The Themes of Fully Alive – A Critique
In August and September, Fr. McGoey discussed the philosophy of the Family Education Teacher program which held sway in Catholic educational circles in Ontario for some 20 years. He characterized it as “a fiasco” and “poisoned” by secularism. (August Interim, Page 5-of Insight; September Interim pages 13 and 20.
In October he analyzed the Foreword to the Fully Alive sex education program, written by Bishop Marcel Gervais, and found it both confusing and having little or no relevance to the Fully Alive text itself. (“The theological shortfall of Fully Alive,” Insight, pp.2-3)
In this fourth article, the author examines the five themes of the Fully Alive (FA) text.
The five themes are riddled with poor theology, philosophy and unhealthy pop-psychology; the topics within each theme are ineffectively developed. More realistic horizontal themes better adapted to the age and learning capacities of children rather than the vertical themes employed in FA are a far better choice of methodology for Family Education.
Theme I: Created and loved by God
We originate in the Divine Mind already loved by the Divine Will. Therefore, theme one should read “Loved and Created by God” rather than Created and Loved by God.
The most vital perception of God by children is that He loves them; no one comes into the world unloved. Catholic education begins and ends with the greatness of our Creator and children must be taught that the origin and destiny of all mankind is God. Those terminals of human life must be established early.
The “long journey outward for self” (page 1), is genetically set by the instinctive search for the breast and early dependency on mama and papa. The instinctive search for God and eternal happiness begins when children ask “Who made me?” and “Why?” ‘why’ be determined without accepting the basic “Who?” Children have a greater capacity for mysteries than many adults and an early fascination with the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Creator.
It is incredible that God’s overwhelming love could be stressed without mentioning children’s overwhelming need to respond lovingly to Him. We are designed in God’s image and equipped to love, but nowhere in Fully Alive is love defined in simple terms which a child can understand.
FA introduces children to their feelings without explaining what they are or how to deal with them. (page 1, 2). There is no hint that children are not responsible for their feelings but can and must be responsible for what they do about them. The feelings or emotions register the pain/pleasure impact of experience but the same experience impacts very differently on males and females.
Those dealing with children know that they think long before the once-accepted “se of reason” at 7 years of age. Children must be taught that, except in the case of automatic reflexes, I feel, I think, and only then do I act.
Coping with sex
Does the program expect children to cope with sex without first teaching them to cope with all feelings but especially the sexual ones?
Apparently it does.
The important early training to handle all feelings maturely is not even begun in FA. Thus children are defenseless against the pop-psychology fallacy, ‘if you like it do it, if you don’t like it don’t do it.’
Children likes and dislikes change day by day, moment by moment. They must be taught that some painful things must be accepted, some enjoyable ones avoided; that some pains can save their lives and some pleasures can kill.
Child diabetics learn to eat what is good for them and develop the rigid self-discipline required for a healthy life. They illustrate how much children can and must learn for their own welfare.
Only those who can do what ought to be done, like it or not, are capable of being truly loving. Children are exposed daily to horrendous outrages by parents, brothers and sisters, those refusing to develop their God-given power to love. Even very young children can be taught to cope with such things by developing the emotional maturity to love.
Theme II: Living in a relationship
Christ confirmed unequivocally that the first and greatest commandment is to love God; why does FA so stress God’s love without mentioning the child’s loving response to God?
Religion is our road back to God. Living in relationship is irrelevant when it does not begin with the first of all relationships, with God, the reality denied by secular humanists.
Responding with love
The overview of Theme II states “We were created to respond to each other with love. It is our vocation and our challenge…” (page 27).
Nowhere does FA even suggest that those who do not relate to God relate well to no one. The process Pope john Paul II describes as a wordless dialogue between infant and mother is shared with “dumb animals.” It aught to be applied to God as it is here. Interpersonal relationships do not exist between God and creatures. God’s relationship to us is one of making provision for everyone and, ultimately, providing eternal happiness freely chosen to those using the power to love.
Social in nature
To say we are “profoundly social in our nature” and leave it as that is to ignore the superficially of most human relationships.
The word love is not used, with no effort to give children an understanding that love is to say truthfully to another:
‘I love you; you are important to me as I am to myself. I will do anything possible to help you to be your best, the strongest and the loving person you can be will do nothing ever to harm or damage you.’
Again, to say “our deepest relationships with our wives, husbands, parents, sisters, brothers and friends radically influence the kind of people we are,” reverses reality. The genuine love with which we respond to our Creator ??????? influences the kind of people we are, and the depth of our loving relationships with others.
The basis of Catholic Family Life education is to prepare children to make an early loving response to God on which all human happiness depends. Were this taught in the early grades there would be hope of being loving enough before puberty to recognize mutual sexploitation for what it is. Grade one topics make serious mistakes and build on them in succeeding grades. Nowhere is faith in God more basic than in developing loveing relationships.
