Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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How did our education system get where it is today?

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The best description I have read of the thinking behind our public education system is Les déshérités (The Disinherited) by Francois-Xavier Bellamy, published in France in 2014. Bellamy traces the root of modern educational thinking to the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

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. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that prevails in most of the world.

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. Those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see evidence 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 more 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.

If we think that the public educations system has strayed far from its original purpose, we are badly mistaken. If we read what was said by the founders of public education we see that today’s system is what they had in mind all along. They saw family, religion, history and tradition as barriers to freedom. That teaching began in universities and has taken a century and a half to filter down to all levels of society. Useful, practical education was never the primary goal of public education. Public schools were intended to be the means of introducing modern thinking to society. By modern thinking they meant the philosophies of Descartes and Rousseau.

Doctrines of the Humanist Religion

 

1. Nothing is real if it cannot be explained by the human mind

I may call myself a lover of the truth, but if I am unwilling to believe anything that does not fit the measure of my mind, am I really open to consider what truth is? Scientific hypotheses attempt to fit the things observed and experienced by man into a framework that gives a logical explanation for those phenomena and events. In order to do this, they must reject anything that cannot be measured and counted. Paradoxically, occult and shamanistic beliefs are attempts to do the same thing, only with different rules of evidence.

2. We are inherently good – our failures are due to a lack of knowledge. The best informed person will always make the best decisions.

The knowledge required might be a better understanding of how to appease the pagan gods and spirits. It might mean getting psychiatric counselling to discover the root causes of troubled emotions and relationships. Or it could mean getting a university education to better face the challenges of life. We often hear it said “If only I had known before what I know now I wouldn’t have got myself into the mess I’m in.” Most often the cause of the trouble was not a lack of knowledge but a decision to follow the baser inclinations of human nature.

3. It is a great evil for people to be deprived of the things that could bring them pleasure.

Why can’t my wife, husband, parents, friends, or boss treat me with the consideration that I deserve? If only I had a little more money, a better house, more time for recreation; if only I lived somewhere else, things would go better. Is our happiness really based on things, or other people?

People tend to think they have a right to physical health. Well-meaning Christians sometimes think that admitting their illness would be a lack of faith and live and die in unreasoning fear. Others spend all their substance, travelling over land and sea, in a desperate search for a healer in whom they can trust. Often they leave their families destitute.

4. The evil that men do is caused by factors outside of themselves. If society can only be restructured to remove all the causes of injustice and lack of fulfilment.

The social gospel and other movements that aim to eliminate inequities and provide fair and just treatment for all began with good intentions and great expectations. Are people happier as a result? Or are we just hacking away at the leaves and branches and completely missing the root of the problem?

All of the above ideas shape our thinking about how to raise our children. We have come to understand that children can only develop their true potential when given maximum access to information and the freedom to decide for themselves what to believe and do. Now it seems that many parents to consider their children to be burdens. And when the parents come to their declining years, their children consider them to be burdens.
Everything we do is governed bu our religious beliefs, even when we profess to have no religion at all. There is within every person a longing for answers to the questions of life. Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going? The answers to those questions make up our religion and become the reference point for the choices we make in life.

Man-centred religion makes human wants and aspirations its reference point. Upon this foundation are built myriads of elaborate structures, each claiming to be the best road to true happiness. These structures include everything from rigid adherence to man-made beliefs about God, to mysticism, to atheism. Almost everyone we meet is a missionary for some form of the humanist religion. Businesses, banks, schools and the media do their utmost to persuade us to follow the way of humanism.

Only a few have a truly God-centred religion that makes God the reference point for all the decisions of life. They acknowledge God as Creator, Lord and Saviour, devoting their lives to serving Him

There is no neural point; every person on the planet adheres to one of these two religions. The man-centred religion is built over, and tries to conceal, the pit of hell. The God-centred religion is built upon the eternal and unmovable rock -– Jesus Christ.

