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Foundations Of The Western Outlook
We will never fully understand American schools until we think long and hard about religion. Whether you are Buddhist, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Baptist, Confucian, Catholic, Protestant, agnostic, or atheist, this is a hunt for important threads in the tapestry overlooked by secular academic exegesis. More specifically, our quest is for insights of Protestant Christian dissent which have been buried for at least a century, insights which I hope will cause you to look at schools in a different way.
To find out what School seeks to replace, we have to uncover the four pillars which hold up Western society. Two come from the Nordic rim of Europe: the first, a unique belief in the sovereign rights of the individual; the second, what we have come to call scientific vision. Everywhere else but in the West, individual and family were submerged in one or another collective system. Only here were the chips bet on liberty of individual conscience.
The ambition to know everything appears in history in the stories of the Old Norse god Odin, god of Mind and god of Family Destruction, too. No other mythology than the Norse puts pride of intellect together with a license to pry so at the center of things. Science presumes absolute license. Nothing can be forbidden. Science and individualism are the two secular foundations of Western outlook.
Our other two supports for social meaning are religious and moral. Both originate in the south of Europe. From this graft of North and South comes the most important intellectual synthesis so far seen on this planet, Western civilization. One of these Mediterranean legs is a specific moral code coming out of the Decalogue, of Judaism working through the Gospels of Christianity. The rules are these:
- Love, care for, and help others.
- Bear witness to the good.
- Respect your parents and ancestors.
- Respect the mysteries; know your place in them.
- Dont envy.
- Dont lie or bear false witness.
- Dont steal.
- Dont kill.
- Dont betray your mate.
The fourth and most difficult leg comes from a Christian interpretation of Genesis. It is constituted out of a willing acceptance of certain penalties incurred by eating from the Tree of Knowledge against Gods command. The Original Sin. For disobedience, Adam, Eve, and their descendants were sentenced to four punishments.
The first was labor. There was no need to work in Eden, but after the Expulsion, we had to care for ourselves. The second penalty was pain. There was no pain in Eden, but now our weak nature was subject to being led astray, to feeling pain, even from natural acts like childbirth, whether we were good people or bad people. Third was the two-edged free will penalty, including the right to choose Evil which would now lurk everywhere. Recall that in Eden there was exactly one wrong thing to do, eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Now we would have to endure the stress of constant moral armament against a thousand temptations or of surrendering to sin. Last and most important, the term of human life would be strictly limited. Nobody would escape death. The more you have in wealth, family, community, and friends, the more you are tempted to curse God as you witness yourself day by day losing physical strength, beauty, energyeventually losing everything.
Before the sixteenth century, the orthodox Christian view was that human nature was equal to carrying this burden. It was weak, but capable of finding strength through faith. This doctrine of inescapable sin, and redemption through personal choice, carries a map of meaning through which to organize ones entire life. Face the inevitable in a spirit of humility and you are saved. This lesser-known side of the Christian curriculum, the one generated out of Original Sin, lacked a Cecil B. DeMille to illustrate its value, but once aware, lives could draw strength and purpose from it.
What Im calling the Christian curriculum assigns specific duties to men and women. No other system of meaning anywhere, at any time in history, has shown a record of power and endurance like this one, continuously enlarging its influence over all mankind (not just Christians), because it speaks directly to ordinary people without the mediation of elites or priesthoods.
Superficially, you might argue that the success of the West is the result of its guns being better. But really, Western civilization flourished because our story of hope is superior to any other.
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