The quality of relativistic education

Picking up on my own comment to yesterday’s “Agenda of some professor’s” post. . . .

Let us set aside the way some university professors deliberately and maliciously try to destroy their students’ faith, at a time when those students are eager to have their faith destroyed so that they can participate in the rank debauchery that characterizes most university campuses.

What kind of EDUCATION can students get where their professors teach them that Western civilization is worthless, that reason is invalid, that knowledge is unnecessary, that students can construct their own reality, and that there is no such thing as truth?

I guarantee that the level of discourse, the intellectual sophistication, and the mental development students receive at my Patrick Henry College–with its great books, courses in logic and rhetoric, and substantive programs–is far better than that students will receive at the postmodernist universities.

Yes, students who study engineering or some of the other technical fields can learn them at the big elite universities. And it is possible for grounded, self-disciplined, eager-to-learn students to pick good courses and professors from the vast smorgasbord or to educate themselves in the academic atmosphere. And other students may not learn anything, but they can learn how to do things, which may be all that is required in many professions today. But it is possible for students in some programs to come out worse educated than they came in, with the knowledge they came in with destroyed.

Doesn’t it concern parents, alumni, and taxpayers that it is the universities, ironically, that have become the centers of anti-intellectualism, opposition to knowledge, and narcissistic ignorance?

What is the educational value of institutions like that?

I suspect that most parents, not to mention their children, care nothing about the content or quality of the education they are receiving. Elite universities carry prestige, and that is all they care about. Ordinary universities can give tickets to a job, so that is all that matters. Many parents and students do not care about anything else, including the harm these places can do to young people’s faith and morals.

I think we need Christian institutions of higher education not just to protect young people but to keep learning alive. The church and specifically the monasteries kept learning alive through the barbarian vandalism of the Dark Ages, and I fear that we are back in that state. We need Christian universities, not to just colleges, to teach also the engineers, scientists, and technical fields, since those too, I think, are in danger in our relativistic intellectual climate. That’s why I wish the best for Baylor and other such ventures. But, in the meantime, support alternatives such as Patrick Henry College.

OK, maybe I am overstating the case. But don’t I have a point?

Working men as heroes

John Nolte hails a positive trend in television. Some of the most popular reality shows celebrate WORK. From The Return of the Working Class Hero:

We marvel at the men populating “Ice Road Truckers,” “The Deadliest Catch,” “Dirty Jobs,” and “American Chopper.” Men who cuss and smoke cigarettes and lose their tempers and get the job done. We marvel at the creativity that gets them through, and we marvel at those fascinating six minute segments taking us into the dit-dit of How It’s Made. We marvel enough that every new season brings another guy just doing what he does so well. This year it was exterminators. Like eating cotton candy or slowing to pick up the grisly details of a car crash, watching the fame-addicted humiliate themselves may well fascinate, but it doesn’t feel very good inside. But watching the people who take enormous pride in the difficult work they do makes this the healthiest television trend since Fox News upended the liberal media monopoly.

While the cultural divide grew as wide as flyover country between those who create television and those who watch it, we’ve seen the working class pretty much relegated to buffoonish sitcom husbands; balding, heavyset men, married to impossibly lovely wives who bubble with love but also deliver sharp zingers that manifest the contempt she (and the show’s creators) have for their mate’s humble station in life. Gone are the lunch bucket heroes. They’ve long been replaced by lawyers, doctors, perfectly tailored detectives, and Manhattan lofted friends.

But something good is happening on the higher-numbered channels where the nobility of hard work plays out in such a fascinating way that “The Deadliest Catch” has been “synergized” into a video game and a family of motorcycle builders are treated like movie stars by movie stars. Somewhere along the line, narcissism on parade took a back seat to the virtues of the men in flannel. Yes, it’s our dads, uncles, and neighbors.

I love those shows. Don’t you? Notice that they are celebrations of vocation!

Favre becomes a Jet

This is depressing on so many levels: With Hired-Gun Favre, the Jets Embark on a New Era.

Christian Olympians vs. Chinese law

Many Olympic athletes kneel to pray before or after their event, point up to heaven to give glory to God, and witness to their faith when they are interviewed. Such public displays of religion are illegal in still-communist China. Some countries are forbidding their athletes from expressing their faith to respect Chinese law. The USA is not. Read this article: In Spite of Rules, Olympic Athletes Say They Won’t Lose Faith.

Do you think the Romans 13 injunction to obey the governing authorities applies to this?

The agenda of some professors

Richard Rorty, who died not long ago, was a major postmodernist philosopher who reasoned that since we can never know an objective truth, we must instead pursue pragmatism. He was also a popular professor at Wellesley, Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Stanford. Rorty at least tended to face up to the implications of his beliefs and was honest about what he wanted to achieve. Here is what he thinks of his students, their parents, and the beliefs they tried to instill in them. In this agenda, he is by no means alone:

The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students . . .

When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank. . .

You have to be educated in order to be . . . a participant in our conversation . . . So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours . . .

I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei [domination free] about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents . . . I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause ( “Universality and Truth,” in Robert B. Brandom [ed.], Rorty and his Critics. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000, pp. 21-22).

Why do parents send their children to colleges that subject them to this sort of teacher?

HT: James Tallmon & Rob Spinney (two Patrick Henry College profs who are emphatically NOT like this!)

