By Thaddeus Kozinski, August 22, 2010 in Pedagogy and Teaching, What is Education?
Read part 1 here.
What, precisely, then, is the tyrannical danger to which we allude? What would be the danger to the Christian school in the pluralist polis? It would not be one of overt physical force and outright coercion; it would be something like the “soft” totalitarianism diagnosed by DeTocqueville in his assessment of nineteenth-century American democracy, a kind of subtle, psychological and spiritual conditioning—eminently tyrannical because unseen. In short, through the sum total its bureaucratic regulations, court decisions, media campaigns, advertising shibboleths, educational propaganda, economic policies, artistic subsidies, and the sundry other “soft” means of non-violent, non-coercive governance that the pluralist polis employs, an ideological atmosphere is created under which citizens and institutions feel immense pressure to reject truth as a governing principle and dogmatic religious belief as part of one’s public identity.
There is, of course, ways to avoid or mitigate the regime’s formation. Christians have the powerful counteracting formative influence of the Church and Grace. And men are still free to pursue the good, true, and beautiful (at least in a private manner), even when living in a city is publicly indifferent to or even contemptuous of these transcendentals. Yet, lest we subscribe to the enlightenment, social-contract, state-of-nature, atomized individualist concept of the relation of man to society, we must recognize the inevitable influence of the city’s idols upon individual men, whether it is the true idol of the true religion, a false idol of a false religion, or the idol of pluralism, “the absent idol” of the pluralist regime.
The nature and extent of the influence of the “absent” idol depends upon the nature and extent of one’s truth-commitments. Its specific effect on those with weak truth-commitments would be dogmatic relativism, traditionally a liberal pathology but now found among the conservative elite. The effect on those with strong truth-commitments would be much more subtle: not the compromising of the actual content of those commitments, as in heresy or apostasy, but a change in the mode of their possession and exercise. What we would see is the privatization of those commitments, the privatization of truth. And this would be the idol-worshipping temptation for the aspiring orthodox Christian in the pluralist regime. It can not be called heresy or apostasy, because no Christian truth is ever explicitly denied here, yet it is in some ways more pernicious. Heresy and apostasy can be discerned through contrasting it objectively with orthodoxy, but the pluralist error cannot be so easily objectively identified; things look the same on the outside.
In places like communist China, Zionist Israel, or Islamist Saudi Arabia, for example, where the governing ideology is publicly explicit and recognizable, it is easier to observe its influence, and either consciously cooperate with it (and apostatize from the Christian Faith) or repudiate it (and possibly be martyred for it). This stark consciousness of one’s spiritual situation in the explicitly anti-Christian regime is not so available in the implicitly anti-Christian, that is, in the ideologically pluralist regime, because physical martyrdom is not an issue (unless you’re an unborn baby, an elderly person who is a “drain” on the health-care system, or a fully alive (not brain dead) but not fully functioning human being (Terri Schiavo), of course), and the religion-friendly rhetoric and mythology militates against such consciousness. Is it not the upshot of the pluralistic polis’ propaganda that the “tyranny principle” could never apply here? This denial is the very essence of its tyranny—and of the danger it poses to the Christian soul.
The Christian School, therefore, if it is to be faithful to the teaching of Christ, will differ from its secular counterpart in two essential respects. First, it will not define itself by academic freedom, but by the divinely revealed truth, and second, that truth will be the chief object of study as well as the governing principle of the whole institution.[i]
Yes, this is the essential difference, as Thomas Aquinas' College's Founding Document makes clear. But the danger is not in the integrally Christian grammar school, secondary school, or college ever consciously and deliberately embracing the ideologies of religious indifferentism, scepticism, feminism, relativism, nihilism, hedonism, materialism, the privatization of truth, or any other intellectual, moral, or religious error, but in developing a distorted conception of the public role and practical implication of those natural and divine truths. The harm would manifest itself in students and teachers who, on the one hand, feel, think, and speak as if they were in possession of the true religious and philosophical worldview pertaining to all men and demanding universal acceptance, and rightly so, but, on the other hand, suggest in their overall pattern of judgments and actions an implicit denial of the exclusive truth of this worldview.
It would appear to be a spiritual and intellectual schizophrenia, a disjoint between one’s private ideas and public acts, between theory and practice. One affirms the exclusivity of true religion, but denies that it should ever have an exclusive place in the public life of citizens, in the heart of one’s polis, andin its official political and cultural governing apparati, even in the event of a vast majority of the citizens subscribing to Christianity! The pluralist idol doesn’t command one to reject the true religion, for then it could be fought against openly and consciously, but only works underground, as it were, to ensure its practical sterility in the public square, and its compartmentalization in the consciences of Christians.
Next, a more detailed description of this spiritual and intellectual schizophrenia.
[i]Ronald P, McArthur and Marcus Berquist, A Proposal for the Fulfilment of Christian Education, chapter V.