Education and the Common Good: A Moral Philosophy of the Curriculum by Philip H. Phenix
Philip H. Phenix was educated at Princeton University, Union Theological Seminary, and Columbia University. He was formerly Dean of Carleton College, and was professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Published by Harper & Brothers, 1961. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 17: Religion
Having now treated the values of intelligence, creativity, and conscience, we come to reverence, the last of the four pivotal values by which civilization and education should be formed. This is a unitary and consummatory value, which comprehends and animates all the rest. On this account, a consideration of the grounds and relevance of reverence furnishes at once a summary and a fresh interpretation of the values already discussed.
Reverence is the most characteristic feature of the religious consciousness. Here the word "religious" is intended to signify the attitude and practice of sincere devotion to what is supremely worthful. This definition excludes much that commonly goes by the name of religion. We are reserving the name of religion in the present analysis for a reverential orientation to what is of ultimate value. Beliefs or practices that do not express devotion or that refer to objects of less than supreme worth are by this definition not religious.
Irreligion stands in diametric opposition to religion. It consists in self-seeking orientation. It is the denial of any object of supreme worth beyond the self. It is founded upon the conviction that man himself is the source of values, that human beings do not discover the worthful but themselves create and decide whatever is to be counted as good. Furthermore, since from this standpoint man is the measure of goodness, his wants, preferences, and interests become the criteria of value judgment. The irreligious life is directed toward the goals of satisfaction, acquisition, security, and power. It is founded on the premise that the proper end of man is to become independent and autonomous.
A third orientation, which may be called idolatry, stands intermediate between religion and irreligion. Idolatry is devotion toward that which is less than supremely worthful. It partakes of the nature of both religion and irreligion. It is like religion in being a form of devotion. The worshiper to some degree transcends his egocentric craving and offers himself in service to what he deems valuable. But idolatry is also like irreligion, because when the object of loyalty is less than ultimately worthful, dedication to it circumscribes, excludes, and impoverishes life in the same fashion as self-serving.
Idolatry is even found in what commonly goes by the name of religion. Whenever any persons, institutions, rituals, dogmas, or writings are regarded as worthy of ultimate loyalty, idolatry is present. Doctrinaire, exclusive, absolutist "religions" result from ascribing finality to what are in fact less than final goods. Authentic religion cannot exist without finite symbols to serve as channels for devotion to the infinite. Religion becomes idolatrous when the symbols of perfection are worshiped as though they were the ultimate itself: when founders, prophets, and seers are deified, when infallible authority is ascribed to certain organizations and books, and when the performance of rites is taken as a guarantee of salvation.
In religious fanaticism the drive for power and for self-justification is bolstered by attachment to what is believed to be divine. This is the explanation for the evils that have been committed in the name of religion throughout human history. Persecution, war, injustice, superstition -- many are the wrongs and great is the human misery caused by idolatrous religionists. The power to do evil is never greater than when it is fired by a conviction that God commands it. Hence, a fundamental religious virtue is humility, born of the persuasion that no man and no human institution can rightly claim the authority of God himself, but that all are under an authority toward which each may at best help to direct his fellow seekers after truth.
Much of what is called religion does not even have the objective reference and the active loyalty of idolatry. It is explicitly oriented toward satisfaction of selfish wants. In other words, it is essentially irreligious. For example, when people pray for success, prosperity, or victory in battle, they are indistinguishable from persons who are centrally concerned with promoting their own interests in other ways. The use of religion to bring "peace of mind" and physical health may also easily deteriorate into self-seeking. Mental and physical well-being are proper objects of petition, provided they are not sought simply for personal ease and comfort, rather than for the sake of God and for the better service of fellow men.