Belle Plaine years

In 1966 Belle Plaine had all of 16 houses, two grain elevators, three other small businesses and a school that was no longer used. UGG rented one of the houses for their elevator manager.

I had learned the basics of weighing and unloading grain by now, how to grade it and determine dockage and how to load it into boxcars for shipping to ports for export. I was also selling fertilizer, herbicides and other farm supplies. Saskatchewan seldom gets an abundance of rain, but the land here was heavy clay, making for good crops every year and the farmers were prosperous. I got to know the people in the community and soon felt at home.

I was 24 years old and didn’t own a car. I soon remedied that, buying a 1956 Oldsmobile that let me travel at my convenience, not someone else’s. I could buy some groceries at the little store, cafe and post office in town, but did most of my shopping in Moose Jaw. I did my laundry in Moose Jaw, too, at my parents.

I began to do some serious drinking, spending at least one night a week in the bars of Moose Jaw or Regina. My drinking buddies were Joe Zagozeski,  a local farmer, Henry Antemuik, a supervisor at the Kalium potash mine near Belle Plaine and my cousin Dennis in Moose Jaw.

UGG bought a lot in Belle Plaine, built a basement, moved in a house and thoroughly remodelled it. In 1967 I traded in the Oldsmobile on a 1965 GMC pickup. I needed to haul water for the new house as there was neither running water in the village nor a well. UGG had a warehouse in Regina and now I could simply drive in and pick up whatever was needed and bring it home.

When I made those trips I often stayed in Regina enjoying the night life until midnight. On nights like that I found it hard to keep between the lines on the highway and in my befuddled mind it seemed like a logical thing to speed up to 80 mph. I found that concentrated my attention sufficiently to keep in my own lane. I would often wake up in the morning unable to remember coming home. I thought that was evidence that I must have had a good time the night before.

Other things were going on at the same time. I was reading all kinds of stuff, from occult to Ayn Rand and none of it impressed me as offering any real hope to me or anyone else. Then I began to get interested in church history, which also seemed like kind of a hopeless mess until I got to Mennonite history. Here I found people who really believed and lived what they professed and suffered persecution without hating the persecutors. I began to think that if there were any real Christians left anywhere on the planet, they would be found among the Mennonites.

The couple who ran the store, cafe and post office had a teenage daughter named Christine. I didn’t pay much attention to her, she was just a young school girl. But girls don’t stay young and after a couple of years she began to seem interesting to me.

The fisherman’s net

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By the time I started reading the Bible for myself I had abandoned all belief in the Christianity that I had been taught at home and in the church of my youth. I had read books on philosophy and on esoteric religions. It was interesting to consider all the permutations and combinations of their explanations of the meaning of life, but not very satisfying for one looking for some clues about how to find something meaningful in the life he was living.  I began to feel there might be something in this Christianity stuff after all, but I was quite sure that I could not trust most of the Bible.

Thus I began to read the Bible, hoping to find that there were some nuggets of truth in it that I could use to realign my life. I don’t know how long it took – weeks, months – but a shocking realization began to dawn on me. The things I didn’t want to believe were linked to the things I did want to believe. Things I wanted to dismiss as mythology and the brutality of some of the Old Testament accounts, were picked up by the prophets, the apostles and Jesus Himself and shown to be part of a great cosmic story of the battle between good and evil.

I could no longer imagine that some elements of the Bible were worthy of belief and others were not. I could not separate the strands, each one was linked to others in a way that meant that everything in the Bible was linked to everything else. I was facing a decision – either the whole Bible was false and I should reject it and never open it again, or it was all true and was pointing me to a life of fulfillment that would one day lead to an eternity in heaven.

By this time I was inside the net, although I could have made my escape if I had wished. Soon after I came to the point of repentance and the surrender of my will and became a new born child of God. I have spent much time since then surveying all the strands that make up this net and the way they are tied and bound together.

