Does Children’s Religious Education Have Meaning for Freethinkers?

By Kathy Ivey, October 10, 2010

Religious instruction is an essential element of organized religion, the way the faith, creed and dogma are passed down from generation to generation.

Thankfully, due to our founding mothers’ and fathers’ good sense regarding the separation of church and state, this instruction is left to each individual denomination and does not occur in public schools. Sunday school, catechism class and religion-oriented youth groups are but a few of the choices afforded parents as they guide their children in spirituality.

This Freethought member recognizes the rich spiritual lives our children inhabit, with or without intentional instruction. However, I am reluctant to impose dogma and creed upon their fertile minds. This is not to say I disregard ethical instruction. For that matter, I am concerned with and actively involved in the development of ethical behavior in our children.

The basis of that ethical behavior is rooted in a morality imposed not by a religious text but because ethical behavior is necessary for the good of all of us in whatever community we belong.

Even more strongly, I believe that as humans we have an internal moral compass, a conscience, which is offended by unethical acts. I believe ethical behavior is necessary for the well-rounded happiness and satisfaction of each of us.

While parental guidance is the cornerstone of our children’s ethical instruction, some of us turn to a religious community which offers religious education in a manner consistent with our beliefs. I can speak to that choice as, for the purpose of full disclosure, I am the director of religious education for the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of La Crosse.

Given the nature of Unitarian-Universalism, in that no dogma or creed is required of this faith community, and UU’s are of many differing religious beliefs, it may seem not only difficult but hypocritical as well to hold religious education classes. Yet here there is a thriving community of families with children who attend each Sunday, and a large group of volunteer teachers leading the classes.

For many Freethought Society members, religious education means helping our children navigate their spiritual paths fully aware of the many ways ethical, moral people have found spirituality over the centuries. We also seek out opportunities for families to practice ethical behavior through community activism and volunteerism. Many of us find those opportunities in a Unitarian-Universalist setting.

It is in community that we and our children find sustenance. Their need for social contact, for affirmation, and for love is evident.

We are fortunate that here, in the La Crosse area, we have a strong heritage of religious freedom combined with religious involvement. We enjoy a religiously diverse community imbued with a character that brings us together time and again to work for our common good.

Let us continue to cherish that character, to nurture and sustain it.

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