Can't We All Get Along?

Generally speaking, American Christians have a tough time perceiving Muslims as anything but a threat if they are promoting Sharia. But why oh why are not Christians similarly concerned about how threatening they might seem to those non-Christians with whom they share North American civil society? Two examples suggest that Christians have as hard a time fitting into modern secular society as Muslims. First, a Canadian iteration about the limits of public education:

To defenders of the North American status quo, school choice is shorthand for a set of policies that will undermine the effectiveness of a single education system, ensuring that all children are educated along similar core values. For those who advocate against big government and favour free market competition, school choice protects the freedoms of individual families and raises standards and performance. But what if most of us don’t actually make choices this way at the local level? In reality, there are two basic questions that parents ask:

Should we have more than one meaningful option as to where we will send our child to school?

Is every school appropriate for every child?

Parents make decisions regarding the education of their children in many ways. Accessibility to a desired school is among the most significant factors in real estate decisions. And while the range between the quality of schools in more affluent neighbourhoods and those in less affluent ones varies depending on the part of North America in which you live, the notion that common funding formulas automatically translate into equal educational quality is commonly understood to be mythical.

Parents desire different types of schools for all sorts of reasons. Whether they’re placing priority on the language, pedagogy, religious perspective, or any one of an additional dozen factors, decisions regarding schooling priorities can be as diverse as the population itself. The functional social question that emerges is two-fold: Which of these choices should be supported by the community? Should the same rules and the same funding apply to all of the choices?

I personally (all about moi) have great sympathy for this argument but at the same time we should remember that public schools were created to provide a common curriculum and basic level of education for citizenship in a republican or constitutional monarchy. If Christians opt out of public schools — and there are many good reasons — they are also opting out of a common project and claiming implicitly that their faith sets them apart from Canadian or American identity. This is more antithesis than common grace providence.

So where will Christian exclusivism end? Does it extend to vaccines? Maybe so:

Can parents have their children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine without compromising their pro-life principles—without cooperating with the Culture of Death? The National Catholic Register addressed that question this week, and although I cannot find any clear error of fact in the article, I think it creates a very inaccurate impression.

Relying heavily on analysis by the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), the Register explains that parents who choose to have their children vaccinated are engaged only in “remote material cooperation” with abortion. Given the potential risks of disease, the article reports, the Vatican has stated that parents can be justified in chosing vaccination.

That’s all perfectly true. But reading the Register article, one might conclude that the Vatican has said parents should vaccinate. That’s not accurate. The Pontifical Academy for Life, in a statement released in 2005, said that parents could be justified in choosing vaccination. The statement did not say that this choice was preferable, let alone mandatory.

What the Vatican did say, with undeniable clarity, was that parents have a moral obligation to insist on vaccines that are not prepared by immoral means: vaccines not derived from fetal remains. The Pontifical Academy for Life wrote that “there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.”

Of course, the reasons against vaccination here are more complicated than parents simply questioning the w-w of the medical establishment. But it does again raise questions about the willingness of Christians to participate in a common life that runs according to shared standards of education, medicine, and science. I get it. No neutrality in every square inch. But how about commonality (at least in a Commonwealth)?

So could the author of the Letter to Diognetus say this about today’s Protestants and Roman Catholics in North America?

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

If he couldn’t, should that make Christians more sympathetic to Muslims who also want to maintain their religious ways?

31 thoughts on “Can't We All Get Along?

  1. Darryl,

    When Digonetus was written, c. mid-2nd century, all education was private and for the wealthy. There were, to my knowledge, no state-funded schools generally available and certainly no compulsory education.

    The principal reason Christians of that period were persecuted by the Romans (e.g., by Pliny the Younger c. 112) was not because they did not believe the Roman pantheon nor the deity of Caesar but because they would not conform outwardly to certain Roman customs. They did not offer guild sacrifices and they would not say, “Caesar is Lord” or denounce Christ. The Martyrdom of Polycarp illustrates this. The authorities didn’t expect Polycarp to believe Roman piety but they did expect him to submit to the state by conforming outwardly. He and others rightly refused and were martyred.

