Teaching Virtue

Confirmation instruction will be starting up again. This year is the church doctrine year, and while the doctrine is not all ethics, church doctrine helps us answer the question of how should we live and thrive? This essay is from a Sociology Prof teaching an introductory course that focuses on many of the same questions. These lines caught my eye…

The danger in instrumentalizing virtue is that the young will come to discard a particular virtue if they decide it no longer helps them to reach a desired goal. But behaving virtuously requires both right belief and right practice. Focusing on practice has two big benefits: It’s the language that young adults understand, and it’s a tried-and-true way to accomplish personal change.

As a general rule, American men and women now in their 20s aren’t known for their warm embrace of authority. For a generation that grew up on the Internet, a bureaucratic, top-down method of instruction is a non-starter. Today’s young adults live in a networked society, in which learning is collaborative and personal experience is central. The old-fashioned way to “teach virtue” may have been through church and other institutions of cultural authority, but my students aren’t interested in the bully pulpit…

Living a virtuous life doesn’t mean being boring or preachy. It’s about approaching the rules that we learned as children with a more mature understanding and reapplying them to our adult lives.

Right belief and right practice. Reapplying the rules to our adult lives. The best education creates a space to think about how we live and move and have our being. Confirmands are not adults, but they aren’t elementary kids either. My 4 year old (David), he doesn’t listen all that well, but he gets a lot of law anyway. We direct the 4 year old even over his complaints. Anna, the 7 year old, is getting less direct instruction and more coaching (what do you think, have you seen anything like this before, go try, how did that work). The confirmands (11-14 years olds) get a little more freedom. They also start to bear the responsibility of decisions. The questions get more complex as we get older. We lose our coaches. We have to learn to train ourselves. We all run our own race of faith. Paul, the great apostle of grace alone, instructs everyone to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Finding our way as a church to be a place that teaches the faith includes being that safe space to learn together right practice. Creating that space is a personal goal of mine this year.

Comments are closed.