Theme III: Created sexual male and female
This theme begins, as does every misguided sex education document, with the physical differences between boy and girls (p.50). It ought to start with a simple definition of personal love and through the upper grades make an ever clearer distinction between totally different functions, love and sex.
It ignores that children at this age more easily understand love, in which they are more interested, than sex. How ridiculous to teach grade one children physical sex to which they cannot relate rather than love to which they relate daily.
The statement, “the purpose of this theme is to support and enrich this early education in sexuality that has already begun in the child’s home,” (p.50) is false. In a contraceptive world it is a travesty to teach children they are conceived by an act of mutual love when the majority are conceived in lust. In any family lacking personally loving spouses, sex is as unloving as either or both parents.
Falling in love
The story of Sara and Dominic who “fall in love,” (p.50), illustrates the error of millions, who mistake a delightful experience of great emotional impact but little real significance, for mutual personal love People ‘fall’ in and out of love in moments, days, and in almost every marriage. Love is not a feeling but a relationship in which every feeling is experienced from the heights of delight to the depths of depression. The greatest pain is experienced by those who love the most.
What heartbreak parents experience through the children they cherish so much!
A most fallacious statement is: “We know that children’s perceptions about masculinity and femininity develop very early.” (p.50) Experience confirms that childish perceptions are misperceptions; how late valid ones develop is easily revealed by the number of adults who identify easy sex with difficult personal love.
Macho men and militant feminists result from misperceptions in childhood when boys learn all about women from their fathers who know nothing. Adults everywhere today are unable to handle sex maturely because they have never learned what personal love is. They learned the mechanics of sex but nothing about love.
This theme never explains nor even suggests to children that love is not a sexual but a personal relationship, how much the person I am cares about the person you are, man, woman or child.
Children today are victims rather than beneficiaries of so many who know so little about the meaning of being male and female. Genital sexuality is shared with the beasts. Being created in the image of a purely spiritual God is not illustrated by our genitality but by our power to love, the most purely spiritual human faculty. It lifts human sex above lust into the realm of chaste love.
Sex is never the responsibility of one person alone except in genuine rape. Since sex requires both male and female, unless it is good for both it is good for neither. No woman experiences the sexual feelings of a man, nor a man those of a woman; therefore if pleasure alone is the purpose of sex it is for self exploitative and unloving. Being mutually agreeable is not enough to make sex a loving act.
Proper social justice teaching bans not only the violation of all personal rights but also sexual exploitation, even in marriage. Until that is accepted and lived there will be no solution to rape, pedophilia, incest or any other sexual abuse.
Christian marriage is for the truly strong and loving. Those for whom God is not Number One cannot avoid being number one themselves. Can those ever truthfully say any other is equally important?
There is hardly a worse preparation for marriage than premarital sex. As long as it is encouraged everywhere, real Christians will be few. It is virtually impossible to say ‘No’ to the world after marriage, if one has not said it with conviction beforehand. Through God’s love and grace we can practice chastity, the virtue of the good, strong and loving, to such a degree that we forego premarital sex and are faithful spouses for life. Nowhere should that be understood and taught so well as in Catholic schools.
Theme IV: Growing in Commitment
The opening sentence of the Overview reads: “At each stage of the human journey, we are challenged to live fundamental vocation of Christian love.” (p.80) Despite this there is no concrete illustration of Christian, personal love in the Topics.
Authors who are as interested in explaining love as they are teaching sex would have avoided such a fundamental oversight.
While commitment to God gets honourable mention here, the emphasis is on commitment to family and friends. Never do the Topics say the first commitment of all is to God. They state that God “asks” to be loved, rather than that for our welfare, it is His clear commandment to love Him. There is no hint this principle is basic to Family Life Education.
If we are not committed to God, where else does commitment begin? If we are not committed to Goodness, Truth, Justice, Strength, Love and Spiritual Fitness, what else is there to commit to? How could a whole year be spent without discussing commitment to whom? Or the need to keep promises to whom? To being friends without first discussing the qualities required for true friendship? I heard a young man upbraid a young woman for breaking a promise to have sex with him! Is there no place to explain to children as early as they learn the names of genitals that friendship depends on the commitment to everything helpful to another’s integrity, strength and loving, and absolutely nothing harmful, physically, emotionally or spiritually?
Those uncommitted to God are committed to what they blindly see as their own best interests. In the past 30 years, increasing numbers of adolescents have ceased attending Sunday Mass because they are “bored,” “get nothing out of it.” Not surprisingly when in the same period so many priests and religious dominated by emotions, opted out of their vows. Liturgists are urged to jazz up the Mass to hold children’s attention as if Jesus had not said, “Do this in memory of Me,” rather than “Do this as long as you enjoy it.”
Those not attending Mass are bored because the children are undisciplined, self-oriented, many spoiled by indulgent parents who bribe them for love of which they themselves are incapable.
