Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation Institute
Warren, Michael 1987, Religious Formation in the
Context of Social Formation, Religious Education, vol: 82 no:4, Fall, p.
Dr Alex Tang
Often we meet friends or even members of our churches who tells us that they
will not influence their children in respect to their religious convictions but
have decided to let their children “decide for themselves.” Hence they will not
train them in any religious formative practices. While on the surface this
attitude may be laudable and admirable in allowing their children to discover
the faith for themselves, it denies the reality that there are other social and
cultural formative practices that are molding the realities of our children
whether we know it or not. These “formative practices” may act at some
subconscious levels so that in stepping aside, we are actually doing our
children a disfavor.
Michael Warren, professor of religious education in the Department of Theology
at St. John’s University in Jamaica mentions three social and cultural formative
practices. First is culture as the molder of perception. Our perception of
reality is often the result of the many interpretations given by our culture.
Our senses alone cannot interpret for us what we see, hear, touch and smell. Our
culture, by a series of norms creates a matrix for us in which we perceive
“reality”. Hence we are never free from our cultural heritage.
Second, our language forms our thinking. Language is not neutral as many of us
thinks. Words in language carry within it two meanings. One meaning comes from
the culture the language comes from and carries within it the values of that
culture. The second meaning is what we think is the common meaning of the word.
The former has the ability to influence the speaker without the speaker being
aware of it. We call ourselves consumers. By being consumer, we understand it to
be that we use things. However the word consumer also carries with it the
culture and influence of consumerism; more expensive, more stuff, more
enjoyment. In fact, in some ways, our language forms us.
Third, in any economy, there will arise people with the necessary skills to make
that economy works. However, as Nietzsche taught, there will also be a dominant
group with the power who decides what everyone else should think. A hegemony is
formed. Hegemony is the way in which the dominant class influences the dominated
class to think that it is the normal scheme of things to be dominated. Hegemony
is not coercion. It works by covert formation of the consciousness of the
dominated class that it become accepted uncritically that being second class is
Hence it can be seen that there are three major formative practices that works
in our lives whether we want it or not; culture in the formation of perception,
language in the formation of thought and hegemony in the formation of
consciousness. Often we are not aware of these influences. What Warren did not
address was the presence of the Internet and easy connective of the present time
as another “formative practice”.
We must leave our children alone but must counter these social and cultural
formative practices by our religious formative practices. Warren maintain, “The
main formative agent is the believing community, and, its verbal declarations
not withstanding, its communal or corporate commitments and ways of viewing
reality are, for better or worse, the key formative factors.” (p.527). However,
he did emphases earlier in his paper that “the lived commitment is the one that
is actually formative.”(p.525). It is not what the community say they believe in
that is important and formative but what they actually do and how they practice
or act out their faith that is formative.
Soli deo gloria
|posted 12 February 2007|