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Trickle-Down Theology Won't Work | Jonathan J. Bean, Ph.D. | A Guest Op-Ed for Ignatius Insight | July 27, 2009
In 1935, a French politician asked Joseph Stalin to appease the Pope by tolerating
Catholicism in the Soviet Union, where atheism was the state "religion." Stalin
roared "The Pope! How many divisions has he got?"
In fact, the Pope had many divisions throughout the world. Catholic churches and
schools taught the faithful that God, not man, ruled over the universe. These
unarmed divisions destroyed Soviet-style communism from within and exerted
Western Catholic pressure from without.
was then, this is now. Has Pope Benedict XVI lost his divisions, especially
schools, to the relativism that he denounces in his recent encyclical (Caritas
in Veritate)? From Rome, the Pope calls for virtuous conduct in the
marketplace, yet Church teaching no longer "trickles down" to the Catholic
masses the way it once did. As spiritual "transmission lines," Catholic schools
face two challenges: the exodus of Catholics to "value-neutral" public schools,
and the subversive influence of academics who flout the "Magisterium" (the
"teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church").
Catholic schools played a special role in America, where immigrants faced
hostile Protestants who used public schools to impose their brand of
Christianity on the "inferior races" arriving from Eastern and Southern Europe.
and Liberty in America, I show
how anti-Catholicism peaked in the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan persuaded Oregon
to ban all church schools. The Supreme Court struck down this odious law,
declaring that children were not "mere creature[s] of the state." Catholic
schools continued to operate without State interference, thus offering
Catholics and black migrants an alternative to state-run education.
graduate of Catholic schools, I benefitted from this school choice. During the
1970s, my public schooling culminated with the violent anarchy of junior high
school. My parents sent me to a nearby Catholic high school. The absence of
fear was liberating. The nuns, priests, and lay teachers offered a well-rounded
education, including religious training. In 1980, I was off to Catholic college
for study of the Great Books, history and rigorous coursework in religion
(biblical criticism is not for lazy students). I gained a deeper understanding
of Church teaching even if my "work-hard, party-hard" side sometimes got the
better of me.
1994 I returned to my alma mater as a lecturer. The college had opened its
doors to sixties radicals bent on reconstructing the school in their own image.
As I taught History, the tenured radicals pummeled students with sensitivity
training, lessons on "white privilege," feminist discussion of the
Goddess, and library display of gay or transgender authors. The Great Books
program was gone, replaced by a "diversity" curriculum. There was no time left
for schooling future professionals in the virtues that the Pope and Church deem
necessary for living the Good Life.
years later, the situation is worse. Catholic schools have blended into the
great Blob of Diversity that has homogenized State schooling. We are witnessing
a disuniting of the American Catholic
body by those hostile to Churchteaching. Academic administrators, eager
for the respect of their peers, mimic the schools that once sneered at "dogmatic"
Catholic education. The best education, progressives argued, was "pragmatism"
based on modern (later postmodern) notions of citizenship. Few paused to
consider how time passed by their pragmatic causes: eugenics, admission quotas
limiting Jews—progressives rushed off to new causes forgetting the damage
wrought by their past handiwork.
might ask: Who will pass on the essence of Pope Benedict's latest teaching? Or
the basic Truths of the Church? Or simply offer school choice to those trapped
in failing public schools? Non-Catholics ought to be concerned about the
survival of Catholic schools because
Catholic dioceses subsidize the tuition of disadvantaged minority
students—an act of charity that our government has yet to take (and
probably shouldn't given the State's track record).
Catholics must recover sanity in their schooling. In his latest message, the
Pope reminds us that a marketplace of value-neutral people is on the road to
destruction. Benjamin Franklin said as much 200 years ago: "Only a virtuous
people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have
more need of masters."
time for Catholics and others to abandon value-neutral schooling. This is
something that Catholics, Protestants, and Jews can agree upon. The Catholic
school is just one avenue to "get the message across." Home schools, Protestant
schools, yeshivas are essential as long
as the State abandons public school children to the anomie of mass culture.
theology via the mass media is not enough. Virtue takes conditioning, and like
learning a language, it is better to start young. If Catholic schools don't do
it, parents will simply leave the Church (as they have in droves), for what
have we to offer our children if we are like the rest of society?
cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through
something is to see something through it. . . . If you see through everything,
then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible
world. To see through all things is the same as not to see." —C. S.
Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:
Reading Without Learning: On Not Missing "Sublime Passages" |
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Ivory Comedy Clubs: The Tragedy of Modern Education | Dr. Jose Yulo
Catholic Commencements: A Time for Truth to Be Honored | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Molochs of Modernity | Dr.
Ratzinger and Regensburg: On What Is a University? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
On Learning and Education | An Interview with Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Reading Without Learning: On Not Missing "Sublime Passages" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
On School and Things That Are Not Fair | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
On Teaching the Important Things | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Jonathan J. Bean, Ph.D, is a Research Fellow at the
Independent Institute and professor of History at Southern Illinois University.
A graduate of St. Michael's College (Vermont), he attends Our Lady of Mount
Carmel Church in Carterville, Illinois, with his family.
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