Christian Worldview® processing

  1. Christian Worldview® Education
  2. Putting Choice First
  3. Benedict or Constantine?

1

Rod Dreher attended a conference of the Society for Classical Learning and came away with an interesting take on “Christian worldview education.” Perhaps it could be summarized by renaming it “Christian Worldview® Education”:

The problems come when you start asking detailed questions, such as, “How much variation within ‘the Christian worldview’ can there be?” I took a “Worldview Check-Up” quiz to test my own orthodoxy …

[His results were 57% Christian, 14% postmodern, 14% secular and 16% Marxist.]

I suspect that my deviations came partly from answers that reflected my belief that evolution and some level of government involvement in the economy are compatible with Christian belief. Disbelieving evolution comes from a certain interpretation of the Bible. It is also hard to find clear, irrefutable Scriptural support for free-market capitalism. It could well be that capitalism is the best economic system to serve man’s needs, but there are many forms of capitalism, and it is by no means clear that it is “unbiblical” for the state to intervene to assure a more equitable distribution of goods in society.

Also, on a question about what happens when we die, I chose “we don’t know,” not because I don’t believe in heaven and hell (I do), but because as an Orthodox Christian, I do not believe we can presume to speak for God’s judgment. This conflicts with the Evangelical Protestant belief that once you accept Jesus as your personal savior, you are assured of heaven. At least some Evangelicals, as I understand it, believe that one cannot lose one’s salvation — something that Catholics and Orthodox (at least) do not believe. That is, we believe that one always has the possibility of apostasy.

Point is, there is a range of interpretation of some of these issues within Christianity. Some things really are a core part of seeing the world as a Christian. But not others. It is possible for two sincere, Bible-believing Christians to arrive at different conclusions on economic policy, for example. “The Christian worldview” is not entirely synonymous with the worldview of 21st century, middle-class, Protestant Evangelical Americans — or with 21st century American Christians of any sort.

But a classical educator had a different (compatible) focus:

He is Joshua Gibbs, who teaches Great Books at the Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia. He spoke yesterday morning about the role of wonder in education. Gibbs talked about how real art is not something that calls forth an immediate response. You have to contemplate it, turn it over in your mind for a while.

“You don’t wonder about what you merely process,” he said.

“Students aren’t formed by analyzing something,” he said. ‘You need to dwell on it for a long time before you have anything to say about it.”

The problem with worldview education, he said, is that it closes off the possibility of wonder by providing a rigid ideological measuring stick for texts. Gibbs said it gives students unearned authority over a book. Hand them “The Communist Manifesto,” they open it up, say, “Marxist!”, then case it aside. Hand them “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” they open it up, see Nietzsche’s name, say, “Nihilist!” — and cast it aside.

If I heard Joshua Gibbs correctly yesterday, he was saying that the worldview model gives a student permission to point to a text, label it, and dismiss it after only a superficial acquaintance with it. This is not real learning; this is sorting our prejudices.

I was on guard as I approached the Worldview Check-Up because I’d read Dreher’s blog and the comments. My suspicion escalated when I saw that the test was hosted at the David C. Cook website. I abandoned it as it became obvious that, as one of Dreher’s readers said, this was a absurdly obvious test to see whether one is a biblical literalist Republican.

I know a couple who met at a Christian Worldview camp or some such thing. They’re happy. They’re both quite smart. They’re productive. But I’ve seen signs of the kind of facile pigeon-holing of which Joshua Gibbs warns.

The comments so far are shaping up quite interesting:

I found the survey to be highly representative of what is wrong with Christianity as a brand. The questions were divisive and lacked imagination. I knew what the “right” answers were, but the questions were wrong. Hence I scored 3.7% Christian. (David Bowles)

This attitude is part of what pushed me from my Evangelical upbringing to Catholicism. I would ask a question and get a response about why an argument wasn’t Protestant. Not how or why it was wrong, just how it was inconsistent with a “biblical worldview.”. Pointing out that Sola Scriptura wasn’t in the Bible didn’t get a reasoned argument in its favor, it got statements that all Christians since Luther knew it to be true, and therefore I was advocating a non Christian view. They could point out whether a statement was Evangelical or not, but not why a non Evangelical statement was wrong without begging the question. (The Butler)

