What is the Point of Religious Education? | Leroy Huizenga | CWR
The best education in the Faith is the practice of the Faith.
Is the religious education of children counterproductive? Blogger Joanne K. McPortland seems to have set the Catholic Internet on fire on Friday by suggesting precisely that when she wrote an impassioned post calling for the replacement of children’s catechesis with instruction aimed at adults. In a follow-up post, she says she wasn’t “entirely serious,” but neither was she being “wholly facetious.” Her aim was simply to “move us beyond the inevitable debates about which kind (approach, textbook, method, site, era, etc.) of children’s catechesis makes the best Catholics.”
McPortland’s postings are precipitated by the real crisis in Catholic faith and practice, as the statistics giving cause for concern are well-known: only 30 percent of Americans raised Catholic practice the faith; Mass attendance has been declining for decades; ever fewer baptisms are taking place and ever fewer Catholics opt for sacramental marriage; more than half of Catholics do not believe that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.
McPortland’s initial instinct is identical to that of many of her respondents: an increased emphasis on high quality adult catechesis. I’m sympathetic, as I have a doctorate in Scripture and serve as Chair of the Department of Theology at the University of Mary. One of my bread-and-butter courses is called Basic Catholic Beliefs, in which we read through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, given its breadth and depth, is perhaps the most profound theological document ever promulgated. I share John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s deep concern for the recovery of reason in an age often given over to nihilism, violence, or both. I therefore have real commitments to the beauty, goodness, and truth of the intellectual structure of the Faith and to the necessity of passing that intellectual structure on. I’m also a relatively recent revert, and so I have seen adult education done exceptionally well at the various Protestant parishes of which I was a part. God at one point in Scripture does say, “My people perish for lack of knowledge,” after all.
But in spite of my concern for the doctrinal dimension of the Faith, I realize ever more it’s not sufficient simply to instruct youth or adults in their religion, for there is more to the Faith than knowledge and more to the human person than the intellect.