Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Should children get to define their own faith?

     So I just read this fascinating article on child liberation theology. The premise of liberation theology is just so up my alley, and I very much need to learn more about it. It began with the political struggles in Central and Latin America Catholic Churches during the 50s and 60s, lead by Gustavo Gutierrez.  The central idea of the the movement is to move the focus of Christianity away from the powerful: the Magisterium, the rich,, the people "doing it right" who lecture outcasts on their sins, and instead refocus creating justice for the poor, the marginalized, and oppressed.  The essential tenet is that each human has the right to create their own faith, and that each human has the "God-given right to speak about God from their own unique perspective" without judgement or lecture from dominant powers.
     So any good liberal will immediately have the reaction of, "Well, duh, obviously", (and score seven lefty bonus points if the liberal says it while drinking fair-trade coffee).  However, when it comes to kids, I am not sure I am entirely on board with this idea.  Children developing their own theology?  How would that even work? For older children, I can see this as a possibility, and developing a person theology is a necessity to keep a teenagers involved and growing in their faith, but for children under say...nine, I'm not sure its a good idea.  For my daughter, Jesus lives in the same space as unicorns; I'm not sure that she is really able to theorize on  the nature of God...in the way I want her to.  It's hard for me to let her have her own faith journey, when I really just want her to believe exactly what I believe, because, you know, I'm right.
     Yes, I hear myself, yes I know that I am completely unfair.  Amani needs to have her own faith journey, and I need to be okay with that, because that is how authentic faith works.   I definitely don't want her to think that faith is dictated by some outsider, or that she needs to uncritically agree with everything any one tells her about Catholicism.  That said, I still think it is important to educate her on what our faith is, what it means, and how to develop the skills necessary for creating a fulfilling faith.
     According to the article, the parent, priest or instructor with a child liberative philosophy must teach a child the skills of "taking power, of becoming self-defining and self-actualizing".  However, like so many of these "what you should be doing" articles, the piece doesn't actually tell you how to do that, especially not with a four-year-old.
     The way I see it, parents can introduce skills by setting up an environment that promotes critical thinking.  I liked this article from the roots of action.  I like that the article explains that parents should establish that thinking can be fun, encourage their children to think, and praise them when they do ("Wow!  You were really thinking carefully about that!  Good for you!")  It has some good suggestion on how to set up an atmosphere at home that encourages kids to thoughtfully develop their own opinions, without disrespecting others. Their five suggestions include:

  • Encouraging kids to be clear in their speaking, and to ask questions if they are not clear what others are saying.  "Did what I said make sense?  Do you have any questions?"
  • Making sure children speak with accuracy:  When a child is arguing or complaining, insist that they don't exaggerate or (obviously) lie.  "I NEVER by you toys?  That's not true at all.  You need be careful when you speak, or people won't listen to you."
  • Support logical thinking: Challenge your child to explain their thinking process.  "He says he's a cheetah, huh?  Do you think that's true or he's just pretending?  How come?"
  • My favorite suggestion, and probably the hardest part, is to encourage kids to be fair when they disagree with each other; to consider another person's thought process.  "She said you can't come to your birthday party?  Why do you think she might have said that?  How do you think she is feeling?  Why might she feel that way?  Do you think you might feel that way if that happen to you?"

     Now God knows my children have opinions, and are very eager to express them.  Still, I think allowing them to share their feelings and opinions is an important way of showing them respect and make them feel valued.  So, if I want them to be able to share their thoughts, it's equally important to teach them to do it appropriately and logically.  As I say this, there is a part of me that is rolling it's eyes, "Riiiight, I'll just teach my children to logically explain why they are licking the bottom of the garbage can. That is definitely going to happen."
    It will happen though.  I think parents have to keep reinforcing this stuff with their kids, even though it is going to take their kids 30 years to get the fundamentals.  It's these kind of skills that are going to teach kids to be secure in thoughtfully doing what is right.