Lewis & the Public Square (Part 1)

CSL FoundationI’ve finished the first draft of my paper for the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s conference next month. The assigned topic for the Academic Roundtable is “Faith, Freedom, and the Public Square.” Participants can come at this topic in any way they choose. I chose to address the distinct difference historically between the terms “liberty of conscience” and “pluralism,” noting the first one rests on the belief that there is absolute truth to be found, while the second offers a basis of relativism.

After the historical section of my paper, I turn to how Lewis viewed the Christian’s responsibility to speak out for truth publicly. What follows is an excerpt.

One might be excused for thinking that C. S. Lewis avoided anything political, since he stated rather consistently that he abhorred politics. A tongue-in-cheek letter he received from an American organization that called itself The Society for the Prevention of Progress brought a tongue-in-cheek response from Lewis, as he told them,

While feeling that I was born a member of your Society, I am nevertheless honoured to receive the outward seal of membership. I shall hope by continued orthodoxy and the unremitting practice of Reaction, Obstruction, and Stagnation to give you no reason for repenting your favour.

Comments like that would tend to paint him as a reluctant combatant in the civil realm.

That would be an inaccurate assessment. While it is true that he despised the petty politics of his nation, he was always a staunch defender of truth in the public sphere, whether dealing with theological issues or more practical matters of governing. Why write the kinds of books he did if not for the purpose of influencing the society of his day? The Abolition of Man and its fiction counterpart, That Hideous Strength, are only two examples of his attempt to warn people of the dangers of scientism applied to education and government.

Oxford Socratic ClubLewis’s tenure as president of the Oxford Socratic Club shows his willingness to openly debate matters with those who were not Christians. He noted the importance, in a university, of Christians breaking out of their shells and interacting with those of different beliefs. Lewis never argued for a kind of pluralistic neutrality in those debates. He was forthright in how they should be conducted: “We never claimed to be impartial. But argument is. It has a life of its own. No man can tell where it will go. We expose ourselves, and the weakest of our party, to your fire no less than you are exposed to ours.”

He also knew that the Christian message had to be communicated in every way possible. One does that, he noted, by attacking “the enemy’s line of communication.” He followed this thought with one of his more famous quotes:

C. S. Lewis 1What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent. . . . It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.

Then came an appeal to put one’s theology into the vernacular in order to truly communicate the message to an unbelieving audience. “I have come to the conviction,” he concluded, “that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.”

That’s an introduction to the Lewis portion of my paper. I’ll add to it next Saturday.

Our Developing Culture

Surely you have noticed how we are living in an upside-down world lately. Today, I thought I would simply offer some wonderful examples of how our culture has been developing.

Since we have a reality TV person now as the Republican candidate for president, I thought this might be fitting for some of his supporters:

Gov't Funding

That speaks to the reality of “reality” programs as well as the idea that government has some kind of stockpile of funds to pay for virtually anything and everything.

Which leads me to this:

Popular with Kids

And speaking of liberals:

Liberals Who Believe

Here’s the solution for liberal thinking on the gender front:

Bathroom Problem Solved

There’s no way I can leave out my own profession in this litany of what’s gone wrong in America:

Director of Admissions

When College Is Free

Well worth pondering today.

Higher Education Sometimes Isn’t

Let’s compare the myth with what is all too often the reality about what occurs in a college education.

The myth is that the four years spent in the arena of higher education is a time when the student will be able, under wise direction from professors, to sift through a variety of worldviews and learn how to become discerning in a quest for what is genuine and what is not.

That has been somewhat fictional all along, simply because the culture will be a strong determinant in what is taught at colleges and universities. The idea that all sides will be fairly presented is not the usual fare. We need to remember that value-neutral education is a myth; everyone teaches from a distinctive worldview.

The reality is that parents who go into debt in the hope that college will round out their child’s educational experience may instead find an entirely different child when the experience has been completed:

What Did You Learn

Now that the radicals of the 1960s and 1970s are filling most of the professorial posts in the liberal arts programs of the universities, what else should we expect? They are now attempting to clone themselves through this new generation. They haven’t done this alone, of course; they’ve had the help of the public school system nationwide and the larger entertainment culture.

Everything now offends some students (and I use that term loosely).