Much popular religion is a direct expression of the democracy of desire. In a hard and cruel world, with many competitors for earth’s honors, riches, and privileges, most people lose out. In fact, so insistent are human demands that nobody feels himself a complete and permanent winner. Furthermore, in the end everybody, rich and poor, of high station and low, is defeated by the last enemy, death. Under these conditions it is not surprising that every society should have developed systems of belief and practice which attempt to counteract and compensate for these partial and ultimate frustrations of human desire. The usual content of these faiths is that another world exists wherein all the disappointments and denials of the present world will be made good. Religion of this sort has the effects of sanctifying selfishness and of blunting concern for excellence here and now. For if everything will be made right in the future world, it is not really essential that full justice be done now.
The religion of reverence is opposed to these popular faiths. Religion as devotion to the highest overcomes the self-centeredness of desire and attachment. In authentic religious faith the direction of concern is shifted from the striving, seeking self to the valued other. The errors of idolatry are also corrected by the perpetual judgment rendered on every finite good as never exhausting the infinitude of goodness. The religious person is saved from fanaticism both by the humility that prevents him from identifying himself and the objects of his wants with the supremely worthful and by his recognition that every attained or any conceivable good falls short of absolute and final perfection. Thus, the objections made by thoughtful people to religion as it is commonly practiced properly apply to the perversions of religion and not to its pure and mature forms. In fact, the criticisms of corrupt religion made by secularists and humanists, as well as even more vigorously by prophets, saints, and reformers within the traditional religions, are themselves evidence of ultimate concerns for truth and right, which express the authentic spirit of the religion of reverence.
Undemocratic conditions in any sphere of human affairs are symptoms of irreligion or idolatry. Injustices, the demand for privileges, arbitrariness, prejudice, exclusiveness -- all of the forms of oppressive behavior in which individual freedom and worth are denied -- are a consequence either of deliberate self-seeking or of absolutizing limited goods, such as membership in a particular social class, nation, or family. Democratic movements, on the other hand, reflect a religious spirit, when in the name of truth, equity, and universal rights the idols of race, class, economic privilege, party, and nation are tumbled down. As we have already observed, however, democracy is not necessarily religious in motivation. It becomes corrupt when the democratic concern for worth degenerates into an acquisitive free-for-all, when the cry for justice turns to the demand for popular autonomy. The democracy of desire rests on the principle of human self-determination and self-sufficiency, which is the antithesis of the principle of reverence upon which democracy should be founded.
Irreligious and idolatrous cultures may take many forms, from the pure self-seeking of irresponsible individualism, through the various types of more or less organized pursuit of advantage, to the collectivistic autonomy of a totalitarian "people’s democracy." The communist societies, for example, afford a clear contemporary illustration of fanatical idolatry. That doctrinaire communists are dedicated to what they believe to be of supreme worth is evident. Their willingness to labor and to sacrifice for the Cause, and their devotion to what they are convinced is absolutely and irrevocably true, are also beyond question. In these respects the communist faith appears to be religious in nature. That it is in fact idolatrous is evident from the finitude of its ultimate goals, the closedness of its rigid and exclusive membership and belief system, and its ruthless denial of many of the elemental rights of man in the struggle to reach its goals. Not only does communism but utopian social systems generally tend to be idolatrous. Any scheme that is taken as a final and complete blueprint for human felicity functions as an idol, for no such plan can possibly encompass the fullness of excellence, and no humanly contrived pattern or program can embody the ultimate meaning of human existence.
Genuinely religious cultures, too, may take many forms. Devotion to the supremely worthful can be expressed in ways without number. No single doctrinal formula can fully capture and contain infinitude. No system of ritual uniquely and exclusively qualifies as a vehicle for affirming devotion through symbolic acts. No one code of conduct contains the last word on the holy life. No religious institution can rightly claim exclusive and final divine authority. The worship of the most high takes place through countless channels. The object of supreme devotion has many names -- or, perhaps better still, no name at all, for to name is to limit and confine and thus to negate the very ultimacy one seeks to affirm. There is a boundless wealth of habitual acts that may be used individually or corporately to express religious faith. The holy life, too, can be lived according to many different patterns, and any number of institutional forms may be devised to give body, structure, and continuity to religious conviction.
