Religion: Moving from memory to life application

I was just reading one of the liberal Christian blogs I like to keep up with, and discovered his recent entry about his son’s confirmation in the Lutheran church. First of all, I’d encourage everyone to check out his son’s “personal profession of faith” which he wrote. Personally, even though I don’t necessarily share his views, I thought it was an excellent attempt by the young man to grapple with his own faith and what it means to him. I think that more young people should be encouraged to do this.

The (rightfully) proud father prefaces this by pointing out that this practice of encouraging confirmands to write their personal statements of faith as a part of the confirmation process is a relatively new one. He compares this practice to “back in the day” when he himself was confirmed, in which the confirmation process involved memorizing a number of various pieces of information (such as the Apostles’ Creed and the ten commandments) and then being quizzed on it. He briefly mentions the anxiety he and his peers felt during this process and confesses that he wasn’t sure how it really demonstrateded they were “ready to assume the rights and responsibilities of adulthood in the church’s eyes.”

I’m inclined to agree with the blogger’s point of view on that one. The confirmation process that his son recently went through strikes me as much more reasonable, not to mention valuable. This is based on my own firm belief that one’s faith must be more than mere rote memorization of certain creeds, laws, and other doctrinal points and “bits of information” deemed “worthy.” As I mentioned in my commemnt to the blogger, it seems to me that faith essentially requires the understanding and wisdom to apply all of that knowledge, lest said knowledge remain little more than “useless trivia” tucked away in some recess of the memory.

Towards the end of my time in church and involvement with my church’s Sunday School program, I became more aware of this problem. Too often, our program would rely on rote memorization without actually teaching the kids much about what it means to live out one’s faith. (Oh sure, we went over the ten commandments and told everyone that they shouldn’t lie, cheat, steal, or the other assorted sins young children are most likely to be presented with, but a faithful life needs to be more than these things.) We filled those kids with our “head knowledge” and gave them little else. So it’s nice to see that at least some churches are coming around and trying to correct that error.

Now if only today’s pagans and witches would also catch wind of that idea. After all, we still too often rely on “head knowledge.” What’s the first thing we tell everyone who says they’re interested in Paganism/Wicca/witchcraft? “Read, read, and read.” We encourage them to fill their heads with information (and let’s not forget that 99% of the information they’ll probably find is bad.) But we don’t talk about the practical, “living the faith” kinds of things.

So “newbies” become “collectors of things.” They collect the various snippets of lore and poetry that have made it into the public domain (both legitimately and illegitimately), the lists of “healing crystals and their uses,” the lists of “elemental correspondenses,” the lists of “gods and their functions,” and all kinds of other things.

But where’s the serious contemplation of what it means to honor the old gods? Where is the deep searching of what it means to live “in tune with nature”? (Actually, I think “living in tune with nature” isn’t as big a part of Paganism as some would suggest, but if people are going to bandy about that phrase, I think it a good idea to start talking about how to practically go about accomplishing it.) Where is the deep discussion of how the Wheel of the Year affects us on a deep, personal level?

Maybe like the Christian blogger I mentioned, these are things that will only be sorted when my own children start down the Pagan paths. Maybe it’ll be longer than that. But I hope that we start thinking about these things now, so that this essential shift in focus happens some time.