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Ch. 13: Does Religion Make People Behave Better? 
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Thanks for this recommendation. It sounds like useful stuff for parents. The existence of these established traditonal ways of teaching children, within relgion, is an example of what at its best religion has been able to do. I think many parents who themselves have lost their religion pull themselves up short when they contemplate their own children missing out on an experience that they themselves had. The parents become edgy, if my experience is at all typical, and they tiptoe back into churches with kids in tow, again if my experience is typical.

A passage from Emerson's "Divinity School Address" of 1828:

"And now let us do what we can to rekindle the smoldering, nigh-quenched fire on the altar. The evils of the church that now is are manifest. The question returns, What shall we do? I confess, all attempts to project and establish a Cultus with new rites and forms seem to me vain. Faith makes us, and not we it, and faith makes its own forms. All attempts to contrive a system are as cold as the new worship introduced by the French to the goddess of Reason--today pasteboard and filligree, and ending tomorrow in madness and murder. Rather let the breath of new life be breathed by you through the forms already existing. For if once you are alive, you shall find they become plastic and new. The remedy to their deformity is first, soul, and second, soul, and evermore, soul. A whole popedom of forms one pulsation of virtue can uplift and vivify. Two inestimable advantages Christianity has given us; first the Sabbath, the jubilee of the whole world, whose light dawns welcome alike into the closet of the philosopher, into the garret of toil, and into prison-cells and everywhere suggests, even to the vile, the dignity of spiritual being. Let it stand forevermore, a temple which new love, new faith, new sight shall restore to more than its first splendor to mankind. And secondly, the institution of preaching--the speech of man to men--essentially the most flexible of all organs, of all forms."

One might suggest that Emerson recommended new life for old regious rites and customs because he was addressing a graduating divinity class at Harvard and wanted to be nice. But I think not, because in the address he had already shown a willingness to speak truth to power (and the speech did get him into plenty of hot water). He doesn't mention the topic close at hand--the education of children--but the connection is clear. Can we still use that resource of religion, and if we don't will we suffer for it? But note that although Emerson is outside the pale of the church, he does believe in the concept of the soul. Many of us today are without even this much religious belief. So the obstacle to using the forms of religion becomes even greater.

I especially agree about the Sabbath. I still wish things were as they were in my childhood in New England, when religion-based "blue laws" meant that all stores were closed on Sundays, so commerce wasn't the absolute king it later became.



Wed Apr 22, 2009 7:16 am
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