Category Archives: CCE (Classical Christian Education)

Education is About What Things are For, Not How They Work

Education is not job training; it is not even schooling. Education, in so many words, is knowing what things are for, not simply how they work. The truly educated person understands the proper uses to which such things as bodies, brains, governments, art, and sport are put, not merely how to eat, how to execute difficult mathematical computattions, how to win an election, how to paint a still life, or how to hit a curveball.

The difference between these knowing what things are for and merely knowing how they work is the difference between wisdom and information, between knowledge and data, between knowing and knowing about. Those who acquire the former are genuinely educated; those who gain only the latter are technological functionaries, replaceable by the next generation of machines.

From Michael Bauman, The Second Death of Socrates: Why Public Education is the Enemy of Learning

Chill Out

In Ecclesiastes 12:12, Solomon says, “Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (ca. 4 B.C. to A.D. 65) says the same thing about the mind, and he recommends that for the health of one’s soul one should not to let work and study – serious things – consume everything.

The mind should not be kept continuously at the same pitch of concentration, but given amusing diversions. Socrates did not blush to play with small children; Cato soothed his mind with wine when it was tired from the cares of state…Our minds must relax: they will rise better and keener after a rest. Just as you must not force fertile farmland, as uninterrupted productivity will soon exhaust it, so constant effort will sap our mental vigour, while a short period of rest and relaxation will restore our powers. Unremitting effort leads to a kind of mental dullness and lethargy….We must indulge the mind and from time to time allow it the leisure which is its food and strength. We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air…. – “On Tranquillity of Mind,” in Seneca: Dialogues and Letters, ed. and trans. C.D.N. Costa (New York: Penguin Classics, rep. 2005), pp. 46-47

Sometimes in order to really love the pursuit of wisdom, you just have to chill out for a bit. “Bodily exercise may profit little” (1 Tim. 4:8), but that’s not the same thing as saying it profits nothing.

On Worldview

The term “worldview” has a simple dictionary definition: “the way that a person views the world.” The way that we view the world is made up of a variety of factors, including spiritual, cultural, emotional, and intellectual ones.

Usually people who talk about worldviews focus primarily on the intellectual factors, or the things that we think. In this sense, when people talk about a worldview they mean the things that we think about God, ourselves, the world, and other people. It is important, however, to understand that worldviews have non-intellectual elements and practical consequences. Worldviews are not just thoughts rattling around in people’s heads. Thoughts in our minds come from our hearts and reflect what is in them (Mt. 9:4; Rom. 1:21).

As well, the things that we think about God, ourselves, the world, other people, and so forth substantially influence our behavior. Ideas give birth to actions. Someone who thinks that there is no God will act differently than someone who does think there is a God. Someone who thinks that humans evolved from lower life forms will act differently than someone who thinks humans were created by God. Someone who thinks that life does not mean anything will act differently than someone who thinks life does mean something.

Interestingly, sometimes things that we do can generate thoughts, thus actually altering parts of our worldview. For instance, what parent has not become painfully aware in recent years how the tsunami of devices and the digital life they create has altered the way their children – and perhaps even they themselves – view the world? Finding oneself a bit more impatient with the way life is than one used to be? Unconsciously wishing one could just “swipe” the unpleasantness away and have much more congenial items in one’s mental and emotional “feed”? Devices have generated new and altered worldview thoughts – which is both interesting and horrifying.

One easy way to get hold of the concept of a worldview is to think of it as answering certain basic questions. Different people give different lists of the basic questions that a worldview answers. A simple list is this one:

  • Who am I? what kind of creatures are human beings (what is the nature of a human being)? What is the task of human beings in the world? What significance or meaning do human beings have?
  • Where am I? what is the origin and nature of the reality in which human beings find themselves?
  • What’s wrong? In many ways, the world seems to be broken, or at least, somehow “sick.” What is the reason for this brokenness, this “sickness”?
  • What’s the remedy?Can the brokenness and “sickness” of the world be alleviated?If so, how?

These are basic questions, questions that you can use to get a “feel” for what a person’s worldview is. However, you must take care not to “put people in a box” based on the answers they give to these questions. It is important to understand that within a particular worldview there can be disagreement about the proper answers to the basic questions.

For instance, all Christians believe that the answer to the third question, “What’s wrong?” is that “Mankind sinned against God and must be saved by God.” But not all Christians agree with each other on “sub-questions” that come under this one, such as “What were the effects of man’s Fall on the human mind?”, “Do human beings after the Fall have free will?”, and so forth. All Christians believe as a basic answer to this part of the Christian worldview that man has fallen into sin, but not all Christians believe the same things about particular parts of the answer to the question.