Jesus told a group of fishermen “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” As we read the New Testament, we see how expertly they used the net of God’s Word, expounding  the Law and the Prophets to show how the old writings all pointed to Jesus Christ and His spiritual kingdom. This net was the primary tool that led to the explosive growth of the early church. It was used by many down through history, including our Anabaptist forefathers.

Nowadays, there are too many preachers who don’t have time for the study it takes to know the net and how to use it. Reference Bibles seem to offer an easy alternative, giving lists of supposedly related verses on a variety of topics. But how can one trust those references without a personal study of the context? Far too many people today think they are using the net when all they have is a handful of loose strings. Is it any wonder they don’t catch many fish?

Darkness was upon the face of the deep

When first created the earth was tohu and bohu  – “without form and void,” as the AV translation has it. The words could also be translated “confusion and emptiness.” And there was darkness over all this chaotic mass – not a physical darkness, which would be meaningless before the vision of the Creator – but spiritual darkness was present here from the very beginning and would soon begin to manifest its subversive presence in God’s creation.

“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” I much prefer the “moved” of the AV to the “hovered” found in many newer translations. “Moved” indicates a purposeful surveying of the chaos below with a plan for what it would become. The first indication of that purpose was shown when He said “Let there be light,” and instantly there was light, and a clear demarcation between light and darkness.

Not much later, God caused the dry land to rise up out of the water, then proceeded to populate the land with vegetation, animal and bird life and finally humanity. The sequence of the events in the days of creation are significant. The conflict between light and darkness, between the sea and the dry land, are themes that play out all through the narrative of the Bible, and these conflicts existed before man made his appearance on the earth.

I will not say much about darkness and light, for I suspect the concept of the powers of darkness and the God who brings light are at least somewhat familiar to most people.  Water and the sea are often used in the Bible as symbols of the  unstable state in which most of the people of the world exist. Consider the following verses:

Revelation 17:15 – And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
Psalms 18:4  – The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
Psalms 65:7 –  Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
Isaiah 8:7  – Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.
James 1:6  – But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

There are fearsome creatures in this water, of which leviathan appears to be the chief. The description of leviathan in the book of Job led many commentators in past years to identify leviathan as a crocodile. Fearsome though a crocodile may be, the turmoil and devastation caused by leviathan goes far beyond the powers of a crocodile. More recent writers conjecture that leviathan was a water-dwelling dinosaur. Perhaps that gets us a little closer to the physical description, but the Biblical passages describing leviathan go beyond even that. They appear to describe a mighty spiritual power that is behind the stirring of the waters and the tossing of the waves of this world – Satan himself.

Isaiah 27:1  – In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

The dry land – eretz – is meant to be a place of safety and stability for those who put their trust in God. Nevertheless, the book of Revelation shows us the prototypes of two forms of false religions. One arises out of the sea of confused humanity that does not know God and its power comes from the dragon, or Leviathan. This is paganism and all forms of false religion. The other arises out of the earth, has the appearance of a lamb, yet speaks as the dragon. This is counterfeit Christianity and is as dangerous as the first.

God promised a land to His Old Testament people – eretz Israel. They did possess it in peace for a short time. The teaching that some near day God will once again rule from eretz Israel is fantasy and delusion. He has something much better in store for his people. The description of the new Jerusalem shows a land where there is no more darkness and the sea is now a solid and safe sea of crystal . There are no more monsters; there is no evil, no sorrow. The redeemed of all the ages shall dwell there in peace and joy in the presence of their Lord and Redeemer.

 

Is it really that bad?

This world is a horrible place. There are environmental catastrophes, threats of international terrorism, dangers in the streets. The danger of religious persecution threatens us even here in North America. There is sexual exploitation of women and children. There is abuse of power by those in positions of trust: police officers, preachers, teachers and parents. There are dangers on the internet. It seems that you can’t trust anyone anymore.

Um . . . let’s back up a little bit here and see if we’re getting the whole picture. Yes, all these things are going on; and yes, these are the things the media wants to tell us about. But is that really what most of us are experiencing in our daily life?

