|James Austin Bishop
James Austin Bishop is a teacher of political science, history and economics. He is also a writer of "interminable political screeds" and "barely comprehensible, but benign, rabid right-wing manifestos."
Mr. Bishop lives and writes in the Northeastern United States, where he resides with his wife, one child and a "stupid dog."
The Religion of Radical Secularism
by James Austin Bishop
January 1, 2003
"All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government . . .in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body." - John Stuart Mill, 1859
Socialism by definition requires the subordination of the natural rights of man to the greater good of the collective whole. Natural rights are anathema to the egalitarian ideal of any experiment in socialism and as such need to be suppressed or redefined by the powers involved. The most efficient means of that suppression is through control of the cultural institutions - the media, popular entertainment, religious institutions, the arts and, most importantly, the universities and schools.
But just as utopian egalitarianism is always doomed to ultimate failure by the individualistic nature of the human beast, so is similitude in education as a means toward that end doomed by the workings of the human mind - workings unlimited in their varying degrees of quality, speed, method and approach. In the words of Herbert Spencer:
"If it be granted that man was created a progressive being, it must be granted, also, that the Constitution, given to him by his Creator, was the one most perfectly adapted to secure his progression. It may be presumed that, if a uniform construction of mind had been best calculated to attain this end, it would have been adopted; but, as the opposite law has been given - so that, instead of finding minds similar, we find no two alike - unlimited variety, instead of uniformity, being the existing order of things - we must infer that this is the arrangement tending, in the greatest degree, to produce perfection."
If we accept the premise that, in the construction of the human mind, unlimited variety instead of uniformity is the existing order of things, then it follows that the only function of state-controlled, uniform educational methods could be to facilitate a social agenda with an eye toward egalitarianism. Because egalitarianism, by definition, runs contrary to human nature, it can only be imposed upon the population by force. In the case of state education, that egalitarian ideology is imposed on children, even if that imposition comes over the objections of, or runs counter to the beliefs of their parents.
The genius of the Constitution of the United States lies in its recognition that Government has no power to confer rights; that the rights of man are natural, and government exists to recognize and protect those rights. Of natural rights, perhaps none other is more fundamental than the right to raise one's own children in a manner consistent with one's own system of beliefs. When compulsory state education conflicts with those beliefs, and the parent has no legal alternative to the state monopoly on education, then the natural rights of the parent are violated, and one of the founding principles of this nation is subverted. Thus, if the state is to justify its claim of a compelling public interest in mandating that all children be formally educated, then that claim must be balanced by an equal claim by parents on the right to alternative forms of education.
Writing in "Education Next" magazine, Charles L. Glenn observed, "The case for charter schools, vouchers, and other forms of "marketized" education rests not only on educational performance but also on the claims of freedom of conscience. Parents have a fundamental right - written into the various international covenants protecting human rights - to choose the schooling that will shape their children's understanding of the world. But a right isn't really a right if it can't be exercised. Families who can't afford tuition at a private school or a move to the suburbs should still be able to make choices regarding their children's education."
The vehement opposition of the liberal establishment, currently represented in politics by the Democratic party, to parental choice in education, serves well to expose the true agenda behind state-mandated, state-controlled education in America. It is inevitable that, when an ideology is based on a lie, that ideology will frequently find itself espousing ideals that are in conflict with others also espoused. Such is the case when the liberal opposition to parental control of education is compared to its professed championing of human rights as defined by such supranational bodies as the United Nations. For example, the United Nations "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (a worthless document -- but that's another story) states, in Article 18:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance," and in Article 26, "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
But freedom of conscience and the rights of parents to choose the kind of education that will be given to their children are anachronisms to "progressives" who deem themselves intellectually superior in matters of education, among others. A 1997 Public Agenda survey of professors in teacher-training institutions illustrates this. Of 900 professors surveyed, 79 percent agreed that "the general public has outmoded and mistaken beliefs about what good teaching means." They also indicated their belief that parents, far from having a right to choose educational options for their children, need to be "educated or reeducated about how learning ought to happen in today's classroom."
