Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Faith Development

Nineteenth century Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing once brazenly remarked that “the great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own." Extending this tradition, notable liberal religious educators like Sophia Lyon Fahs and Angus MacLean have insisted on the latent spiritual potentialities of children and their innate capacity for moral development. Importantly, faith development does not derive, on this view, from the mere absorption or ingestion of pre-packaged doctrinal truths, but rather from an embodied and experiential engagement with life in all of its fullness.

The danger with this approach lies in its tendency towards an empty subjectivism. Without effective structures and support, the child flounders helplessly and gains but a paper-thin understanding of her own religious heritage.

Might there be a middle way? In the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, we read: "In the temple of the mind is the Ambrosial Nectar of the Lord; through the Guru's Teachings, we drink it in" (175). I want to suggest that this scriptural fragment adroitly balances the competing claims of freedom and responsibility. It affirms the ripe sacred vitality inherent in all, which robust religious guidance allows us to pick and cherish.

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