Living near a major university means that I have many neighbors who never quite got out of the 1960s. They are fond of recalling all the glories (real or imagined) of that decade. In particular they like to talk about how the idealistic youth of that decade challenged all the great verities on which our (to that point) racist, wealthy, and complacent society was built.
The truth is a bit different than these folks remember. There was progress toward equal rights for all. Some think the sexual revolution of the 1960s was a major advance. But I have seen things that convince me that all we have done is exchange one set of sexual inhibitions for another, while creating what some call a “culture of sexuality,” on our college campuses.
Worse, there were orthodoxies, ways of thinking, that went unchallenged then and that remain our prevailing assumptions today. The term “orthodox” simply means the generally accepted truth. So not only religions, but all fields of human study and endeavor have their accepted orthodoxies. Further, the defenders of academic orthodoxies can be at least as mean-spirited and intolerant as any other defender of an established faith. There are many areas where established orthodoxies need to be challenged. We all, from time to time, need to look at the fundamental ideas inherent in our chosen professions and see if they are still valid, or were ever valid. Following are three of those areas where prevailing assumptions need to be challenged.
Some of you may recall my rant about the shortcomings of our public schools that appeared here last Fall. Since then I’ve discovered the work of E. D. Hirsch, Jr., particularly his The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them. Hirsch traces the origin of modernist ideas in education back to William Heard Kilpatrick of Columbia Teachers’ College. He then exposes, citing scientific studies, the fallacies in almost all of these ideas. He makes a case for requiring that certain facts in every discipline be mastered in each grade. He also explains something I wondered about when I was at Ohio University, why the school of education was a laughingstock among the other departments, a situation common at most of our universities.
If you are a student in any state university’s school of education, you should read Hirsch’s book. Having read it, I wonder what Hirsch would say about the latest fad, the teacher as classroom manager. In this model the students teach one another while the teacher keeps order and facilitates discussion. All that needs to be said of this model is said in John Owen’s Confessions of a Bad Teacher.
Second, there are the assumptions of modern science. I have long based my criticism of modern biology on the existence of a heresy within the Church of Darwin—Intelligent Design. It has been fashionable for about twenty years for Darwinists to lump advocates of intelligent design with young-earth creationists. But that is simply a way of dismissing the inconvenient truths they have discovered. Most advocates of intelligent design are not orthodox Christians. They are scientists who found Darwin contradicted by what they saw in their microscopes.
But a far more cogent discussion of Darwinism’s underlying (and unproven) assumptions is offered by Philip Johnson. Johnson, an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, California, and a retired law professor at UC Berkeley. He demonstrates in two books, Darwin on Trial and particularly Reason in the Balance that there is plenty of reason for Christians to challenge the basic assumptions of Darwinism. He is also not afraid to point out how and why we have failed to do this in the past. He is, despite what Wikipedia says, not the “father of intelligent design. He hardly mentions it. If you are planning a career in the “life sciences” you need to read his two books.
Finally, if you’re interested in business and finance, you need to be challenging the basic assumptions of today’s free market capitalists. Economist James Rickards, in The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the international Monetary System, points out how we have failed to learn the lessons of the 2008 mortgage collapse. His conclusions, at least about the United States, are seconded by William D. Cohan in an article titled, “Wall Street Rises Again: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid,” in the January/February Atlantic. Philosophically I am a free market capitalist. But there is little resemblance between the free market and the present system in this country, in which an oligarchy of leaders have formed an alliance of big government, big labor and big business gaining power for themselves and creating a very dangerous situation for the rest of us.
Our founders, who gave us that admirable system of checks and balances among the branches of government, also protected business from too much government interference by guaranteeing the right ot contract, while at the same time giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. The influence of the big banks needs to be curtailed and the proper distance between government and business re-established. Further, sensible regulations are needed. Rickards thinks it’s already too late to prevent the next collapse, which may well be far worse than the last one. All this doesn’t even touch upon the huge salaries and bonuses being paid to those bringing about the next disaster. Christians need to challenge the sin in our “free market.”
The one place where orthodoxy seems most under attack is in Christianity. This is where such challenges are needed least. Ben Franklin is supposed to have said that Christianity is the greatest religion that’s never been tried. We already know what God has done for us and what that should impel us to be and do. If we’ll stick by the essential truths of our faith, we will find it easier to challenge the passing orthodoxies of our society and its structures and beliefs. Indeed in the end only Christian orthodoxy will give us the foundation we need for such a challenge.