Opinions on faith and life

Places, Everyone!

2010-09-25

In Facebook today a friend posted a link to an outstanding valedictorian speech, and the comments include links to some more good reading such as Weapons of Mass Instruction, a book I had forgotten about but never should. These links are on the topic of mass indoctrination in an industrial world:

Gatto laid out his comprehensive critical analysis of the current education system in his previous book The Underground History of American Education. He contends that the current education system was set up from the start to serve business and government interests by isolating children from the real world. “Only then could the necessary training in boredom and bewilderment begin. Such training is necessary to produce dependable consumers and dependent citizens who would always look for a teacher to tell them what to do in later life, even if that teacher was an ad man or television anchor.” In a recent interview he summarized how he got started as a teacher, why he left the profession, why the current education system is a failure, and offers solutions to the problem. ... even Albert Einstein... wrote in his autobiographical notes:

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly.”

If these articles and books tell us nothing else, it is that no system of education, no society, can stand for very long without individuals of strong character at its core. Society stands or falls on the strength of families with shared moral standards. And those standards cannot be rigid controls but reasonable boundaries for an underlying conviction that the human spirit is meant to be inquisitive and creative, and the human life is meant to have purpose. A directed freedom is much to be preferred over a micromanaged mental prison on one extreme, or an aimless, narcissistic and hedonistic waste of life on the other. It is the difference between indoctrination and education.

But the churches have done no better, and in some ways have done far worse. Sunday School is indoctrination, and to a small degree rightly so. But beyond the essentials of the faith there has always been far too much spoonfeeding, too much imposed conformity. And then we wonder why students are bored out of their skulls, why they so quickly lose their externally-applied “faith” after going off to college or work, why they are so easily manipulated and controlled, and if they stay in church, why they prefer a religion of eternal spiritual childhood.

Our seminaries are veritable conformity machines churning out cogs (“pastors”) for the wheels of top-down control. The students enter with conditioned dedication and loyalty to The System and leave with the burning desire to perpetuate that system. Regardless of the content of their sermons, the underlying conformity is to the hierarchy that perpetuates itself. No one thinks to question the paradigm, and if anyone does, that person is ostracized and labeled. If you don’t believe me, just try standing up at the next convention or other gathering of “pastors” and challenge the status quo. Try telling them that the whole corporate power structure is wrong, even harmful. Try even gently suggesting that Sunday morning should not focus on The Sermon.

The church, like the so-called educational system of the world, is set up toward one goal: to put people in their places. Go to any church and they’ll say “Find a place to plug in”. Some will tell you that your place is determined by your reproductive organs or your skin color or your social class. Most will tell you which Sunday School class you belong in, where you can sit in the sanctuary for worship, where you can park your car. If you’re a seminary grad you’ll be told that your place is in The Pulpit.

But what they don’t seem to tell you, consistently at least, is what the gospel is, what it means to be reconciled to God, what it means to die to sin. They, like the secular schools, want to apply an external layer of conformity but forget what it takes to internalize values. If society is built upon shared convictions, so much more the Christian faith. But we as churches and parents have failed to go beyond indoctrination or spoonfeeding; we don’t know how to instill values in the next generation.

How do we change this? Personally, I think everything begins on a very basic level. We have to practice what we preach, and preach what we believe, and believe the Truth. If we don’t live out these values every day, then they’re not convictions but preferences. And who is willing to sacrifice for the preferences of others? Who will stand up to ridicule or be deprived of acceptance for the values held by someone else? It is this disconnect between words and living that makes our children reject their upbringing, whether it’s faith or political views.

When Jesus chose His disciples, He said He would teach them to “fish”. But we don’t do that. We hand out the fish and teach dependency and superficiality, and the church and the world we currently have is the result. If we are to change all this, we have to start with ourselves. And when others see us living our convictions, they too may want to learn to fish.