A religious person is one who in intention and in deed is devoted to the supreme, the infinite, the perfect, the true, the completely excellent, regardless of the words, acts, or institutions through which he expresses his dedication. This is not to say that all doctrines, rites, and social organizations are equally true or serve equally well as channels for the ultimate. Some forms are more easily turned to idolatrous and irreligious purposes than others. Actually, many ideas and practices that purport to be religious contradict the fundamental requirement of every religious symbol that it at one and the same time reflect the ultimate and affirm its own finitude. The best religious creeds, rituals, codes, and institutions are those that both powerfully evoke sustained loyalty to the most high and at the same time repel attempts by the faithful who fall into idolatry to make the symbols themselves into objects of worship.
Just as no religious forms are fully adequate to the supreme object of devotion, so also do all persons fall short of complete religious dedication. Everyone has the propensity to live for his own advantage, and everyone succumbs to some extent and at some times to the temptations of idolatry. These acts of disloyalty to what is of ultimate worth constitute what in the religions of the West is called "sin." Perfect reverence is an ideal that no one wholly attains. By weakness, ignorance, and fear all are prone to live for self and to snatch after such satisfactions as come within their grasp.
It is mainly because of this self-centeredness that the social forms of democracy are necessary. Since every person tends to ascribe to himself more importance than he accords to others, some scheme of balance and limitation is required. Since each looks upon his relationships from the standpoint of his own interests, it is important, for the good of all, to devise measures that will insure a degree of universality and equity. If all people were by nature completely disposed toward the good, it would be necessary only to inform them of it, and the good society would be assured. This view overlooks the universality and gravity of self-centeredness. When democracy is founded on faith in the natural innocence of man and when human wants are taken as the measure of what is good, the ground is prepared for anarchy, conflict, and mass tyranny. A realistic appraisal of human nature leads to a view of democracy as a dyke against the flood of self-interest, as a means of approaching basic justice in relationships between people who are by nature inclined toward injustice because they look first to their own advantage.
It follows that a democracy of desire strengthens and encourages irreligion and thus undermines the only foundations upon which any democracy can rest -- namely, those of objective, impartial, and universal justice. A democracy of worth, on the other hand, is founded on the religious premise of the primacy and reality of right. Yet it is not presupposed in a democracy of worth that everyone is fully devoted to what is good and true. On the contrary, it is assumed that because every person to some extent seeks first to satisfy his own wants, democratic principles, commitments, symbols, and structures are needed to remind one of the universal good he ought to serve.
The foregoing analysis invites the conclusion that the central task of education is religious conversion. This is not to be understood in the conventional sense, as securing commitment to a specific organized church or acceptance of one of the traditional creeds. What is meant is the inner transformation of purpose and motive from self-regarding irreligion and the idolatrous service of limited goods to reverent service of the most high. Such conversion may well lead one to institutional affiliation with others of similar intention and to the use of certain verbal formulations of faith, since the inward reorientation needs some social and symbolic embodiment. Many outward expressions are suitable, the appropriate one in any given case depending on personality type and on the person’s social and cultural situation.
Whatever its visible forms, the important goal is the redirecting of life from finite attachment and acquisitiveness to the active love of the good. To accomplish this change is the supreme end of all teaching and learning. All increase in knowledge and skill that confirm one in his lust for autonomy is loss, not gain. From this standpoint much of what is taught and learned in present-day education misses the mark. Studies that increase the power to exploit the earth and other people, that arm one for the struggle for privilege, that prepare one to pursue his advantage more successfully, destroy rather than edify a person. The sovereign test of all education is whether or not it is religious -- that is, whether or not it tends toward conversion of the person to unconditional commitment to truth and right.
