Still there are those, within Catholic education, who believe that the purpose of the subject of religion, should be to pass on Christian values.
And only that. Little knowledge of the faith is passed on, and the faith itself at all.
For years, religious education has been telling our young people that belief itself is not so important, as long as you stand behind “Christian values.” It can be called a particularly successful operation. Because almost all young people who followed that religious education now say that they do not really believe but that they do stand behind Christian values.
The next phase in this process of religious deforestation was predictable and has indeed already started: more and more often, one now hears that Christian values are actually “general human values”. With which, therefore, in two simple movements, the whole of Christianity has been put in the closet. Only neither of the two claims has even one leg to stand on.
To begin with, faith can never simply be replaced by morality. Knowing a set of moral values can never replace a belief, an attitude to life that actually stimulates and makes sense of the experience of those values.
All the campaigns, actions, instructions and programs against bullying in schools, for example, have not been able to prevent the fact that there has never been so much bullying as today.
At first glance this may seem incomprehensible but in fact it is not at all. Children are strongly influenced from birth by fundamental signals given off by society. In the past, these fundamental signals were Christian, evangelical signals. Then, too, there were the “Christian values,” but they were embedded from the beginning in the Christian faith, in a Christian attitude to life that was passed on in its entirety to the next generations.
The fundamental signal coming from society to children today, on the other hand, is one of competition, of not letting things get to you, of getting ahead in life, of materialism, individualism, and even selfishness. And that signal comes at them from all sides.
From the media, of course, in the first place. But also from the friends, the environment. And even from the practical life attitude of the parents … You can’t compete with that, just with the praise of some values. Values that also seem naive and out of touch with the world, in a world where almost all idols promote a way of life that is completely at odds with it.
I find it hard to see how, in such a world, one can and dare live the Christian values without the support of a strong Christian faith, without the support of one’s prayer and without the support of God Himself who wants one to live in this way and who gives meaning to that living of Christian values. For, after all, one must not forget that those values go right against our spontaneous tendencies! A society without God can only push these values through with ever more police and repression.
Now as for that other claim: that Christian values are actually generally human values. It would be missing the point that those Christian values are from another planet. Personally, I have always found that to be one of the strongest arguments for Christianity: that what the faith asks of us coincides entirely with what we ourselves want in the depths of our hearts (beyond our primary drives).
In the Gospel you won’t find any law or ritual prescription that comes across as strange, extravagant, or unnatural. For exotic oddities you should not be with us. Everything in Christianity is deeply human and recognizable to anyone who digs a little deeper.
Having said that, it is true, on the other hand, that Christianity does place its own emphases and emphasize its own values. If it did not, then the people who say that “all religions are equal because they are talking about the same God” would be right. And that, of course, is not the case. Because although there is only one God, this is of colossal importance: how that God is seen by people.
The Christian God, at least, is a loving, merciful and forgiving God. And, what is even more important and absolutely exclusively Christian, He requires people to be likewise merciful and forgiving of one another. Without the slightest doubt, “forgiveness” is the most exclusively Christian-religious item.
I think even, an item of world historical significance. The realization that your worst mistakes can be forgiven, and that you yourself must forgive others, unleashes a dynamic in people and society that can be compared to nothing else.
When Western culture has become the culture of progress, the sciences, the provision of care, the constant pushing back of boundaries, then I think this has to do with it. Cultures that only practice justice stagnate, end in stagnation, get stuck in “endless vendettas” of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Only forgiveness creates a future, throws open doors, makes new things possible. Forgiving, by the way, is a duty for a Christian. It is a pity that the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer has missed this opportunity.
Forgiving is a duty for a Christian. Because the Lord imposes it on us. And it is life giving for others and for ourselves.