Yesterday I showed my granddaughter a picture, I think it is an advertisement for a film. It showed a scene obviously of the Ancient World with columned buildings, etc. and 2 people, one a young bearded man in a burnouse typical of the era and the other a young woman. In the lower corner of the picture were three men wearing crowns. To me, they were either Mary and Joseph or Mary and Jesus, most likely the former, plus the Three Kings. To my granddaughter, no clue. I even sang We Three Kings of Orient Are (the question was “where are the kings from?”)… no clue.
It dawned on my that this was like when I showed her the picture of Churchill. No idea. She did recognize E.T. and R2D2. My belief is that this is probably happening all over the world in urbanized areas due to two factors: rapid urbanization with a concomitant rise in the educational level and, secondly, the secularization of that society. Neither my wife nor I are religious at all, nor are the girl’s parents. But my wife was raised in a fierce Pentecostal church and I had Protestant Christianity all around me though my family was not overtly religious and I had little religious instruction. But, Good Lord! (so to speak), we know all this stuff. Younger kids know next to nothing unless they are raised in religious homes.
The loss of religion bothers me not at all, but the loss of culture does. I am sure that in Nigeria Christian and Muslim parents are aghast that their children do not know who Shango is and in Indonesia, India, China, Russia, and on and on, in all but aggressively religious countries like Iran, kids are growing up with little knowledge of the cultural heritage attached to their local religious traditions. What does that spell for the understanding of literature, history, and so forth? Can we inject some understanding without religious indoctrination? If you have ever struggled with the allusions in a poem from another culture, you know what I mean: everything has to be footnoted.