I was discussing the concept of self sacrifice with a class on Thursday, and I inquired, “Who has given something up for Lent?” I was immediately asked, “What’s Lent?” I have commented on the increasing lack of religious and biblical literacy of our society before, but some of the gaps in knowledge are now even encroaching on “British” cultural knowledge itself.
Yes, a year ago I wrote about the skewing of understanding of Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) and how the original intention of removing luxury ingredients from the home by making pancakes on the eve of Lent had morphed into “let’s run out and but some eggs and butter” to make pancakes. But now, to find several students who didn’t have a concept of Lent itself.
This led to a re-examination of the central question “Why self-denial?” One student reflected that giving up chocolate or assorted other niceties was “Stupid to do for no reason.”
This in turn led to an examination of Jesus’ self-denial in the passion week. Scourging, and crucifixion seem far more extreme than giving up some Dairy Milk. Was this for “no reason.” Eventually a few flickering ten-Watt bulbs stared to appear, and as time went on a few good 100 Watt understandings came to life.
But, 20 minutes of a lesson is now needed to introduce foundational concepts, that only a few years ago we could take for granted in the knowledge base of our learners. This is what Cambridge (and my undergraduate training as well) failed to prepare me for. I read Biblical Studies, Theology, and Ecclesiastical History – not “how to harness a fire.” Well with these little flames of understanding beginning to be kindled, maybe next lesson I can start inventing the wheel.
I have spent nearly my entire adult life working in the spiritual realm. I have worked in military chaplaincy, been a student of theology, a minister, and a teacher of religion. My pilgrimage through “this world below,” has not always been an easy one, yet my faith is dear to me.
I almost daily have that faith assaulted. This is not new to people of belief, especially in this secular age, but I find it nonetheless disheartening to have my faith and my profession challenged as an invalid enterprise, by those unwilling to even explore its validity. In my present role as a teacher of religion, I am faced daily with “all knowing” teenagers who profess a devout atheism. When examined most prove to be somewhat more agnostic than they would like to admit. The intellectual and spiritual battle is nonetheless there.
More telling is the attitude of adults, who want to know why religion is even taught at all. One once said to me “I have spent my child’s entire life teaching them not to believe in fairy tales, so why do they have to learn about religion?” I find this disturbing for several reasons. On the one hand, I feel what a diminished childhood it must be without tall tales and fantasy. But, more significant is the failure to see that in this world there are people of faith, and that community cohesion, social understanding, and mutual respect can all be enhanced by being aware of everyone’s views (religious and secular alike). Greater still is the limiting of the child’s exposure to faith itself, closing the doors of hope which it can bring.
I know some readers would say, that Christians do the same, by “brainwashing” their children with religious values- giving them a closed mind. But is this so? Do we live in a world where belief is the norm? Can any Christian parent screen their precious child from scepticism and secularism? I doubt it. Yet, it is a world shrinking in biblical literacy, with even basic stories such as Noah or Goliath drawing blank stares when mentioned.
So I struggle on. I teach, I tell the tales of faith, and I do my best to “fight the good fight.” Your prayers for my endevours will gratefully welcomed.