Thursday, November 1, 2012

Testing All Things

“Test all things; hold fast that which is good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21 

The Catholic Church does not teach her children that they should enter into anything blindly, not even faith. Rather, she teaches them to use reason and logic to discern what is true and good and to discard what isn’t. It is no surprise, therefore, that it was Catholic monks who distilled from philosophy and theology the core elements of the scientific method and gave birth to science as we know it today.

The true scientist is interested in one thing only: the truth. When encountering a new idea, the true scientist seeks to understand how it could be and, without prejudging the matter at hand, seeks to test the idea to see 1) whether or not it is true and 2) under which circumstances it is observed to be true. The true scientist is willing to admit to the limitations of understanding, and to embrace unexplored possibilities. A true scientist examines the documented tests of other scientists, but is never satisfied with resting on those results alone. The true scientist tests the matter independently so as to verify the results reached by others. Even when the true scientist has formulated a conclusion, he or she remains open to new evidence, constantly testing and rejecting hypothesis based on new information found or new possibilities opened to them. Our goal as parents is to raise true scientiists.

Children actually begin life as the best scientists. Uninhibited by assumptions, they accept phenomena at face value, incorporating it into their world view as they encounter it. Using the empirical evidence provided by their senses to draw conclusions, they taste, touch, smell, listen, and feel everything around them. Watch a pre-linguistic infant explore a toy. They put it in their mouths and attempt to bite it, using their mouths to explore its taste, texture, and hardness. They bang it against other objects listening for the sound it makes and noting its ability to withstand such abuse. They attempt to place the object in openings of various sizes and shapes. They observe everything.

Once the child has developed language skills, though, they begin to be guided in their learning by the direction of their parents and other caregivers. They begin to rely on the things they are told by those they trust as a shortcut for understanding. This is good, as it can reduce the amount of time it takes them to learn new things and can protect them from putting things like bleach in their mouths or fingers in light socket.

Testing Authority

There are three primary means of testing any authority. One can test through obedience to see whether or not good things happen, or at least one is not harmed, in doing what has been asked. One can test through disobedience by seeing what happens when one does not obey. Last, one can test through observation to find out what happens to others who disobey or obey. History is the study of the results of human obedience or disobedience to authority and what became of those people so we can see whether we wish to imitate them or learn from them.

The Church’s position in regards to authority is that one should obey even an abusive authority figure provided that the authority does not require you to violate the laws of God. This is a good principle to teach our children – that so long as what they are being asked to do does not violate our rules, they should go ahead and do what they are being asked to do until they are returned to us, at which point we can then determine what the appropriate response may be.

Testing People

Of course, not every person a child meets is trustworthy. In encouraging our children to ask questions, seek the truth, and test all things we are giving them important tools to use in defending themselves from those who might seek to take advantage of their ignorance, lead them astray, or do them harm. This can be as simple as figuring out who is really your friend by observing their behavior and comparing the things they say to you with the way that they treat you as a means of discernment.

While it can be frustrating when your child turns the spotlight on you and puts your instructions under scrutiny, it is important to look at this as a sign that they are listening to you and that they do take your advice to heart. It is natural and normal for children to test their parents to see whether or not their parents are trustworthy and reliable sources of information, especially when their level of education may surpass our own.

Testing sources

There are plenty of things that are written down in books that simply are not true. However, the line between truth and fiction is not always made clear because there are times when the author believes a thing to be true that simply is not. To protect our children, it is important that we teach them how to test the information they receive from any form of media, but especially television and newspapers.

The key to testing the truth in an advertisement, news article, or book is to examine it for the source of their information. As an example, when reading a newspaper article I will often dissect the article and do my own research to substantiate the claims made. Often I find that there is far more to the story than originally revealed, and this new information casts a very different light on the story than the light that was originally presented. Teaching our children to test even news reports can keep them from making decisions in error based on faulty information.

Testing Faith

There is no need for us as parents to worry if our son or daughter begins to test the faith. From my own experience, I did test the faith at a younger age. I left the Church at 16, unable to answer the question of why a God who loved all men would allow the suffering of the innocent. Over the next 15 years, I would subject the Church and my belief in God to tests. I did not believe, for instance, that there was anything wrong with premarital sex. I tested this, and found that not only did it create a great deal of unnecessary anxiety in my life as I had to worry each month about whether or not I would conceive a child I was unprepared to care for, but it created an environment of mistrust with my partner where I was never certain whether he was with me for me or simply for what I was providing him in the bedroom. I didn’t believe that it should matter whether or not I married someone who believed as I did, since love should be able to conquer all. 16 years of heartbreak later, I know for certain that it very much matters.

I returned to the faith because no matter what test I subjected the Church to, her teachings proved true. I reasoned that if the Catholic Church and its teachings were true, then I could trust that her foundations were equally true, namely that God did exist, that He does love mankind, and that Christ truly did die for our sins and was truly resurrected on the third day. I then could be certain that there is, indeed, an afterlife and that I need to be concerned about it since it is my behavior in this life which determines where I will spend the next.

To those who contest that “religion ruins everything” I would contend that it is not religion itself which ruins anything, but the misapplication of religion which causes so many problems. If there were a science teacher, for example, who was not very good in school and did not really understand the scientific method and she attempted to conduct a scientific experiment using principles which she didn’t really understand nobody would be surprised if her efforts were a failure and her experiments produced disastrous results, if they produced any results at all. Moreover, her efforts to teach students the scientific method would not be very successful either. Students in her class might begin to distrust science because of her example, rather than seeing that it is the teacher who is flawed, not science. Those Christians who truly understand their faith are the people, like Mother Theresa, whose love shines clearly. They are rare, not because Christianity is so hard to understand, but because the teachers who truly know their stuff are so few and far between and because even more rare are the students who have the wisdom to see that it is not religion which is flawed, but the teacher.

There are many atheists who claim that the only way to scientifically prove that God exists is to conduct an experiment in which 1000 people are instructed to pray for something and if all 1000 receive what they pray for then a positive correlation between prayer and action has been established thereby proving the existence of God. This “test”, though, is flawed and ignores the true nature of prayer. Prayer is a conversation. To say that God must always respond to prayer with a “yes” in order to prove His existence is counter to the very nature of prayer. In fact, given the nature of prayer, were God to always respond by giving what is asked for this would suggest that He is an automaton or some sort of computer program. Furthermore, not always is the prayer request truly good for the person making the request even if to human ears it sounds like a legitimate and worthwhile request. For example, I prayed to win the lottery. I did not win. I had vowed to God that I would use the money for the good of my family and for others. However, God saw more than I did. My husband and I were financially irresponsible. My husband did not believe in God. We were experiencing marital troubles. Had God have answered my prayer to win the lottery that day, my husband and I would have divorced since we had no other obstacle to stop us at the time; we would not have learned to be more financially responsible; and my husband would never have given God another thought. It was only through our financial difficulties that we stayed together long enough to fix our marital problems, learned financial responsibility, and my husband finally found his way to God.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting.  If you are just finding this series, you can catch up by following the link above.  I hope you will join us for Chapter 19: Always Listening. If you would like to be notified when the next chapter comes out, please send me an email to brandy at nvcreativetechnology dot com with a subject line of Sign Me Up and I will be happy to add you to the list.

May God bless you for reading. If you would like to leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you. Comments are like candy for writers - they encourage us to keep writing :)

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