The struggle for freedom of conscience in education has an even more formidable foe than the intellectual elites in the political forces that drive the movement toward a secular, socialist society. Glenn continues, in "Education Next":
"Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that the teacher must choose whether he will make a man or a citizen. The choice is not so stark, but it is nevertheless real. The state may seek to mold citizens on a particular pattern, but citizens in a free society surely have a right not to be molded, in their opinions and character, by the state. The child is not the mere creature of the state."
It is precisely the right not to be molded in their opinions and character by the state that puts parents in a free society in conflict with the forces of socialism which require such molding to advance their agendas. The right not to be molded by the state is self-evident (to most), but the desire not to be molded is most often rooted in that other tenet of a free people: the right to the free exercise of religion. It is one thing to be prohibited by the state from practicing one's religion within the confines of a state-controlled school - that's bad enough. But it is something more insidious to be forced to absorb a religion that is in opposition to one's own. That is indoctrination, and that is just what state-controlled schools in America are doing; they are indoctrinating our children into their own religion.
"Concerns over deep entanglements between government and religion have of course haunted the nation from its very beginning," writes Glenn. "But in the education realm, the sheer hostility toward religious schools is not just a matter of separating church from state. It in part reflects and derives from the self-image of many educators, who like to think of themselves as having been specially anointed to decide what is in the best interest of children. Faith-based schools, they assume, are in the business of 'indoctrinating' their pupils, while public schools are by definition committed to critical thinking and to the emancipation of their pupils' minds from the darkness of received opinions, even those of their own parents."
But the real result of these attempts at social engineering, as is so often the case, is the exact opposite of the expressed intention. Rather than emancipating the minds of their students from "the darkness of received opinions," these intellectual elites, and by extension the political forces that they influence, are in reality indoctrinating those minds into the religion of radical secularism.
Modern liberalism is nothing more than a shade of Marxism, of course. Liberals will hoot with indignation when you tell them this, but the fact remains, utterly indifferent to anyone's refusal to acknowledge it. Marxism as a political and economic system has long since been thoroughly discredited (which is why liberals and other socialists try to distance themselves from the term), and yet the dream remains stubbornly alive, especially among the intelligentsia in our institutions. In the absence of factual, rational justifications to support belief in an ideology, only one thing remains to explain that support: faith.
In "Slouching Towards Gomorrah," Robert H. Bork writes, "The inner need for pervasive meaning was satisfied through most of history in Western civilization by religion. But as religious faith began to retreat, beginning in the eighteenth century and proceeding apace in the nineteenth and twentieth, the intellectual's need for meaning did not decline but remained urgent. Now, however, meaning must be found in a secular belief system, it is difficult to think of anything that would fit this specification for most intellectuals other than politics. . . . To be a civil religion, however, this politics cannot be the politics of mundane clashes of material interests and compromises; it must be a politics of ideology."
Bork notes the remarks of Max Weber, who said that when certain types of German intellectualism turned against religion, there occurred "the rise of economic, eschatological faith of socialism," and that not only communism, but fascism and Nazism were faith systems of the Left, offering transcendental meaning to their adherents.
The same thing is happening in the United States today. "Modern Liberalism," writes Bork, "is what fascism looks like when it has captured significant institutions, most notably the universities, but has no possibility of becoming a mass movement or of gaining power over government or the broader society through force or the threat of force. Power must then be sought in increments and by indirection."
The teachers of the teachers, in control of the institutions and infusing them with their faith systems of the left, are passing those faith systems on to our children through the state-controlled schools. The hostility toward other religions in those schools is proof in itself of the fundamentalist, intolerant nature of the religion of radical secularism and speaks loudly to the urgent need for a defense of freedom of conscience. Parents, otherwise trapped by the compulsory schooling laws that compel them to submit their children to indoctrination into the religion of radical secularism need alternatives that will allow them to raise their children in accordance with their own values and faith systems. School vouchers, unregulated homeschooling and competition with for-profit schools are a few small steps in the right direction.
© 2002 Tocqevillian Magazine