Obviously, it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people...It is because the humane father thinks soldiers wrong that they are forbidden; there is no pretense, there can be no pretense, that the boy would think so. The average boy's impression certainly would be simply this: 'If your father is a Methodist you must not play with soliders on Sunday. If your father is a Socialist you must not play with them even on week days.' All educationists are utterly dogmatic and authoritarian...There are no uneducated people. Everybody in England is educated; only most people are educated wrong.
G.K. Chesterton in What's Wrong with the World, 1910.
This time, I was talking with a lively ex-Catholic at a rehearsal dinner. This person, who despite going to a Catholic high school and college, was surprisingly ignorant of basic Christian doctrine. Yet without traversing down an oft-traveled- and fun- path about Catholic theology, our conversation was more about the nature of how we raise our children in faith.
As is typical of ex-Catholics, this person held disdain for her parents for raising her Catholic, without giving her a choice. As if she was reading too much Christopher Hitchens, she insinuated that raising children in church, or any religious persuasion, was akin to child abuse. Aside from being a ridiculous claim, if you have ever been to children's Sunday school, the charge obviously came from a very personal place.
My response was simply that her charge against religious upbringing was unavoidable, and that she would perpetrate the same abuse on her children.
"Not so. I won't raise my child with any religious options, and then they'll get to choose when their older what they want," she retorted. [Aside: don't independent, self-functioning, and free adults always get to decide what they want when they are older? This argument works both ways, as we will see.]
I responded: "But that is, in fact, an authoritative way to raise your child. You are teaching your child that religion is an option among many others, and that it's fairly inconsequential. You are teaching something to your future child, even tacitly. You are teaching the religion of pluralism and secularism."
Besides the fact that I'm not very persuasive, and most people keep their strongly held religious views more strongly in opposition, I think my argument at least made sense to her.
G.K. Chesterton makes the same point in the quotation above. Essentially, his argument is that we always interrupt the human nature of children by educating them. If left alone, they wouldn't learn how to read and write, they'd be completely selfish, and they'd have a whole host of societal deficiencies. This fact alone is corroborated by isolated and abused children.
So, what's left? A competition as to who gets to be the one who educates. Even a life on the street is an education, as poor Oliver Twist can attest to. Let's not denigrate religious education, then, as oppressive. Let's simply try to make our claims about why one form of education is better than another.
G.K. Chesterton sums it up nicely:
A modern London school ought not merely to be clearer, kindlier, more clever and more rapid than ignorance and darkness. It must also be clearer than a picture postcard, cleverer than a Limerick competition, quicker than the tram, and kindlier than the tavern.
I'd like to think that a religious education built by and for the only person in the world to fully atone for his followers' imperfections and estrangments is probably the most supreme form of learning, then.