9 Comments

Mabel

Great post. Eloquently written. Thanks

Lydia

Oh boy is this ever true. Esp in church it is about conformity. Being around many seminary students only confirms this for me. I see them carrying their Grudem books and they gush about Piper, Chandler and Driscoll types. And yes, they look forward to the day when they are in "charge" of a flock. They like to think of themselves as sacrficing and serving but it isn’t. How easy to think like that when you are in control. It is delusional. And we see it in pastor comments on many blogs.

Where is Jesus Christ? Where is higher thinking? But most importantly, what ever happened to teaching on the Holy Spirit. It is sorely missing out there and has become my big focus to encourage people that if saved, they are given that gift. They do not need the pastor or their husband to be the Holy Spirit for them.

Paula Fether

Tanx Mabel! :-)

Paula Fether

Good questions, Lydia. But as we all know, asking such questions would only be answered with derision and denial. It’s a lose-lose situation with them.

Greg Anderson

I just looooove subversive writings! Keep em’ comin’ Paula! I thank God and bless Providence that we have a free and open internet that enables us to write what we wish in the true spirit of free press as the Founders intended. And yes we can stem the tide of unquestioned conformity by teaching our children & grandchildren to read and think for themselves and not take to the bank at face value what preachers, politicians, and TV advertising tells them to.

And Lydia, here’s another inconvenient truth about the mega-biggies you cite above. They couldn’t care less about what us little folks and nobodies say on blogs and in the mean streets. So long as the well-heeled tithers and contributors keep pouring in the moolah, they’ll sit in fat city, just like the priestly caste did ages ago when agriculture and food surpluses made them possible.

Paula Fether

Will do, Greg. :-) I share your appraisal of teh internetz as more good than bad. While a library is supposedly better because the weeding out of inferior writings has been done for us by that benevolent dictator known as a librarian (being snarky, not bashing librarians!), I much prefer doing my own weeding in the hope that I may find a genuine treasure instead of one planted there for me. And I honestly believe that without this global, instantaneous communication medium, we’d all be swallowing global warming-- er, cooling-- er, climate change and ::shudder:: be at the mercy of the lamestream media.

Lydia

"They couldn’t care less about what us little folks and nobodies say on blogs and in the mean streets. So long as the well-heeled tithers and contributors keep pouring in the moolah, they’ll sit in fat city, just like the priestly caste did ages ago when agriculture and food surpluses made them possible."

They certainly care when the pew sitters blog on some of their behavior and false teaching. One church cared so much they got a subpeona so google would have to out the blogger. Then they sent him a trespass warning about coming to church.

They care so much that the Georgia State Association made a resolution against blogging because one member caught one of the preachers viewing porn on his computer and blogged about it. So, the resolution was to warn other pew sitters that blogging, not pastors viewing porn, is sinful.

They DO care when it affects their carefully crafted fake image.

Cindy K

I think that Tocqueville would agree with you and the speaker you quote, as he said quite similar things about America and our system when he wrote "Democracy in America."

I’ve had some involvement in editing scientific research in recent years, and I am appalled at the gross lack of ethics people demonstrate in the processing of their data. Few people still hold their data up to the cruelty of statistical analysis to see whether they’ve elucidated truth, but rather, they cut corners and bend rules to prove their hypothesis. It is quite like all of this proof texting we see in religious circles. Start out with an idea you hope to prove and then select only the information that makes your hypothesis seem valid. I thought of this the other day while I had an old movie on TV, noting that three advertisements were calling for people who had taken certain drugs to come forward for legal settlements because of the harm caused by the unanticipated (or likely ignored) adverse effects of the drugs.

I think that we see the same thing happen with our religious teachings when they start bearing their regretful fruits. It makes me think of The Shadow: "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows." Our cutting ethical corners for the greater good does not pay either. And we can be great only as long as we can be good.

Paula Fether

Good analogy, Cindy. Just as "science" is routinely warped in favor of benefactors or institutions, so also is "religion". I’ve blogged about the latter in several articles, where even the underlying texts are altered to suit the bias of the keepers of those texts-- the proverbial fox guarding the hen-house. But the fact that we know these alterations happen is a reason for hope, because it shows that we can get around the foxes if we are motivated.