Secularism and the Death of Culture

In a recent article in the journal Inside Higher Ed Stephen Brockmann, a professor of German at Carnegie Mellon University apologized for the impact secular liberalism has had on the ability to pass Western culture onto future generations:

I was a graduate student in the 1980s, during the heyday of the so-called “culture wars” and the curricular attacks on “Western civilization.” Those days were punctuated by some Stanford students chanting slogans like “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go,” and by fiery debates about Allan Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind, which appeared in 1987, toward the end of my years in graduate school. Back then the battle lines seemed clear: conservatives were for Western civilization courses and the traditional literary canon, while liberals and progressives were against those things and for a new, more liberating approach to education.

In retrospect I find that decade and its arguments increasingly difficult to comprehend, even though I experienced them firsthand. I ask myself: What on earth were we thinking? Exactly why was it considered progressive in the 1980s to get rid of courses like Western civilization (courses that frequently included both progressives and conservatives on their reading lists)? And why did supporting a traditional liberal arts education automatically make one a conservative — especially if such an education included philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx?

Brockman goes onto describe in some detail how we have very little left to pass onto our students as a result of the crumbling of our Western traditions.

In a related column, Heather Wilson a member of the committee that selects Rhodes Scholars, shares the tangible consequences of a people who have no root in the truths or values of our culture:

Unlike many graduate fellowships, the Rhodes seeks leaders who will “fight the world’s fight.” They must be more than mere bookworms. We are looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership. The undergraduate education they are receiving seems less and less suited to that purpose.

An outstanding biochemistry major wants to be a doctor and supports the president’s health-care bill but doesn’t really know why. A student who started a chapter of Global Zero at his university hasn’t really thought about whether a world in which great powers have divested themselves of nuclear weapons would be more stable or less so, or whether nuclear deterrence can ever be moral. A young service academy cadet who is likely to be serving in a war zone within the year believes there are things worth dying for but doesn’t seem to have thought much about what is worth killing for. A student who wants to study comparative government doesn’t seem to know much about the important features and limitations of America’s Constitution.

When asked what are the important things for a leader to be able to do, one young applicant described some techniques and personal characteristics to manage a group and get a job done. Nowhere in her answer did she give any hint of understanding that leaders decide what job should be done. Leaders set agendas.

I wish I could say that this is a single, anomalous group of students, but the trend is unmistakable. Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study.

This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism.

In many ways this reflects my frequent criticisms of New Atheism. It’s not that I don’t respect a person’s right not to believe, or even that I believe atheists are being dishonest when they claim that they don’t have sufficient evidence to believe. As a Christian I accept the fact that many, perhaps most people will never have a faith in the same things I do. What concerns me and I think these articles highlight this concern are that atheists seem to believe that doubt is in and of itself sufficient to for a complete life and society and that scientific research is the only reliable means by which one may ascertain truth. I think this belief is gutting our culture and creating a poorer sort of person –persons incapable of comprehending the culture they inherited or of communicating anything of value beyond specific knowledge about the subject matter in which they have training.

Consider the fact that I recently had a discussion with an atheist that insisted we could not say in any objective way that human equality and the existence of human rights are ‘true’ because we could not empirically measure their existence. This is frightening, and indicative of the poverty of intellectualism amongst the secularists. It does not bode well for the future of the Western world.

I believe this is why European culture is fading – and why it will fall eventually to radical Islam, in much the way North Africa and the Middle East is falling as we speak. An empty and valueless skepticism cannot resist a motivated and aggressive opponent – it can only undermine its own position. As atheists attack Christianity (for some reason their primary target despite the notable ills of so many other religions and philosophies in the world) they erode the foundations of the very culture that allows them to exist as freely as they do.

Solomon warned us, “He who troubles his own house will inherit wind.” Our inheritance is almost here.

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2 Responses to Secularism and the Death of Culture

  1. Justin says:

    If students aren’t properly educated, it becomes easier to lead them to the beliefs to which you want them to hold.

  2. kenetiks says:

    Justin says:
    January 31, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    If students aren’t properly educated, it becomes easier to lead them to the beliefs to which you want them to hold.

    Kind of like, say…a church amirite?

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