This central religious task is inherent in all teaching, regardless of the field of study. It is the end that should govern instruction in mathematics and in literature, in mechanical arts and in modern dance, in biochemistry and in law. Every study, theoretical and applied, elementary and advanced, formal and informal, is an appropriate vehicle for teaching the fundamental lesson of loyalty to what is true, excellent, and just. Every institution of education -- the home, the school, the church or temple, the industrial shop or laboratory, the museum or library, the mass media -- can be and ought to be an agency of religious instruction, engaged in the one saving work of emancipating persons from bondage to selfish desires and idolatrous attachments and of directing them toward the life of devotion to that in which their being and well-being are grounded.
Thus "religion" is not to be regarded primarily as a special subject of study, parallel to geography and physics, but as a life orientation to be effected in and through all special studies. To be sure, religion is also a field of intellectual inquiry and practical skill, and it is possible and desirable to give instruction in religious history, philosophy, beliefs, and institutions as well as to arrange for practical experience in religious affairs. But valuable as these lessons may be, it should not be thought that such explicit religious education exhausts the obligation to teach religion or is even the principal part of it. Religious faith is relevant to every aspect of education and to every subject of study, and is to be mediated through the whole life of teaching and learning.
The situation is somewhat parallel to the teaching of logic and rhetoric. While these are properly regarded as special subjects of study and are taught as separate disciplines, skill in reasoning and in the use of language is also a necessary aspect of every other intellectual discipline. For example, a teacher of physics necessarily teaches logic and rhetoric, while one who teaches logic or rhetoric as a special discipline does not necessarily teach physics. Right ordering and expression of ideas is a task for both specialists and everybody, especially for everybody. So it is with religious instruction. "Religion" is an important and legitimate special study, but more important still is the fact that instruction in every field promotes either autonomy or reverence. The present book is a case in point. This chapter deals with religion as a particular facet of education in a democracy, but more significant is the fact that all of the preceding chapters set forth a religious point of view by demonstrating what the life of ultimate devotion means in a wide range of human concerns.
In our pluralistic society, constituted of people with all kinds and shades of religious belief and disbelief, the advocacy of religiously oriented education presents serious difficulties. One obvious way out is to place education under the auspices of organized religious institutions. This way has the advantage that the ideas and practices of religion can be infused throughout the instructional program without the confusions and restrictions imposed by having to take account of diverse religious traditions. Against this approach two principal objections must be lodged. First, religious schools tend to breed idolatry, by identifying a particular tradition with the ultimate. Young people come to accept the religious forms and structures which they are taught as the substance of religion itself. In the second place, sectarian schools lose the religious values implicit in the confrontation and interplay of different ways of faith. Their students and teachers are not driven to the deeper levels of devotion which bridge (but do not obliterate) the differences between traditions. They are likely to neglect the fundamental lesson of democratic faith -- that, prior to all other commitments and uniting people of many forms of belief and practice, is our common vocation to love and serve truth, excellence, and justice.
What, then, of teaching religion in public schools? Surely, no official state religion ought to be taught. This is clear from the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution, in which the Congress is denied the power to make any "laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Such a regulation is necessary if the ultimacy of religion is to be preserved. Since government is necessarily finite and fallible, it cannot define the object of ultimate loyalty. The state must be "under God"-- that is, subject to the higher judgment of righteousness-in-itself; the state is never itself the true standard of perfection. Freedom of religion is an essential feature of democracy, since the state is not an end but a means.
Since matters of faith cannot and should not be legislated, irreligion and idolatry as well as all forms of religion have a right to exist in democratic society. No one should be penalized or coerced because he holds any particular view about the ultimate. Of course no citizen is completely at liberty to act in any way he pleases, even though his religious convictions require it. Some lines must be drawn, at the points where public safety and welfare are endangered. Thus, persons fanatically committed to doctrines of class warfare and subversion of free institutions (communists, fascists, racists) would have to be prevented by the police power of the democratic state from putting their ultimate commitments into practice. So also would religious opponents of medical treatment normally have to be overruled when the public health was endangered by neglect of treatment.
