My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Education for Spiritual Literacy

Teaching our young people in the ways of spirit and respect and love will be the world’s healing force for the future.

There is much ignorance, fear and misunderstanding to be overcome surrounding the many different world religions. In today’s world, strident God-denouncing books are widely read, whereas serious and informative religious material scarcely gets shelf room; because it fails the mantra – What is in it for the reader? And we can hold the media partly responsible for this in some very biased reporting policies, for plugging the sensational rather than the serious. We live in a quick sound-bite, low concentration, noisy, violent, opinionated world where every one looks only to his own interests; the only “spiritual” books that are read widely are those that promise personal growth and development, or success and wealth. We have entered the “Me- Millennium.”
But there is a very wide consensus amongst leading thinkers, scientists and, of course, religious leaders, that there is a crisis of spirituality, that the balance has been lost between the objective and the subjective, between the exoteric and the esoteric, between thinking and feeling; and the religious leaders themselves are not blameless in their failure to adapt to modern day spiritual needs. Education too often now concentrates only on league tables and exam results; there is too much emphasis on going on to higher education, to being able to command good jobs and high salaries, to rise to the top. And in many schools there is little time or space for spiritual nurture, for soul healing, beyond relativistic religious studies.

The Global Justice Movement describes the purpose of education as to ‘teach people how to become life-long learners and virtuous human beings, with the capacity to adapt to change, to become masters of technology and builders of civilization through their ‘leisure work,’ and to pursue the highest spiritual values.’

The Dalai Lama has stressed that education ‘constitutes one of our most powerful weapons in our quest to bring about a better, more peaceful, world.’ He emphasizes the need to open children’s eyes to the needs and rights of others, so that their actions have a universal dimension, and they develop their ‘natural feelings of empathy so that they come to have a sense of responsibility towards others.’ He reminds us that traditionally it has been assumed that ethical and human values would be taught through a child’s religious upbringing rather than in mainstream state education. With the declining influence of religion and faith in family life this vital part of a child’s education has become neglected. The Dalai Lama proffers three guidelines for the education of our children. First, he says, we need to awaken their consciousness to basic human values by showing them how these are relevant to their future survival, rather than presenting them as solely an ethical or faith issue. Then we must teach them how to discuss and debate, to understand the value of dialogue rather than violence for resolving conflict. Finally there is the urgent need to teach children that differences of race, faith, culture, while important to preserve, are nevertheless secondary to the equal rights of us all from whatever background to be happy.”

Many other respected thinkers are calling for a spiritual revolution in our schools, a move towards an education that enhances spiritual literacy.

Spirituality comes naturally to the very young. I observe this first hand in my work in an Anglican church. And there is scientific evidence that humans appear to be born with an inbuilt spiritual awareness, and that this will normally be expressed via the religious culture in which they are nurtured.

The great tragedy in my view is that this innate spirituality seems to be very often left at the school gates when children enter secondary school.

The world’s religions have an enormous influence in education. And where they are involved, and use that mandate for proper spiritual nurture and growth, rather than for any subversive activity, then all to the well and good. And of course it is the perceived indoctrination and exclusivity, for good or ill, of “religious” schools, that the atheists rail against. So let’s support the faith school, and simply ensure through parent and governor powers that they do not abuse their position of trust in developing the spiritually literate, empathic, well rounded citizens of tomorrow, that the world so needs!

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ancient Wisdom Modern World: Ethics for the New Millennium (London: Abacus, Time Warner Books UK, 2000), p.192.

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