By Thaddeus Kozinski, September 14, 2010 in Pedagogy and Teaching, Professional Development, What is Education?
What, then, are the effects of this peculiar idolatry of pluralism on colleges? One symptom is curriculum deformation. Christian colleges tainted by pluralist worship, though orthodox, will tend to exclude from their history, economics, and theology syllabi those aspects of Christian social teaching that condemn or contradict, or even just question, reigning ideologies; these teachings are deemed too “controversial” or “not appropriate for young people.” This, in fact, may be true to some extent, and perhaps they are better encountered in upper level classes. Yet often the very controversial issues addressed in these teachings are brought up and dismissed anyway in the guise of “common sense” or “just the way things are,” that is, in a one-sided manner. For example, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, among other popes, have condemned the theological, anthropological, and ethical errors that inform the modern theory and practice of unrestricted, consumerist capitalism, yet this papal teaching tends to be censored from class in the pluralist-infected "conservative" Catholic college; in its place students might be given an article from the Wall Street Journal editorial page that addresses this “inappropriate” issue by supporting these very errors.
Again, how many “orthodox” Christian colleges ever discuss in history, philosophy, or theology class even the existence let alone the validity of the severe papal criticisms of the modern, liberal, secularist conception of political order? How many graduates of orthodox Christian colleges have read Gregory XIV’s Mirari Vos of 1832, for example, wherein the Pope describes the modern interpretation of liberty of conscience and separation of Church and state as “insanity.” How many students are assigned to read the encyclicals that Leo XIII wrote before Rerum Novarum, encyclicals such as Immortale Dei wherein the pope suggests that the ideal political order—even in democracies—obtains when there is official recognition of and obedience to the moral and spiritual authority of the Catholic Church?
Among those who consciously acknowledge the existence of objective truth, and who embrace the fullness of this truth in the Church, it is tragically the more honest, good-willed, and intelligent who are often the most susceptible to privatizing their truth claims, due to the powerful effects of pluralist formation. They attempt to embrace both political pluralism and religious truth in the same impossible hug, to offer incense to both Christ and the pluralist god. They begin to regard the Catholic confessional state, the perennial political ideal in Christian political theology, as “all well and good in theory” but, of course, “practically impossible in the modern day—and not appropriate for America.”
Leo XIII’s words here would certainly be deemed outside the pale by the majority of Christians today, and either completely ignored or glibly interpreted as being the “old” or “outdated” Christian teaching on the subject:
It would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for state and church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced. . . . she would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed the favor of the laws and patronage of the public authority.
That Christianity should ever gain “the favor of the laws and the patronage of public authority” would mean, of course, the dismantling of the pluralist idol. Censorship of the popes’ hopes for such a dismantling (by peaceful conversion, of course) from the curriculum of Christian colleges is one primary example of the subtle but devastating effects of the pluralistic zeitgeist, and represents the deformation of the sensus Christianus of otherwise orthodox Christians by the privatization of truth. The exclusion or misinterpretation of those uncomfortable but orthodox aspects of Christian teaching from the curriculum deforms the student’s soul, especially because he has no reason to suspect it.
Another symptom of pluralist perversion is an attenuation of the Christian moral and spiritual environment of the college. Christian students first entering a college have been exposed to the secularist, pluralist culture for several years, a culture where “freedom” rules. And most Christian families and parishes have unwittingly aped this culture: a father hesitates to get rid of the Internet in his child’s room, even though he suspects his teenager’s pornography watching, because his children “can’t live in a bubble”; a mother, against the father’s impotent wishes, delegates to her teenage daughter veto power over which high school she is to attend because “she has a right”; liturgical beauty and trenchant preaching are sacrificed and diluted to appease the inflated egos of liturgists and so as not to disturb the therapeutic well-being of the “people of God.”
