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Training Our Children to be Urban Legend Detectors

Training Our Children to be Urban Legend Detectors

By Draper John Warren

Of all the cultures and all the philosophies and all the religions which have been known in the world of men, none have placed truth on as high a pedestal as the Catholic Faith.

Truth is literally our God.

Truth is one of the Divine attributes, and each of God’s attributes is identical with His Essence. Thus, we rightly say “God IS Love” and “God IS Truth,” and “God IS Good.” We worship Truth. We adore Truth. Our fidelity to the truth is a sacred duty.

Learning the Content of Truth

Parents have this awesome and fearful task of teaching their children to recognize truth—but not just to recognize it—to passionately pursue it; to seek it out wherever it may be and prize it over all possessions. In the early years of education, the focus is on the content of truth. Here is where memorization of catechism questions can be so valuable.

The Baltimore Catechism has a particular gift for using precise language and offering a presentation which not only enunciates the truths of the Faith, but explains how they relate to each other and how the Faith as a whole is an interconnected web of truths. Even when memorizing, the importance needs to be on understanding. What do the words really mean? What implications do they have? What are their practical applications in our lives?

It is so vitally important, however, that education not stop at this level. The content of truth is important, but eventually, education needs to transition into a focus on why something is true—or more precisely, how we know it is true. The sad fact is that many good Catholic children end up losing their faith when they go off and immerse themselves into a non-Catholic environment. True parenting needs to focus on readying them for this challenge.

We need to train our children to be skeptical so that they do not become skeptics. A true skeptic is one who believes that it is impossible to know anything with certainty. This belief is so widely accepted, even if only implicitly, that merely asserting that truth does in fact exist seems revolutionary. Being skeptical, on the other hand, means not being easily convinced and having doubts about things which are presented as fact.

As worshipers of the truth, our task is not only to accept and guard the truth, but to detect and reject error.

Guardians of Truth

The duty of preserving the truth doesn’t just fall upon the person who speaks, but also upon the person who listens. Just as we are guardians of our bodies and must avoid consuming harmful substances, so are we guardians of our minds and must avoid allowing untruths to cloud our intellects.

We must filter what we hear—constantly testing to determine whether it is truth or falsehood. This filtering is something our children must learn how to do—and must learn to excel at it. We must train our children to be lie detectors—to be urban legend detectors.

As worshipers of the truth, we must question everything! Even the faith itself. If we don’t question it, someone else will, and if we don’t already know the answer, our faith may be shaken.

Sacred Scripture even mentions this duty—to be able to give explanation for what we believe. 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy everyone that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.” You must first be able to satisfy yourself before you can satisfy others. You must be convinced of the rational basis of your Faith before you can present it rationally to others.

Even those whom we love and trust are capable of telling us untruths. They may not be intentionally deceiving us, but it is still our responsibility to question what we hear.

Does this sound true? Does it seem consistent with other things we know to be true?

The more incredible the claim, the more important it is to question. It is important to consider the source of information, but we must recognize that even an evil person can speak truth, and just as we have to be careful not to accept something as true too quickly, we must also not be too quick to reject something which might be true.

Faith and reason go hand in hand.

Detecting Social Memes

Social media seems to encourage the passing on of information without regard for the veracity of claims made. As an example, there was a large pro-life page on Facebook which recently shared a meme.

A Fake Meme - Historically Untrue

The meme read, “If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three who were deaf, two who were blind, one mentally handicapped, and she had syphilis, would you recommend that she have an abortion? If you said YES, you just killed Beethoven.”

The claim is just so fantastical that it had to be false. Within 5 seconds, I was able to pull up Beethoven’s family history on Wikipedia and easily disproved it. Beethoven was in fact the oldest surviving child, neither of his parents seem to have been ill, etc. What a disservice to the Pro-life Movement! While the intention is good, we cannot simply fabricate evidence we wish was true.

My thought was that anyone who sees this and discerns the lie would have a negative impression of the pro-lifers. Credibility would be lost. A little research turned up the fact that Richard Dawkins actually cites this example—in fact, he has a whole chapter on it called “The Great Beethoven Fallacy” in his book The God Delusion. He says for those who pass on this argument, extreme stupidity is the only defense against a charge of serious dishonesty.

Truth is our God

Faith and reason go hand in hand.

This is the great patrimony we have received as Catholics. Pursuing the truth can only lead us closer to the Faith, not farther from it—for the truth is our God and our God is Truth. Our own pursuit of truth should also be an example to others and help bring them to the Faith. Teaching our children to question everything and discern what is true is one of the best gifts we can give them.

Their desire for truth can be their greatest shield and their most powerful weapon.

About Draper Warren

Draper Warren

Draper Warren is the Associate Director of the IHM Coalition, an apostolate which hosts Catholic homeschool conferences all around the country. He is an alumnus of Seton, a graduate of Christendom College majoring in History and Theology with a minor in Philosophy, and is currently trying to finish up a graduate degree in Theology. He has worked as an advocate of homeschooling for over 17 years.

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