Likewise, all Christians practice baptism because Jesus said to baptize people in his name. But not all Christians believe exactly the same thing about baptism. Some think that baptism can be given to infants, while others think it can only be given to people who have first made a public statement of their personal belief in Christ. Some believe baptism is only properly done via immersion. Others believe in sprinkling, and still others in pouring.

All Christians believe that Jesus is coming back to this world at the end of time, but not all Christians believe the same thing about when the end of time will be and how the events described in the Bible’s passages about the end times will all work out.

All Muslims share certain beliefs about the inspiration of the Koran and the character of Allah, but this has not stopped diverse views (such as Shi’a, Sufi, and Sunni) from developing due to different takes on “sub-questions” within the worldview. All Hindus believe in a nebulous entity they call “Brahman,” but great differences have arisen amongst them about the precise role of Brahman in their religion.

More examples could be given, but these show that outlining the basic questions of a worldview and its basic answers to those questions is only a start at understanding a belief system. Worldviews can help us to clearly organize beliefs and analyze their consequences. But worldviews are less like encyclopedia articles and more like the superstructures of skyscrapers upon which different exteriors and within which different arrangements of rooms can be built.

This means that part of good worldview thinking is to be able to discern essential questions from secondary questions. When it comes to the Christian worldview, for instance, are we bound to say that a particular economic system – the one we ourselves think is best! – just is what the Bible teaches as normative for everyone? What would an assertion like that mean for dedicated, godly followers of Christ in other places than our own and other times than our own? Does the Christian worldview demand that everyone dress a certain way, have certain settled attitudes about tattoos and beer and smoking cigars, or is all of that kind of stuff just local cultural practices that can legitimately vary for Christians not in our own circumstances?

Another part of good worldview thinking is to be charitable toward others. People are not just minds. and their lives are not reducible to systems of propositional statements of ideas. People do not always think and act in ways fully consistent with their espoused worldview – or even with a worldview that we attribute to them because we’re trying to conveniently categorize them so as to more easily refute them. And importantly, imperfect consistency between a purported system of beliefs and the ways in which a person lives from day to day turns out to be a feature not only of unbelievers, but of Christians, too.

Thus, worldview thinking is not a bludgeon with which to hit people who disagree with you. Nor is it a mental straitjacket, preventing the movement of the mind outside its narrow confines. It is just a tool to help you learn to systematically think about beliefs, both your own and those of others who, like you, are made in the image of God but need the redemption from sin and all its effects on life and culture that only comes through Jesus Christ.

“Christian Materialists” – Christian Imagination, Pt. 6

A third problem we modern Christians often have when it comes to using our imaginations is that we think like modern materialists. Now, “materialism” here does not refer to the common malady of seeking as many material possessions as one can. Rather, here it refers to an attitude that we unconsciously borrow from secularists—the attitude of always implicitly looking for “natural” explanations of strange events.

This problem is really a subset of the problem of rationalism discussed in another post, but it deserves its own treatment because it is even more subtle. All Christians affirm that God has acted within the natural world in the past and that He can and still does act within it according to His own plans. One does not have to be a fire-breathing charismatic televangelist to believe that God still performs miracles today. We all know stories of God answering someone’s prayer for immediate financial help, healing someone with terminal, inoperable cancer, protecting someone from serious injury in an automobile accident, and so forth.

The problem I am here calling “materialism” is not that we modern Christians do not believe in the supernatural (we do), but rather, that we import into our faith the secularist notion of an unbridgeable divide between the natural and the supernatural. What does this mean? It seems rather counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Let me briefly explain.

As has often been the case in the long history of Christian cultural endeavors, the faith begot a certain daughter and the daughter proceeded to devour the mother. Christianity is responsible for the rise of what we call “modern science,” but we live at the tail end of a long process of unbelievers taking over because we ceased being faithful to our world-embracing religion and started withdrawing into isolated enclaves of “spirituality.”

At some point in the recent past, we began to disdain the created world and to elevate a false concept of the “spiritual” – all that was not merely physical, which we then dubbed “worldly.” Alas, unbelievers, who already wanted all religion to be confined to the realm of the private, emotional, non-rational “soul” were only too happy to let us do so while they took over the realm of “facts.”