    So, yes, against the Jews, the Treatise could appeal to Diognetus on the ground that they were not (to put it in contemporary terms) Hasidic Jews and nor were they pagans who prayed to idols. They spoke Latin. They didn’t follow the Jewish hand washing rituals. They didn’t find pagan Romans “unclean” or necessarily disgusting (for not being Jews). He went to say, however, that there were certain lines they would not cross. e.g., “We share our food but not our wives.” There is an antithesis in Ad Diog.

    Some Muslims in N. America may only be seeking to be left alone—but what do they do when they form their own communities? They are not like the pietist Swedish immigrants who want to eat Lutefisk and speak Swedish and farm quietly—but the history of Islam nor the Hadith, the Qur’an etc encourage one to think that Islam is willing to coexist. Again, Islam means “submission” and that means more than individual submission to Allah. It means that everyone else must submit to Islam. The Muslim vocabulary includes terms such as Dhimmi for a reason.

    Opting out of an increasingly ignorant and stupid public education system may express the antithesis but it may also simply recognize that the public education system is collapsing, that it seems to have been taken over by illiterates—have an honest conversation with a grad from Ginormous State Teacher’s College sometime—and irrational bureaucrats who expel 4th graders for pointing “magic” rings at other children or for chewing a pop tart incorrectly. The growing number of these cases does not encourage anyone, pagan or Christian to participate.

    There are Christian sects (e.g., theonomy and reconstructionism) who have used triumphalist rhetoric and language that is reasonably interpreted as threatening to unbelievers (e.g., the advocacy of the death penalty for sodomy and rebellious children) but, apart from support for the Posse Comitatus in the early 80s, I don’t know that they’ve actually done much to act on their rhetoric. The same cannot be said for Islamists, among whom there is a widespread support for the implementation of Sharia and among whom we can point to concrete acts of violence and intimidation for religious reasons. In short, we have good reason to be nervous about the doings in Moscow, ID (and Tyler, TX before them) but Islamism is a rather clearer and more present danger.


  2. Scott, even as a dying breed of Christian advocates who would rather put the emphasis on common over against antithesis, I get the problems public schools can present. I’m not sure appealing to sensational instances helps much. One could just as easily point to a parade of horrors regarding Christian schools and homeschooling.

    But if some accounts of the early church are to be believed, moderns are a little effete when it comes to embodying the ethic of being in the world but not of it. There was a time and place when a 2k looking world didn’t exist and common life and religion were co-mingled. Yet it didn’t seem to give pre-moderns the kind of pause it does moderns.

    W.A. Strong in his “Children in the Early Church”:

    “The early Christians lived in a society whose values were inimical to them in many respects. The pagan society around them was underpinned by a religion which they considered false, if not demonic; it was characterized by moral values they could not share; and it was entered into by an education steeped in paganism. So we might expect the early Christians to try to protect their young by providing some alternative form of education which would keep them free from the temptations and snares of the pagan world in which they lived. They had, after all, the example of the Jewish synagogue schools. But, rather surprisingly, the Christians did not take that course for several centuries. There was no fiercer critic of paganism than Tertullian (c. 160-c.225), but even he accepted the necessity for young people to share in the education on offer at pagan schools. His chosen image to describe the Christian pupil’s situation as he read the pagan authors whose work formed the ancient syllabus, was that of someone offered poison to drink, but refusing to take it (On Idolatry 10).

    “The young Origen (born c.185 AD)…is said to have received extra instruction in the Scriptures from his father, Leonides, each day before he set out for his secular schooling (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.2.7f.)…Here was a devout Christian father, later to be martyred for the gospel, who was nonetheless willing for his son to attend school, and follow the normal curriculum of the pagan classics. Origen himself became an enthusiast for secular education as a preparation for Biblical study, and in later life urged it on those who came to him for instruction (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.18.4: NE 192).

