April 21, 2008

Politicians' Empty God-talk

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but certain politicians in Oklahoma are not at all bashful when it comes to talking about God.

For example, Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan (D-Stillwater) wants all Oklahoma schoolchildren "to become everything God intended for them to be." State Sen. Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau) wants every student to reach his "God-given potential." State Sen. Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant) believes in "giving every child a chance to become everything God intends for him or her to become."

But how is a child supposed to know what God intends?

A child needs answers. Who am I, and how did I get here? Is there a God? How does he reveal himself to me? Am I created in God’s image, or am I the product of a blind, purposeless process? Is God the architect of history, or not? If so, does he have a place in it for me? How do I become “everything God intends” for me?

Let’s hope that monumental one hour a week in Sunday school is a real doozy, because in Monday-through-Friday school these crucial questions have to be avoided 30 hours a week for 12 years. Or they have to be answered in some "neutral" or "value-free" way, which of course is impossible. Somebody’s religious assumptions — somebody’s worldview — will necessarily undergird and suffuse any curriculum.

But rest assured, they won’t be Christian assumptions. As a matter of public policy and jurisprudence, our public schools are officially agnostic. This isn’t a criticism, it’s merely a description, and an unassailable one at that.

"Why are you here?" a philosophical Brad Henry recently asked an assembly of public high-school students. "Why did God put you on this earth?"

Good questions. He put them on this earth to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Too bad their school is prohibited from teaching them that.

"A great future begins with a great education," Gov. Henry has also pointed out. "As Proverbs 16:16 tells us, 'How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!'"

The governor should be applauded for touting wisdom, and for injecting the Bible (!) into a discussion of K-12 education. I mean that with all sincerity. But as any good Baptist surely knows, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And do the public schools inculcate that fear?

Quite the contrary. Their message is simple: God may or may not exist, but he or she is simply not relevant to what goes on in biology class or history or sex education or English literature. "The school system that ignores God," writes Gordon H. Clark, "teaches its pupils to ignore God; and this is not neutrality. It is the worst form of antagonism, for it judges God to be unimportant and irrelevant in human affairs. This is atheism."

Yes, wisdom is important. But the Scriptures declare that Christ himself is "the wisdom of God." He wants students to love him with all their minds. In Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," from anthropology to zoology. As Guthrie native Bob Slosser, a Christian author and former New York Times editor, put it: "How can children be expected to make sense of anything — from science to social studies — if the puzzle always has the central piece missing?"

How can children be expected to "get wisdom" if they spend 12 years in a system which by law must ignore the very source of wisdom? As C.S. Lewis observed, "We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

Ironically, Sen. Gumm is sponsoring legislation that would allow Oklahomans to purchase a license plate with the motto "In God We Trust." But suppose a teacher took that license plate off her car, brought it into the classroom, and hung it on the bulletin board. And suppose she said, "Students, you need to know that it is in God we trust. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview, and in my classroom God’s Word is the interpretive principle of every subject." This is simply not permitted. In the ACLU we trust.

So two cheers for all these politicians who feel the need to talk about God. But how about letting children attend some schools where they talk about God?

As a matter of law and public policy, our public schools must (like Peter) deny Christ. Some parents are OK with that, but many — believing their child cannot become "everything God intends" in that environment — are not. And since the politicians are concerned about "every child," let’s give those children some choices.