After spending a few decades drinking deeply from the same political, economic, and entertainment well as our secularist neighbors, a well polluted with assumptions about the subjectivity of truth, goodness, beauty, and religion, our own Christian imagination has suffered immensely. Without realizing it, we have in many ways made a capitulation to a kind of worldly thinking that has little to do with morality proper and everything to do with an entirely subjectivistic religion.

This is why our novels, our songs, and our movies endlessly celebrate internal, emotional, personal experiences that get mislabeled “faith,” which has nothing to do with “facts.” A materialistic concept of the world, pushed by science and its intrusion into every domain of life, has neutered the Christian imagination.

But we must tread with care at this point. We must take care not to vilify science or the amazing progresses it has made over the last few centuries. Nevertheless, we need to come to see that while science started out as a proper quest to discern the natural ways that God does things within His creation, it has for our whole mechanized mode of society become a soul-killing, mystery-banishing, all-encompassing substitute for faith.

When we ourselves focus on a kind of “spirituality” that disdains engaging “the world”, and so, disdain imaginative engagement with the world, we show that we’ve surrendered to the materialist assumption that nature and supernature don’t and can’t mix. Which is very, very weird, since on Sunday’s we cling to a Book that, literarily speaking, is chock full of an unashamed mixing of both those things!

For more on the Christian imagination, see my short books, It’s Not A Small World, After All, and Worlds Within the World: How Tolkien Can Help Christians Write Better Fiction.

Good Books Aren’t Vulgar Books – Christian Imagination, Pt. 5

In my last post, I looked at the baneful effects of rationalism on the Christian imagination. Another pernicious enemy of a healthy use of the imagination by the Christian is that we often think just like modern sentimentalists. Life is hard, but often enough we Christians want it to be all sweetness and light. Yet the Bible is not a book that is all about love stories and people who don’t offend others. Rather, it is a book full of bloody battles, deep emotional distresses, national disasters, the horrible deaths of infants and others who do not seem to deserve such fates, and, to top it all off, the horrific, bloody, agonizing torture and murder of the very Son of God!

But it seems to me that we often forget this in our mad rush to fulfill our unspoken wish that life would not be so imperfect.

Don’t we want life to be full-to-the brim with Precious Moments and paintings of quiet woodland cottages and baskets of warm, furry bunny rabbits and fields of beautiful flowers and whatever else strikes our sentimental fancies?

Don’t we want church services where we hear about a kind, loving Heavenly Father who has a special plan just for our very own lives and does not want us to endure any undue hardship? Don’t we want to proudly display our Jesus-advocacy bracelets and Christiany-bumper stickers to remind others of our own deep, personal piety?

It seems to me that we too easily forget that the Jesus all these emotive sermonettes and vulgarized, commercialized trinkets (religion sells stuff!) refer to is the Jesus who has been seated at the right hand of God the Father and is presently engaged in a war that will continue “until all His enemies are made His footstool” (Psalm 110:1; 1 Cor. 15:24-26).

Literature – good literature, not escapist, sappily pious drivel – is what we need to address these ills of ours. Fortunately, a great deal of good literature exists in the classical Christian tradition. We have only to do the easy work of getting hold of it and the hard work of reading it.

For more on the Christian imagination, see my short books, It’s Not A Small World, After All, and Worlds Within the World: How Tolkien Can Help Christians Write Better Fiction.

Too Heavenly Minded for Real Classical Good – Christian Imagination, Pt. 4

One of the most pernicious enemies of a healthy Christian imagination used for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom is rationalism.

Rationalism can have many faces and angles, but it essentially amounts to compartmentalization. That is, rationalism divide reality up into compartments that are airtight and soundproof. The various compartments of reality cannot communicate with each other. They are separated from each other and do not mean anything in and of themselves. They must be justified by external criteria or risk being judged “irrelevant” to the drudgery of daily living.

Unbelievers do this in many ways. For instance, think of the stark proposed division between things “religious” and things “factual.” This usually comes out regarding the relationship of science to faith Positing a sharp division between faith and reason, they say that faith deals with “subjective beliefs” while reason deals with “objective facts.” Matters of morality and beliefs about God have nothing to do with “the real world” and “the real world” has nothing to do with them. To each his own truth and a merry old time for all!