My grandchildren are blissfully unaware of any threats to their well-being. I am not experiencing any harassment because of my religious beliefs. I encounter friendly and helpful people wherever I go.

I started using a cane about six weeks ago and I am amazed how that triggers acts of kindness from others. I have even had young ladies hold a door open for me. A few days ago I bought my fast food lunch at Tim Horton’s and the lady behind the counter offered to carry my tray to a table. I declined, but not without a hearty thank  you. Someday I may need her assistance.

Today I was in my favourite coffee shop – the one where the young ladies behind the counter don’t need to be told that I want a cappuccino with amaretto syrup. This time I asked the young lady who served me if she  had ever heard an old, old song that has her name in the title. Her response floored me: “You remembered my name!” I have known her name for a long time, she has served my coffee countless times, we have talked about other things than coffee, but I had never called her by name. This is something I have encouraged others to do, and here I wasn’t even doing it myself.

That seems such a small thing, but it was a reality check. When I begin thinking that the world is such a cold heartless place, perhaps the first question I need to ask is “Am I the problem?”

By the way, she was all too familiar with the song. Her music teacher used to sing it every time she went for a lesson.

Newspeak at work

There is an article in Montréal la Presse today about the horrified reaction of some women to the Dico des filles 2014 (2014 Girls dictionary). This is a book, published in France, written to help girls aged 12 and older face questions of conduct and morality. What is it that some women find so inappropriate? Here is a free translation of a few quotes from the book:

On the subject of abortion: “Although this is permitted by law, that does not make it just and moral. Abortion is a serious act which brings into question the value of human life.  . . .  An abortion always causes a wound that takes a long time to heal.” And: “Moral authorities and the major religious families all have something to say [on the subject of abortion] because it is their role to set out the priniples for guiding human activities. . . . . It is true that abortion is a serious act. But it is possible to condemn the act without condemning the person who had an abortion.”

On the subject of homosexuality: “It is true that some stable homosexual couples do exist. But the relationships are often ephemeral and unstable.” And: “Life is not simple for homosexuals and the road to happiness is full of pitfalls.”

Such words as these, which seem so mild and tolerant to me, are judged as being hideously intolerant by certain women’s groups.  They want the books removed from public libraries and anywhere that girls might have access to such retrograde ideas of right and wrong.

George Orwell coined the word “newspeak” in his dystopian novel 1984.  He foresaw a world where the thought police would take a word and make it mean the the direct opposite of what it originally meant. Are we there yet? It seems that we are getting close when some people  label as intolerant any hint of a view that is different than their own and try to prevent it from being heard, then say that they are the tolerant ones.

Nevertheless, the Dico pour filles appears to be selling well, bookstores are sold out of the 2014 edition and awaiting the arrival of the 2015 edition in a few weeks.

Seek peace, find happiness

And it did for one wild moment cross my mind that, perhaps those might not be the very best judges of the relation of religion to happiness who, by their own account, had neither one nor the other.

-G. K. Chesterton

Doctrines of the humanist religion – conclusion

Almost everything that a man does is governed by his religious beliefs, even when he professes to have no religion at all! There is within each human a hunger that compels him to seek for answers about his existence. Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going? He needs to find some kind of answer to these questions to make sense out of his life and those answers, whatever they may be, are his religion.  This religion becomes the reference point for the choices and decisions that guide his life.

There are a few in this world with a genuinely God centred religion. They are the ones who, from the depths of their being, acknowledge God as Creator, Saviour and Lord. All others, whether they call themselves Christians, Muslims, Hindus, pagans, atheists, philosophers, or whatever, are adherents of a man centred religion. The two are mutually exclusive, No one is neutral.

God centred religion is a narrow way – all must enter through the same gate of repentance and self-denial, accept the same truth, be led of the same Spirit, have the same love, the same hope. The man centred religion offers a way that is broad enough to accommodate everyone else, even seeming at times to lead its adherents in opposite directions, yet eventually bringing all to the same destination.