On the other hand, it is a mark of mature democracy when provisions are made for exempting conscientious objectors from military conscription. Having in view the question of national security, this contribution to the practice of freedom of conscience can be made only because the great majority of citizens are willing to bear arms in defense of their country. Conscience sometimes drives citizens to certain actions -- for example, nonpayment of taxes -- which cannot be condoned and against which sanctions must be brought. Even in such cases there may be lessons to be learned from the nonconformists, and these may in later times be embodied in new social regulations. It belongs to the open society not only to give the widest practicable freedom to its members’ consciences, but also to be sensitive to the social message that may be contained in the deeds of prophets, seers, and reformers who now are caused to suffer for their radical nonconformity.
The duty of the democratic state and its agencies, including the public schools, is, then, to recognize and promote freedom of religion. Government is not the arbiter of faith. Yet neither can the state be neutral with respect to religion. While it is not within the province of government to determine who is religious and who is not, nor to discriminate between the different forms of religion, irreligion, and idolatry, except where public security is at stake, it is the function of the democratic state to persuade and encourage its citizens toward religious faith and away from irreligion and idolatry. They are not to be coerced or penalized for failure to be religious, because it is given to no man to judge the faith of another and because compulsion is incompatible with reverence. But the duty of the state to promote religion (in the fundamental sense) remains. This is not an obligation to support religious organizations as such, but to encourage in the citizens a life of loyalty to what is supremely worthful.
It is thus not right to conclude from the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty that the public schools have no business dealing with religion. The question of fundamental life orientation cannot be avoided. At issue are the ruling presuppositions which affect everything which is taught and learned. It is not a purely private affair whether or not a person is religious. Religion as ultimate loyalty is profoundly relevant to public life, and the institutions of public education ought to promote it actively and explicitly. From the standpoint of the democracy of worth, the basic aim of public education is to inculcate reverence, propagate true faith, and expose and oppose irreligion and idolatry. This is the one crucial objective of instruction, in comparison with which all accumulation of knowledge and acquisition of skill are insignificant, and through which alone these special accomplishments may be made meaningful. The goal of education is the formation of good character, whose measure is the habit and attitude of devotion.
Public education can be religious in this sense without violating religious liberty and without teaching sectarian doctrines as official public dogma. The content of such public religious instruction should be twofold. First, in every domain of teaching the following essentials of religious faith should be emphasized and demonstrated in the teacher’s own outlook: That the world, man, and his culture are neither self-sufficient nor self-explanatory but are derived from given sources of being, meaning, and value. That the supremely worthful is not finite or limited but transcends all human comprehension and every human achievement. That the life of selfish ambition, the struggle for autonomy, acquisition, and success, and attachment to finite goods lead in the end to misery, conflict, guilt, despair, boredom, and frustration. That every individual has a personal calling to turn from following after desire to a life of loving and grateful dedication to what is of ultimate worth.
Second, these fundamentals of faith should be brought into relation to the historical patterns of faith in the civilized tradition. The many ways in which religious faith has been expressed should be recognized. But, first, each student should be taught to understand and appreciate the religious tradition in which he was reared, and to see how it may be used maturely and responsibly as a vehicle for ultimate devotion. Included among these religious traditions should be ones of protest as well as of affirmation. Thus, many critics of religion -- self-styled atheists and freethinkers -- are frequently more devoted to ultimate truth and righteousness than are the nominal adherents of the more traditional religions. In public education, then, the initial aim of instruction in the religious heritage is to help adherents of each tradition -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Ethical Culturists, Religious Naturalists, and all the others -- to realize to the full the resources for the embodiment of religious faith available in their tradition at its best.
