So, I read this little article this morning on Yahoo news. Based on a recent Pew poll, apparently most Americans are actually fairly ignorant of, you guess it, religion. Even their own. The atheists and agnostics did the best, answering 21 out of 32 questions correctly, followed by Jews and Mormons who got about 20 correct. Protestants averaged 16 correct and Roman Catholics about 15. (No Muslims? Why not?)
My first thought (thinking back to the article that Sarah had linked to over on one of Susanne's posts) was, 'well there's your problem'. We're counted as a 'religious' country because most people will answer that they are religious, but we're apparently mostly ignorant of our religions! I believe if people actually knew and understood their faiths that we'd be much better off as a country. Individuals would have to take responsibility for their actions and curb their own darker impulses - not that I think it'd be a utopia by any stretch, but if people *knew* what their faiths taught, what they were claiming to be when they said 'I'm Christian' and understood it and actually *followed* it, how many abuses and crimes wouldn't occur?
But the question is, how do we correct this problem? For adults, they have to choose to learn. I mean, you can't force them into religious ed classes, really. So I think the best thing there is to have the information and the opportunity out and available so that if and when a person becomes interested they have the opportunity to learn. Sure, there's a million books out there on pretty much every religion imaginable but it's not the same as interacting with people of that faith and seeing how they live their faith, being able to ask questions.
And what about the children? Clearly the only way a child is going to get religious education is if the parents send them there. So the parents must be, at least a little, involved in their own faith. Obviously the more involved the parent, the better because then the child would not only be getting their faith from classes but also be seeing it lived out in their home. So assuming that the child is being sent to Sunday School or CCD or whatever the program is called, what's the best way to actually educate them? Not just get them through the years and let them have fun while they do it, but actually get them to know and understand their faith?
I've experienced two different religious ed programs for kids - one from the position of being a kid and one from the position of being the teacher. When I was a kid we were sent to Sunday School because kids were disruptive to the church service. Our program went on at the same time and we sat back there and colored and made dolls and sang, etc. All Lutheran oriented, of course, but still. Not a whole lot of educating going on, as I recall. It certainly didn't make a huge impact on my life. The second, the CCD class I helped teach for a while was a bit better, I think. There was a focus on actually teaching the kids things but it was an odd situation (at least for me) since we weren't really given a curriculum so we were sort of making it up as we went. The information we taught was correct, but I think it could have been much better if we'd known what we were doing! :) In that case the classes also went on during Mass and what typically happened is that the parents would drop the kids off to CCD and attend that Mass so that they could pick the kids up and go afterward. Some of the parents went to the Mass *after* class ended and took their kids with them, and I can honestly say that those were the kids who already knew some of the material we were teaching.
So. I think my problem here is this: we've shunted the kids off into another room for the church service. They're made to seem not welcomed. The church service (Mass, sermon, Divine Liturgy) is the culmination of the Christian week, isn't it? Even for those who believe that it's just a chance to gather with like minded believers and hear the word of God and worship, isn't that the high point? And for those of us who believe that we are actually communing with all the believers and heaven and are taking the Body and Blood into ourselves and strengthening ourselves for the trials of the world, isn't that the high point? But we don't want kids there. (I'm actually not speaking of the Orthodox here, because Orthodox children receive Communion as children and I've yet to be to a Divine Liturgy where there weren't any children.) They're noisy and disruptive and we glare at them and their parents.
It's rude and disruptive to the unity of the church that we don't want the children there! Sure, if the child starts to cry the parent needs to walk out with them and get them calmed down. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't bring them at all, or that we should just put them off in a room to 'educate' with crayons.
It's my opinion that (aside from the religious education that the children should be receiving at home from their parents who are responsible for this in the first place) there needs to be a serious religious education program but that the time should either be before or after the actual religious service so that the children can (and should be expected to) attend.
And I realize that I speak from the peanut gallery, not having children myself, but I do believe that being a part of the community from the beginning, from their earliest memories will help children to be interested in their faith. To absorb and internalize the knowledge that they're supposed to be taught.