I was walking my four-year-old granddaughter home from her (parochial) junior kindergarten a few weeks ago, a frequent pleasure, when she announced, “You can’t see God, because He is inside you.”
I agreed that was the case. But how, she wanted to know, could you be sure He was there. Simplicity my watchword, I replied that when people do good things, God is the happiness in their hearts, and when they do bad things, God is the sadness in their hearts. Summoning up the history of her parents’ strictures around good and bad behaviour and consulting her own emerging conscience, she nodded with grave approval: God as the ultimate parent suited her vision of what a worship-worthy deity should be.
As we continued chatting about God and His mysterious ways, I noticed that I was occasionally glancing behind me in what I later shamefully identified as a furtive reflex—as though God-talk to the innocent young were something a secularly correct passer-by might consider suspicious.
Within my adult lifetime I have witnessed God and religion decline from supremely important topics all thinking people grappled with -even left-wing academics; God (not to mention Israel) was very welcome on campus in my day—to subjects it is an intellectual act of defiance to take seriously.
Humans gravitate to religion—or, faute de mieux, to ideology—because we are by nature worshipful creatures with an instinct for codifying and institutionalizing belief systems, the better to strengthen civic bonding and rationalize social decency.
Today a vociferous cluster of arrogant intellectuals, circulating spiritually untethered through life like unvaccinated children in a vaccinated populus, and mistaking their unmolested health for a useful global template, would persuade us that is not the case. They insist that if religion disappeared, society would function perfectly well on the basis of reason alone. But no society, religious or godless, ever has, so the burden of proof is on them.
Worshipfulness abhors a vacuum and history shows that in a vacuum, whatever absolutism—communism, multiculturalism, environmentalism—pushes itself forward most aggressively will claim people’s attention and acquiescence.
In our Western case, after many a historical divagation and slough of despond, religion has for the last few centuries put its highest moral and social ideals to the service of democracy and a market economy to produce the freest, happiest, most peaceful, egalitarian, compassionate, productive and prosperous societies in recorded history.
Indeed, so successful have our societies become that our heavy thinkers believe we arrived at this pinnacle of tolerance and sensitivity and equality by sheer intelligence, and that our Western religious tradition is an actual hindrance to even greater social progress. Now we are told to jettison the God and religion that got us where we are (but romanticize the religions that didn’t) and worship society’s beautiful minds.
But this would be a disaster for children. It is a great mistake to think that a child’s mind has the capacity to satisfy his inherent but inchoate yearning for transcendence through reason. The ability to reason one’s way to a world-view emerges too late, when a child’s confidence and friendliness to the world has already been established—or not.
Children are born conservatives. They are not satisfied with chaos theory or moral relativism. They want order, a system, a precise identity (my friend’s grandchild told a schoolmate he was “half Jewish, half Christmas”). They need an infallible “GPS” to navigate their way through “mean” playmates, unfair or insensitive teaching, the troubling deaths of pets and family members, rumours of war and natural disasters.
In their evolved character, our heritage religions coexist in perfect harmony with the ideal of a pluralist society. Properly transmitted by parents and dedicated educators, instruction in God and religion has nothing to do with indoctrination, a political strategem that seeks to enslave, not ennoble, young minds, proclaiming all other paths to righteousness as thought crimes or worse.
(A perfect example of indoctrination is Quebec’s universal school Ethics and Religious Culture program, where the state is co-opting vulnerable minds to implant the relativist canard that all religions, cults, (state-approved) ideologies and pagan legends are morally, intellectually and spiritually equivalent.)
Until recently most atheists grew up with God and religion. Their reasoning skills were not impaired. On the contrary, once intellectually autonomous, they were far better equipped for self-interrogation than those raised with no beliefs at all. There is nothing to be lost in gifting children with God and religion, but much to be gained—for them as individuals and for society as a whole.