This article was originally published in the Ancora Scholastica, the school newsletter of Mount Hope Lutheran School in Casper, WY.
Last week we began examining how important it is to define correctly what a human being is. If we do not define a human being correctly, we will not educate human beings correctly. We have already looked at the danger of treating the human mind like a computer, and have considered how technology has changed the way we think of learning. This week we will take on the other force that has changed the way we define and educate a human being: naturalism.
Naturalism is the belief (yes, it is a faith, not science) that human beings evolved from lesser organisms over the course of millions or billions of years. It is easy to scoff at the ridiculous tenets of naturalists, but we dare not think that the naturalist limits his views to biology class. The naturalist holds a definition of “human being” that is fundamentally and foundationally wrong, and therefore his definition affects not only how he teaches science to human beings, but how he teaches English, history, math, and every other subject.
How can that be? Well, consider how the naturalist defines what a human being is. The naturalist believes that man came into being as a result of unguided evolutionary forces, not the design of a Creator. Since there is no one who purposed that man live a certain kind of life, there is no such thing as sin, at least not sin against God (the naturalist is plenty clever at inventing his own commandments and accusing people of sinning against them). Man is thus exactly as man was intended to be, except that no one intended anything. Therefore, to put it in the words of Alexander Pope from his An Essay on Man, “Whatever Is, is RIGHT” (I.292).
What, then, is the first thing that ceases to be taught when naturalism rules the day at school? Virtue. Man isn’t inherently evil. Man isn’t even inherently good. Man is inherently amoral (according to the naturalist). The best that man can do in the realm of virtue is to act in a way that promotes cohesion and harmony in society, a way that tends toward a life free of conflict. Thus, yesterday, morality for the naturalist meant approving first of no-fault divorce, then of homosexuality. Today, morality for the naturalist means giving the imprimatur to transgenderism. Tomorrow, who knows? Morality for the naturalist might mean wearing your shirt on your legs and your pants on your head, though that would actually be slightly less backwards than the current naturalist moral tendencies.
What’s wrong with the naturalist’s stance toward morals? Well, it ignores the obvious. It ignores the blatant fact that man is inherently disposed toward evil and moral corruption. The Greeks and Romans understood from observation this inherent depravity of man (which is part of the reason why the Christian Church and classical education get along so well). And we Christians understand our corruption even better from the divine revelation of the Scriptures. There is a Law that governs all men, a Law which God Almighty has carved in unchanging stone. Man sinned against that Law, and now man is by nature inclined to sin and opposed to God. Man has no righteousness of his own, nor can he earn his own righteousness in any way.
What does this say about how we will educate a human being? It says two things. First, man needs to know Christ. Christ alone can be our righteousness, and without his righteousness, what’s the point of life at all? We might get in our kicks, live for the flesh or some lofty and inhuman ideal like the naturalist does. But then we would die and go to hell. Human beings need the righteousness of Jesus. They need to be taught about Jesus. An education without Jesus is no education for a human being. Dogs don’t need Jesus’ righteousness. Rocks and dirt don’t need Jesus’ righteousness. But human beings do need Jesus’ righteousness. So let’s not treat our children like dogs and dirt, but like human beings. Let’s give our children Jesus.
Second, if man is by nature sinful, then even after he has the righteousness of Christ, his flesh will still be warring against the Spirit. Man needs to be instructed in right and wrong, what is sin and transgression, what constitutes love and good works. In other words, an integral part of teaching a human being is teaching him virtue. A human being needs to learn patience, endurance, humility, chastity, self-control, and a host of other virtues. And a human being needs to learn to avoid fits of anger, lust, rebellion, covetousness, and a host of other vices. We know that man inclines toward sin if left to himself. So we don’t leave man to himself. We teach him virtue.
You see, then, how important it is to answer rightly, “What is a human being?” If we properly understand man’s nature, then we will teach him of Christ’s righteousness, we will teach him virtue, and we will do so by repetition.
Painting: “Children’s School” by Johann Wilhelm Schütze, 1807-1878