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Theology and the Schools

By James Spencer for AMERICAN THINKER

In The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman argues, “the systematic omission of any one science from the catalogue prejudices the accuracy and completeness of our knowledge altogether, and that, in proportion to its importance.” If we are willing to (a) accept Newman’s caution against omitting a given science from education and (b) recognize theology — understood as the branch of knowledge considering the nature and activity of deity — as a valid science, the religious community may find new ways to approach the challenge of public-school education. Specifically, we will come to see that without theology, public school education will always be at greater risk of having a “particular craft usurp and occupy the universe.” Some other branch of knowledge will always overreach its limits to occupy the space created by theology’s absence. As theological thought is displaced, it is also disparaged as less essential, thus playing into the assumption that “the divine” is “something non-rational and arbitrary, almost absurd” resulting in “a gnawing sense that everything — including the self — was ephemeral, strange, and something other than we thought it to be.”

For instance, as I listen to the alarm raised by Christian leaders and parents regarding the influx of Marxist and postmodern thought in public schools, I am sympathetic and skeptical. Like other parents, I don’t want my children’s imagination to be taken over by an ideology that claims to be more complete than it is. Still, I am skeptical that fending off this round of overreaching claims will fix the deeper problem of theology’s omission. The presenting issue will always be some new ideology, whether it be Marxism, Christian nationalism (which is not Christian), liberalism, or conservatism. The deeper problem concerns the absence of theology and the functional denial of the transcendent within public school education.

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