Thursday, December 17, 2015

Nuns raising children? Oh......

The funny thing about this is, you might as well ask how pastors are raising their children.

The joke in seminary is about the student who graduates with highest honors, but has totally lost his (it's an old joke) faith.  He graduates an atheist.  Seminary is not Bible college.  There was even a story at my UCC seminary about a student who professed his atheism at the end of three years of divinity study, but got ordained anyway.  That particular twist was supposed to be a joke on the UCC, but I suspect every denomination's seminary had the same story.

PK's (Preacher's Kids) are a particular subset of offspring; again, you hear about them endlessly in seminary.  Most of the teachers I had were former seminarians themselves, but they went to seminary back in the day when married students were a rarity (rather than the norm, as when I was there).  PK's were notorious for either becoming preachers themselves, or for losing their virginity in the choir loft.  Some of my professors were PK's, but I didn't learn anything about when they lost their virginity.

PK's are also notorious for losing their faith.  Growing up in the maelstrom that is a pastor's life in a congregation will strip you of all illusions about church and faith very rapidly.  My first church didn't go so well; fresh out of seminary, I made about every mistake you could, including the choice of church (they were the first to come calling, and I wanted to get to work).  My daughter lived it all, even if she was only 5 years old at the time.  My second church came about a year after I left seminary, and after a few months there I left an evening church service to attend the first meeting of my pastoral relations committee.  My daughter was leaving worship with us, but when I stayed behind, she wanted to stay behind.  She knew something was going on, and she wanted to protect me.

PK's don't have any illusions about the lives of pastors and the faith of congregations.  It's not quite as bad as Marjoe, returning to the stage to fleece the foolish once again.  But it's not always far from that.

So what's the difference between PK's and the children of the "nones"?  Not much, I'll wager.  First, such an assessment presumes preachers (and church goers) are moral paragons (I could tell you stories.  I got crossways with a number of pastors in a position of power (their power, not mine), and every one of them turned out to be morally weak or to forced out of their positions.  Preachers and PK's don't have any illusions about pastors, as I said.), and they aren't.  Second, it assumes that morality comes from religious belief, and by and large, it doesn't.

The first illusion you get stripped off after seminary is the illusion that people in the pews want to be moral and upright.  They do, but only insofar as it conforms to their self-interest.  Any challenge to their purity of heart is met with a firestorm of resistance.  I've actually known avowed atheists who were better examples of Christian charity than most Christians I've known, so I've long ago given up the idea that in religion is morality exclusively located.  Does that mean it can't be found there?  No; but I'm convinced the image of the Holy Spirit as a wild goose, going where it wants to go, is the right image.  Religion can teach morality; whether it is learned, is quite another matter.

And then, of course, there's the example of the early 20th century, when 40% of Americans identified themselves as affiliated with some church or religion.  I guess the other 60% were "nones" in the sense of the word used in that study:  not anti-religious, just not interested in organized religion.

I can understand that disinterest, although it's a complex subject which starts with the fact that the admirers of Jesus but not religion ignore his words too:  "Wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, I will be there also."  Then again, we all pick and choose what we wanted Jesus to say; that's usually where the trouble starts, pointing that out.  Besides, you have to give credit to all those organized religions you despise, and the people who made them up over the centuries, to have preserved the words of Jesus, or whatever your choice is, for you to admire.  You have to take the bitter with the sweet; something we're no better at than we ever were; perhaps we're even worse at it.

So how are the "nones" raising their children?  The same way people in America did in the early 20th century; the same way PK's have raised their kids for generations; the same way pastors have raised children, successfully and unsuccessfully.  What has changed recently?  Nothing, really, except our historical perspective.  That loss of perspective is leading us to insist our time is unique, our problems unprecedented, our issues trouble human beings have never faced.  Ignorant of history, we equally want to think we are the first in history, and that no time was ever more important than now.

Which is true; but not in the sense that makes us more important.

There are so many ways of preparing for the Christchild.  Perhaps this is one more.  Perhaps this is why I prefer to look at how similar we are to the people of 1st century Palestine, than how unique we supposedly are in all of human history.

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