Monday, February 12, 2007

Social and Cultural Formative Practices

Warren, Michael 1987, Religious Formation in the Context of Social Formation, Religious Education, vol: 82 no:4, Fall, p.515-528

Often we meet friends or even members of our churches who tells us that they will not influence their children in respect to their religious convictions but have decided to let their children “decide for themselves.” Hence they will not train them in any religious formative practices. While on the surface this attitude may be laudable and admirable in allowing their children to discover the faith for themselves, it denies the reality that there are other social and cultural formative practices that are moulding the realities of our children. These “formative practices” may act at some subconscious levels that in stepping aside, we are actually doing our children a disfavor.

Michael Warren, professor of religious education in the Department of Theology at St. John’s University in Jamaica mentions three social and cultural formative practices. First is culture as the molder of perception. Our perception of reality is often the result of the many interpretations given by our culture. Our senses alone cannot interpret for us what we see, hear, touch and smell. Our culture, by a series of norms creates a matrix for us in which we perceive “reality”. Hence we are never free from our cultural heritage.

Second, our language forms our thinking. Language is not neutral as many of us thinks. Words in language carry within it two meanings. One meaning comes from the culture the language comes from and carries within it the values of that culture. The second meaning is what we think is the common meaning of the word. The former has the ability to influence the speaker without the speaker being aware of it. We call ourselves consumers. By being consumer, we understand it to be that we use things. However the word consumer also carries with it the culture and influence of consumerism; more expensive, more stuff, more enjoyment. In fact, in some ways, our language forms us.

Third, in any economy, there will arise people with the necessary skills to make that economy works. However, as Nietzsche taught, there will also be a dominant group with the power who decides what everyone else should think. A hegemony is formed. Hegemony is the way in which the dominant class influences the dominated class to think that it is the normal scheme of things to be dominated. Hegemony is not coercion. It works by covert formation of the consciousness of the dominated class that it become accepted uncritically that being second class is natural.

Hence it can be seen that there are three major formative practices that works in our lives whether we want it or not; culture in the formation of perception, language in the formation of thought and hegemony in the formation of consciousness. Often we are not aware of these influences. What Warren did not address was the presence of the Internet and easy connective of the present time as another “formative practice”.

We must not leave our children alone but must counter these social and cultural formative practices by our religious formative practices. Warren maintain, “The main formative agent is the believing community, and, its verbal declarations not withstanding, its communal or corporate commitments and ways of viewing reality are, for better or worse, the key formative factors.” (p.527). However, he did emphases earlier in his paper that “the lived commitment is the one that is actually formative.”(p.525). It is not what the community say they believe in that is important and formative but what they actually do and how they practice or act out their faith that is formative.

Soli deo gloria

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