Child psychologists have long known that children are innately spiritual, that they have a profound hunger for the divine.
This hunger may be even more pronounced in today’s society because of the widespread breakdown in stable family life. More and more children live in divorced families, blended families, or single-parent families. Because in many homes both parents work, increasing numbers of children come home to empty houses. Children today have never been so alone or so lonely.
Like adults, they need to learn how to find meaning, make connections, and enter into a relationship with God and other members of the Christian community. They need to have not just knowledge about these realities, but first-hand experience of them.
That is where religious education comes in. Children, not just adults, need such religious education. The word religion means:
“to link together again, to re-link. Religious education re-links us to God not only in an intellectual way but also in an affective way. Religion re-links us to the power that brings life to its destined fullness.”
John Main, The Present Christ, p286
Academic religious education programmes aim to teach children and adults about their faith and its doctrines.
The programmes teach a certain religious literacy and behaviour - the words and actions of a particular church. The problem with such academic programmes is that those being taught can learn the words of faith
“without really understanding the depth of meaning that is involved”
John Main, Moment of Christ, p175
As John Main says,
“We know that God is our Creator. We know that Jesus is our Redeemer. We know too that Jesus has sent his Spirit to dwell within us, and we have some sort of idea about our eternal destiny. But the great weakness of most Christians is that although they know these truths on the level of theological theory, the truths do not really live in their hearts. In other words, these truths that are thought are not realised. We know them as propositions propounded by the Church, by theologians, by preachers from pulpits, or in magazines, but we have not realised them as the grounding truths of our lives, as the sure basis which gives us conviction and authority...Many people today are finding that they have to face the fact that there is an all-important difference between thinking about these truths of the Christian faith and experiencing them, between believing them on hearsay and believing them from our own personal verification. Experiencing and verifying these truths is not just the work of specialists in prayer ...These are truths that each one of us is called to know for himself, and in meditation we seek to know them.”
Word into Silence, p17-18