Sunday, 11 October 2009

A religious upbringing

The fact that I attend church regularly has led several people to become uneasy, both as to my suitability as a witness before a House of Commons select committee and also about the sort of childhood the daughter of such a person might have endured. I therefore thought it worth writing a little about the religious upbringing of children and what it might entail, particularly with regard to home education.

The first thing to do is clear the ground a little and consider what such a childhood is not. It is not or should not be about having one's head crammed with a lot of rules and ideas from outside. Rather, it ideally consists of being taught to listen to one's own inner voice, which can easily be drowned out by the clamour of the world. What do I mean by an inner voice? I mean the conscience. I believe that God places within every human a guiding device, rather like a compass, which enables us, if we will only pay heed to it, to distinguish right from wrong. To use a modern analogy, it is like a Satnav system, which we can either obey or ignore. I do not for a moment think that the Lord God has fitted the children of different races and religions with different versions of this Satnav; I think there is one model for the whole human race. It tells us the basic route to take, on the one hand for instance to avoid adultery and theft and on the other to take every opportunity to help the widow and orphan. If we are perplexed, listening carefully to this internal guidance system will help us to find the right way.

The problem is of course, that without practice and training, children may get out of the habit of listening to this voice, which is hardly ever louder than a whisper in any case. Some adults have lost the knack entirely of heeding this God given mechanism. It is not so much a matter of waving a Bible or Qur'an at a child and insisting that he learn the word of God. Rather, it is a case of explaining to the child the rules of conduct and urging him to listen hard both to his own conscience and also for any instructions from God. In other words, we are trying to develop a talent or skill within the growing child, not impose a set of instructions from without. At the same time we can explain to the child that there are universal rules such as honesty and justice, avoiding adultery and theft, being kind to those weaker than ourselves. It is not so much a question of warning them that God will punish them, as showing the child that adultery brings unhappiness more or less as a matter of course. So of course does theft and murder. I doubt that many of us know any happy thieves, murderers or adulterers. This tendency, for certain types of behaviour to bring misery, seems to be built into the fabric of the universe, rather like gravity. One could even compare it to the principle of dharma and karma.

Children naturally break these rules if they have not been taught to listen to their conscience. Not because they are inherently wicked, but for the same reason that they might break the rules of chess when they first learn to play. It is simple ignorance. This is not "original sin", as one of the people who comments on this Blog calls it. Our job as parents is to teach them the rules and encourage them to cultivate the habit of listening to their inner guidance. This regular listening for guidance can be called, meditation, prayer or many other things.

Home educating a child makes this whole process a lot simpler. The average child is likely to find the still small voice of conscience drowned out when she is with other children. This can cause the child to take a wrong turn. Imagine you are driving a car containing half a dozen noisy passengers. As you approach a roundabout, the Satnav says quietly, "turn left". At the same time, all the passengers in the car are shouting at the top of their voices, "Turn right!". This is what happens sometimes if a God fearing child is with a group of other kids who decide say, to steal makeup from Boots. Because the group are shouting the wrong instructions, the child's conscience can be drowned out.

I consider the teaching of children about right and wrong to be of crucial importance. It is certainly easier and more effective to undertake such teaching in a quiet, one-to-one setting rather than in a crowded, noisy classroom. Just for the record, I am not really a Christian. I attend church because that is the form of worship with which I grew up. I don't believe that any religion has a monopoly on truth and I also believe in the essential goodness of humanity. I do not think that anybody will be damned and I feel sure that all will be saved and brought to God ultimately.


  1. You would make a good Quaker, Simon! When a friend of mine did teaching practice in a Quaker school she was given a lot of paperwork - including the phrase "most Quakers believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God"... I have always wondered how that can possibly qualify Quakers to be a Christian faith.... what do the rest believe then....?
    Nevertheless you are going to have people at you from all sides now- too Christian! not Christian enough! Just can't win!

  2. Actually Julie, when I lived in Tottenham I did worship with the Friends. I have to say that not all of them believed that Jesus was the son of God, but they were all God fearing people. This post was really prompted by Joely, who has been making many comments lately. She apparently thinks that I subscribe to the doctrine of original sin.

  3. Simon said "She apparently thinks that I subscribe to the doctrine of original sin."

    Well I do... and I am against the review - just goes to show the dangers of single issue politics, doesn't it? You end up siding with all sorts of weird people who don't make comfortable bed fellows when looking at their other views!

  4. Ah Julie, I bet I'm just the sort of wishy washy, lukewarm, "Sunday Christian" that you despise! Whenever I meet evangelicals, they are very free in consigning me to perdition, although very sadly and with great relucance. As far as I can make out, the denizens of hell will be a very mixed bag of the expremely wicked, like Hitler and the theologically illiterate like the Dalai Lama, who didn't know a good thing when they saw it.

  5. I expect I'll be there too, Simon. I wonder if we'll have endless consultations about proposed changes in the temperature of the furnaces... I can imagine you voting for - just in case there's someone hiding in a cool spot somewhere ;-)

  6. Somebody's very sharp this morning, Allie! I hope that you know that I don't really believe in the existence of Hell in any way at all. I have noticed that those who are most anxious to send their fellow beings there are generally people that I wouldn't choose to spend much time with in this world, never mind the next. One of the chief pleasures of Heaven, according to some calvinists, will be to peer down into Hell and gloat over the sufferings of the damned! Would you want to spend eternity with such people?