They need continuous excitement; otherwise they fear they are already dead. One can’t imagine well instructed, parentally guided, Catholic children accepting that they get nothing out of the Eucharist.
Children may learn from parents and teachers to depend on God, the Supreme model of commitment, but the problem is not God’s commitment to us but our commitment to Him. What a glorious opportunity to explain to children that commitment to Sunday Worship of God cures them of the greatest evil, self-worship!
Theme V: Living in the world
FA invokes the authority of the Second Vatican Council about misusing Christ’s exhortation “to be in the world but not of the world.” The Council was censuring those so anxious for the salvation of their souls as to evade their responsibility to this world and society.
FA is a strange document which focuses on this world while ignoring the immorality underlying its destruction. Jesus and His followers gave their lives standing against world corruption, a role which Christ promises would bring them hatred and death. There is not much point in railing against air and water pollution while oblivious to the personal pollution of sin, so destructive of man himself and his world.
State of marriage
The state of Catholic marriage in Canada and the United States is manifested by countless separations and divorces. Annulments are granted because of “psychic incapacity for the common life” translated as “such emotional immaturity as to be unable to make a Christian marriage vow and keep it.”
In view of this, Grade 7 should consists in developing the personal maturity and other character requirements to “live as a couple, man and wife.” Grade 8 should be a once-a-week, mini-marriage course. The current mandated pre-marriage courses for young adults, with an average of 50 per cent of the participants already living in concubinage, are totally inadequate.
What wishful thinking to say “…the many ways we can learn about the world. Parents, relatives, teachers, neighbours, friends, television, books, magazines – all rich sources of knowledge for children.” (p.92)
Nowhere is the adjective good used to distinguish the nouns from bad parents, relatives, teachers, etc. Surely the authors couldn’t have been unaware of loveless parents, relatives, teachers, etc., to say nothing of the depravity of television, books and magazines to which the youngest children are exposed daily. It is true there are many educational documentary films, but their number is infinitesimal compared to the plethora of pornographic materials on public display.
The pressure of our society for teenage sex, children having children, must have a realistic antidote for active sex among teenagers, none of whom are ready for family life. I repeat, Grades 7 and 8 should be devoted to true Christian marriage preparation. Media promotion of the relative impossibility of living in a faithful marriage must be counteracted by the conviction that marriages fail not from lack of sex but lack of love. That is the heart and soul of Christ’s teaching. This is what Catholic schools should be about.
This involves a graphic understanding of the vast difference between two totally different human functions, love and sex. Despite all militant feminism, which daily is causing more problems between men and women, no woman can change a woman. God gave each of us full charge of one person only, oneself. Women ought not to waste time trying vainly to change recalcitrant husbands. Instead they should use that time well to improve themselves with God’s ever-bountiful grace. Let man not waste time trying to change a wife but use it to become the good, strong loving person he, with God’s bountiful grace, is capable of being. Then let them be everything that their children need them to be, and happiness will be inevitable.
The Overview repeatedly insists that children live in the small world of home and school. But for small children the world is not just home and school. It is also travel, shopping plazas and seductive strangers. To promise children “the World is an Exciting Place to BE” rather than a dangerous one is deception. The world, like a good marriage, is a difficult way to live, especially for school children who need vigilant and loving parents.
It is true that it is unjust to lay the burden of adults on mere children. However, does anyone believe that children who can be neither commanded nor inspired to pick up their own clothes from their bedroom floors, clean their own rooms or help around their own homes will spontaneously become “caretakers of God’s world?” The current affluent First World of privilege has given up on saving their fellow men from themselves, from drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. It has made a new religion of saving the eagles, the whales, the seals, the manatees and God knows what else, because the response of dumb animals is more emotionally regarding than the very limited gratitude of their fellow men.
The final indignity is to tell children that “God’s World is My Home.” Catholic Education demands that children be reminded that in death the best is yet to come for those believers who live the loving life. They must learn that salvation consists in eternal happiness with God. Forgetting that is the basis of most teenage suicides.
Bishop Gervais’ statement in the introduction that a manor undertaking such as Fully Alive must be rooted in and reflect “the rich heritage of Catholic teaching on the human person, marriage, the family and sexuality” overlooks that FA does not present this heritage at all.
Similarly defective is the claim that FA reflects “…the experience of Catholic educators in the field of Family Life Education,” and that it is…the result of many years of thought, discussion and work by bishops, Catholic school board personnel, separate school trustees, and parents.” (p. VII)
In reality, FA is a seriously flawed document filtered through SIECUS (Sex Information and Education Council of the United States) “sexology.” The experience of many Catholic educators is limited to St. Jerome’s humanist mentality which has nothing in common with the moral doctrine of the Catholic Church. Therefore, FA cannot “…help Catholic parents teach their children to be fully human.”
Concerned, believing Catholics recognize FA as unworthy of Catholic schools.
Father McGoey’s final article will appear in December Interim.