Not long ago, I read a Facebook post about an incident involving a Christian student who went to a secular public high school. This student was sitting in World History class when the teacher commented that Jesus did not really rise from the dead, that Christians and Muslims worshipped the same god, and that we would all go to the same heaven. The student was also reportedly told by the teacher that the class should leave their religions at the door, as it were, when coming into school. The student took to Facebook to get advice on how to respond to this.
What I found most interesting were the Facebook comments. Some were shocked that a teacher would do such a thing. “Teach, don’t preach,” one of the posts, well, preached. Others focused on helping students defend their faith with apologetic material, such as the works of Josh McDowell. Others recommended reprimanding the teacher as having violated the student’s constitutional rights.
But what seemed to elude all the represented comments is this: Why is it that secularists like this teacher think they have such authoritative expertise when it comes to religion?
Take Oprah Winfrey for example. Oprah once observed: “There are many paths to what you call god… How could there possibly be just one way?”
Now, Oprah knows a thing or two about entertainment and show business; but what makes Oprah such an expert on religion? She does not have a degree in theology and to my knowledge has had no formal training in the discipline. Would she be so bold as to pontificate on topics involving physics, chemistry, or calculus? What makes her such an expert on religion?
Imagine that we are in a school classroom. The teacher is teaching the lesson. Sally raises her hand and says:
“My mommy told me that only people who believe in the Tooth Fairy can have eternal life.”
The teacher smiles at Sally, and gently assures her that while that may be her mommy’s sincere belief, no one fairy tale is any more true than any other.
“But I have always been told that the only way to Narnia is through the Tooth Fairy.”
Again, the teacher smiles, though a bit perturbed at the level of parental ignorance.
“Well, that may have been what you were told. But what would you say to someone who believed in the Easter Bunny? Don’t you think that it is intolerant of you to say that your belief in the Tooth Fairy results in eternal life and his belief in the Easter Bunny doesn’t?”
“But the Tooth Fairy is real and the Easter Bunny isn’t,” Sally objects. “There’s so much evidence that shows that the Tooth Fairy really exists.”
Many in the class can’t contain their giggles. The teacher’s back straightens, looking intently at Sally.
“Sally, evidence involves facts; fairy tales involve faith. You can believe whatever you want about the Tooth Fairy, but those beliefs don’t belong here.”
This is not an exaggeration. The California Framework, adopted by the State Board of Education years ago, gives advice to public school teachers on how to respond to students whose faith may be challenged by the curriculum:
At times, some students may insist that certain conclusions of science cannot be true because of certain religious or philosophical beliefs they hold. It is appropriate, if that happens, for the teacher to express the following: ‘I understand you may have personal reservations about accepting the scientific evidence, but it is scientific knowledge about which there is no reasonable doubt amongst scientists in their field, and it is my responsibility to teach it because it is part of our common intellectual heritage.’
We have to understand that in a secular society, all so-called “religions” are considered no more than mere fairy tales. That doesn’t mean that religions are of no significance to people. Indeed, it is fully recognized that they are. What it does mean is that in our schools, “religions” have nothing to do with how our society views public reality, and thus they have nothing to do with curriculum, lesson plans, course goals and structures, scopes and sequences … nothing. “Religions” are personal belief systems that may mean a lot to the persons holding them, but are totally irrelevant to the organizing and functioning of daily public life.
This is why secularists think they “know” so much about religion: they are all “experts” because there’s nothing to know; religion has nothing to do with knowledge! Facts require scientific expertise, faith requires only sincerity, and Oprah is every bit as sincere as anyone else.
As for the Facebook post, all of this means that it is simply intellectually incoherent for this student or anyone else to expect anything other than secularism from a secular institution such as the public schools. Secularists are going to fulfill their job description.
As Christians who are trying to live out faithfully the biblical vision of a city set on a hill, it simply makes no sense to support those institutions that perpetuate a secular vision of life. We have to remember that we can’t complain about Big Macs when we are eating at McDonald’s. All the evidence we provide for why Big Macs should be banned falls flat when we have ketchup slopped on both sides of our mouths.
I’ll be blunt:
It’s very hard for Christians to argue against secularism when we Christians have become so secular.
So, what’s the answer to all of this? What should be our response?
That will the topic of our next post.
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