Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is Faith Instilled Through Education?

Where does faith come from?  Saint Theophan the Recluse tells us
"Faith in the existence of God and His almightyness is an inherent property of the spirit which is found in each person as soon as his aptitudes are developed."
Education only develops faith and gives it a form so it can be continually nurtured through worldly activities.  This is quite different than the faith we gain in society.  Society instills faith in its norms through education.  All norms of society come from the human mind and are made firm though laws and accepted practices of a given society.  All this needs to be learned because they are not naturally inherent in ones being.  They are external and the mind needs to be conditioned to learn these norms that lead to  faiths like patriotism, political freedom and democracy.

Faith in God is a bit different than any faith we have in society.  We are made in God's image. We do not have to learn from any form of education the nature of this image.  It is in our make-up.  To know God requires a different kind of knowing than we use to know the ways of society.  Faith in God cannot be learned by study.  It can only be gained though an inner opening of our heart to the reality that exists there.

There are many ways we can come to a knowledge of God which lead us to faith.  We can find God through our experiences with His creation, especially if we spend time in wilderness areas where man has had no influence.  There, all we see is the work of God and we experience its incredible beauty which opens our heart to what is within.  God can send us a vision like He did to Saint Paul on his journey to Damascus.  Such visions of the uncreated light and voice of God are immediately transforming but rare.  We can read the Gospel which then turns on a light in our heart and we find it explains what we feel deep inside.  It opens our heart to what is already there. We can be moved by a spiritual guide or friend who gives us an insight that unlocks these inner secrets.  Faith will come not by formal education but but through insight, an experience that lets us know the reality of what we have already inside us.

What does this say about Christian education?  Can we learn faith at school by forced prayer or forced Bible study? Can we gain faith though new laws? What is the value of Sunday school where we try to force feed our children information about how we speak and practice our faith?  Are these efforts all in vain?

No, not entirely, as these attempts at education may for some awaken what they already have within.  But for others. these activities can instill a rationalization that will lead to a rejection of God if it is based on the assumption that you can explain God and faith through rational discourse.  Sound Christian education has to be that which inspires one to seek what is within.  It needs to place an emphasis on what cannot be explained our understood by our rational mind.  It has to encourage one to live in the mystery and to seek what is beyond the knowledge of society.

This is the basis of prayer and the Orthodox worship service.  Properly guided the attendance in the Divine Liturgy should be more important and a few minutes in a Sunday school class room.  The class room can only help us explain and share what we have gained from our inner experience.  It gives us a  language to share what is not really sharable.

In concluding, here is a thought from Saint Theophan,
If everyone has faith, it follows that the norm of the human life undeniably includes faith.  consequently, he who does not have faith departs from this norm, and is a moral freak.  All nonbelievers are of this order.

Reference: The Spiritual LIfe, pp 301-303 

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