Saturday, July 23, 2011

Educating Adolescents: Questions or Answers--Dealing with Doubt in Religious Ed.

Matt Emerson writes a very insightful article on doubt and religious education called Teaching to the Tests of Faith.  In it he talks about how his sophomore religion class dealt with the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He decided to take his cue from President Obama's quotation of Psalm 46.  While the President only quoted parts of it, Emerson went over the whole thing with his class with the lights out to give them a sense of the sacred.

The psalm has in it the famous line, "God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of distress." When Mr. Emerson asked his students if that was true for them they began to express their doubts and a very important discussion then occurred.

Rather than shoot down their misgivings about the efficacy of prayer and even the existence of God, Emerson let them express their doubts.  The fruitfulness of the discussion lead him to ask whether or not religious education, at least for that age group, should be shifted away from answers to questions.

I wholeheartedly think it should.  As a member of the generation who "didn't learn anything" in my years in Catholic school, I have long been a proponent of exposing children to the richness of the faith from an early age.  Emerson implies that this was done for these children.  They did all the right things, participated in the liturgical life of the Church and still they expressed grave doubts.

I have come to realize that this is normal.  The over-focus on filling children with answers "while they are still in (Catholic) school" or religious ed leaves them feeling misunderstood and not listened to.  Certainly by the time a child is junior high or high school age, religious educators should be carefully chosen mentors to help them express their doubts and questions and work through them.

Religion is about the "big questions."  We need to stop being afraid of our children asking them and of asking them ourselves.


kkollwitz said...

In my old RCIA classes and my current Catechsim class, nothing is more welcome than a good question of the doubting kind.

My opening response is that if you have no doubts about faith, then you aren't taking it seriously enough.

Dymphna said...


Dymphna's favorite quotes

"Slavery ended in medieval Europe only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews). Within the context of medieval Europe, that prohibition was effectively a rule of universal abolition. "— Rodney Stark

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