Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two Roads Diverged in a Mental Wood, and That Has Made All The Difference

            The fundamental difference between the Christian worldview and all secular worldviews is reducible to this:  God is there and He is not silent.  Because He exists, and because He has spoken meaningfully and understandably to the mind and senses He both designed and then validated by his revelation to them, we now have a well-grounded system in which facts and knowledge are metaphysically warranted, and in which learning can begin.  We can arrive not only at utilitarian technique and personal or cultural preferences, but at the knowledge and wisdom that relates all things to their rightful and transcendent point of reference.  By knowing which direction is north, you know all other directions.
            In this case, north is personal, indeed Tri-Personal, and not the ultimately impersonal, uncaring, and doomed universe of mindless matter to which students taught in a secularist context must adjust.  The difference between these two worldviews could hardly be greater.  One world is the cosmic home made for us by our gracious and self-revealing Father, a world in which history has meaning, purpose, and direction, a world in which Providence oversees all, and leads the universe and its inhabitants to their proper destiny.  The other is a hostile world unaware of, and therefore indifferent to, both its and our very existence -- an existence forfeit to ultimate destruction, a destruction to which nihilism is the only realistic and appropriate response.  One worldview teaches students that they are everlasting souls of inestimable worth; the other that they are soulless lumps of momentarily animate matter, part and parcel of a dying and meaningless world, and that whatever they might do or think, they are destined to share its inevitable doom.  Those are the options.  If the Christian worldview is true, then secular learning is not education but an exercise in nihilistic disorientation.  If, as Christians say, Christ is the Lord of all things, then nothing is properly secular.  Anything pursued in a secular fashion is, therefore, at least partly, if not wholly, mispursued.  Whether we speak of the academy, the marketplace, the public square, the laboratory, or the arena, all human endeavors, to be rightly understood and rightly pursued, must be related back to Him, back the God who, in Christ, walked our roads, breathed our air, and spoke our language, the God in whose light we now see all things.  If the Christian worldview is true, then secular education is a terrible disservice to those in whom we inculcate its impotent methods of intellection and assessment, methods that, from the beginning, banish the Transcendent as either unimportant or unnecessary.  Conversely, if Christ is not the rightful Lord of literally all things, then Christian education is a deep and wide delusion on the grandest scale because, if matter is all there is, then matter is all that matters.  In the canyon between these two possibilities, neutrality is not possible, despite modernist and postmodernist pretenses to the contrary.  One simply cannot escape the fundamental importance of the question Christ asked his disciples:  “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8: 29).  The secularist worldview answers, in effect, “Not much,” or “No one worth considering.”  To the Protestant, the answer is “You are the One by Whom, and for Whom all things were made.  You are the glue that holds the universe together” (Col. 1: 16, 17).  Upon their differing answers to that question hinges everything.
Compared to the Protestant view of reality, the secularist vision begins from a very different point, and it yields massively different conclusions.  That assertion, of course, is not new with me.  In the words of renowned atheist Bertrand Russell:

“That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noon-day brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.  Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built . . . Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow doom falls pitiless and dark.  Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little days . . . proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate for a moment his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.”[1]

            Russell is right:  The secularist worldview is the death not only of optimism, but also of any final distinction between good and evil.  To such a world as they presuppose, only despair can be an appropriate response.  Only death awaits us, the cosmic rendering of what Milton called “ever-during dark” (Paradise Lost 3: 45).  We will, according to Russell, finally be trampled under the heel of the same mindless power from which the world itself arose.  You end where you began.
Whether their secularist teachers intend it or not, the more astute students deduce from all this that life is a cosmic joke without a punch line and that they are part and parcel of a universe on its way to ruin.   They recognize the profound difference between living and learning under the love of a God who would, and did, die for us, on the one hand, and full-orbed, cosmic nihilism, on the other.  They discover that the differences between the Protestant and secularist worldviews are neither incidental nor neutral; they are antithetical.  They notice that ideas have consequences.  They learn that they must adjust to ultimate reality because ultimate reality will not adjust to them.  They learn that Allan Bloom was right about their thoughtless teachers:  Those teachers are the silly purveyors of what he identified as nihilism with a happy ending.  They paint the world with the blackest set of presuppositions and consequences, yet they think that a smiley face sticker on a spelling test can still be appropriate.  By contrast, the Protestant worldview yields an educational philosophy based upon the revelation of God in which – and only in which, things as diverse as humanity and chemistry find their proper place, neither too high nor too low.
            By emphasizing the profound differences between these worldviews, I am not ignoring or belittling what theologians call “common grace,” the enabling grace given to all God’s creatures, the grace by which we all benefit in countless ways, and which links us together in various levels of blessedness.  While real and available to all, common grace neither overlooks nor plays down the ultimate differences between competing worldviews.  Rather, common grace helps us to understand that things that are similar in some ways are not, therefore, ultimately alike.  Simply because the Christian and non-Christian worldviews intersect at various points, or simply because they seem similar in some ways, does not mean that that which divides them is insignificant.  The doctrine of common grace says that similarities between the Christian worldview and others are real but not fundamental.  We must remember that those superficial likenesses appear before the backdrop of the ultimate differences delineated above.  Those who either do not understand or do not believe in common grace are likely to elevate superficial likenesses to ultimate likenesses, with the result that absolute differences are shrunken, even willfully dismissed.
In light of those inescapable ultimate differences, things like the content of the periodic table or the notion that four plus four equals eight, do not have, and cannot have, the same significance for secular thought as for Christian thought, even though their use might be roughly parallel.  Just as epistemological warrant arises only from the God who makes known and who transcendently validates the use of our mind and senses, so also does authentic understanding (or wisdom), which comes from knowing the source, the purpose, the nature, and the end of all things.  That higher, more synthetic, knowledge is not the same as merely efficient manipulation toward a desired end, or as mastery of technique.  Because thinking persons seek to understand the real nature of all things and the relationship that ought to exist between those things, they cannot divorce the reality of, say, atomic weight from the source and proper use of atoms and from our knowledge of it.  The fact that mathematical functions are available to all does not mean that the significance and uses to which those functions are properly put are also equally available, regardless of the context in which we wish to use them or from which they derive.  
You must make a choice:
Either justice and grace are at the root of the world, or else indifference on the grandest possible scale.  We are faced with two very different worldviews as the basis for education and, inescapably, we offer them to our students.  One worldview has the best of all possible outcomes, the other the worst.  An omnipotent and omniscient God is the only sufficient basis for optimism, even in the worst of times; but mindless, indifferent matter at the core of all reality is the death of optimism even in the best of times.  If part of education is to help students know their world and learn how to adjust their responses to it accordingly, then ultimate despair is the only reasonable response to the secular worldview taught in public schools, where the Gospel of John is banished but Heather Has Two Mommies is lauded.  To think things in line with the secularist worldview and yet to inculcate the baseless optimism so characteristic of contemporary education is simply to make Pollyanna the patron saint of secular indoctrination and to sacrifice the minds of our children on her altar, the Moloch of postmodern learning.  Secular educators must either adjust their teaching to their worldview, or else get a different worldview.  Failure to do so is a crime of the intellect and an injury to the next generation.
The road forks; you must go right or left.

[1]Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1925), pp 47-48, 56-57

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