  7. Simon said "Ah Julie, I bet I'm just the sort of wishy washy, lukewarm, "Sunday Christian" that you despise! Whenever I meet evangelicals, they are very free in consigning me to perdition, although very sadly and with great reluctance."

    ah, but by now you will have gathered that I don't *do* judgement (well, being honest, I try to avoid it but fail miserably in private anyway!) That is why I am here - disagreeing with your solutions to the problems of the non educated "home educated" but defending your right to hold those opinions. That is what is so infuriating about some of the opposition you attract- it is obviously fine to be liberal in every theory except one! Not to mention the dangers of single issue politics - some advocate allying themselves to the likes of the BNP because they are pro home ed (although presumably as long as the educators are white). Then since I am clearly the rabid evangelical who the likes of some posters (Joely I think) wouldn't want as an ally - even though I am probably counted as on her side in the education battle, she probably wouldn't have much time for me elsewhere. Gosh, life is so complicated - and human beings are so inconsistent!!

    Incidentally although I may be a signed up Calvinist doctrinally I have every hope that in heaven I will have better things to do that crow at the fate of others (whether you are there or not) but would also like to remind you that because of my church links to the L'Abri movement I don't think that I fit the dour model you have in mind - see the L'Abri website eg "in the area of our relationship with God, true spirituality is seen in lives which by grace are free to be fully human rather than in trying to live on some higher spiritual plane or in some grey negative way."

  8. Julie, I'm really sorry about making that remark about Calvinists. It wasn't a dig at you; I had completely forgotten what church you were connected with. I certainly didn't mean all Calvinists anyway. It is just that I have noticed a gloomy relish in some of those who believe I am bound for Hell! I am sure you appreciate the irony, that on the one hand I am damned to eternal punishent by some Christians and on the other I am accused of wishing to peddle Christian theology to a House of Commons select committee. What you say above is very true, single causes do make for very odd bedfellows. During the 1930's some Zionists made contact with the Nazis because both groups wnated Jews to go to Israel.

  9. Don't worry - you won't offend me so easily...good heavens. I spend my days with too many home educators...don't know about the theory of shape changing lizards ect, but I have developed a very thick skin (that and the fact that I have eight children....)

  10. "In other words, we are trying to develop a talent or skill within the growing child, not impose a set of instructions from without."

    You confuse me Simon. I thought you said you were opposed to autonomous ed, now you claim to be doing it?


  11. "I believe that God places within every human a guiding device, rather like a compass, which enables us, if we will only pay heed to it, to distinguish right from wrong."

    I don't call it God, I call it the promptings of the higher self, the human soul and I believe that we start to learn not to heed that voice in childhood, when first parents then teachers and then ultimately the state force us to internalise values or beliefs or even a sense of self that are not our own. This process damages the integrity of soul to consciousness. Alice Miller explains that no-one whose integrity has not been harmed in childhood will ever feel the need to harm another human being.

    Which is why I find it both impossible to understand and angry making that you apparently have no problem supporting Graham Badman's recommendations which will require me and other parents like me to shut down that inner compass, to stop being true to the prompting of our souls and to internalise the State's messages about parenting and education in it's place.

  12. Julie I am happy to count you as an ally since I haven't seen any evidence at all that you would like to stop me from parenting and educating according to my own deeply held ethics and conscience and be forced to parent according to yours!

  13. I am not religious, so I don't believe that a human's conscience, or "inner voice" stems from God.

    I do, however, believe that a lot of the school system, as well as many aspects of modern, capitalist society tell human's not to trust their own intuition, but to listen to external guidance from a source they are told to trust.

    The ad-men and the corporations use the structures of organized religion, so ingrained in western society to their advantage, by giving the masses their opium in the form of "what to buy to be cool in 2010" lists.

    An inner voice is a good thing to have, simply as an antidote to peer pressure, and attributing it to God is a good alternative to attributing it to madness.

    In fact, many early Gods which humans believed in have been attributed to the fact that the left and right hemispheres of the brain had not fused, leading to a kind of permanent schizophrenia.

    In the animal kingdom, madness is seen as irrational and non-conformist behavior, which usually results in death; such as the way that global warming has caused animals who would normally be shy and retiring to suddenly confront their natural predators. An action which as resulted in sudden death...

    In humans, however, this autonomy is often what leads to cultural shifts, including those which have shaped society, whether or not the people or groups in question had any notion that they were guided by a God.

    I was home educated in what could be seen as an autonomous fashion, however I resent being groups with those who have the attitude that "the kids know best".

    Child centered, or self directed learning is not the same as apathy purporting to be an educational philosophy.

    I have chosen, or been encourage to learn about, and take an interest in subjects which will equip me for my own life, as I choose to lead it.

    If your attitude towards God is as something within, instead of something without, then it is not tremendously incompatible with my own personal views, despite the fact that I do not agree with the existence of a deity.

    Any form of morality, with the knowledge that it is ultimately a subjective, psychological construct is crucial to people realizing that they should not sit back and let others persuade them how to think, what to buy, or that it is OK to have 3 cars and destroy the rain forests.