Along with this deepening of faith through each student’s own heritage should go a broadening of perspective through continuing conversations with persons of other traditions. It should never be assumed that all of the historical religions are equally good or that a person should always remain within the tradition to which he was born. Religions differ greatly in the power and purity of the devotion they evoke. It is within the province of public schools not only to see that students are correctly informed about religious matters, but also to provide a setting in which older young people may learn to recognize and sift out irreligious and idolatrous tendencies and perversions in the various religious systems of mankind. They should be encouraged so to grow in knowledge and power of discriminative judgment that each person will at length be competent to choose for himself the forms of belief, celebration, and conduct that best express and sustain the dedicated life.
Religion is not a matter for uncritical acquiescence, nor are religious traditions simply to be accepted or rejected. Of all the concerns of life, religion is the one that supremely calls for active inquiry, growing insight, and continual redefinition and decision. If out of fear or ignorance any real consideration of religion is excluded from the school curriculum, the educational program is thereby trivialized and the school fails in its central educative mission. Worse than that, religiously sterilized schools actively spread the virus of autonomy and irreverence, for the absence of any reference to the claims of faith or to its historic expressions communicates the idea that they are unimportant or at least irrelevant to whatever is studied in school. By removing the wide segments of knowledge and skill with which the school ordinarily deals from all explicit relation to religion, the meaning of religion is falsified; by being made a specialized concern, it is robbed of its essential comprehensiveness, and the school studies become occasions for propagating the gospel of autonomy and self-sufficiency.
It is easy to understand how zeal for public harmony in a religiously plural society has led to the secularization of American public schools. Since it is not possible -- or perhaps even desirable -- for everyone to agree on the forms of religion, it is concluded that the common schools must exclude religion altogether. In support of this position the famous Jeffersonian doctrine of the "wall of separation" between church and state is regularly invoked. While this approach eliminates some difficulties, it does so at the expense of fundamental educational and democratic values. The secularization of public education has done serious damage to the cause of basic religion -- though perhaps not to that of conventional or nominal religion, which prospers well enough -- and has encouraged a philosophy of life that undermines the moral basis of democratic civilization. An enduring and progressive democracy rests on common loyalty to a law of truth and right which is found and given, not constructed by human decision; and for the propagation and health of such democracy an educational system centered around this religious principle is required.
The state and its agencies, including the public schools and colleges, can be true to the principle of religious liberty without giving up their primary obligation to promote the religious life, in the fundamental sense of reverent devotion. Freedom of religion is itself a religious principle, since it rests on the conviction that no man, group of men, or institution can claim final and authoritative knowledge, perfection, or righteousness. If a wall of separation is erected between religion and the state (and its schools), that wall will prove to be a tomb in which church, state, and schools will decay with a civilization that has lost its soul. Schools that are purged of all religious concerns become agencies for the propagation of irreligion or idolatry -- for the feeding of selfish ambitions or training for subservience to secular utopias. If religion is understood in its elemental sense, and not merely in its sectarian expressions, it is entirely practicable for the public schools to educate religiously without violating any ideals of religious freedom, without partisanship for any historical tradition, and without transgressing the principle of persuasion, not compulsion, in all matters of faith.
If the institutions of public education fail to teach for religious commitment and thereby both make education personally superficial and effectually promote irreligion or idolatry, it will be necessary, for the well-being of society, to have the instruction of the young carried on in nonpublic schools under the auspices of religious organizations. Although such schools doubtless have certain merits even under ideal conditions, they are neither religiously nor democratically desirable as an alternative to a public school system. Public schools, with young people from a variety of religious backgrounds, provide the optimum setting for growth in mutual understanding and for that continuing disciplined dialogue in which differences deepen insights and correct errors, instead of confirming prejudices and sharpening divisions.
