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in the Sunday-school curriculum and a boy might far better be informed
on the plan of government, the civic dangers, and the line of action for
a good man in his own city than to fail of that in an attempt to master
the topography of Palestine or to recite perfectly the succession of the
Israelitish kings.

If the minister has faith in a living God, if he believes that people
are not less valuable now than they were four thousand years ago, if his
Golden Age comprises the perfect will of God entempled in the whole
creation, if he believes that this nation has some responsible part in
the divine plan for the world, if he believes that righteousness is
more desirable than pity and justice than philanthropy, and that the
unrest of our times is but opportunity, he will in every way gird his
boys for the battle and deliver constantly to the state trained recruits
for the cause of human welfare which is ever the cause of God.





CHAPTER VIII

THE BOY'S RELIGIOUS LIFE[9]


Comparative religion is unable to make a satisfactory investigation of
the successive stages in the religious life of the individual. For the
purpose of religious education it is highly desirable to add to the
historical survey and the ethnological cross-sections of comparative
religion a longitudinal section of the religion of the individual. This,
however, is impossible because the important data at the bottom of the
series are unattainable. In the study of childhood, as in the study of a
primitive race, the individual is so securely hidden away in the group
that the most penetrating scientific method cannot find him, and the
tendencies which are to integrate into religious experience are so taken
in hand by the society which produces and envelops the new life that the
student of religion must deal with a social product from the outset. The
isolated religion of an individual does not exist, although in the more
mature stages of prophetism and philosophy pronounced individual
features always assert themselves.

The potential individuality in every child forbids, however, the
assertion that he is only a mirror in which the religion of his
immediate society and nothing more is reflected. There is from a very
early time an active principle of personality, a growing selective
power, a plus that comes out of the unmapped laboratory of creation,
that may so arrange, transmute, and enrich the commonplace elements of
the socio-religious matrix as to amount to genius. But, nevertheless,
the newcomer can scarcely do more than select the given quarter which
from day to day proves least unpleasant, while the fact of being on the
great ship and in one cabin or another - or in the steerage - has been
settled beforehand.

Hence the religious life of the boy depends largely upon family and
community conditions which in turn rest upon economic considerations.
Whatever demoralizes the home, degrades the community, and crushes out
idealism also damns the souls of little children. It requires no deep
investigation of modern society to prove that this is being done, and
the guilt of economic injustice and rapacity is measured ultimately in
the cost to the human spirit which in every child pleads for life and
opportunity, and, alas, too often pleads in vain.

The pre-adolescent and imitative religious life of the boy is fairly
communicative, but as soon as the actual struggle of achieving a
personal religion sets in under the pubertal stress the sphinx itself is
not more reticent. The normal boy is indisposed to talk about the
affairs of his inner life. Probably they are too chaotic to formulate
even to himself. If he is unspoiled he clothes his soul with a spiritual
modesty which some of his sentimental elders might well cultivate. If he
does break silence it will probably be in terms of the religious cult
that has given him nurture. For all of these reasons it is exceedingly
difficult to trace with certainty the development of his personal
religion.

The indubitable and hopeful fact is that in every normal boy the potent
germ of religion is present. Usually in early adolescence it bursts its
casings and shoots into consciousness, powerfully affecting the emotions
and the will. Certain stages of this process will be in the nature of
crisis according to the strength of the opposition encountered in the
personal moral struggle, and in opposing social conditions. Nothing but
calamity can forestall this progressive moral adjustment to the whole
world. To believe otherwise is to indict God for the purpose of covering
our own blunders. In proportion as society prevents or perverts this
moral outreach after God, it pollutes and endangers itself. The
atmosphere that kills the lily creates the stench.

In the passage of the boy's religious life from the imitative type to
the personal and energized form, or, as he experiences conversion, the
battle is usually waged about some _concrete moral problem._ His
conscience has become sensitive with regard to profanity, lying,
impurity, or some particular moral weakness or maladjustment and his
struggle centers on that. Being often defeated under the adolescent
sense - pressure and confusion, he naturally seeks help, and help from
the highest source of virtue. He has secreted somewhere in his heart
ulterior ideals of service, but for the time being his chief concern is
very properly himself; for if he "loses out" with himself he knows that
all other worthy ambitions are annulled.

But a religious culture that keeps him in this self-centered feverish
state is pathetically morbid and harmful. It short-circuits the
religious life. This is the chief criticism of the devotional type of
Christian culture. It seeks to prolong a crisis and often begets
insincerity or disgust. The real priest of boyhood will certainly stand
near by at this all-important time, but he will always manifest a
refined respect for the birth-chamber of the soul. In patient and
hopeful sympathy, in friendship that is personal and not professional,
knowing that the door of the heart is opened only from within, the true
minister, like his Master, waits. He knows, too, that a few words
suffice in the great decisions of life, and that the handclasp of manly
love speaks volumes. The prime qualification is a friendship that
invites and respects confidence and a life that is above criticism.

