Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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An abandoned child

In 1797 a child, estimated to be 9 or 10 years old, was seen living in the wild in the region of Aveyron. He evaded capture until 1800. All attempts to discover who he was or where he came from were fruitless. He was taken to Paris to be examined.
The leading minds were excited by such a find, expecting that this wild child would corroborate the ideas of Rousseau. Having had no adult influence or teaching, he should have been the perfect example of the innate goodness of uncorrupted humanity.

They were disappointed. The child made no sound, was not able to distinguish or understand sounds or voices, seemed to have no appreciation for the aroma of cooked foods, was not accustomed to clothes or beds and was disoriented in the presence of people. They finally concluded that he had been abandoned because he was so stupid.

Doctor Jean Itard obtained custody of the child the following year. He believed the child’s behaviour reflected a lack of human contact and teaching. In other words, he was stupid because he had been abandoned. Doctor Itard named the boy Victor and spent the next five years working to rehabilitate him.

Victor’s hearing was good, but he never was able to speak, When found he had many scars on his body, including a 4 centimetre gash across his throat. It is probable his vocal cords had been damaged when that wound was made. Victor’s progress under Dr. Itard was slow but steady and he learned to conduct himself in a socially acceptable way. He was cared for in a home in Paris until his death in 1828.

Francois-Xavier Bellamy uses the story of Victor of Aveyron to argue that it is teaching that makes us fully human. We need contact and interaction with other people to develop the skills that enable us to cope with life. A child left to himself degenerates into something hardly recognizable as human, as in the extreme case of Victor of Aveyron when he was found.

Taking this further, the teaching of language, grammar and vocabulary is essential for us to be able to describe how we feel, what we think about ourselves and the world around us. We cannot understand such things until we have the ability to put them into words.

Being taught the value system that his built our society, and the history of our society, enables us to understand why things are the way they are. It opens the door for us to become participants in our world, not just bewildered and frustrated observers.

M. Bellamy’s book is a passionate plea for us to abandon the failed theories of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and resume the transmission to the youth of today of all that is of value from our heritage.

A disinherited generation

This week I read a book that I feel to be tremendously important. Many people are disturbed by the disorder in the world today, but we have very different ideas about the cause and an even sharper difference in our ideas about a remedy. This book shines a clear light on the roots of the problem and the remedy.

The book is Les déshérités, by Francois-Xavier Bellamy. Unfortunately there is no English translation available. The title means The disinherited and is a reply Les héritiers (The Inheritors) by Pierre Bourdieu, a book published 50 years ago which has had a profound impact on education in France.

Les Déshérités ou l'urgence de transmettre - FRANÇOIS-XAVIER BELLAMY

Francois-Xavier Bellamy is young, only 28 when this book appeared in 2014, a professor of philosophy, and possibly the leading conservative thinker in France.
M. Bellamy identifies the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu as being an important part of the problem, but finds the root of Bourdieu’s thinking in the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that is prevalent in most of the world.

René Descartes (1596-1650) believed that all knowledge could be attained by deduction. The human mind has the capacity to discover all truth, solely through reasoning with no outside input.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1798) went a step further. He believed that we are all born pure and all the problems of mankind are the result of impure ideas taught by our society. Therefore it would be best to let a child grow with the least restraints and the least teaching possible. In the purity of his simplicity he would be able to discover all that he needed for a fruitful and happy life.

In France, Pierre Bourdieu taught that the inequities in society were a result of the things inherited from the past. If we could avoid passing on the antiquated ideas of civil society, morality and religion, those inequities would disappear.

Teachers in France today are told that they have nothing to pass on, their job is simply to help students discover for themselves how to read and write, how to do math and science, and to determine for themselves what is right and wrong.

As I said earlier, those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see the evidence all around us of that kind of thinking and what it has led to.

M. Bellamy writes that we have finally come to the era that Rousseau dreamed of. People today have been disinherited of all the values of the past, and the result is not the benign bliss imagined by Rousseau. He dreamed of the noble savage (le bon sauvage in French), an outsider who has not been corrupted by civilization and thus symbolizes the innate goodness of mankind.

What we have wound up with is a generation of savages who are not very noble. The inequities in society have not disappeared, but rather seem to have become worse. The thinking of our day goes so far as to say that it is wrong for gender identity to be imposed on children. They must be free to choose their own gender. This is not liberating them, it is setting them loose in a labyrinth with no exit.

Bellamy says we urgently need to resume teaching our intellectual, moral and religious heritage. It does not liberate children to leave them free to discover math, grammar and spelling on their own. In fact, it tends to perpetuate divisions in society. Children of more prosperous parents will get help at home to make up for the shortcomings of the education system, while children from poorer families, or immigrant families, will not be taught the skills they need to escape poverty.