Peter Lawler always said too many evangelicals were afflicted with this worldview approach, and that there was something very unhelpful about it … What Gibbs says here seems right, but Lawler suggested there were deeper problems with it–that it at times made one too cozy with one’s own tribe, and too cozy with half-excusing the errors of those outside. Instead of confronting, say, a materialist libertarian on some error, and having a real-stakes argument about it, you could just say, “Well, that makes sense from you point of view.” And so it shut down real dialogue, and also made the believer too apt to let themselves be dismissed by those who would characterize everything they believed as reflecting just one worldview among others. “It’s a Christian thing, you wouldn’t understand” contains an echo of postmodernist ethnic-grievance thinking: “It’s a black thing, you would’t understand.” (Carl Eric Scott)

UPDATE: For some reason, the above links to specific comments are merely bringing up the whole Dreher blog, which wasn’t my intent. It (I think it’s called “deep linking”) used to work as I intended.

2

How can so mild a government be totalitarian? And aren’t its supporters at least somewhat sincere when they say they want to facilitate choice for everyone? Totalitarianism has less to do with brutal government than total government inspired by a vision at odds with human nature, and present-day Western governments increasingly tend in that direction.

The problem is that the systematic attempt to put choice first ends in contradiction. It means rejecting natural law and any concept of the common good based on human nature, replacing them with a conception of human rights and public order based on open-ended will, and insisting on applying the ever-ramifying demands of that conception ever more forcibly not only to law but to social attitudes and practices generally. The demand for equal freedom, thus, ends in an ever more comprehensive system of control not oriented toward any higher good but designed to keep anyone’s conception of higher goods from affecting other people.

The result is that Christian or natural law support for a principle now counts against its legitimacy. It makes it part of a system—traditional Christian morality and so on—that is considered oppressive because it places limitations on choice not based on choice itself. Even lending verbal support to such a principle is viewed as a threat to the rights of others …

These tendencies make it reasonable to ask the extent to which they are legitimate governments to whom obedience is due, or illegitimate systems of compulsion devoted to essentially destructive ends.

(James Kalb)

3

Okay: what if our system is an illegitimate system of compulsion? Other than foot-dragging, loophole-seeking at such, what do we do about it?

In the end, the contrast may be artificial, but the Circe Institute set up a discussion of the Benedict Option versus the Constantine Project. I’ll assume familiarity with the former and let John Mark Reynolds outline the latter:

I think that the Benedict option, without Constantine, will fail. That it has no hope, whatsoever. Let’s remind ourselves that Rome did not, in fact, fall. Rome continued for another thousand years, or most of us would not be Christian and we certainly wouldn’t have access to classical education. When Rome fell in the West, Rome was doing quite nicely in the East and experienced at least two major revivals and helped provide the seabed for the Renaissance of Western education that was to come.

What Constantine did was very important. He was trying to defend a city, Rome, that was no longer defensible. It had no natural resources, it was not in a great location, it was a historical accident that it became the center of the Mediterranean part of the civilized world, and so Constantine simply declared victory and moved the city. He moved the city to Constantinople. He changed the discussion and as, a result, there was an ability to continue secular education along with religious education without interruption except when the West interfered for about a thousand years.

And, of course, Constantinople was the Minas Tirith of the ancient world. Its long walls stood as a buttress against barbarian tribes who otherwise would have vented their wrath on the West and destroyed these embryonic civilizations. The Byzantine Commonwealth, by being able to spread out its culture to places like Romania and Bulgaria (who otherwise would have been barbaric) and Russia, provided a cushion against, for example, the Mongol invasion that otherwise may have destroyed Europe.

So what’s the Benedictine option without the Constantine option? It’s dead. The Constantine Project is to say something like this: ‘it’s absolutely true, we’ve lost control of Washington. We’ve lost control of New York City and Los Angeles. But we no longer define our culture geographically. So, we can go anywhere we want, create our own television and our own film, set up an alternative society that aggressively begins to seek to replace the external society. In other words, we don’t retreat: we change the rules and move to a place like Houston and simply declare victory and began to rebuild culture. I’ll also point out that it’s a great big world and just as Christianity is decaying a bit in places like the United States and Western Europe, it’s advancing in some form or another all over Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, China, and South Korea. One could imagine the Benedictine Option being best protected from the island city of Singapore, which becomes the new Constantinople.

(Emphasis added) I’d like to be a Constantine Project guy the way Reynolds describes it. But I thank Rod Dreher for setting up his target paradigm that has stimulated so much reflection by so many good people.

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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.