Rising levels of depression and self-harm among teenagers are linked to the absence of religion in young people’s lives, a Catholic bishop’s adviser on religious education has claimed.
Fr Gerard Condon also said he believes society has, in many respects, tried to forget or hide God. While parents he meets at preparation meetings for their children’s First Communion or Confirmation are genuinely interested in the religion, they seem to have little knowledge about their faith.
“This is the age group who made The Da Vinci Code a bestseller, but can hardly number or name the gospels,” he said.
Writing in Catholic journal The Furrow, the diocesan adviser for religious education for Cloyne said there is a danger of religious education (RE) being dropped as a State exam subject in the new-format junior cycle.
While schools are relied on to be “the chief agent in the faith formation of adolescents”, he says RE easily slips down the agenda if it is not prioritised.
“School authorities, including government, need to be convinced of its essential education role,” he said.
He said teenagers were strikingly religious and have an “inchoate”, or still developing, spirituality which is sometimes expressed through the alternative spirits in drugs and alcohol.
“The instinct for God can also be sublimated by visiting shopping malls (the new cathedrals), going to concerts (the new liturgies), and participating in the social media (the new churches). Surely there is a link between the lack of a religious horizon and the growing rates of depression and self-harm among teenagers,” he said.
Fr Condon said there were few references to religion among the resources provided to counteract alarmingly high levels of suicide among young people.
RE has been examined for Junior Certificate since 2003 and for Leaving Certificate since 2005, with 28,600 students at 324 schools taking it for Junior Certificate this year, as did 1,200 Leaving Certificate students at 133 schools.
The courses can also be used as a non-examinable curriculum and provide information on numerous faiths. They allow flexibility on how content is presented, according to particular Christian denominations and faith traditions.
Fr Condon said the greatest concern about schools that do not teach RE for examination is inadequate timetabling of the subject, and recommendations on time allocation are often ignored, particularly in education and training board schools. “Some schools provide just a single period for RE in the weekly timetable. Pupils are often withdrawn from RE class for support in other subject areas, as it is ‘only religion’ that they are missing.”
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