‘Values clarification’ :What’s the merit without the faith?

Father John A. Kiley

It was probably about 25 years ago that Values Clarification techniques first appeared on the educational scene – including public schools, parish schools and religious education programs.

Values Clarification is closely related to the fashionable self-esteem model that attempts to strengthen a child’s resolve to resist negative behavior by getting them to appreciate and embrace the principles, standards and ideals which they discover within themselves.

Values Clarification employed various ice-breakers, games, and self-examination that brought a child’s personal values into clearer light and then hopefully fortified him or her to stick by these values in spite of any external stress – peer-pressure, teasing, gang conformity, fashion. “To thine own self be true” is certainly a time-honored axiom that still has a lot of merit. A measure of self-confidence is integral to anyone’s happiness.

Yet, while Values Clarification techniques might be aggressive in encouraging a child to appreciate him or herself, its techniques remain impartial regarding the worth of these values. A child might be clear about what he or she esteems, but Values Clarification provides no basis for judging whether that self-estimation is suitable. Nazi youth groups certainly had clear values, but their values were far from worthy. Urban street gangs might know exactly where they stand on territory, power and camaraderie, but these values differ greatly from the common good.

The modern child could easily grow up thinking that recreational drug use, cohabitation, homosexuality and divorce are all commendable pursuits. The modern child could also grow up believing that abortion, ignoring church attendance and employing crude language are constitutionally protected rights.

Values Clarification might be psychologically positive; but moral Catholic educators, including many priests, who embraced Values Clarification probably had the good sense to recognize that not all values are equally admirable.

Nonetheless, there are many values that are essential to the Christian message that Catholic children should learn and appreciate. The nature of God, the value of prayer, love of neighbor, compassion toward the poor, a sense of church community, Scripture, the reality of sin and the promise of eternal life would certainly be among the primary Christian values.

No one could object were every Catholic child to understand and hold these values. Similarly, conservative elements within secular society have over the past decade celebrated and defended so called “family values.” The integrity of the family unit, the sanctity of marriage, two parent, heterosexual families, protection of the unborn, public education along traditional lines, suitable employment and other issues affecting home life have been promoted. It would be difficult for the believing Catholic to disagree with these ideals.

But, strange as it might seem, Catholicism is not primarily about values – neither

Christian values nor family values nor personal values. Authentic Catholic values arise out of a deeper reality which is a personal relationship with Christ revealed through his church.

Hence, Christianity is not chiefly about values. Christianity is chiefly about Christ – thus the name. Jesus did not enter into history to teach mankind values. Jesus did not enter into history to clarify man’s inner ideals. Jesus did not enter into history to promote one’s self-esteem. Jesus became man and instituted his sacraments so that every man, every woman, every child, every generation, might enter into a personal, knowledgeable, and committed relationship with him.

Values that are not the fruit of an earnest relationship with Christ turn, in the long run, into a cheat and a disappointment. Faith in Christ and in his church is the root and foundation of every authentic value, all genuine esteem, each enduring society.

Using the examples of the building contractor and warring king, this Sunday’s

Gospel urges every believer to make sure that he or she has the spiritual resources to insure a full Christian life rather than be disappointed and embarrassed by falling short of the mark.

The Christian life begins with Christ, leads to an authentic sense of self and then bears fruit in sharing Christ (not just his values!) with others.