Several years ago, my pastor and I had a long discussion regarding Christian Education. He felt that for Christian parents to send their children to a Christian school was dualist. Dualist in the sense that the things of Christ are considered separate from the things of life—a sacred/secular dualism. My response to this was that the sort of Christian school that I worked at was founded on the premise that that one can’t separate Christ from the rest of life. He may have been equating Christian schools in general with the sort that arises out of what Niebuhr called Christ against Culture stance [see Why Christian Education? (Part 1)]. This view is certainly dualist for its advocates see a separation between the things of this world and the spiritual world ruled by God. My school, and others like it, expresses a rejection of the sacred/secular dualism.
In this part, I would like to address this objection to Christian schools.
Are Christian Schools Dualistic?
To my pastor, I argued that if he wanted to avoid dualism, he ought to be hesitant about sending his children to the local public school which operates under the same dualistic philosophy as the Christ against Culture model, albeit from the other side. My contention is that the ideas of modernism are still deeply rooted in our culture and foundational to modernism is the separation of the religious from the secular. The Christ against Culture schools separate the two for the sake of the religious, and public schools isolate the secular.
Many aspects of North American culture are still largely under the influence of modernism. In a recent installment of the CBC program Ideas (“After Atheism, Part 3”) producer David Cayley says,
“To be modern is to divide the world up into two realms, a public, secular sphere in which things are judged rationally according to agreed standards of evidence and argument, and a private religious sphere in which irrational opinion and existential decision hold sway.”
Religion was seen as the “source of oppression, obscurantism, and unending war, until the state tamed this unruly power and put it in its place.” This idea, says Cayley, “is in many ways the founding myth of modern society.”
Not surprisingly, this modern view of religion is apparent in our modern institutions. In the United States, the idea of the separation between church and state has come to mean exactly this. In Canada, the courts have determined that the “freedom of religion” guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, means that citizens have the right to follow their own religious beliefs, but it does not only mean freedom OF religion, but also freedom FROM religion. In order to satisfy both, religion is relegated to the private sphere.
Canadian courts have also said that the Charter applies to school boards. Schools recognize the importance of religion in providing a moral and spiritual framework for life so religion can be taught, but must be done so in a neutral and academic fashion.
Two Problems with Public/Private Dualism
There are two problems with the separation of public secularism and private faith.
The First Problem: Neutrality is not Possible
The first is that neutrality is not possible. A neutral stance toward religion is not a neutral stance. In that the preferment of neutrality is a way of looking at reality in general and all other religions in particular; it is, in essence, a religious claim. To claim that we ought to exclude the religious voice from public discourse is implicitly religious for it is based on a set of beliefs about the world and the human beings’ place in it.
The Second Problem: Private convictions can’t be left at the door
The second problem with relegating religion to the private sphere is that religion can’t be private. It is impossible for anyone to enter the public sphere and leave their convictions at the door. This is true of every belief, including those of secularism.
Christianity certainly cannot be relegated to the private sphere. Paul says this of Christ in Colossians 15-17.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together
I like how Abraham Kuyper puts it. In his inaugural address at the dedication of the Free University, he said,
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
C. S. Lewis echoes this idea:
“There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”
My pastor friend was resistant to the dualism inherent in the Christ against Culture type of Christian school because it limits the Lordship of Christ to only a narrow slice of life. But I think that it is equally problematic for those who believe in the universal sovereignty of Christ to send their children to a school which insists Christ’s authority is to be confined to the private realm. Both are based on false dichotomies: public/private, culture/Christ, physical/spiritual, reason/faith, to name a few.
Christianity, at its core, is an orientation of one’s entire life toward a person—the Son of God and Redeemer of all that is. Every other belief is subordinate to this Truth. Our culture, however, asks us to subordinate this Truth to the truth claims made by a secular religion–that this idea is merely a private belief. I do not hold this against its proponents, for every religion subordinates the beliefs of every other religion to its truth claims. It’s just that the devotees of this modern secular religion insist that their beliefs aren’t religious.
This is why I am a passionate supporter of Christian Education for all Christian families.