    “We hear of no Christian schooling outside the home in the early centuries. A century after Clement had written to Corinthian fathers and husbands to ‘instruct the young in the fear of God,’ the same pattern of family responsibility can be seen in Origen’s Alexandria. Christian parents were still content for their children to share a common education with their pagan neighbors, and the church was slow to copy the synagogue in providing an alternative pattern of schooling. Even when John Chrysostom (c.347-407) wrote the first Christian treatise on the education of children (On the Vainglory of the World and on the Education of Children), he addressed himself to parents, and said nothing about sending children to specifically Christian schools. The first Christian schools seem to have been those founded by the monasteries from the fourth century onwards (Marrou 1965 472-84).

    “It is worth asking why Christians did not take the opportunity to create their own schools. If we take the comparison with the Jewish community, one reason must have been that there was no need for Christian children to learn a sacred language; their Jewish contemporaries had to learn Hebrew. Those who spoke Greek could read the New Testament in its original language, and the Old testament in Greek translation. And the New Testament Scriptures were rapidly translated into the various languages of the Mediterranean. Further, Christians did not see themselves as culturally distinct from their neighbours. An anonymous writer of the late second century expressed eloquently how Christians were in the world, but not of it:

    For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by dress. For they do not dwell in cities of their own, or use a different language, or practise a peculiar speech…But while they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the land in clothing and food, and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful, and admittedly strange…Every foreign land is to them a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land. (Epistle to Diognetus 6.1-5: NE 55).

    “To set up their own separate educational provision would have been to withdraw from the common life they shared with their pagan neighbours. And, while they recognized the dangers and allure of paganism, the early Christians saw no need to do that. They let their children ‘share in the instruction which is in Christ’ (1 Clement), and they allowed them access to education for the wider pagan society. They were not trying to create a Christian ghetto, but to be salt and light in their world. Their attitude to their children’s education was an expression of this open yet critical attitude.”


  3. And back then in Romans 12 and 13, we were commanded to leave the wrath to God and to submit to them, because back then none of us were magistrates, only “them” were magistrates, but things have changed now, and we have been in charge, and it would be good if we could still be in charge, and it would be good if we could have some Christians who are also snipers to keep the Muslims out or at the least have them submit to us, because things have changed

    For salvation from God’s wrath, we have no power but trust God’s sovereignty, but as for salvation from human wrath and for self-defense, well, we need a gun by the bed for that-

    I Peter 2 was written to exiles— entrust Him who judges justly .

    but Jesus did not have a wife to protect with his sovereignty, and things have now changed, and we are responsible not to tempt God into thinking God has got to protect us when we could do that for ourselves. So yes the kingdom is not from this world but in this world, but leave off the part about “or they would fight” because things have changed since the roman occupation and if we want to occupy instead of being occupied by secularists and Muslims, then we need to take our place in that second kingdom which does fight, and if at all possible, still be in charge of it….


  4. and don’t forget—-all those Jews who voted for Obama are not real Jews—I suppose we do have to live with them, but that doesn’t mean that people like that are real Americans—-anybody who opposes the politics of the prime minister of Israel is a danger to all the rest of us….


  5. This is a good post. It challenges the mindset of some Christians who don’t want to share society with unbelievers as equals. Such Christians reason that if they can make the rules, they aren’t going to play.


  6. What Dr. Clark said. And why should we give a hoot what those enemies of our civilization think, how they feel? If they don’t like it in the West, they can always go back home!

    Plus, progs. Forcing schoolkids to read “Heather Has Two Mommies”, doing their best to indoctrinate impressionable young minds into embracing their values. Why put our children in harms’ way?

    (Did early Christians have to be concerned about such, despite living in the classical world among pagans who embraced perverted sexuality? No, they did not. They didn’t have our culture war; we do. The example therefore of early Christians is not relevant to our 21st century situation.)

