Saturday, November 25, 2006

Oh, We Like Sheep

Encounter recently looked at children and spirituality. David Hay, a zoologist, states:

Now, little kids are permanently living in the here and now when they're very small. We know this; it's called the 'point mode.' They don't think about the past or the future, it's only gradually as they get a little bit older that they begin to go into the past and the future - into what's called the "line mode." Now that's interesting, because that area of point mode is where prayer and contemplation takes place. For example, someone who's a believer in God places themselves in the presence of God here and now, and stays in that area. And so, we thought that's a good area to look at.

The second area we looked at was 'mystery'. Again , when we're adults, we have learnt that there, supposedly anyway, are explanations for everything, and we learn about them in science class at school, as I did, I'm an empirical scientist, and we lose a lot of the feeling for the mystery of why there is something and not nothing. But little kids are right in there all the time, they're full of questions like, "why does water come out of a tap when you turn the tap on?", "why when you switch the switch does a light come on?", and so on. Everything's mysterious to them. So they're very much in touch with profound mystery.

The host comments:

Carmel Howard:According to David Hay, this capacity of 'relational consciousness' needs to be nurtured in children, if it's to endure in any meaningful way.

Dr David Hay:Very quickly in a secular culture, children pick up the idea that this area of life is to be ignored or not to be taken seriously. Especially boys by about the age of ten are beginning to pick up the surrounding culture and be dismissive. So, one of the things one can do is first of all, help the children to keep an open mind.

Presumably, that means that water comes out of a tap due to various physical processes, as well as numerous engineering and manufacturing resources that went into building the infrastructure of the city water system. Or maybe it's God.

Lights come on due to an electrical circuit being completed. Or it could just be the angels willing it to be so.

Wouldn't it be better to turn this joy and amazement that children feel at the world, and their unrelenting questioning, to the finding of answers, rather than "nurturing" their spirituality? That's not answering anything. Maintaining the "profound mystery" (or, more precisely, maintaining ignorance) doesn't benefit anyone. Other than those seeking new recruits for their dwindling cults.

The program also describes something called The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a program for schools that "allow[s] the child to come into relationship with God in their own way". To EoR it seems more like indoctrination by stealth, and a recruitment method applied to children before they've developed their critical thinking skills. Rather than accept EoR's point of view, however, here's another authority's view on such matters:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.


  1. No one is saying there's anything wrong with scientific investigation. What I am trying to point out is precisely the opposite, which is when you make and empirical investigation of spiritual or religious experience with an open mind it is quite obviously there. Large scale surveys in many Western countries, including Australia, show that such experience is very widespread, is associated with good intelligence, good mental health, high levels of social concern and that it has a biological function in human survival. I'm simply saying that scientific investigation needs to cast off some of the blinkers it gained at the time of the 18th century. No need to oppose science and God.

  2. A second comment re doctrine: Every field of endeavour has doctrine including empirical science. I have shelves full of text books from my three university degrees in the subject. Neither I nor anyone else has tested more than a tiny fraction of the contents of those books - life is too short. But we trust them (mostly - because there is such a thing as scientific fraud) on the grounds that they are not out of keeping with our own empirical studies. Analogously, empirical religion is based on one's personal experience in prayer or meditation and the use of text books that are based on the practical experience of the writers (again, excluding frauds). Both science and religion are an amalgam of the given and our humanly constructed cultural response. To close off one vast area of what it is to be human because of a secularist prejudice is to voluntarily cripple your humanity.


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