Another important aid in bringing the boy over the threshold of vital
and purposeful religion is the favorable influence of his group or
"gang." The disposition to move together which is so pronounced in every
other field must not be ignored here. The ideal club will be bringing
the boy toward the altar of the church and at the right point along the
way the minister who is properly intimate with each boy will be assured
in private conference of the good faith and earnest purpose of his
prospective church member.

Before receiving boys into active church membership it is well that they
be given a course of instruction in a preparatory class. Only so can
the fundamentals of religion and the duties of church membership be
intelligently grasped. The value to the boy is also enhanced when the
ceremony of induction is made _formal and impressive_ to a degree that
shall not be surpassed in his entrance into any other organization. By
all means the boy should not be neglected after he has been received
into the church. Mistakes of this sort are common wherever undue
importance attaches to the conversion experience, and the numerical
ideal of church success prevails. If the task becomes too great for the
pastor let him find a responsible "big brother" for every boy received
into the church.

As the critical or skeptical traits of youth develop in later
adolescence the intellectual formulas and supports of religion will be
overhauled. What the boy has brought over out of the early imitative and
memorizing period of life will probably come up for review in later
adolescence. If his inherited theology corresponds to experience and
verifies itself in the light of the scientific methods of school and
college no great difficulty will be experienced. But if it does not
square with the youth's set of verifiable facts then there is added to
his necessary moral struggle for self-possession and spiritual control
the unnecessary and dangerous quest for a new faith, so that he is
forced to swap horses in midstream and when the spring freshet is on.

Possibly this reorganization involved in the adolescent flux and
reflection cannot be altogether avoided, but with proper care much could
be done to lessen its dangers and to preserve a substantial continuity
of religious experience from childhood through youth and to the end of
life. It is a help not to have to be introduced to an altogether new God
in these succeeding stages. To preserve his identity enriches and
safeguards the life.

The imagination and wonder instinct of the child, his use of "natural
religion," his confirmation in habits of prayer, reverence, and worship,
his acquisition of choice religious literature by memorizing - can these
interests be properly cared for without putting upon him a theological
yoke which will subsequently involve pain and perhaps apostasy?

It is undoubtedly easier to point out the desirability of furnishing
childhood with the materials of a time-proof religion than to provide
such an instrument. And it is less difficult to criticize the
indiscriminate use of the Bible in instructing the young than to set
forth the type of education in religion which will satisfy alike the
mental requirements of childhood and youth. What course should be
followed with the pre-adolescent boy in order that the youth may be not
less but more religious?

In offering any suggestion in this direction it should be borne in mind
that natural religion or the religion of nature makes a strong appeal to
the child. He readily believes in the presence of God in animate nature
with all its wonder and beauty. Creatorship and the expression of the
divine will in the normal processes are taken for granted. The orderly
world is to him proof of mind and method; and perhaps the first mistake
in the average religious teaching is the departure from this broad basis
of faith to what is termed "revealed religion" and is at the same time
the religion of miracle. The introduction of miracle as a basis of faith
amounts to sowing the seeds of adolescent skepticism.

The child should be taught to deal with Jewish folk-lore as with that of
any other people. While the incomparable religious value of the biblical
literature should be used to the full, the Bible as a book should not be
given artificial ranking. Nor should any belief contrary to his reason
be imposed as an obligation. But the ever-open possibility of things
that surpass present human comprehension should be preserved, and the
sense of wonder which the scientist may ever have should be carefully
nurtured. If the teacher violates the child's right to absolute honesty
here let him not bemoan nor condemn the skepticism of later years.

The child can also believe in the presence of God in his own moral
discernment. He can be taught to obey his sense of "ought" and to enjoy
thereby, from very early years, a rich measure of harmony. Through such
experience he discovers to himself the joy of being at one with God. He
has proof of the constructive power of righteousness, and conversely he
learns the destructive power of sin. He finds that the constituted order
is essentially moral and that the duty of all alike is to conform to
that fact.

He can easily comprehend also the struggle of the better self to rule
over the worse self. The battle of the rational and spiritual to gain
supremacy over the instinctive and animalistic is known to him. To be
master of himself and to exercise a control that is more and more
spiritual, to get the better of things and circumstances, to reduce his
world to obedience to his gradually enlightened will - that is his task.
In this he proves, under right guidance, the supremacy of the spiritual
and may be encouraged to project it into a hope of personal immortality.

Very early, too, he gets some proof of the fact of human solidarity;
especially so if he has brothers and sisters. The social character of
good and the anti-social character of bad conduct is demonstrated day in
and day out in the family. And enlargement of the concentric circles
that bound his life only demonstrates over and over again the social
nature of goodness. On this basis sufficient inspiration for personal
righteousness and altruism is afforded by the world's need of just these
things. Every normal child responds to the appeal of living to make the
world better. Children always "want to help."

