‘Seeing what is true and holy in others’
a presentation by
Rev. Dr. John Dupuche
MCD University of Divinity,
Australian Catholic University
Catholic Interfaith Committee (chair)
Spirituality, Wellbeing and Education Workshop
Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation’s,
Diversity and Identity Stream
Friday 20 November 2015
Education in the true and holy
Yes, schooling is about imparting knowledge. Yes, schools develop students’ skills and prowess in many fields. Yes, schools prepare students for a career and a sense of civic duty. However, education in its fullest sense means enabling students to discover their inner world and indeed what is beyond all worlds. In what ways are their minds freed and not just trained, enlightened and not just informed? Once they have left school and forgotten all they have learned, who are they? How do they see the world? How do they see others? How do they see themselves?
I would propose that a full and complete education will lead students to perceive others in their fullness, not just their mind but also their spirit, not just their intelligence but also what is profoundly true and supremely holy in them.
The 18th century Enlightenment and the many ideologies of the 19th and 20 centuries held that ideas alone could create a world of justice and peace. Subsequent history has shown how wrong they were. This raises the question about the anthropology we are working with. How is the human being constituted? In our pluralist society, this can be a source of some contention.
What metaphysics do we have? What forms of knowledge do we allow? Do we, a priori, exclude certain forms of perception, deeming them to be as useless and false, just make-believe and whim? Do we open the students’ minds to the many forms of perception and realization, or do we shut the door on religious awareness, and restrict truth to what can be measured and named.
The starting point
An intelligent and educated person starts by presuming that there is truth in what another person or tradition holds. This attitude does not mean agreeing, but listening closely. It means attending with open mind to their inspired motivation, attending to the answers their religion proposes for the questions that challenge every human being.
We are not reductionists, seeking to cope with diversity by truncating it to fit within our limited mental categories. We honour others by presuming they are true and holy.
Education in religions
A rounded education will include a study of the religious traditions that stand at the basis of our many civilizations, the Judeo-Christian, the Muslim, the Buddhist and the Hindu, to name just the most widespread. It will study their doctrines and rituals, their ethics and forms of prayer, their history and culture. It will also study some of the finest exemplars of these religions, such as Ramana Marsharshi for Hinduism, Said Nursi for Islam, Dr Martin Luther King for Christianity, to name just a few. It will look at the vast contribution religions have made to art and music, poetry and architecture, all the works of civilization. It will also study the autochonous religions in their wide diversity.
This approach is incomplete if it does not also help the student to experience the heart and soul of a religious tradition. That would be like analyzing a Mozart symphony without seeking to hear its music. The traditions, which have stood the test of time, have something valuable to say to every time. What is it? They have survived against all odds and are still flourishing. How enter into their experience?
Religions are not abstractions; they are lived realities. They consist of people engaged in the sublime. Museums may display examples of Georgian silver, set beautifully in showcases but taken out of context. Religions are not museums; they are lived out by ordinary men and women with all their strengths and weaknesses. What is the quality of their wisdom and humility, their joy and peacefulness, their equanimity and forbearance, their mutuality and compassion?
The enlightened person will sense the sacredness of the other, and their experience of the divine. This in turn will lead students to a sense of awe and wonder at their own value and infinite worth. They will learn from what they have seen and will acquire deeper qualities of soul, becoming open-minded, tranquil and forgiving, but above all discovering the depths from which they themselves and this world have sprung. Our bodies are composed of stardust; our souls have a spark of the divine in them. Heaven and earth can be found in every human being. It is for the educator to help the student discover these dimensions.
It is not just faith traditions that have a sense of the divine. Atheist and agnostic mindsets also acknowledge the transcendent. A. C. Grayling for example, in his The God Argument; the Case against Religion and for Humanism, is bitterly opposed to religion but does acknowledge the transcendent dimension of reality in keeping with his Stoic outlook. André Comte-Sponville, in his The Book of Atheist Spirituality, speaks of his ‘oceanic feeling’, which he acknowledges is deeply spiritual.
So often in the past and even now, one tradition, whether religious or political, ethnic or cultural, has taken up arms against another. This clash is destructive. Competitiveness may be valuable on the sporting field; it is counterproductive in the spiritual sphere. And yet there is a widespread penchant for making a connection between violence and religion. A heightened awareness of the truth and sacredness of others is, therefore, even more necessary in our time. There is a need for honest self-evaluation and for a wish to heal past wrongs.
Students need to be shown how to become aware of their own beliefs, and how to appreciate the profoundly human and profoundly transcendent qualities of others, and so be enriched by them.
What is the relationship between school and parents in this area? Do parents have any role in teaching spirituality to children? Are they “first teachers” in this field?
Students are strongly influenced by their teacher. If the teacher welcomes the truth and holiness of others, students will more easily adopt the same attitude. However, if the teachers do not, the students will find an obstacle placed in their path. The kind of teacher that would be needed to teach this topic would have to be well trained and sensitive. How do we discern suitable teachers and prepare them?
Students can be simply informed. They can also have essential questions put to them which they must investigate using reliable Internet resources. These could well cover the range of topics discussed above.
Although State schools give no preference to any one religious tradition, the practice of meditation may be a useful tool in helping students to discover their hidden resources of grace, to develop stillness, attentiveness, trust, and freedom This approach may not suit all but will suit many.
Students could visit various places of worship, viewing their layout, meeting the priest or imam or monk or rabbi, and see that the religions are a lived reality. The context itself is educative.
 Grayling, A.C. The God Argument; the Case against Religion and for Humanism
London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Reviewed by J. Dupuche in Australian eJournal of Theology 20.2 (August 2013).
 André Comte-Sponville, The Book of Atheist Spirituality, translated by Nancy Huston, London, Bantam Books, 2009. 212 pp. originally published in French as L’esprit de l’athéisme, Paris, Editions Albin Michel. Reviewed by J. Dupuche in Australian eJournal of Theology, 16, August 2010.