When one has been taught a value system which they believe to be liberating, they are blind even to such self-evident truths. Beyond that, they are blind to the values of history, culture and religion which enabled society to function in a mor or less orderly fashion in past generations.

I found this book illuminating. It explains so much that is happening around us today. It explains why those who graduate from university with a bachelor of education degree have not been taught anything about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them. That’s not their job. Their job is to stand back and facilitate “discovery learning” in the children in their classes.

There are hopeful signs. Last fall the ministry of education in France called for a return to teaching grammar and spelling, recognizing that to not do so was simply perpetuating the poverty of those from poorer homes. The popularity of this book is another hopeful sign. As is the immense popularity of Jordan Peterson’s book Twelve Rules For Living. That book also teaches the usefulness of the values held by past generations. It was the publishing sensation of 2018 in Canada, selling over a million copies.

Just one parting thought. Francois-Xavier Bellamy mentions religion several times, but does not have much to say about it. He is a philosopher, not a theologian. But for those of us who believe the Bible is the foundation of all truth, how well have we been doing at passing on our spiritual heritage?

Who am I?

It was in a little church near St Marys, Ontario, that my wife and I were baptized and became members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. After the service, the minister who had baptized us advised us to “Just be yourselves.”

That was a very kind and generous welcome, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t really know who I was. I have spent the forty years since that day sifting through the baggage I have picked up along the road of life and trying to discern which of those things have a place in defining who I am.

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My mother’s ethnic and religious heritage is not part of who I am. Her mother tongue was Plautdietsch and her second language German, the language of the church her family attended and which she joined in her youth. After some years she realized that German was the faith of the church and the things she had learned in the catechism were only decoration. This church had no message for anyone who didn’t know German, including Mom’s eight younger siblings.
She left that church and married my father, a very determined step away from her background. My grandmother sent me a German primer once, I suppose in the hope that I would learn German so I could be a Christian. I mean no disrespect to my grandmother, I loved her, but that was how she had been trained to think. I was intrigued by that German primer, but Mom showed no enthusiasm for teaching me German. If I asked questions she would answer them, but that was all. I soon stopped asking questions. I have no interest in cultural Christianity. That is part of who I am.

My father was from the USA, of Puritan descent but Wesleyan Methodist by faith. That denomination got swallowed up in the social gospel and church union movement. My father had no use for anything to do with the social gospel, in religion, politics or business (the co-operative movement). I have no interest in Christianity as a social movement. That is part of who I am.

My father’s mother spoke French. Dad had some pride in his French heritage but found it embarrassing that his mother actually spoke the language. He wished everyone would speak one language, namely English. Mom talked about how her father had wished that he had learned French when he had the opportunity in his younger days and wished that she could have had the opportunity to learn French. I listened to Mom more than Dad.

I have had allergy problems since I was a baby. That has limited the type of work that I can do. Little by little I have learned what I can do and what I can’t do and am coping quite well, but allergy awareness is still very much part of me. I am a vegetarian, but not because of any religious or philosophical persuasion. I really don’t know why, but I quit eating meat 65 years ago. Maybe it had something to do with my allergies. Maybe it had more to do with the butcherings I saw as a boy.

When we were away from home my father would go up to complete strangers and ask: “What do you think of Jesus?” It embarrassed me terribly when I was young, now I wish I could be more like that. I’m not as bold as my father, but then neither am I as argumentative. Those who know me might wonder about that last statement, but trust me, it’s true. You didn’t know my Dad.

English was Mom’s third language. She had a large dictionary that she had been studying for years and spoke English with no trace of accent. I come by my love of dictionaries honestly. I learned to read when I was four years old and have never stopped. I have been putting my thoughts into writing for a long time now and a desire to communicate is very much part of who I am.

I lived on a farm in the hills of the Missouri Coteau in southeastern Saskatchewan until I was almost 10. There are scenes in my memory from that time that seem almost like heaven. I have lived many other places since then: five provinces, rural areas, towns, villages and cities large and small. I am living on an acreage at this time, but would really prefer to live in a city where there are people around.

I went to a small town school and had read every book in the school library before I finished high school. I learned something important in that reading: two historians can write about the same events and refer to the same dates, the same people, yet come up with different versions of what had really been going on. In my school days, history was taught from the point of view of the Orange Order. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but that point of view has had a negative effect on relations between English and French, Protestant and Catholic, white and nonwhite people in Canada. I am not one who thinks that Christians would be better off not knowing anything about history. I believe that we can’t really understand what is going on today if we don’t know anything about history and the biases created by different perceptions in the past.

I have worked in occupations that encouraged my natural tendency to be detail conscious: like grain buyer, quality assurance and bookkeeper. I probably tend to overdo it at times.

