Truth and the Christian Teacher
While it is certainly true that more and more people are increasingly concerned over the moral bankruptcy of America and our world, it seems that few are aware that our indifference to the eternal verities has produced another serious problem: our educational crisis. The root of the difficulty is that without a Christian philosophy of education our curriculum soon becomes "without form and void" and it takes the Creator's touch to bring order out of chaos once more. Back in the early decades of the last century, the pre-Darwinian era, it was commonly believed that God in His wisdom had arranged His creation in such a fashion that, while the cosmos was clearly beyond human comprehension, it was possible for us mere mortals to know the basic principles thereof: God's lows. These fundamental understandings formed a harmonious "code" that was within human comprehension; they were to be found in our Bibles and that great "book of nature," God's creation. Devout scientists then believed as they were pursuing their research that "they were thinking God's thoughts after Him." The task of the scholar was to discover the Lord's truth and make it available to the general public. The responsibilities of the teacher were clearly defined also: know the truth within one's capabilities and pass it on to the next generation.
To understand the "world view" of the pre-Darwinian era one must go back to the Puritan period two centuries earlier. They believed that God had made a "Covenant" (a contract or legal agreement) with them as He did with the ancient Hebrews; if they obeyed Him, He would bless and prosper them. Disobedience, of course, brought judgment. Their concerns were more than spiritual: they believed the "Judge of all the earth" (Gen: 18:25) was sovereign over all, the practical affairs of life too. The great scientist of this era was Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), a devout Christian who was as much interested in theology as in physics and astronomy. We make much over the fact that the heresy of their religious thinking tended to deism, but let's not throw out their orthodoxy because it could be perverted. Perhaps a couple of illustrations will help us understand how their Christian perspective came to dominate areas of learning which even most Christians would now consider "secular." In 1765 Sir William Blackstone began the publication of his famous Commentaries on the Law of England, a scholarly work that would have a great influence for many decades on this side of the Atlantic too. In the introduction he told us what should be the foundation of the legal system:
This law of nature, ... dictated by God Himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries and at all times: no human lows are of any validity, if contrary to this....
This, of course, was no new idea; it is a basic doctrine of both the Hebrew and the Christian faith, but was shared by enlightened Greeks and Romans before Christ was born. Our contemporary legal crisis is the consequence of the rejection of this important truth.
With the recognition that the Creator had provided the proper basis for the legal system and with a great revival in progress in England, reforms which had always seemed impossible now were being accomplished. In 1772 the slaves were freed in England by a decision of the King's Bench (their supreme court); slavery was contrary to God's low. There weren't very many there perhaps ten or fifteen thousand, but it was a beginning. An abolition movement came into being with William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament as their spokesman. In 1807, during the worst of the Napoleonic Wars, the slave trade was abolished; they believed they could not ask the Lord for His help while their ships were carrying slaves to the Americas. In 1833 Parliament passed the Emancipation Law, freeing the slaves in the British colonies, their islands in the West Indies, etc.. Wilberforce lay dying as the bill was making its way through Parliament, but he lived long enough to know it would pass. He died happy, knowing the world was getting better and he had done his part to make it happen. Will you and I have that comfort in our final hours?
Their concern with making their legal code conform to the moral low took them into an area which would seem strange to us. Thoughtful people had long noticed that laws were pushed through Parliament to promote the selfish interests of powerful pressure groups at the expense of everyone else; obviously the low should provide justice for all, not favors for some. Adam Smith attempted to deal with this problem in his pioneer economics book, published in 1776. He said that if people obeyed the moral low in their business transactions, they should be free to conduct their affairs as they saw fit. To take one example, a farmer should be free to raise any amount of any legitimate crop on his own land and dispose of his produce in any honest way; any attempt to abridge his freedom to do so is tyranny. He believed, as did Saint Paul, that all things could work together for good (Rom. 8:28), if we obeyed God's low. The widespread notion that Smith condoned greed is ridiculous; those who say that never read The Wealth of Nations. In fact, he is especially eloquent in denouncing the greedy in politics, business, the trades and everywhere else. The British belatedly adopted Smith's "obvious and simple system of natural liberty," but it was not until 1846 and in a time of great crisis that they did so. As with the abolition of slavery, devout Christians were the leaders in achieving this reform. This "Christian economics" became the basis of British prosperity and power in the latter part of the last century. In 1882 the English magazine, The Spectator, could say:
Britain as a whole was never more tranquil and happy. No class is at war with society or the government: there is no disaffection anywhere, the treasury is fairly full, the accumulations of capital are vast.
To get the contrast, suppose we substitute today and the U,S.A. in the above quotation. We seem to enjoy pointing out that the Soviet system just isn't working, but ours isn't working very well either. In the last few years we have managed to make ourselves the biggest debtors in the world. There is a significant difference between the "Christian economics" of the English reformers of the 1840s and the American capitalism of the 1980s. They asked if a given policy or practice is right and we check to see if it is extremely profitable and don't worry about the ethics.
If the economic accomplishments of the Victorian era were not enough to establish their place in history, Karl Polanyi2 has pointed out in his book, The Great Transformation, that "The nineteenth century produced a phenomenon unheard of in the annals of Western civilization, namely, a hundred years' peace....," - Waterloo to World War I (Polanyi is speaking of Europe and is aware there were minor wars there in those years). We should remember also that Jacques Barzun3 correctly diagnosed the ailment that was to make our age what Sir Winston Churchill called "this terrible century:" the triumph of Darwinism since 1859. But in the midst of our despair we should never forget that Christian principles have worked when they have been tried and they would work again. It is our task to proclaim the truth, the truth that "makes us free."