Apart from every speculative question the child accepts the ethical
leadership of Jesus. And he should understand that discipleship consists
in conduct that conforms to His spirit. To make the test creedal is not
only contrary to the intensely pragmatic character of childhood but
inimical to the resistless spirit of inquiry and speculation which
breaks out in reflective youth. Childhood needs a religion of deeds. If
a religion of dogma and detached sentiment is substituted the youth may
some day awake to the fact that he can throw the whole thing overboard
and experience a relief rather than a loss. If from his earliest
experience in the home he has lived under the wholesome influence of
applied rather than speculative Christianity, he will be spared much of
the danger incident to theological reconstruction.

In emphasizing this point of applied Christianity, and as illustrating
the fact that the boy's initial religious struggle, which necessitates a
quest for God, centers about concrete temptations, it may be in place to
make mention of a problem which lies very close to personal religion and
social welfare. On the one hand the very altruism which is exalted and
glorified in religion has its physical basis in the sex life, and on the
other hand the sex life, unless it be guarded by religious control, ever
threatens to devastate all the higher values of the soul. Hence the
problem of the boy's personal purity has profound religious
significance.

As yet there is little consensus of opinion as to the best way of
keeping him pure. Parents, educators, and religious leaders, however,
are showing increased concern over this difficult problem, and there is
good ground to believe that prudery and indifference must gradually give
place to frank and intelligent consideration of this vital and difficult
subject.

It must be granted, however, that it is as impossible as it is
undesirable to keep the boy ignorant. His own natural curiosity,
together with his school and street experience, are fatal to such a
Fool's Paradise. Moreover, the general attitude of suppression and
secrecy rather stimulates curiosity, and often amounts to the plain
implication that everything that has to do with the perpetuation of our
species is of necessity evil and shameful. This "conspiracy of silence"
makes against true virtue. Religious instruction, based upon the
confession of the repentant David, "Behold, I was begotten in iniquity
and in sin did my mother conceive me," has helped to perpetuate a
sinister attitude toward this whole question - an attitude not without
some foundation in the moral history of man.

It has also been convenient and consistent, in support of the doctrine
of man's depravity, to exploit this dark view so as to make him a fit
subject for redemption. Somehow, the traditional "Fall" and procreation
have been so associated in religious thinking that it has been
practically impossible for the religious mind to entertain any favorable
consideration of the physical conditions of human genesis. Very
naturally that which is under the ban, being the seat of human sin, the
bond that binds each generation to fallen Adamic nature, must take its
place as surreptitious and evil - and never positively within the
sanctioned and ordained agencies of God.

Does such an attitude contribute to man's highest good and to the
strength and scope of religious control? Is it better to alienate and
outlaw so important a phase of human existence or to bring it into
intelligent accord with the divine will? Is it not conceivable that in
this field, as in every other that is normal to human life, there will
be a gain to humanity, and to the value of religion as a helper of
mankind, by a frank attempt to bring the whole life to the dignifying
conception of a reasonable service to one's Maker?

Granting that such an attempt is desirable, we come face to face with
the necessity of imparting such information as will make the boy's way
of duty plain, and will elevate the subject to a place of purity and
religious worth. In this process of instruction, which is nothing less
than a sacred responsibility, the most common fault of the parent,
physician, teacher, and pastor is that of delay. By the time a boy is
eight years of age, he should have been informed as to his residence
within and his birth from his mother, and this in such a way as
wonderfully to deepen his love for her, and to beget in him a respect
for all women to the end of his life.

It is well that the mother should first inform him in that spirit of
utmost confidence which shall preclude his indiscriminate talk with
other people upon this subject. He should know, too, that further
information will be given as he needs it, and that he can trust his
parents to be frank and true with him in this as in everything else. By
all means let the mother tell the story and not some unfortunately
vicious or polluted companion. There are three reasons at least for
informing him thus early in life. One is that sufficient curiosity has
usually developed by this time, another is that the first information
should come from a pure source, and a third is that this instruction
should anticipate sex consciousness and the indecent language and
suggestions of school and street.

In the same spirit will the father impart to the boy a little later the
fact of the original residence within himself of the seed from which the
boy grew. By the father's reverent treatment of the subject in the hour
of a boy's confidence, and in response to his just curiosity, he may
hallow forever the boy's conception of the marriage relation and
emphasize the vast amount of tenderness and regard that is due every
mother. For the boy to feel sure that he has been told the truth by his
father, and to realize that his father regards these facts in an
honorable and clean way, will rob a thousand indecent stories of their
damage.