Trigger Words

Well, perhaps we should provide a trigger warning for those who are now embarking on their new path in life:

Trigger Warning

There’s always this possibility, though:

Grad School

All of this is quite disturbing to me, since I teach at a university. I’m not at your typical university, fortunately. Although Christian colleges and universities are not immune to these forces, there remains more sanity when you are at an institution that continues to hold up God’s Word as the standard for learning.

Sadly, though, what we see spreading across the nation is the epitome of what I have called Snyderian Truism #11: “Higher education sometimes isn’t.”

Screwtape Proposes a Hellish Education

I’ve been scouring C. S. Lewis’s essays for pertinent comments for the Academic Roundtable in which I will be participating at the upcoming summer Lewis Foundation conference. This is work? Not really. More like fun.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast 2In the process of my scouring, I reread his “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” a followup to the fabulously successful book, The Screwtape Letters, that put Lewis on the literary map for Americans.

As a lifelong educator, just now completing my 27th year of teaching at the college level, I was struck anew and afresh by his commentary on how hell would like education to be carried out. Lewis’s critique sounds so very contemporary, despite having been written at the end of the 1950s.

In the words of the devilish Screwtape, Lewis lays out the scheme:

The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between the pupils—for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences—must be disguised.

He then describes how this can be accomplished at various levels of education, with the first example being the one closest to my experience:

At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not.

Aren’t we told continually by our social engineers that everyone deserves a college education? We’re now being pressured to pay for everyone’s college education. But college is not for everyone, a statement I make based on those 27 years of teaching I mentioned above. Some students have no idea why they are there, and many should be directing their lives elsewhere. Isn’t the Biblical concept that of a diversity of talents?

Lewis/Screwtape then takes aim at basic elementary education:

ScrewtapeAt schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud-pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work.

We wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad about failing; it would damage self-esteem:

Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have—I believe the English already use the phrase—“parity of esteem.” . . . Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma—Beelzebub, what a useful word!—by being left behind.

The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age-group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.

So what is the overall goal, according to Screwtape?

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. . . .

We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

I also can agree with, and shudder at, his concluding statement: “Of course this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will.”

A Lewis prophecy coming to pass in our day.

Chambers: Higher Education & Despair

Book Cover 1What led Whittaker Chambers to become a communist? His university education was one source, not because it taught him communism per se, but because it offered nothing to believe in. Faced with a choice between nihilism and communism, he chose the latter. Here’s an excerpt from my new book that I hope you will find enlightening with respect to the decline of higher education.

Chambers chose to attend Columbia University, close enough to home that he could save money by staying there his freshman year. “When I entered,” he explained, “I was a conservative in my view of life and politics, and I was undergoing a religious experience. By the time I left, entirely by my own choice, I was no longer a conservative and I had no religion.”

It is a statement that begs for more. How did this happen, precisely? What exact role did Columbia play in this dramatic turnabout? Who and what were the influences on Chambers at this time in his life?

He entered Columbia in the fall of 1920. Already damaged from his upbringing, having viewed the less seemly aspects of life in D.C. and New Orleans, and contemplating the social and economic crises that resulted from the recent Great War, now known as World War I, Chambers was soon to be firmly convinced that the world was on the brink of catastrophe.

He referred to it later, when he could explain it better, as a fault line. As with a physical earthquake, so also society was cracking under pressures and stresses that would ultimately lead to a cataclysmic upheaval. The problem was that most people did not understand what was happening; therefore, neither did they have a solution. During his time at Columbia, he sought to figure out the nature of the crisis and to discover the solution. In the end, the university did not provide the answer.

In effect, I was asking: Please tell me what our civilization means in terms of God and man, for I cannot make head or tail of it.

It was very much as if I had gone to a madhouse and said, cap in hand: Please explain to me the principles of sanity and sane living. Again, this is entirely without any special animadversions upon Columbia University. Exactly the same thing would have been true, in one degree or another, if I had gone to any other of the top secular universities in the country. Nor would the colleges have been at fault. Their failure merely mirrored a much greater disaster which was the failure of Western civilization itself.

