terms that can be translated into action. The question thus resolves itself to: What factors in our society relate to the process of religious education?

Ours is a competitive society, holding out for itself the - ideal of co-operation. The two do not work together, yet we train our children to compete and urge them to cooperate. From the time they are infants, we push and urge them to achievement, not merely their best, but to match (or preferably outstrip) that of their peers. We rear them in a society in which status symbols predominate, measuring too many things by monetary value and too few in spiritual terms. We strive not for perfection in science, but rather for a science that will consummate its achievements before the Russians. Such are the attitudes, basically, of an irreligious society.

Our religious education becomes religious if we are strengthening the remaining shreds of cooperative behavior in our children. It is religious if we are teaching them that to be different is not to be wrong. It is religious if we are teaching them that things are done for the sake of the value they have for all people.

Ours rapidly is becoming a passive society which "takes in" and "accepts" what is presented. Hours spent before a television set are having serious effect on our children because they are losing the habit of active participation both in play and thought. Television programs, teaching machines - so much of our society is based on built-in answers, prefabricated kits, numbered oil paintings!

Our religious education will become religious when we give our children opportunities for active participation in the life of home, church, and community. There is no place in our kind of religious education for predigested materials. Learning to make choices between possible answers so that one knows which is his answer makes for real religious education.

Many in our society are bowing before a new false god: Science. Perhaps more than any other, this question is asked of the Department of Education: "Why, when the science teaching of today is so superlative, do we still teach science in the church school?" Science can be taught in many ways, and far too often our children emerge with the view that science has the ultimate answers. Seldom in our schools does a teacher go on from the facts to the awe and wonder which those facts hold.

Our religious education is religious if it can teach science as a method, as a way of attacking a problem, a means of searching answers to the unknown. It becomes successful if we are helping children to face the unknown with curiosity rather than fear and to thrill to the struggle of the scientist.

There is a growing authoritarianism in our society; the demands of those who would have education be more "basic," in the attempts of those who would revitalize the House Un-American Activities Committee, in the over-organized recreation and extracurricular activities of our children.

Our religious education is religious when it is the quiet searching together of teacher and children, more in the sense of the students of Abelard than in that of the test-happy students struggling for college entrance requirements. To learn the attitudes of a Jesus, a Gandhi, a Schweitzer is to begin to believe that all life is sacred.

We do not need to worry about the education we are giving our children, or be concerned about the propriety of using the adjective religious to describe it, if we have the faith and the strength to implement that faith in action - in man, in the world, and in the everlasting potential of the future.


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