Our religious education philosophy: Adapted from Sophia Lyons Fahs
Our religious education program at SUUS strives to encourage a child’s natural curiosities and yearning wonders about the world. Learning how to live a good life is effectively a matter for experimentation and discovery. We explore the mysteries of our existence by means of the scientific method in searching for answers to persistent questions. Indeed, asking questions may be more important to the development of spiritual identity than finding answers.
The wonders of our common human experience—the cycles of birth and death, lightning and thunder, the persistent sun and shifty moon, the affinity we share with plants and animals, and our wonderful and fragile relationships with others—all constitute the astonishing power of life we all feel on some level.
For Unitarian Universalists, this power of life is not so simply explained by something conveyed divinely to us. We accept that truth has not been delivered irrefutably. We believe it is our obligation, and our right, to verify our assumptions, and to freely examine and personally evaluate what is noticed as we wander through our days. We understand, too, that our perspectives are always changing because as we grow, we evolve.
We refer to the adult volunteers in our religious education classrooms as ‘teachers,’ but they are more like guides, working collaboratively with our children and youth to make meaning of experiences. We do not teach our children to affirm the “truths” of traditional authoritative religious systems. The net effect of that is a deficit of spiritual connection to the very truths themselves, that have basically been memorized and no more. These truths are not connected to the child’s experiences, or what she is capable of understanding, or what she has noticed about life and the world, including her relationships to her environment and other people.
Young people seem to discover best with their present experiences: learning to confront problems directly, learning communication skills that express emotional needs and desires, learning to share and resolve altercations, solving puzzles and mysteries, figuring out how things work, and what is it that stimulates their senses. These are the lessons that prepare the way for moralistic perspectives that are the foundation of spiritual development and the seeds of religious sentiment.
What they need first, however, is to notice for themselves, and have many opportunities to learn their own firsthand direct relations with their universe. In the words of Sophia Lyons Fahs, “They need to notice for themselves what belongs to God before someone has told them.”
We embrace the teaching model of liberal religion, which encourages objectivity, and questioning as a general approach to ideas. Nothing is laid down as law from the top of an authoritative caste-like religious system. Indeed, to assume that one faith is the only pathway to God and salvation creates division, and encourages prejudice, which contributes to the spreading of xenophobia, racism, bigotry, intolerance, non-co-operation, and general hostilities among people.
If children can learn, and adults as well, that faith traditions such as Christianity or Judaism, and their doctrines, the Bible, the Torah, provide merely an orientation to our religious heritages, and that there are many other faith traditions with their own ways of living that diverge from our roots, and that all of these faith traditions evolve as we evolve, then fostering a community-oriented, sympathetic, and open-minded individual is indeed possible. If we can achieve an education that follows this philosophy, we may teach our children the ways in which the world’s peoples are similar, and we might then view our differences from a positive perspective, not one that divides.
In fellowship and faith,
Director of Religious Education
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