Philosophical

…and the aftermath

What are the repercussions of the tragedy of the Non-reformation for Christians today? How does it affect us in our approach to education? This will necessarily be a very cursory look at the subject, as my knowledge is neither broad nor deep; I ask for your charity in advance.

We’re faced with a number of competing approaches to education, each with a now well-established culture and history inescapably attached to it. It’s a bit like clothes: no matter what you wear, it sends some message to people. We can’t adopt any educational philosophy without being labelled and classified. And the option of having no educational philosophy doesn’t exist, whether you think you’re a philosopher or not.

Since the thirteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church has followed the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, who attempted a synthesis of Christian and Greek philosophy, a kind of theological same-sex marriage. (This is, of course, why they treated Galileo so shabbily; it was Aristotle, not God, who said that the sun goes around the earth.) To this day, in my experience at least, Catholic culture deliberately and emphatically embraces all sorts of contradictory aspects: Christian piety, worldly philosophy, pagan superstition, smutty humour, and so on. Catholic education would appear to be a similarly mixed bag, teaching both the church’s religious practices and the world’s ungodly curriculum with the same hearty vigour.

Protestants – and there have been protestants, in the broad sense of those who protest against abuses in the church, more or less throughout history – have militated against this riotous philosophical eclecticism, and thus have always been in danger of throwing one or another baby out with some or other bathwater. The Reformed tradition to which I belong has often tended to be overly academic, focusing on correct doctrine at the expense of personal piety and practical action. On the other hand, the Anabaptist sects (such as the Quakers, the Amish, the Mennonites, and so on) emphasized spiritual experience and practical godliness to the exclusion of the analytical, and could even be openly anti-intellectual – an attitude which has resurfaced in some Pentecostal circles.

Being at the far side of all this history has a good and a bad side for the Christian today who is desperately trying to find a balance in these things. The good side – and I think the good is far greater than the bad – is that we don’t have to make all these mistakes again. We need nothing more than a good book and a comfy armchair to do the trial-and-error test. We are free to look for a both-and, not an either-or, in Christian education. The bad side is simply that nobody will understand what we are doing. If we aim to have personal piety and intellectual endeavour and practical action, not only will we notice that there are some vexing time constraints, but we will find that everyone we try to explain it to will assume that we must belong to the other camp.

I guess our family haven’t made it any easier for ourselves by being Reformed pseudo-intellectuals with a slightly Mennonite lifestyle. Oh, well.  “…our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Cor. 4:17.

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