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#43 — Fear and Love

Greetings Philosophers!

Is there a need to teach through fear?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

I was talking about religion with a student and they mentioned how their training was fear based. The fear of hell was stressed more than the love of God.

I know some of you may not believe in God. But I think some thoughts here might help us understand not just religion, but how we use fear to train children. I would suggest we do this only because we do not know a better way. But there is a better way.

So, ignore the “God” part if it does not apply to you. Instead, ask yourself if using fear is a good educational tool?

In philosophy, God is by definition infinite. In the theistic religions, this God is not simply infinite, but Infinite Love. I asked a monk I considered very holy once what he thought about the teachings about hell. I really wanted to know how he combined his teaching that God was “mercy upon mercy” with eternal damnation.

He told me that if you believe in free will — that people have a choice — then you have to have an opposite choice than choosing love. That absence of love is Hell. But then he turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and a beautiful smile and said: “but you are not required to believe any one is actually there.”

I had a similar experience with religion. I was taught to fear the fires of hell. To teach a child to fear Infinite Love is a form of child abuse — spiritual abuse — at least as I experienced it. This type of abuse is not talked about as much as it needs to be. There are much healthier ways to introduce children to a religious world view and encourage their spiritual growth.

When children ask questions, this is when we could nurture their curiosity and critical thinking skills. For example, when a child asks where their grandmother went when she passed away, many parents answer "heaven," which closes down the question. A better answer might be, "where do you think she is?" and then engage them in a dialogue.

Ok, enough of God for those who don’t like this line of thought. Let’s instead look at parenting. Many of you are or will be parents. If not, you certainly had to have had parents.

Many parents spank their children when they do not behave. But my experience working in special education proved to me that you can train kids without hitting them. In fact, if I had hit a child I would not only have been fired on the spot, but the parents would have the right to prosecute me for child abuse.

This knowledge, and the training I received, was like a bomb going off in my head! If very difficult children could be educated without hitting them, then surely, we don’t need to hit children who do not have these severe challenges.

Children learn about life — and God, if you believe in God — by what we do far more than what we say. Do we want to teach by means of fear or by means of love?

“The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.” Plato


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