May 17, 2024

Collective Stupidity & the Urgent Need for Christian Education

The Task

If you see a turtle perched on top of a fencepost, you know immediately he didn’t get there on his own! To excel and reach their full potential in life as followers and servants of Christ, our children cannot get there on their own either. We urgently need a rebuilding of Christian schools to partner with parents in faithfully educating their children so that in facing the task which is ‘the self,’ they can become all that God is calling them to be.

This task is an urgent one. As we look around, we are watching our deceived culture fail and decay for want of wisdom. And what error needs most is the last thing it thinks of – otherwise, it would not be error. People are casting off restraint for lack of knowledge, and what knowledge there is is frequently misapplied. What our own misled and disillusioned time doesn’t know, or more accurately has forgotten, is currently killing it. Christ has faded from view – we no longer teach in the light of His Word and so we live in the stifling embrace of our own presumptuous errors. 

This is not for a lack of seers claiming to be the oracles of wisdom for the ‘moment.’ A long tradition in the West stretching back to the 6th Century BC when an intellectual movement arose in Miletus with a man later called Thales, has given the West what it came to call philosophy (lit. love of wisdom).  The story of the Western philosophical tradition – a discipline looking to search out the boundaries of human experience – is a fascinating one, but without Christ, its concern for insight, knowledge and truth led to one dead end after another, producing intellectual and spiritual exhaustion. St. Paul understood well the pitfalls of a godless search for wisdom and so placed Christ at the fulcrum of all true learning, wisdom and knowledge:

For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.  Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached (1 Cor. 1: 18-25).

The apostle did not intend to say here that intellectual and academic labour is worthless – on the contrary, Paul’s own studies, inspired discourses and letters involved real mental exertion – only that without the proper grafting, it will fail and fall like a leaf because of our sins and the wind will carry it away. Human understanding and our wisdom traditions outside of Christ can only lead to error and despair. Hence, the apostle warns, ‘Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ’ (Col. 2:8). Our captive culture needs deliverance. We must start with our children and their education.

The Danger

In the cradle of our civilization, with the ancient Polis unable to penetrate to the root of the human condition, the intellectual pride and prominence of the Grecian world with its academies and schools of philosophy steadily declined.  Cynicism and skepticism set in as people became increasingly exhausted and disillusioned with an endless proliferation of empty rhetoric and regurgitated ideas in an obviously decaying culture.  It is easy to see parallels to our waning Western world in the vice-like hold of unbelief and spiritual amnesia.  As Soren Kierkegaard poignantly observed:

Our age reminds one very much of the disintegration of the Greek state. Everything continues, and yet there is no one who believes in it. The invisible spiritual bond that gives it validity has vanished, and thus the whole age is simultaneously comic and tragic: tragic because it is perishing, comic because it continues.

Soren Kierkegaard, The Humor of Kierkegaard: An Anthology ed. Thomas C. Oden (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 220

To put the matter plainly, our society has become afflicted on all sides with a particular brand of stupidity – but it isn’t funny. Stupidity is a peculiarly human condition that arises, not because of a lack of intellectual capacity or education but because of a herd mentality formed around powerful religious ideologies – it is a collective stupidity. 

The collective folly that emerges is a kind of sociological phenomenon, cultivated in many of our schools and universities, currently vividly on display, which evidently steadily deprives people of their inner independence. This they are prepared to renounce, with varying degrees of self-consciousness, in order to adapt their behavior to the prevailing ideological situation.  In the early 1940’s, the noted Christian Martyr in National Socialist Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, had time to reflect whilst languishing in prison, on how and why the highly educated German people had become afflicted with collective ideological stupidity. His comments are telling:

The fact that stupid people are often stubborn should not hide the fact that they are not independent. When talking to him, one feels that one is not dealing with him personally, but with catchphrases, slogans, etc. that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell; he is blinded; he is abused in his own being. Having become an instrument without an independent will, the fool will also be capable of all evil, and at the same time, unable to recognize it as evil…But it is also quite clear here that it is not an act of instruction, but only an act of liberation that can overcome stupidity… The Bible states that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Thus, the inner liberation of man begins by living responsibly before God. Only then may stupidity be overcome. 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.“Von der Dummheit”: Widerstand und Ergebung. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft. S. 17–20. Muenchen, Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1951.

Merely modified instruction with some additional information or minor amendments to curriculum is not enough to avoid collective stupidity and cultural disaster – a new foundation for education is required. The need of the hour in the West is the liberating reality of Jesus Christ and the recovery of the Christian mind – the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). For the ‘fear of the Lord is the beginning (principle part) of wisdom.’ A compromising fudge of the issue won’t do. Ironically, often in the name of scholarliness, contemporary Christianity has been avidly committed to half-measures, truth to a ‘certain degree.’ But the moment that God’s people call a truce and reach a settlement with the spirit of the world, the mindset of the age, and regard education as a ‘neutral’ tool is the moment we abolish the Christian mind and overturn true Christianity. 

With a truly Christian education, the goal is not to graduate students and scholars who are neither one thing nor another (neutral) but faithful, excellent, committed disciples, readied to make their mark in the various spheres of life for God’s Kingdom and glory.  

The Daniel’s

A wonderful example of the end goal of Christian education is found in the great prophet Daniel – a captive in Babylon. Having been prepared by a thorough education in the Word of God and raised in a noble family, his gifts become evident, and he is recruited into an elite Babylonian college for scholars from among whom some would emerge to give guidance to society and government (Dan. 1:3-6). Along with some noble friends from Judah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), who were noted for their resistance to idolatry, Daniel is identified as having real potential as an advisor in the king’s court. 

The key is that these young men, because of what was instilled in them from their youth, were determined to honour God in their studies and occupations from the start. As a result, Scripture says:

God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind. No one was found equal to Daniel. So they began to serve in the kings court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them 10 times better than all the diviner-priests and mediums in his entire kingdom (Dan. 1:17-21). 

Notice that it was God who gave them understanding, not simply in theological matters, but in every kind of literature and wisdom – just as God had given wisdom to Solomon about the human condition and the natural world to the extent that rulers from around the known world came to hear him teach. Daniel and his friends went on to distinguish themselves and find high positions in a pagan kingdom and government, and there they had a profound influence for the kingdom of God. This is what Christian education should be aiming for!

This was only possible because they worked hard and were determined to trust and obey God above all. As such, they were granted knowledge, wisdom, and understanding by the Lord Himself—the true teacher. They were intimately acquainted with the truth that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The other scholars and advisers lacked the coherence, understanding, and insight that Daniel and his friends had because the foundation of their thought was wanting. 

This advantage should be even more true of the Christian student who is self-consciously subject to God’s Word-revelation in creation and scripture. In Christ, the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden so that the Christian student can avoid the pitfalls and mistakes of a godless education by seeing all things in their true context from within a scriptural world-and-life view. The literature, music, science, and technology of what we once called Christendom are testaments to God’s faithfulness in this matter, even within an imperfect culture.

We need a new generation of Daniels, Deborahs, Josephs, and Esthers, grounded and educated in the faith with their ultimate trust in God and his Word. To place our final trust in the thought and spirit of the age is to be like the unwise man who built his house upon the sand. But to put our trust in Christ and His wisdom is to be wise and build our educational house, indeed our future, on the rock. 

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