An Argument for Comprehensive Religious Ed

Joyce Ketterer, in Quaker Theology: When, at age 19, as an already avowed Quaker, I finally learned that much of that information was outright false I felt deeply betrayed... Despite intensive Quaker experience at the monthly and yearly meeting levels as well as through Friends General Conference, I was failed by the Quaker adults in charge of my religious education. The word “failed” here seems strong so I want to qualify it. I do not believe that these adults even knew that they were letting me down. When, at age 19, as an already avowed Quaker, I finally learned that much of that information was outright false I felt deeply betrayed... Despite intensive Quaker experience at the monthly and yearly meeting levels as well as through Friends General Conference, I was failed by the Quaker adults in charge of my religious education. The word “failed” here seems strong so I want to qualify it. I do not believe that these adults even knew that they were letting me down.

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Comment by Bill Clendineng on 6th mo. 20, 2010 at 4:22pm
Does it seem that the desire to be non-creedal sometimes becomes a fear of openly discussing belief systems? A kind of religious "don't ask, don't tell" policy?

To what extent is "non-creedalism" a creed in itself?
Comment by Mariah Boone on 6th mo. 20, 2010 at 10:21pm
This is an excellent post.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 6th mo. 21, 2010 at 12:30am
It took me awhile to identify the link to the actual article here (but I'm glad I did!)

Not being raised a Quaker, I didn't know how the Quaker religious diseducation system looks from inside, as you've described it, but from outside it looked pretty thin-- despite my knowing some excellent teachers who clearly love their students and the Quaker movement as well.

What does it mean to be "taught by Christ himself"?-- or taught by God, as I'd prefer to put it? There seem to be some unjustified assumptions people have made about this process... for example, that it must be a process separate from normal life, something that could occur only in silence, only directly from the inside.

There's nothing "special" about being taught by God; being taught by God is what we call "life".

Meditation helps-- but so does reading, talking, listening-- and sometimes arguing! Even "wasting time" and sleeping!

If you think of all the ways the best human teachers work-- which is very seldom through simply lecturing, no matter how well-- it must be obvious that God's teaching will not be confined to one mode of interaction. Silence may be a sign of respecting a teacher-- but not when the teacher wants a discussion!

But as I say, we've generally made those sorts of assumptions! We know that obsessive intellectual activity can impede our recognition of the Spirit-- so people try to have a spiritual life without an intellectual life, and end up having a spiritless intellectual life. We call ourselves "Friends", but seem to approach God as if instead we were God's reluctant employees. I often see my fellow Friends across from me in Meeting, sitting there with their arms folded as if daring God to make them notice!

What I'm groping towards saying... is that there seems to be some radical dissociation between modern Quaker's minds, and their spirits. They aren't "in the same spirit" that gave rise to the Quaker tradition (or any other), so they generally don't find much there to nourish them; hence they don't see why or how to pass it on to other Friends, let along to other adults, let alone to their own children!

(I don't, by the way, think we're any worse in this respect than any other denomination I know of. What Fox described as 'professing without possessing' seems to have always been the prevailing condition, whether it manifests in atheism or in fundamentalism being not all that important.)

Every generation, we have to pass on what faith we've learned to a new batch of people, who haven't had the same experience, and might not consider it important. It's simply not possible for human beings... unless they realize that they, and God, can do it together.
Comment by Jim Wilson on 6th mo. 23, 2010 at 1:18pm
As a convinced Quaker, I did not have the experience you are referring to. But after reading your post I am left wondering about specifics. I mean what books would be considered to be "core texts" for a Quaker education? Fox's Journal, Woolman's Journal, and Barclay's Apology, and a good general history of the Quaker tradition, come to mind as candidates; but it is not clear to me from the post that these would be the kinds of things you are thinking of. I mention Barclay's Apology because I think that would be a good basis for the kinds of discussions you had with non-Quaker classmates.

Regarding the issue of being non-credal, there are many organizations and groups that do not have a creed yet are capable of presenting the basics of their tradition and the purpose of their organization. I think what is needed is to look beyond religion to ordinary associations. For example, a bonsai society, or gardening club, or a music club focused on a single composer (say Mozart), all of these kinds of associations are able to offer to people the history of their group, what their purpose is, how they function, etc., without falling back on a creed. Martial Arts groups similarly are able to condense into a brief statement why they are there, what their history is, and what they offer. For this reason I don't think that being non-credal should be an obstacle to articulating the purpose of Friends.

Best wishes,

Jim
Comment by Kathleen Karhnak on 7th mo. 21, 2010 at 10:19pm
I'm part of the Children's Spiritual Life Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and our major undertaking right now is to examine the full scope of what a well-rounded Quaker religious education would include and find a way to write that up and share it broadly with Friends. Of course, us being who we are, it won't be a prescriptive list of topics that must be taught.

If we are able to complete this project well I think it will be of tremendous use within the Religious Society of Friends generally, not just for my yearly meeting. My part in unifying with our committee taking this on comes from wanting to make sure that my children get a comprehensive religious education as I did (or, better than I did) as a Roman Catholic who attended Catholic school through 8th grade, then CCD classes through high school.

I once led a one-day retreat for the parents of a meeting. We had a structured discussion about what they expected the First Day School program to teach their children, what types of religious education and practicing of spiritual practices they did in their homes, etc. I was shocked to hear folks talk about how uncomfortable they were talking about God with their own children! Several of them talked about not wanting to influence or taint their child's spiritual experience. I was grateful to be able to cite one of my favorite writers of children's spiritual and religious picture books, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who says that children form an image of God by age 4 or 5 (I can't quite remember) and that the only choice we adults get to make about that is whether we help inform that image or whether they adopt their God image from mainstream culture.

I'm glad you wrote this article, Joyce. You and I had a conversation at FGC Gathering -- I think it was last summer -- about this very topic and I am very grateful for your clear, direct writing about this. I hope it will spur a lot of discussions among Friends with responsibilities for children's religious education (within Monthly Meeting committees, as parents "doing" religious education with their own children at home, within larger bodies of Friends, etc.).
Comment by Mariah Boone on 7th mo. 21, 2010 at 10:22pm
Oh, I love Sandy Eisenberg Sasso as well.

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