It belongs to the father to redeem the boy's idea of human procreation
from obscenity, and, under right conditions, to have this process
regarded by his boy as the most wonderful responsibility that falls to
man. Sometime before the boy has reached thirteen, the father will have
explained to him the facts and temptations of the pubescent period. The
crime of allowing boys in middle and later adolescence to worry
themselves sick over normal nocturnal emissions, and often to fall into
the hands of the quack, or of the advocate of illicit intercourse, lies
at the door of the negligent father.

The enervating results of self-abuse, the loss of manliness and
self-respect, and the possible damage to future offspring will have
weight in safeguarding the boy who has already been fortified by a high
and just conception of the procreative power which is to be his.
Moreover, in the severe battle that is waged for self-control, the boy
should be given every aid of proper hygiene in clothing, sleeping
conditions, baths, exercise, diet, and social intercourse. Plenty of
exercise but not thorough exhaustion, good athletic ideals, a spare diet
at night, good hours, and freedom from evil suggestion, entertainments,
or reading; his time and attention healthfully occupied - these
precautions, in addition to enlightenment as above indicated, will, if
there are no conditions calling for minor surgery, go a long way toward
preserving the boy's integrity under the temptations incident to sex
life. It is to be feared that many boys have been wronged by the failure
of parents and physicians to have some slight operation - either
circumcision or its equivalent - performed in the early days of infancy.

Books on the subject are not best for the boy. They tend to make him
morbid and often stimulate the evil which they seek to cure. Nor is it
wise, prior to the age of fifteen, to open up the loathsome side of the
subject, concerning the diseases that are the outcome of the social
evil. After that age, talks by a reputable physician, pointing out the
terrible results to oneself, his wife, and his descendants, may be
fitting and helpful. The minister should make frequent use of the
physician in having him address on different occasions the fathers and
the mothers of the boys. To hold such meetings in the church building is
an altogether worthy use of the institution.

In cases where parent and physician have failed to do their duty, and
the pastor is on proper terms of friendship with the boy, it becomes his
duty to tell the boy plainly and purely a few of the important things
which he ought to know in order to avoid moral shipwreck.

If credence is to be given to the startling reports of immorality in
high schools, based, as is commonly claimed, upon ignorance, then the
time has certainly come for plain speech, and the boys and girls should
be gathered together in separate companies for instruction in sex
hygiene and morality. Any education which makes no deliberate attempt to
conserve human happiness and social welfare in this important respect is
inadequate and culpable. The testimony that comes from juvenile courts,
girls' rescue homes, and boys' reformatories constitutes a grave
indictment of society for its neglect to impart proper information.

It is part of the minister's task to work for a better day in this as in
every phase of moral achievement. Next to the physician he best knows
the mental and physical suffering, the moral defeat, and the awful
injustice to women and children whom the libertine pollutes with
incurable diseases. If he is a true pastor, he will strive to keep the
boys pure through expert instruction to parents, through personal
advice, through wholesome activity and recreation, through courses on
sexual hygiene in the public schools, through war on indecency in
billboard, dance, and theater, through absolute chastity of speech, and,
in general, through an ideal of life and service which shall lift the
boys' ambitions out of the low and unhealthy levels of sense
gratification. To put the spiritual nature in control is his high and
sacred opportunity.

The importance of the minister's part in this struggle for the body and
soul of youth is based upon the fact that in this critical encounter
there is no aid that is comparable with religion. Thousands of honest,
serious-minded men frankly confess that in modern conditions they see
little hope of this battle being won without religion as a sanction of
right conduct. The boy needs God, a God to whom he can pray in the hour
of temptation. He needs to regard his life with all its powers as God's
investment, which he must not squander or pervert.

Here, as everywhere else in boy-life, the loyalty appeal, which, as
nothing else, will keep him true to mother and father, to society, and
to God, stands the religious leader in good stead. Upon honor he will
not violate the confidence of his parents, and the trust imposed in him
by his Maker. Upon honor he will deport himself toward the opposite sex
as he would wish other boys to regard his own sister; and the religious
teacher has it within his power, if he will keep in touch with boys, to
create and preserve an ideal of manly chivalry that will effectively
withstand both the insidious temptations of secret sin and the bolder
inducements of social vice.

This can never be done by the formal work of the pulpit alone. Nothing
but the influence of a pure, strong man, mediated in part through the
parents of the boy, supported by scientific facts, and operating
directly on the boy's life, through the mighty medium of a personal
friendship, can perform this saving ministry. If there were nothing
more to be gained through intimate acquaintance with boys than thus
fortifying them in this one inevitable and prolonged struggle, it would
warrant all the energy and time consumed in the minister's attempt to
enter into the hallowed friendship and frank admiration of the boys of


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Online LibraryAllan HobenThe Minister and the Boy A Handbook for Churchmen Engaged in Boys' Work → online text (page 7 of 9)