The problem is that we Christians also often have this flawed way of thinking ourselves. One way we do this is when we send our children to public schools without constantly monitoring not just what but how they are being taught. Sitting in classrooms day after day with non-Christian teachers and a cornucopia of non-Christian students, too many Christian students unconsciously begin to treat all “subjects” as trajectories of thought and activity that just don’t have any substantial connection to what goes on in that other building and that other time on Sunday. This is how even good Christian kids come to think and act like their most non-Christian peers in all the “practical” things of daily living, all the while verbally affirming that they believe the Bible and trust in Jesus for salvation.

Another way we Christians often exhibit rationalism by positing a rigid division between the “secular” and the “sacred.” Do we not often tacitly demean everything from employment to education if it does not conform to a purpose that we have pleased ourselves to call “spiritual” (such as evangelizing the lost)? Do we not love to be jealous because So-and-So is in “full time ministry” while we have to content ourselves with the “useless” mundanities of “worldly employment”? The secular / sacred divide interprets all engagement with this world as actually occurring within a sort of vague space that is not serious in its own right, and can only be justified by citing a passel of Bible prooftexts that are all about “spiritual” things.

So when it comes to studying good literature, let alone to writing good literature, we’re not operating with a healthy, actually biblical framework. Classical Christian education should address this problem, but unfortunately it often doesn’t. And that’s because just slapping the words “classical” and “Christian” onto an education that is done in the exact same rationalistic way as secular education really doesn’t amount to anything deserving of those two hallowed descriptive words.

For more on the Christian imagination, see my short books, It’s Not A Small World, After All, and Worlds Within the World: How Tolkien Can Help Christians Write Better Fiction.

Making War on Reality – Christian Imagination, Pt. 3

At its root, an attack on the imagination is an attack on reality. Specifically, it is an attack on the reality that God made and into which He has put us and commanded us to live for Him. This seems an odd thing to say since we so often associate the imagination with fiction, which we (falsely) think means “that which is not true.” Since we are Christians, we think that we must shun whatever is not true. So we shun the imagination because we think it stands in opposition to Truth.

But when we reject the imagination outright, we do so at a terrible price. For instance, whenever we are not feeling deeply (and self-righteously) pious about our denunciation of myths and dragons and wizardry, we know that God gave us our imaginations as part of the original creation He said was “very good.”

Nevertheless, we frequently forget this in our zeal to appear “holy.” We forget that the human imagination is not a bad thing—God made it, after all. We pretend that the only proper way to use it is to ignore it unless we are reading or writing stories about some “spiritual” purpose such as evangelism. And, since we are dogmatically convinced that such things as myth and magic are evil and have nothing to do with “true spirituality,” we reject them wholesale. We throw out the baby with the bathwater and consider ourselves wise and pleasing to God for doing it.

Rejecting creative reconfigurations of God’s world such as are to be found amply in imaginative literature amounts to fighting against the goodness and beauty of the real world that God Himself has made. For now we will focus on understanding the nature of the world we live in and how the imagination is a major tool God has given us for functioning in that world—a tool we reject at our own peril. Intriguingly, when we devalue the human imagination, we make war on reality.

For more on the Christian imagination, see my short books, It’s Not A Small World, After All, and Worlds Within the World: How Tolkien Can Help Christians Write Better Fiction.

The Really Important Stuff (?) – Christian Imagination, Pt. 2

Crucial groundwork for a healthy Christian imagination has to begin with the recognition that, in Shakespeare’s immortal words, “There are more things in heaven and earth than our little philosophies dream of.” To put it another way, life can’t be stuffed into the nice, neat categories that inward-looking modern Christian “spirituality” so often demands it conform to.

As Evangelical Christians, we so often want nothing more than to spend all our lives in “evangelism” so that souls can be saved. We have little concern for, and often resent, mundanities like washing the dishes and “secular” employment and novel-reading, and often consider those things a distraction from the really important spiritual stuff.

We tend to act as if we think that “holiness” is what is left in the world after all the “weird” things have been removed from it, made no longer worthy of serious thought. – or at least, banished to the pages of poorly-written Christian-thriller novels that make ordinary life in the world God made a sort of thinly-veiled cover for what really matters: angels and demons invisibly fighting while believers pray fervently and sing hymns.

Too often we zealously pursue a vision of life that is, as the old saying goes, “so heavenly minded it’s no earthly good.”

Perhaps this is why for nearly a century we have let slide cultural matters outside our own narrow circles. As a general rule art, literature, poetry, and music are simply too earthy for our hyper-spiritual tastes. Unless they have an “evangelistic” purpose they are mostly “irrelevant” to our daily lives as Christians.