This is the humanist religion. Its foundation is self. On this foundation there is found an such an amazing variety of colourful and dazzling structures that we must admit ts powerful appeal to our human nature. Almost everyone we meet is a missionary of this religion. The businesses and banks we deal with, the newspapers, magazines and advertisements that we read, all try to entice us to join this religion. It is the natural religion of man. Yet this whole magnificent structure is built over the pit of hell and its foundation is rotten.

How different the foundation of the God centred religion – the safe, solid, eternal Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ. How flimsy those dazzling structures appear beside the true Christian religion, the faith once delivered to the saints, coming down from God in heaven to every one who truly repents and surrenders all he has to  the loving Father.

May we like Elisha be able to see the armies of heaven and know that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” If we are on the Rock, all the hosts of heaven are on our side.

Doctrines of the humanist religion

1.  Nothing is real that cannot be understood by the human mind.

People choose to believe in spirits, magic, witchcraft, astrology, scientific theories or various “holy books.” These are merely attempts to fit all things seen and experienced into a framework that appears to give a logical explanation for every detail and event. I may call myself a lover of the truth, when in reality I am unwilling to believe anything unless I can explain it to suit my own intellect.

But the God who is really there does not fit man’s measure, He is a revelation, not an explanation.

2. Man is inherently good – all his failures are due to a lack of knowledge. He will make better decisions if he is better informed.

We may think we need a better understanding of how to appease the pagan gods or spirits, psychological counselling in order to understand the root causes of our emotions, or a university education to give us advanced mental tools to cope with the world we live in. How often have we said “If I had known then what I know now, I would never have done what I did,” when the real problem was not a lack of understanding, but the real problem was that we found the temptation overwhelmingly attractive?

 

Knowledge cannot give us the strength to withstand the seductive power of sin. A true knowledge of God will both open our eyes to the danger and give us the spiritual fortitude to choose not to yield.

3. It is a great evil for a man to be deprived of the things that bring him pleasure.

The things might be material goods, recognition, pride, bodily comforts, the right kind of work, or the right amount of leisure time. Is not the good life a sign of the favour of the gods, or of God’s blessing? Why can’t I have work that is ideally suited to my nature and expectations? Why can’t my wife, husband, parents, friends or boss treat me better? If only I had a little more money, a better job, or if only I lived somewhere else, things would go better.

How happy are the people who have the things that we think we need?

There is a widespread belief in our day that we have a right to physical health. We may base this belief on our faith in modern medical research, in the idea that physical healing was provided for in Christ’s atonement on the cross, or in natural healing, herbs, psychic healing, or in some form of shamanism. In each case, when one who holds to such a belief is faced with an incurable sickness it brings about a crisis of faith. Some believe that admitting they are sick would be a lack of faith, thus they resolutely refuse to face reality, living and dying in unreasonable fear. Others spend all their substance in search of healing, travelling over land and sea in search of a doctor or healer that has the secret to make them well. Then they die, leaving their families destitute.

4. The evil that men do is produced by their natural instinct for survival in a faulty environment. Man will only be truly happy and good when all sources of trouble and worry are removed.

Life insurance, property insurance, health insurance, unemployment insurance, social welfare programs, labour movements, peace movements, liberation movements, revolutionary movements, eternal security, reincarnation, the millennium, the social gospel – all have their origin in the premise that the basic goodness of man will show itself once all the external hindrances are removed. Some of the things mentioned have worked for the material betterment of people, but is there any evidence that they have helped produce happier, kinder, better people?

All of these thing are only vain attempts to hack away at the branches of sin, none of them attack the root of sin.

All four of these doctrines come into play in our society’s ideas about child-rearing. We are told that a child can only develop her true potential for good if she is given maximum access to information and allowed freedom to choose what she shall believe and do. Is it any wonder that many parents speak of their children as a burden? Is it any wonder that when parents grow old and come to their declining years, their children consider them a burden?

(to be continued)

 

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