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The word “religious” is a term in many circles can make part of our anatomy cinch up so tight; were we sitting on a piece of coal it’d quickly turn into a diamond. Religiousness is as synonymous in practical reality with control, manipulation, and corruption as it is might be with transcendence. Perhaps to some, one person’s religiousness—in the sense of transcendence—is another person’s nightmare. Few words in the English language engender such opposite emotions as the word religious. In this piece, I want to differentiate between being devout or religious.
In going out to speak about Comenius, in light of Labyrinth of the World, it has been a concern of mine as to how perceptions of him might be affected. Comenius is known for many works other than his first. In many circles, John Amos Comenius is an educator with religious tendencies. In others, he is “the great Moravian,” which has religious implications to some or it can play more into Czech heritage interests. Comenius is seen by some as an “Enlightenment Thinker.” To others, he is a humanitarian. Still other perceptions exist about him. In all my reading, I have never observed a single person being seen in so many different ways—some of which are even antithetical to one another. It seems, everyone wants a piece of Comenius as if he were “one of them.” I am in no way here to clarify his actual associations.
Labyrinth of the World might seem religious to some
Labyrinth of the World has a specific and definite focus that will be seen as religious by religious people. However, I would like to posit that Comenius was devout instead of religious. Why would I tender this differentiation? It appears to me that religious concerns are static and establishment in nature: that is, they protect or uphold a social order based on religion. Arguably Comenius was part and parcel of the mix of free thinking in the Czech culture that produced him.
Comenius was first stripped of the idea of establishment by his commitment to understanding the Bohemian Brethren: which was a rejection of the authority of “the church,” a focus on a devout personal faith, voluntary poverty, service to others, and being peace makers. Additionally, when the rulers of the Czech realm showed him “the door” to exile, his understandings, as noted above, became the cutting edge of his way of living in practical terms.
Comenius’s devout understandings were not static ideals of establishment. Instead, his approach coopted and contrasted the educational elitism of his day. By now, 340 years later, we cannot deny the impact of his outcomes. Revered today as the father of classical education—it is for good reason. He pressed his devoutness into practical care and concern for others, which served their needs. He gave to all peoples and nations through education, valuing each person’s ability to learn and inspiring educators with new techniques and approaches for encouraging the nascent capability in every student. He worked with people dissimilar to his own devout understandings rather than ethnocentrically approaching them with his ideas or withholding help if they would not conform to his. Comenius did not use his focus or his devout practices to enrich himself. He died penniless but having left the people of the world with a trove of works that continue in impact unto this very day.
Comenius saw the mark of God in each person whether society agreed with it or not. This understanding played directly into his focus on educating women and indentured people’s children. Comenius saw God in nature and sought to develop children in learning through what was observable in it. Comenius understood children to have God-given energy that ought not be stifled in rote and memorization at a young age—but harnessed through play and acting out what was learned in the classroom as a way to press it deeper into their psyche. Comenius’s devout understandings led to affecting culture and society by raising educational capability, by educating people successfully with his ideals, and showing the benefit of having done both.
Comenius showed “the devout” to be an internal focus and an understanding that effects every part of life in the way of service, coaching, inspiring, giving, being available, responding rather than reacting, and many other aspects. Religiousness has proven to be a static that seeks to maintain its arbitrary ideals for no particular reason other than establishment, appearances, or tradition. Religiousness is concerned with rules and enforcement. In a period of history littered by religious wars and competing religious ideas—torturing, killing, and forcing compliance in the name of various religions—Comenius was a breath fresh air wherever he went because he was about inspiring what could be inspired.
I expressed my concern over the perception of Comenius being dismissed today as religious, by institutional intellectuals—because of the story behind the story of Labyrinth of the World, to a leading scholar. She affirmed my concern, but noted such discussions have already been raised with little qualm. She specifically commented that Comenius’s outcomes bring him welcome among academics, scholars, and intellectuals because there seems to be a significant difference between what motivated him and what motivated others similar to him before and since. I am averring that difference is between being devout or religious.
Comenius stands out as a beacon in this regard. I believe his massive success and appeal are specific to his quiet devoutness that worked itself out in the mastery of benefiting others through education. At the same time, his life lay waste in human terms yet he seemed unconcerned on that point. In many ways, he far succeeded most of his religious counterparts of the same period. Mahatma Gandhi is credited for having said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians because they are so unlike your Christ. Dare I say, Gandhi must never have read about Comenius. Had he, Gandhi would have found someone much closer to the Christ he read about in holy writ. To me, Comenius serves as a modern example of what can be done when we press our understandings of the transcendent values into practical uses to serve others rather than trying to establish and maintain an order according to our perspective. The appendix about Comenius and his educational and living exploits are available in the back of the new Labyrinth of the World, published Dec. 21, 2021. It features many photos, in full-color as well as source material for expanded reading.
How are you encouraged to be devout rather than religious? If you are unsure, consider getting Labyrinth of the World for yourself: https://www.labyrinthoftheworld.com/shop