It’s arresting to realize that most of our culturally influential forebears in the Faith would think we’ve sacrificed the actually important things about embodied life for a mess of otherworldly, pious pottage that actually makes us powerless to fight the monsters and dragons of our age.

St. George and Una may at first seem “spiritual” in some exaggerated sense that devalues bodily life, but that’s too hasty a conclusion. Metaphor isn’t not real, nor is “spiritual” (for our type of creature, anyway) a simple antithesis to “bodily.” A healthy Christian imagination will know how to identify and apply the really important things, not merely create artificial boxes that lop of whole gigantic realms of creation in the name of not being “carnally minded.”

For more on the Christian imagination, see my short books, It’s Not A Small World, After All, and Worlds Within the World: How Tolkien Can Help Christians Write Better Fiction.

Life is A Weird Thing (If You Really Think About It) – Christian Imagination, Pt. 1

Life is an odd thing when you think about it. It is a weird amalgam of spiritual and material things that seem to depend on each other and affect each other profoundly. Whether one is a Christian or not life is a matter of basic faith commitments working themselves out into a world that is sometimes wonderfully, sometimes tiresomely physical.

Life seems a bewildering array of seeming opposites—philosophy and farming, eating and prayer, Bibles and Humanist Manifestos, faith and science, theology and music, logic and emotion. We need a robust imagination to navigate these antinomies, to help us see how in reality they are much more connected than we realize.

But as we ponder the weirdness of life and the necessity of imagination to make it through, let’s not forget that greatest of all ubiquitous phenomena—body odor. Even saints stink to high heaven sometimes.

With that whimsical thought, I begin a short series on the Christian imagination. Hope you’ll come along!

For more on the Christian imagination, see my short books, It’s Not A Small World, After All, and Worlds Within the World: How Tolkien Can Help Christians Write Better Fiction.

Excessive Reading Is the Opposite of Acquiring Wisdom

Something I’ve noticed for some years as a classical teacher: there’s a widespread assumption that reading lots and lots of pages at a pretty rapid pace equals a rigorous, and as the name implies, “classical” education. But in various venues from grades 7-12 and even into college, I have seen over and over again that this assumption is not true.

Assuming that number of pages read in the name of “exposure” is going to lead to a good education is experimentally false. All it leads to for most students is superficiality – a sense that one has mastered in a very short time the Great Books that have kept superb intellects going night and day – often without a lasting “payoff” – for 2,500 years.

We would do well as classical educators to take seriously the example of medieval monks, who would often check out only one book at a time, say, Augustine’s Confessions, and spend an entire year on it, reading, rereading, contemplating the text, praying about it, writing about it, and then reading it again.

The hue and cry these days will, of course, be, “But modern students don’t have that kind of attention span! They get bored very easily, so we need to keep them moving. Otherwise we’ll lose them!” I repeatedly hear, even from those whom I think should know better, that activities in a class session should be kept to 5 to 7 minute chunks, and then the activity changed, all so the modern student does not get “bored” and cease paying attention.

Sed contra. this sort of mentality, along with the “number of pages read equals significant engagement with wisdom” one, are not only experimentally false but actually anti-classical. If you closely watch students reared on this mentality, you will begin to see that their natural immaturity, expressed in laziness, combined with what feels to them like intense and crushing pressure from teachers demanding they read 200 pages of dense, scarcely comprehensible prose or poetry per week, results merely in skimming and other modes of intellectual cheating that bypass the whole point of reading such books in the first place. And yes, even the straight-A students do this. Constantly.

Truly, classical texts, whether Christian or pagan, should be thought of as fruits on a vine, and the student as someone who is being shown by the teacher how to carefully go through the vineyard inspecting them, looking closely at them, taking a great deal of time to slowly cultivate the art of discerning what the fruit is and how best to make use of it.

Away with “number of pages read”. I can think of few scarcely more useless, and again, anti-classical, standards of intellectual development than that. Away with creating classes on the basis of what supposedly is and isn’t in-sync with the modern student’s psychological and emotional states. Classical education is a set of rigorous disciplines, not a generic “method” or a set of accreditation benchmarks keyed to passing tests and raising GPAs and increasing college entrance success rates.

It’s time we ask ourselves seriously: how precisely are we giving our students classical education? Do we really understand what classical education is ourselves? Is what we are doing when we do the sorts of things I mentioned above (and many others in the same vein) actually classical, or have we simply slapped that word on top of a superficial, and merely instrumental, modern pedagogy?