I have already quoted Charles Darwin concerning the vulnerability of young children to Religious Education (“From Illusions to Illumination”, p. 84). Some years later another celebrated and influential thinker said much the same thing, though he was referring to the very opposite of Religious Education : “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” Vladimir Lenin’s famous statement – with or without inspiration from St Ignatius of Loyola … – is an only slightly exaggerated expression of the theory and practice of child-pedagogy in the Catholic Church.
Catholic parents are obliged to have their children baptized as soon as possible – one or two weeks after birth. Until recently the Church taught that failure to do so incurs the punishment, in case of the infant’s death, that the poor kid will be sent to Hell or something called Limbo, which was not much better. Parents will, consciously or not, impregnate the pre-school child at home with the values and piety, though of course not yet the doctrine, of Catholicism. It being a mortal sin to send their offspring to anything but a Catholic school (it really was in my time), formal Religious Education would begin in the Convent school Kindergarten. (Some of my friends still counter my atheist positions with quotations from the Green Catechism – see “From Illusions to Illumination”, p. 70).
Reception of the Sacraments of Penance and of the Eucharist was scheduled for “the age of reason”, which, we were told, meant seven years of age. Next up was the Sacrament called Confirmation, a solemn affair administered – in my time – only by a Bishop. We became “Soldiers of Christ” at the age of twelve, confirming the decision that had been made for us as babies. With the full maturity of the pre-adolescent, we confirmed our faith through this second Baptism (oil replaced the water) and were now fully committed Christians. (Readers will understandably think of the Bar-Mitzvah and even of the “education” offered future kamikaze Islamic youth in the madrassas…).
(An interesting, if not amusing, adjunct to the Sacrament was the “Pledge”, promoted by the Irish clergy to curb the alcoholism not unknown in its own ranks. The Clancy Brothers at Carnegie Hall delighted their audience – and fans like me ever since – with their ballad about priests, after the ceremony of the pledge, ending up, following generous servings from the punch-bowl, “blind drunk on the floor”.)
I have on occasion spoken in this blog of “confirmed” atheists and non-atheists, by which I hope readers understood “convinced, fully committed” adults. “Confirming” one’s faith at twelve is almost as absurd as taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as I did, at seventeen, and being ordained a priest, as I was, at twenty-four. Times, fortunately, have changed, and the minimum age to enter a seminary is now, in some places, the age at which I was ordained (after seven years of seminary studies).
But Catholic indoctrination is still practised as soon as children enter primary school. Unfortunately many of them will never be able to shake off the nonsense they learned. I find it hard to forgive myself – a typically Catholic guilt-complex perhaps – for having actively contributed to the brain-washing of the young.