After finishing high school I decided to hang around town for a couple years and take classes at our local junior college. These days junior colleges have morphed into career and technical schools. But our local JC was one of the most academically demanding schools of its kind in the country. It offered courses in all the academic disciplines, including Philosophy.
The course that caught my eye was Philosophy 210: Logic. My debate partner in high school had always touted logic as a very good thing. Indeed he seemed to think he was Mr. Spock. So, little guessing what I was in for, I signed up to take the class. The result was a disaster–the only course I ever failed. I did manage a “B” in it the second time around, mostly because I was able to figure out both formal syllogisms and informal fallacies. But nothing in my previous schooling had prepared me for the kind of rigorous thinking required by Logic.
Looking back, I am not surprised by this. America’s public schools have, at least since the end of World War II, been much better at teaching students what to think then they are at teaching them how to think. Our public schools reflect the dominant ethos of our culture, and that ethos is secular humanism and its child, political liberalism (not to be confused with the classical liberalism of America’s founders). The two are now all but inseparable.
The trouble with modern liberalism is that it is self-contradictory. That is why Duke University scholar Stanley Fish, in an essay in his book There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech: And It’s a Good Thing Too, says liberalism cannot and does not exist. Fish’s analysis goes beyond the usual Christian argument that liberalism sets up the denial of all absolutes as an absolute of its own. He shows how liberalism, though it claims to be based in reason, actually opposes reasoned discourse and, while preaching moral freedom, actually sets itself up as a moral arbiter more rigorous and self-righteous than the most ardent Christian fundamentalist. If too many people knew how to think they might reach the same conclusion themselves.
Curiously, when evangelical Christians dominated American education in the nineteenth century they were far more tolerant than the supposed advocates of toleration today. William McGuffey, whose readers taught several generations of Americans to read, was a Presbyterian pastor and one-time president of Ohio University. McGuffey was careful to introduce students to the great thinkers of the past and present, and to teach logical thought directly and indirectly. Not only the writings of Washington and Jefferson, but also those of such political thinkers as Locke, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke would have been familiar to a student by the sixth grade.
Secular liberalism is becoming increasingly anti-Christian, and it is indoctrinating today’s students accordingly. The effect of this can be seen in the increasing anti-clerical, anti-Christian, even anti-Semitic state of what passes for thought on most of our state-run campuses. Even if you were blessed to have received a private or classical education, you may have imbibed a great deal of the modern world’s view of things from its other great tool of propaganda, the mass media.
Our colleges and universities, with a few exceptions, have become purveyors of the dominant American ethos. They are the most post-Christian parts of what is increasingly becoming a post-Christian society. This society has many of the features of the pre-Christian society to which the Apostles ministered. Children growing up in Rome were no less aware of the basic tenets of Christianity than are most college students today–raised as they have been in agnostic homes and never having been exposed to Christian teaching or ideas.
So Paul gave a strong command to the Romans: “Don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV). As it was for those early Roman Christians, so for us also the challenge is to resist with all our might being just like the rest of the world. We need to challenge every assumption and every assertion this world makes, knowing that some of them will be true, but that a lot of others will be false when measured against the standard of God’s revealed truth.
The trouble is that so few of us do this. Survey after survey has shown that Christians differ little from this world in their assumptions, attitudes, and lifestyles. This needs to change, and the way to change it, Paul tells us, is by the renewing of our minds. The mind, after all, is the seat of our decision-making. If we are not to conform to the world’s patterns, we must learn to think as Christians.
We live in an overwhelmingly “feeling” culture. We talk, even in the Church, about the “heart,” and of course the heart is important. But when feelings and emotions become, to the exclusion of all others, the chief guiding force in our lives, we are in real danger. Feelings are notoriously fickle. Yet even Christians seek ever-more exciting experiences. We are frequently told how to feel, or how to react emotionally. At this year’s “Spirit Song” at King’s Island, the only artist who didn’t tell everyone what they ought to do in response to the music–and by extension how they should feel–was Jeremy Camp. I applaud him for it.
So as you begin this year in your education, let me encourage you to do a few things. First, recognize that your faith is founded in God’s revealed truth, not in the supposed conclusions of reason–a reason modern thought professes but, in fact, denies. Second, let your thinking and acting be guided by God’s truth. Third, be more rigorous in your thinking than your classmates, or, if they are secular liberals, than your teachers. Finally, don’t take the world’s lies lying down but stand for the truth. The only way to do these things is with a renewed spirit.