Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Faith of a Ten-Year-Old

Last week’s “Faith evening” (see here for the one before) was about the Good Shepherd. The initial talk by a diocesan director of catechetics (as I think she is - could be wrong on the exact job description) was very good indeed, quite making up for the lack of Redemptorists in the (post)modern parish mission. Still, I wouldn’t expect any less: she used to be a religion teacher at my wife’s school, where her absence is sorely missed. Then there was a hymn, a coffee break, and it was time to “share our faith experiences” with the rest of our table. The first session was about our images of God, this second session was about our personal faith journey (the emphasis is still very much on “us”). The assumption seemed to be that we were Catholics by accident of birth and socialization -- something that might have been true in Belgium thirty years ago, but surely not at any time since? (And of course, not in England since 1535!)

So here’s stage one of my "personal faith journey".

The religious education of children is based almost entirely on stories that are hard to distinguish from children’s stories: the Fall, the Tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark, the testing of Abraham, Jacob and Esau’s birthright, Joseph’s captivity, Moses in the bullrushes, the Walls of Jericho, David and Goliath, the Infancy narratives, Christ’s parables. When I was about nine or ten I was given a book of “Norse Myths and Legends”, and something of a crisis of faith ensued. The stories of the ancient Norsemen were much more exciting than the stories to be found in most children’s bibles. If religion was going to be a set of archetypal stories to people my imagination with, I’d much rather have the Norse myths (I’d guess this view is pretty widespread among my contemporaries). I don’t recall ever talking to anybody about this at the time, and I was conscious of not wanting to shock my parents, and also of not wanting to be open to persuasion by others until I’d thought it through for myself.

This last Saturday I was teaching my second confirmation class, and asked the children who they would go to if they had questions about their Faith. Several said their parents, one said a teacher (a particular teacher, and one I’d reckon is a good choice: the day before the Feast of St Francis she showed her class of 8 year-olds Brother Sun, Sister Moon), one said “I’d think about it quietly and see what answer came to me” (a ten-year-old illuminist?), and two said “I’d look it up in a book” (quick! get those boys catechisms!).

My own attitude at that age was a combination of the illuminist and the bookish. During Mass I prayed for faith (because I still loved Jesus, even if ancient pagans had better stories), and I read the Bible: an (Anglican) uncle had given me a Good News Bible as a First Communion present. In so far as I can consciously tell, what more than anything kept me believing in the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, was biblical texts like Leviticus 14:33-53, or Deuteronomy 20:2-9. This is plainly a God not so much into stories and more into people’s actual lives (something that can’t really be said about the gods of the Norse pantheon). Perhaps I was turning into a historian even then, but I’ve never understood why Leviticus and Deuteronomy have the reputation of being dry reading.


Sharon said...

Fascinating post. very insightful to ask, "who do you turn to to ask questions of faith?" I never would have thought of that.

I think Leviticus & Deut. are also beautiful for their show of the practical love of God. To see these "silly" laws of washing hands and not eating pork and looking at them in light of modern day knowledge of germs and basic hygiene and realizing the love and protection God was showing to his people. That circumcision was designated at day 8- the day we now know medically is when babies develop a surge of vitamin K -which is needed for clotting. That the laws regarding sexual relations more or less follow the Rhythm Method and would make the Jewish population very fruitful and multiply, like God promised. It would also explain why all these biblical women were "infertile."

think i'll ask my daughter (a huge Jonah fan) about who she turns to for faith questions.. though she's pretty open, blessedly still at the stage of telling me everything. :)

Deidre said...

Well, I became a skeptic at 5 when we were asked at school to play being fishes and apostles. I suppose it was Joh 21:1-14. And it brought home to me the improbability of it all. Probability is what I like to muse about. If I ever become a religion teacher the mathematics of probability will take a prominent place in my lessons. Maths is not used nearly enough in religion teaching, yet probability crops up all through the bible.

Paul said...

I'm often amused when skeptics present improbability (or impossibility) as an argument against miracles. As though a probable miracle would be any sort of miracle at all.