Thinking about Initiation

There are certain thinkers, like Richard Rohr, who believe “initiation” is a key part of a child’s acculturation that is missing from modern society.

My impression is that initiation is a process that is intentionally designed to produce the following outcomes in the initiate:

  1. Humbled, in the sense of each individual brought to the end of their strength;
  2. Made aware of their dependence upon a higher power;
  3. Made aware of their dependence upon the community;
  4. To emerge with a vision and a sense of purpose for their life in the context of that higher power and community.

How do you do this in a litigious society, and in such a way that is psychically healing and not destructive?

A person is humbled when they come to the end of their own strength, when they recognize their interdependence with others and with the very cosmos itself.  That is, the person who believes himself self-sufficient and perhaps even self-reliant is not humble.

This whole idea of humbling or humiliating a person is repugnant to our modern western society.  We don’t want to humble or humiliate our children.  We want to make them proud, and to think they can do anything.  I don’t think many of us would choose to put our children through an ordeal that we expected to humble or humiliate them.

Probably the closest thing I can think of in modern society to this kind of initiation is the military boot camp.  Per Wikipedia regarding recruit training:

“…if a recruit cannot be relied upon to obey orders and follow instructions in routine matters it is unlikely they will be reliable in a combat situation…the recruit who can’t work as part of a team and comply with the routine tasks of basic training, therefore, is more likely to place themselves, comrades and the mission in jeopardy.

I believe Rohr’s contention, and that of others like him, is that when we fail to intiate children into adulthood, the resulting adults will be toxic to society until they somehow stumble upon these realizations on their own, in a way that is more likely to be harmful both to society and the individual.

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