Recently I phoned my good friend, Marcus, to wish him a pleasant birthday. Having known each other since our school days six decades ago we enjoyed reflecting on the changes, both positive and negative, we’ve witnessed since those salad years. One disturbing area, we agreed, has been education – the current condition of which we believe forebodes a dim future for our grandchildren’s generation.
In our second year at college Marcus and I – with sophomoric self-assurance – each claimed to have the correct perspective on life. One took pride in being a realist, the other in being a romantic. (I can’t recall which was which although usually Marcus was right). We eventually came to the same conclusion: the two perspectives are complementary. Each perceives the ineffability of Beauty from a different approach. We were able to reach this conclusion because of the liberal education we had been given, an education where science, art, literature, history, philosophy, and language all intersected in the discovery of the inexhaustible ‘unity of truth’, a unity which is objective and exists externally to its seekers.
How different things are now. Today’s educational milieu seems more limiting and utilitarian. Graduates now seem unaware of this shared ‘unity of truth’ and therefore of their shared humanity. They purport to fill this void by creating their own private truth or by denying the existence of truth. What’s more, truth relates to faith and faith today is waning.
In our secular society faith and reason are deemed contradictory. Because we believe the use of reason alone promotes progress we insouciantly relegate faith to the basements of irrelevance. This is fatal. Faith champions objective truth, natural law, and the shared hopes of humanity, all of which enable us reasonably to collaborate on the challenge of fostering civilized society. Just as romanticism and realism complement each other in shared reverence for Beauty, so do reason and faith complement each other in the aspiration for fuller human development, one by positing the ‘how’, the other by explaining the ‘why’.
Organized religion (as distinct from spirituality) is usually the incubator of faith. But churches, synagogues and mosques go unattended, families willingly abdicate the responsibility of passing on any faith, and most schools are prohibited from inculcating values – let alone virtues. But, faith can take root anywhere where the ‘unity of truth’ can be explored. How can we popularize such exploration in a non-threatening and fruitful way? This is something we must consider.
One small step would be to recover the proper uses of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. ‘Liberal’ derives from the Latin word for ‘freedom’. If freedom is only freedom from limitation then faith, admittedly, is not relevant. However, if freedom means freedom to personal growth (a definition a healthy society would embrace) then faith is essential because growth implies an awareness of that to which we grow. Similarly, ‘progressive’ comes from the Latin for ‘walking forward’. For a society to progress it must have a commonly embraced goal to which it advances, otherwise its motion is directionless and fruitless.
Marcus and I agreed we would contemplate this challenge before our next birthday call. In the meantime, we both trust that the Kingdom is advancing.