Two things conspired to produce this post. First, I’ve been having a discussion with an atheist on one of my blog entries. As it so often tends to happen, the conversation appears to be reducing to flawed understandings of Christianity in general and definitions of God, etc. Second, a friend posted an essay by one of my favorite authors, Dorothy Sayers, called the “Lost Tools of Learning.” Quoting:
Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?
This basically describes my experiences as an apologist over the last ten years. One labors to explain or defend a particular point of Christian theology or world view on the impression that the other person understands the words and concepts to begin with, only to discover that nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, they believe that the Christian God is like Zeus, or Thor. They believe that God can be detected empirically, as though if only you could find Mt. Olympus you might find Zeus. On and on I could go, but here is the problem…
Nearly all of these people grew up in the Christian Church. If they are ignorant and untrained We are the ones largely responsible. But, you might say, how could we possibly communicate the real truths of Christianity in Sunday School, or even confirmation class? We have them for just a short period of time and much of that must be devoted to candy bar fundraisers and movie nights! If they cannot read for comprehension well or think cogently, surely that is a problem for our public education system, and if they can’t deal with it, how shall we?
As an apologist, my time is largely spent in helping ex-Christians come to recognize what they are actually rejecting. So often they disbelieve me! They didn’t hear that in Sunday School or any sermon they ever listened to!
There is a close connection between educational patterns in our country and in the church and in trends towards disbelief (atheism) and heresy (the cults). At stake are the souls of men and so on that basis alone it is imperative that we consider extreme measures. The most extreme is one of attitude: for so long, Caesar was our ally. Caesar had in mind to promote the Christian world view because in theory and in principle, it was the Christian world view that promised security and freedom. But Caesar is no longer our friend and ally. Probably, it was never best to rely on him in the first place. The extreme measure is needed: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God’s what is God’s.
The responsibility to educate our children belongs to each individual family and it is the Church’s responsibility to ensure that the families within it are able to transmit the faith effectively and robustly.
While it is true that the souls of men are at stake, in our generation and the next, a truly educated class of Christians- who can speak and read well and argue cogently- will have a positive effect even in public society. For Christians understand what it is like to conform themselves to principles recorded on paper rather than the whims of their heart alone, and the rule of law rests on the same ability, as I argue in this essay published at Laigle’s Forum.
So what do we do? I have some ideas. Many have ideas. But first we must decide that ideas or not, the current climate is toxic and so much as it is in our power, we must take responsibility for ourselves and our own communities, for judgment begins in the Church. Let God judge those outside.