Sunday, July 23, 2006

On the church and the university
Academic freedom ≠ selling out to secular humanism
Historical perspective is always useful in cases such as this. Let us go back about 1700 years, to ancient Athens. The Athenian Academy was the foremost educational institution of its day--MIT, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and the Sorbonne rolled into one. It was also an overtly pagan institution, whose curriculum was based almost exclusively on the classic Greek philosophers, poets, playwrites and rhetoricians--an awkward thing in an overtly Christian empire.

Nonethless, it was to the Academy that the parents of men such as Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus sent their sons. They wanted them to have all the knowledge a man would need in a position of leadership, whether it was secular or ecclesiastical. They were not particularly worried that their sons would imbibe too deeply at the springs of pagan knowledge, for they were confident in the Christian formation they had given them in the home. Thus, Basil was able to rub his shoulders with some of the leading pagan philosophers of his day--including a young member of the Imperial Family named Julianus--and come away with his wits sharpened through debate on the merits of Christianity over paganism. Not for them the challenge of Tertullian, "What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?"--they managed a synthesis of Christianity and classical culture that enriched both (See Jaroslav Pelikan's "Christianity and Classical Culture" for an analysis of how the Cappodocian Fathers used pagan philosphical terminology and categories without being seduced by them, in order to resolve the pressing theological issues of their day).

I think the problem is not the secular university per se, but that we, as parents, generally fail to armor our children against the blandishments and temptations that these institutions offer. We have not equipped them to push back against the arguments and the culture of the intellectual establishment, largely because we are not ourselves prepared to do so. Thus, our reflexive response is not engagement, but withdrawal--we either look for alternative institutions which will shelter our children from the world (even at the expense of a first-rate education) or we turn our backs on education altogether. Neither approach is satisfactory, for neither prepares our children to deal with the world as it is. They are not taught to be as innocent as babes and cunning as serpents, and thus are easy meat when they hit the pavement.

We, as parents, must take more responsibility for the moral and spiritual shaping of our children. We must become more conversant in our faith, and be able to confront alternative sources of authority in our children's lives. If we do this, we can send our children anywhere, confident in the strength of their faith founded in knowledge and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

If Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great could go through the Academy unscathed, I fail to see why our children cannot deal with the Ivy Leagues. And unless we, as Christians, make the long march through those institutions (as the radical humanists did from the 1960s to the present day), I fail to see how we can hope to recapture the culture whatsoever.
- Stuart Koehl

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