Columbia was, he declared, “a citadel of the mind swaying in the vertigo of a civilization changing (without admitting it) the basis of its faith from a two thousand-year-old Christian culture to the new secular and scientific culture.” Whereas the Christian culture “placed God at the center of man’s hope,” the new secular faith, which was “exclusively rational and scientific,” replaced God with Man.

This was not indoctrination into communism, at least not explicitly. “No member of the Columbia faculty ever consciously guided me toward Communism,” he stated. “Columbia did not teach me Communism. It taught me despair.” That despair opened the door for the communist solution.

Searching for meaning in life, Chambers found that his university education provided only despair. Only much later did he finally come to realize that true meaning is found only in God, to Whom he eventually surrendered his will.

Campus Insane Asylums

On the higher education front, welcome back to the 1960s. Well, sort of.

College Protests

Yes, the latest round of protests from people with great experience in the world (aged 18-22) isn’t quite what it once was. Not that I cared for the 1960s protests, you understand. I was in college at the time myself. But this new protest movement from those who think they know everything is even more self-centered than the previous one.

It’s all aided and abetted by those who are doing the teaching, though:

Vivid Imagery

The professors who now continue the indoctrination of young minds who have been already been indoctrinated in our public school system have created some rather unrealistic expectations. Combine self-centered immaturity with a skewed view of reality and here’s what you end up with:

Can't Believe It

Socialism Will Work

The problem is that this immaturity spills over into society at large, escaping from the campuses to do greater damage. Of course, there are many adults who have the same worldview. One of them lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind this particular protest if he were completely open and honest with us:

Rainbow House

Free speech and open discussion are becoming endangered on campuses. It’s sad to witness those in charge (supposedly) cave to the pressures:

Yet Another

I’m grateful for some of our Christian colleges and universities that have not yet bowed to the new cultural sensitivity. One Christian university president made news recently, calling out a student who tried to force him to go along with the culture.

Everett PiperDr. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, related how one student wrote that he was offended by a sermon at the university that told students they needed to be more loving. You see, that sermon made the student feel bad because it seemed to indicate he was not loving enough. Thus the basis of the complaint.

Piper’s response was right on: students are being too coddled, he remarked, and then added, “This is not a day care; this is a university.” Our culture, Piper continued, “has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic.”

Piper also took a shot at fellow academics, noting,

A liberal arts academy is about learning. It’s not supposed to be a place to suppress controversial ideas. My point was to challenge my own industry — to look my academic peers in the eye and say: “We’ve caused this.”

How refreshing to hear a voice of Christian sanity in a college world that all too often looks like an insane asylum.

That’s the voice all Christians are called to be in this culture. How many of us will stand up and be counted as one of those voices?

A Toxic Campus Environment

This new outbreak of campus unrest is more than slightly reminiscent of the turbulent period between 1964-1973, which coincided with the Vietnam War. Along with the war protests, however, we also experienced a major shift in culture. Traditional morality based on Christian faith was largely jettisoned on campuses, and in the intervening years, hostility to Biblical faith and morality has only increased.

While the ostensible rationale for the current unrest is racial, what we are seeing is a bandwagon effect as the old stale tirade against the establishment raises its ugly head once again.

What’s ironic, of course, is that the establishment in the universities is predominantly allied with the leftist agenda. Apparently, they are not being leftist enough.

The demand for free speech that supposedly was the basis for the earlier protests has been turned on its head. Now it’s free speech for me, not for thee.

Free Speech

Some fragile students are offended by almost anything with which they disagree. Everyone must come around to their point of view . . . or else. And if you deny this is happening . . .

Denier

College is also supposed to be a place where one receives a “higher” education. In some departments that has become laughable, and for certain students, it’s not even a goal:

Shocking Sports Story

And where education presumably is occurring, one has to be aware of what that education is comprised:

Imperialist Religious Fanatics

Many have commented that this generation of college students is perhaps the most coddled, immature, and crybabyish (new word?) in our history. For me, it’s always comforting to resort to one of my favorite sources of wisdom:

Perspective

Proper perspective is essential. The current generation, adrift in a sea of moral relativism, quasi-Marxism, and a sense of entitlement, is oblivious to real history, to any foundational understanding of how government under our Constitution is supposed to operate, and to the Source of all our liberties and social responsibilities.