Thoughts on Establishment

Not having been educated in Europe, I can’t contribute to the thread on religious education. But I want to thank Nick for putting it up, and everyone else for their comments on it. One of my pet peeves is how American arguments about religious education, and “establishment” issues in general (as they are usually described in the U.S., following the language of the First Amendment), seem to me at least to be trapped in a very narrow (judicially dictated, for the most part) box. I’m not a theocrat, but I suspect that, had America’s historical experience with religious-civic partnerships been different, we perhaps might more easily be able to relate to both the benefits, and the costs, of the sort of (I think highly admirable) experiences with religious education that many of you are describing. Anyway, your thoughts prompt me to excerpt here a post from my own blog from last September; specifically, a quote from Stanley Hauerwas, that expresses my views of the matter pretty succinctly…

“Theological questions were not high on our agenda as we toured Ireland in 1988. We drove innocently into Sneem, a village on the ring of Kerry….We decided to stop and shop at one of the stores selling Irish sweaters. We were enjoying the large and beautiful selection the shop offered when, suddenly, the young man who seemed to be the proprietor announced that he had to close shop in order to go to Mass. It was eleven o’clock on a Thursday….He explained that it was the feast of the Ascension and also the traditional day marked for first communion. Suddenly little boys and girls appeared from everywhere fitted with white suits and white dresses. Then they all marched together into the church for Mass. After Mass, we were told, they all came out of the church, circled the fountain at the center of the square, while everyone in town cheered and clapped. This was confirmed in every little town we passed through that day in west Ireland. Little girls and boys dressed in white were everywhere celebrating their first communion….I could not suppress the thought: ‘If this is Constantinianism, I rather like it.'” (From In Good Company: The Church as Polis, pg. 19-20)