In addition to my parents, I have been influenced by my wife, my daughter, her husband, our grandchildren, brothers and sisters in the faith, preachers, teachers, co-workers. Everybody I have ever met has probably left some small trace on my character.

So who am I? I am a born-again Christian and a Mennonite, not by heritage, culture, language or philosophy, but by the call of God and my response to that call. I am a Canadian, by birth, by education, by life experience. I am a native of Saskatchewan, it is home to me but I have been able to feel at home almost anywhere in this country. I speak both of Canada’s official languages and no others, but occasionally make a stab at learning Italian. I see myself more as an urbanite than as a countryman. And I am a writer. I’ve hesitated for years to admit it, especially to myself, but writing is what motivates me more than anything else.

Epilogue

That is the end of the story I set out to write, but not the end of the journey. We spent 15 years in Ontario, 5 in Québec and have been back in Saskatchewan for 20 years. We are living in the Swanson congregation, where I saw no hope of finding work 40 years ogo. Times have changed, there are many small businesses run by members of the congregation and other employment opportunities in the area. I work part time as a bookkeper now.

Michelle experienced a new birth at the age of 12 and was baptized December 6, 1984. In her late teens and into her twenties she worked several years in nursing homes, then as a teacher in the schools of congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. She was an eastern girl, having spent most of her growing up years and her early working life in Eastern Canada.

She was teaching at Dumas, Arkansas when we moved back to Saskatchewan. We fully expected that her permanent home would be far away from us, but a young man at Swanson took note of her and proposed a year after we moved. We are very grateful to Ken Klassen, not only for bringing our daughter back to Saskatchewan, but for his kind and gentle ways as her husband and as father to their four children.

Tami Klassen, our oldest granddaughter was baptized earlier this year. The decisions we made many years ago are bearing fruit unto the third generation.

My mother visited us every year while we lived in the east, usually spending several weeks or a month at a time. She turned 90 in January of 1998 and we knew it was time to come back home to Saskatchewan. She lived with us for a few years and then spent her last years in a nursing home in Rosthern. She passed away December 31, 2006, just 18 days short of her 99th birthday.

Chris has had two bouts with cancer and is healthy and cancer free at this time. We will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary this summer. Over the last few years we have both been working at developing writing skills to be able to share what God ha done for us and what He has taught us.

To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. – Blaise Pascal

Writing and witnessing

There are two kinds of writers. First is the novice who has a burning desire to tell a story or to announce some truth. Feeling insecure in his ability, he adopts a formal tone, uses the most impressive words he can find, adds adjectives – lots of bold, beautiful, glorious, exuberant adjectives. He leaves nothing out, not even the most minute peripheral detail; yet forgets important information because everybody knows it anyway. His family and friends say the writing is wonderful; he ought to publish it. Other people don’t say much. They just stop reading after the second paragraph.

The second kind is the one who thinks of the reader from start to finish of her writing. She considers what a reader might not be aware of and weaves that into the writing. She prunes out irrelevant information, tries to eliminate all adjectives, and never uses a big word when a small one will do. There’s a good chance a publisher might be interested in this writing.

Most of us start out like the novice, but eventually learn the painful truth that no one is interested in our pomposities. In fact, they are really not all that interested in us. Little by little, we learn to fade into the background and put the story, the article, the Sunday School lesson, into the foreground. We ask ourselves: How can I tell this in a way that others will want to read it?

The same approach applies when we want to share our faith. If we spend a lot of time expounding on our qualifications to share the Christian message people are turned off. They quit listening.

Sometimes a person feels compelled to describe his abject humility. It’s the same thing. He is boasting of his qualification as a man of God to let us know that we should listen to his message. All such boasting is vain.

If our family has been Christian for several generations, we are tempted to credit our salvation to the example and teaching of our parents and grandparents. That is confusing our genealogy with our spiritual heritage, and it gives others the impression that if they do not fit into that kind of genealogy they won’t fit in Christian circles.

God has no grandchildren. How often have we heard that? Has it sunk into our heart?

If we are Christians today, it means that at some point the Holy Spirit has pointed out to us that we were lost. We were sinners, having no hope in anything of this world. The righteousness of our parents could not save us. There was no saving virtue in our genealogy. We were alone before the absolute righteousness and holiness of Almighty God with nothing of this earth to cling to. At that point we pled for mercy and forgiveness and through the blood of Jesus Christ mercy and forgiveness were granted. We became children of God and could say like David: “For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name” (Psalm 61:5).

There is no boasting here, it is God who is glorified, not ourselves. This tells others that there is a way by which they too can become partakers of this heritage.

Just as in effective writing, in order to be effective witnesses of the saving grace of God, we have to put ourselves in the background and the message in the forefront. God is the message, not us.

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