For public schools to be able to deal responsibly with religion, two conditions must be met. First, teachers must be properly selected and prepared. No teacher can communicate reverence if he does not have it himself. The character of the teacher is of prime importance. Knowledge and skill are necessary, too, but they are subordinate to the fundamental requirement of personal devotion to the good. In addition to religiously oriented character (whether or not it is expressed in conventional religious terms), every teacher should have a working knowledge of the major religious traditions of mankind as well as of the principal idolatries. This requirement is no more unreasonable than expecting every teacher to know in broad outline the major forms of political and economic organization and the principal types of personality structure. No teacher should be or need be at a loss to deal intelligently and fairly with most religious issues that might arise in public schools in a pluralistic society, and every teacher can be and ought to be prepared to grasp the religious dimensions in any subject of study and to use sectarian differences to clarify issues and enrich the learning of all.
The second prerequisite for responsible religious instruction in public education is a strong teaching profession, which can withstand the pressures of organized religion outside the schools and colleges. Religion is everybody’s concern; official "religious" bodies have no monopoly of it. The greatest present bar to a mature religious orientation in public education is the assumption that the church and the synagogue are the only appropriate channels for religion, and that anything done about religion in the schools must be accomplished through these channels or at least with the official approval and sanction of the recognized religious officials.
Thus, religion is regarded as a delicate subject, like sex, politics, economics, and all other important matters about which people differ sharply and feel strongly, and which for those reasons are in greatest need of careful study and cooperative inquiry. Students’ questions about religion are usually handled with the utmost caution and are referred back to parents and ministers for answering, for fear of reactions by representatives of organized religion to any treatment of religious matters by teachers of another affiliation. The only cure for this crippling influence is a strong and independent organized teaching profession, whose members are protected against outside interference in the performance of their professional functions and who recognize and accept their responsibility for dealing knowledgeably and impartially not only with the proximate issues of life but also with the ultimate concerns of faith through which the particulars of life gain their deeper significance.
That education is for reverence has been the common theme of all the chapters in this book. Each element in the curriculum for a democracy of worth exemplifies the religious aim and furnishes occasions for fulfilling it. In intellectual matters, religious faith means devotion to truth, keeping inquiry open, foregoing the demand for absolute certitude yet not despairing of progress, striving for universality, publicity, and objectivity in knowledge, and being thankfully obedient to the disciplines of reason and of empirical evidence. In the use of the mass media of communication, reverence is manifest in the aim of creating a blessed community, bound together in the truth, through media of public education devoted to the common good rather than to propaganda and profit for the advancement of selfish interests. In esthetic education, religious faith is revealed in persistent dissatisfaction with the second-rate and in the constant yearning for creative perfection. Good manners, too, have a religious foundation; considerateness, respect for others, a sense of fitness, grace, humility, gentleness, and dignity all grow when reverence displaces self-assertion. Work performed with a sense of calling is religious in quality, and reverence informs education for any occupation that creatively incarnates excellence. One who learns the disciplined joy and self-forgetfulness of play therein also learns the power of worship to make old things new by acts of re-creation.
Without religious devotion to the right, no secure basis can be laid for proper regard for nature and responsible control of procreation, so that the earth may be a secure dwelling place for all the generations to come. Education for health is ultimately religious also, for health is wholeness, and one cannot be whole while he lives in autonomous alienation from the sources of his being. True love and enduring marriage are rooted in a faithful covenant which transcends the ebb and flow of feeling, considerations of advantage, and the contingencies of fortune. Similarly, only a transcendent devotion can surely dissolve the barriers of class and race by teaching men to know themselves equals and brothers in the sight of God and for his sake. Finally, religious faith is present whenever material goods are regarded as a trust to be administered for the right rather than as a treasure to be grasped, and whenever the affairs of politics within the nation and between the nations are seen as occasions for discovering and obeying the universal law of right to which all are subject and in which the ends of life are fulfilled.
This is the one supreme purpose which unites all the lesser purposes of education: to engender reverence. Reverence is the mark of perfection in character. Devotion to what is supremely worthful is the one aim of the curriculum, to be worked out in all of the special areas of instruction. The quality of life which springs from this ultimate commitment is the soul of democracy and the consummation of education for the common good.
Viewed 85936 times.