Virginia Barton

Hometruths: yes again and again

Catholic Herald, 29 November 1985


In such a dearth of space it is presumptuous to attempt to cover a subject as vast as the religious and moral education of our children, but After Gillick and Before Armageddon seems an appropriate moment to restate some very obvious truths.

untitled (3)She may have lost a legal battle but Victoria Gillick concentrates the mind wonderfully; tea tables up and down the country have been (one hopes) a-buzz with discussion and controversy, fisticuffs perhaps, certainly outrage and probably a certain amount of crowing

Mrs. Gillick avows she is going to tackle education – and she is absolutely right, for here lies the root of not only teenage promiscuity but many other ills in pagan Britain 1985.

Things bodily have assumed a quite extraordinary importance. The pendulum has swung so far in the direction of material wellbeing that without quite realising it perhaps, we are in danger of forgetting the spiritual side of our beings – or at least smothering it in a quilt of the pursuit of comfortable security.

We are as responsible for the mass media as we are for the rising crime rate, so must take some blame for the assault that urges us to pamper the body, adorn it, exercise it, starve it, feed it, spoil it, change it – and we are of course susceptible to these blandishments and harangues that come at us from every side.

However there is a feeling abroad that enough is enough – and such doughty campaigners as Mrs. Gillick and Mrs. Whitehouse are not alone out there on that limb.

I think the majority of parents do care about the sort of Godless society their children are growing up in but they don’t know how to articulate their dislike of today’s moral climate, how to protest or how to change it.

Most of us are not television personalities with guaranteed air-space or influential bestselling authors or contributors to teenage magazines.

Our influence extends only over our children from birth to school-age. I say “only”, but these early years are vitally important for the future well-being of the child, both bodily and spiritually.

Very small children learn both fast and well, but they will only learn what is put before them.

If parents have neither the time nor the patience to instruct their young in the basics of their Christian faith or a few simple moral principles, they cannot be surprised if they grow up as agnostical hooligans.

No child is born with a magi-kit of sound habits and good behaviour. It has to be taught that it is wrong to lie; steal, cheat, torment and why it is wrong.

It is not fair to expect our schools to teach them these basics. School should be an adjunct and development of principles brought from home. It is not, and should not be, a replacement for parents who have rejected their responsibilities.

All this is so obvious as to be almost ludicrous, but it must be repeated again and again to every fresh generation of parents, particularly today when the lure and the glamour of the world have never been so deliciously packaged and available to so many.

We neglect the development of young consciences at our peril. “Suffer the little children to come unto Me”, we must take them to God, show them God, allow them to communicate with God, which means teaching them about God.

Teach them to pray as seriously as we teach them to tie their bootlaces or brush their teeth – it doesn’t take any longer to kneel with a child to say his prayers than it does to read a bedtime story – and considerably less than watching an episode of Star Trek.

Of course we must see that our children take proper care of their bodies in decency and health and enjoy all the good things in life, but not at the expense of their precious souls.

All this is good evangelical tub-thumping stuff, old fashioned in its call for duty, sound habits and Christian commitment. But we have the care of these little ones for so short a time and to send them into the world only half equipped to cope with its temptations rebounds on our own heads and consciences. Then we must stand accused of gross negligence by these potential adults, inheritors of the world – and the world to come. We may fail – but at least we tried.


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