China vetoes the President’s worship plans

President Bush had planned to worship at an unregistered house church when he visits China for the Olympics. But the still-communist Chinese government has put the kibosh on those plans. For good measure, officials have sent pastors and other potential dissidents out of the city while President Bush is in Beijing, lest he meet with them and make a statement critical of the regime. See Bush’s worship plans in China » GetReligion .

Absolutes or Relativism

In a tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Masha Lipman describes two worldviews:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a premodern giant who defied the limits of human ability and the forces of nature. His world was that of ethical absolutes, unshakable values, spiritual discipline and self-sacrificial commitment. . . .

Solzhenitsyn’s life and his writing were an uncompromising war against the communist regime. His grim courage and selfless devotion, comparable to that of early Christians, gave him moral superiority over his communist adversaries. He defeated Brezhnev’s Politburo, and, instead of being killed or jailed, was expelled from the country.

But for all the admiration his books and personality inspired, his teachings sounded too rigorous to his contemporaries, at home and abroad. For his part, he couldn’t accept the relativity and uncertainty of modern life.

Russia’s destiny was more than a literary or a scholarly subject to Solzhenitsyn — it was his mission. The perennial Russian debate of the past 150 years has been between Westernizers and Slavophiles, or those who promote nationalist ideas of Russia’s special path. Solzhenitsyn’s opponent in this debate was the only other man of an equal moral stature — Andrei Sakharov, the academic and human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. Both men sought to liberate Russia from communism, and both were almost inhumanly brave in their challenges to the regime. But Sakharov, a Westernizer, saw a solution in “convergence” with the West, which he regarded as a world of liberty and justice, while Solzhenitsyn, a nationalist, looked for Russia’s salvation in its historical, cultural and religious roots.

So there is the choice: absolutes or relativism; premodernism or postmodernism. What the article misses–and perhaps Solzhenitsyn realized–is that relativism and postmodernism can yield a totalitarianism of its own, a realm of absolute, morality-free power. And that Western civilization ultimately rests on the absolutes.

What Dewey learned from Darwin

At the CIRCE conference, Andrew Kern discussed John Dewey’s essay “The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy.” Dewey said that Darwin showed that all of Western thought up to that point is worthless. This is because Darwin exploded the concept of “species.” In effect, Darwin maintained that species do not exist, since one changes into another. For Dewey, this not only pertained to animal species, but to the very thought forms that depended on species as a logical category ever since Plato. If there are no species, Dewey concluded, there can be no essences, no absolutes, and no fixed truths. According to Dewey, thinking now has to do only with adapting to your environment.

And on this basis, Dewey invented progressive education.

Locke on tolerance

British writer William Rees-Mogg writes about John Locke’s first major publication, “A Letter on Toleration” (1690), and summing it up like this: “The world ought to be more tolerant but some things remain intolerable.” Locke, who was writing specifically about tolerance of other churches under the British state church, advocated “absolute liberty,” especially in matters of religion. And yet, he made an exception for “opinions contrary to human society, such as manifestly undermine the foundations of society”.

Locke did not believe that governments could always tolerate “opinions contrary to human society, such as manifestly undermine the foundations of society”. It is not clear what Locke had specifically in mind, but terrorism would surely be covered. In the 20th century both Nazism and Leninism were “opinions contrary to human society” in this sense — they were simply intolerable.

He also warned against trying to tolerate certain doctrines that 17th-century Protestants attributed to the Jesuits. These included the teaching that “faith is not to be kept with heretics”, and that “kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns and kingdoms”. Locke thought that “a Church has no right to be tolerated” whose members have to obey a foreign prince because that would mean that the ruler allowed “his own people to be listed, as it were, as soldiers against his own Government”.

Seventeenth-century Islam was included in the criticism. “It is ridiculous for anyone to profess himself to be a Mohametan (sic) only in his religion, but in everything else a faithful subject to a Christian magistrate, while at the same time he acknowledges himself bound to yield blind obedience to the Mufti of Constantinople, who himself is entirely obedient to the Ottoman Emperor.” Fortunately, the Papacy no longer claims the right to excommunicate and depose monarchs, there is no Ottoman Emperor, and if there still is a Mufti of Constantinople he certainly has no universal authority in Islam. But Osama bin Laden really is a dangerous man who does claim obedience of his followers.

Modern liberals may be shocked at John Locke’s final exception to the rule of toleration. “Lastly,” he writes, “those are not to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.”

We’re just talking about Locke here. Certainly the American constitution, rightly, goes much further than he would in allowing for all religions and no religions. But still, he makes an interesting distinction between religions that uphold social order and those that undermine social order.

HT: Robert Kimball

The voice of the GPS system

To me, someone who frequently gets lost, those GPS navigation systems are a greater technology than the internet. I am amazed not only at the satellite positioning and the computerized maps, but at how the directions are articulated vocally. Our portable system lets us pick out the accent we want, no less. So, in honor of our Australian son-in-law, we picked an Australian accent. The system calls the voice “Karen,” so we have started to call our GPS device by that name. (“Did you put Karen in the car?” “Let’s ask Karen where the nearest BBQ joint is.”)

I learned in this article that there really is a human being who records all of those directions. “Karen” is an Australian singer named Karen Jacobson. Here she is:


Does anyone know how these navbots coordinate the voices with the directions? Does a Karen Jacobson just read thousands and thousands of street names, which are then put together into a sentence with computerized intonation? How is that done? I stand amazed, and I will stay amazed even if I learn how it works.