When students who are formed in this culture first encounter life at an integrally Christian and small-scale college, with its pervasive atmosphere of robust Christian truth and demanding moral standards, they will have much difficulty in adjusting to it, and most likely will become a source of disorder and hostility. Sometimes, by the power of grace and truly loving teachers, a problem student may learn to adjust without causing undue damage to the college; however, for those who can’t adjust, the result of their continued presence could be serious corruption of the college's Christian atmosphere. Teachers and administration, fearing to offend the pluralist taboos of “inclusion” and “freedom” (or just because less students means less money) might be hesitant to conduct sufficiently in depth interviews to disqualify those prospective students deemed incapable of adjustment; this is seen as either too “impractical” or “controversial.” To justify the non-expulsion of disorder-causing students, they might appeal to the pluralist spin-off ideology of “spiritual Darwinism”: “If the good students get corrupted, well, it’s primarily their fault—they just weren’t strong enough to survive. We’re not a monastery, after all.” Therefore, instead of being more vigilant regarding the Christian quality of students (while always being ready, in charity, to accept the exceptional troubled student in the hope of the power of grace), the pluralist Christian college deliberately tolerates intolerable corruptive influences and non-Christian elements; for, such a milieu provides “more options,” making the students’ moral decisions more their own, more free, more heroic—after all, even a Christian college should bear some resemblance to “the real world.” The result is that the more cunning, cynical, impure, and worldly students dominate the culture of the college, with the more innocent students surrounded by unnecessary temptation and hostility, left wondering why their Christian college has to feel so much like the corrupt elements in the outside world.
A third symptom of worship at the pluralist altar is devotion to the Mother of Pluralism, Success. Since the freedom of any institution to exist and thrive is explicitly guaranteed by the pluralist state—as long as one “works hard enough”—any failure at survival and thriving would necessarily be the result of some “imprudence,” “overzealousness,” “inexperience,” “indolence,” “weakness,” “naiveté,” “rigidity,” “intolerance,” or “idealism,” that is, some moral or otherwise idiosyncratic failing on the part of the college's teachers, administration, or advisors, a culpable failure to adapt to and successfully compete in a “free” environment. Since according to the mythos of the pluralist, “free-market” society, success is guaranteed for those with enough desire and effort, failure is a sign of not having a strong enough will, and ultimately, a sign of God’s disfavour—for God will help those who help themselves. Thus, success, not fidelity, becomes the overriding spiritual concern and the infallible sign of holiness, and what might really be a combination of Machiavellian cunning, spiritual megalomania, Calvinist materialism, and Pelagian naturalism becomes, by some incantation, holy prudence and counsel, Christian realism, and supernatural fortitude. And thus the “success” that usually comes from wilful self-assertion and ruthless domination of others, or just from a “prudent” (read, disloyal and cowardly) compromise here or there, is seen as indubitable proof of God’s favour.
The success of any true Christian college is ultimately based upon God’s permission and grace, not the sufficiency of human effort, no matter how diligent or good-willed. Sometimes God allows an institution, even one that is doing God’s will in a heroic manner, to fail for the sake of some greater good. In attempting to serve two gods, the Pluralist Christian college retains just enough Christianity to maintain its allegiance to the “spiritual” God of Jesus Christ, but enough of the world to appease the “practical” god of pluralism. In the end, this means ultimately sacrificing the former to the latter to maintain its comfortable survival and worldly respect, the rewards eagerly offered by the prince of this world. The pluralist Christian attempts to serve mammon along with God, in disobedience to Our Lord’s command. If Christians are to succeed in conquering the culture for Christ, they must be detached enough to accept worldly defeat—if God so wills it—in imitation of Christ crucified.
All this said, however, spending one’s formative years in an integrally Christian college is as near a guarantee to preventing the pluralist deformation and schizophrenia as one could have. A traditional liberal-arts curriculum elevates the tastes, ennobles the sentiments, and orders the mind to truth; Socratic questioning forces critical reflection on the content and coherency of one’s ideas; a vigorous and integrated life of grace and prayer keeps the mind and heart strong, pure, integrated, and focused on Jesus Christ. Moreover, an integrally Christian college offers a curriculum that includes the writings of thinkers who articulate an integrated form of Christianity in which thought and action, in private and in public, are properly harmonized. Most decisively, students are encouraged to treat such writings with the utmost reverence and seriousness, despite the uncomfortable repudiation of pluralist ideology they might contain. This kind of formation would serve as the best immunization from the disease of the privatization of truth.