    And moreover, who is more going against the community norms of our society – Christians, or the progs running the educational establishment? When one sees not only the madness of the ‘zero tolerance’ policies Dr. Clark mentioned (suspensions for chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, or for pretending to use magic to make someone disappear), but that of political correctness, where any references to Christian elements in our society’s observance of Christmas get set aside (no singing of carols, just ‘Frosty’ and ‘Jingle Bells’; sometimes no mention of the word ‘Christmas’, only ‘holiday’), ostensibly so as to not ‘offend’ the sensibilities of non-Christians, are the progs being in the mainstream, more than Christians are, or are they trying to force THEIR norms on everyone, Christian or not? If Christians withdraw so they can educate their children not only in ways that don’t subject them to prog indoctrination, but which allow them to observe Christmas, Easter, etc. in the classroom as they’ve always done, are they really withdrawing from regular civil society? Or are they actually protecting their children’s ability and right to continue to pursue old-fashioned cultural norms still actually held by the wider society, but against which the educrat establishment are waging war, such as observing Christmas as an explicitly Christian holiday season?

    So, no. Wrong.



  7. Will S. “And why should we give a hoot what those enemies of our civilization think, how they feel? If they don’t like it in the West, they can always go back home!”

    So what do you do when your neighbors say this about Christians and you?


  8. Scott,
    Your view of Muslims does not fit my experience with Muslim students, colleagues, and others. I am not saying that there have been no instances that confirm what you are writing. I am saying that not all Muslims are all the same and thus their communities are not a monolith.

    I agree that the current state of public schools can provide legitimate reasons for withdrawing one’s child from the public school system. We didn’t and our kids did well but I am not up to date regarding current state of our local school system. But there seems to be a legitimate debate here over the right of a family to determine the educational contents for their kids and the need for state standardization. Having taught for 19 and 1/2 years, the book on education I would recommend which addresses these valid and sometimes concerns is titled, New World Of Indigenous Resistance. The writers in the book note that the danger in standardized education is the destruction of community and cultural learning. But standardization is necessary because certain educational levels must be met to prepare students for the future and certain values, such as equality, must be taught to ensure a more just society.

    Of course the selection of values that should be included in standardized education invites conflict as well as contradiction. For example, some very much want to teach some degree of superiority of Western Culture. The more that is emphasized, the more values such as equality are compromised. In addition, the more supremacy is assigned to Western Culture, the less reflective students might become when examining themselves and their broader culture.

    Perhaps incorporating community and cultural learning from the communities served in the school district with standardized education could be one of hopefully many initiatives that could help invigorate the public school system as well as increase community involvement in public education. Such might also serve to break up the subcultural ghettos about which you wrote.


  9. Will, more warrior whining: “They didn’t have it as hard in the first few centuries as we do now, boo hoo.” Do you cry “persecution” when someone looks at you cross-eyed?


  10. [W]e should remember that public schools were created to provide a common curriculum and basic level of education for citizenship…

    In other news, scientists have narrowed the source of that whirring noise that has been bothering residents of the Eastern seaboard to Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, MD.


  11. Samuel Blumenthal in Is Public Education Necessary? argues that government common schools in America owe a lot to Horace Mann and others who wanted to break the hold conservative Calvinist parents had on their children, the promotion of socialism by the likes of the Owenites and the indoctrination/assimilation of the large numbers of Romanist immigrants.

    John Henry Gatto, NY City and State Teacher of the Year 1990 says public ed is all about “Dumbing Us Down” – the title of one of his books – and creating clone workers and consumers in a corporate industrial society.

    On top of all that American public ed, is now federalized to boot.

    Which might explain why a lot of Christians don’t feel bad or unpatriotic opting out to private schools or homeschools.


  12. @ DGH: “So what do you do when your neighbors say this about Christians and you?”

    Ignore them. That’s the ultimate in stupid, if any would say that; Christians have been in Canada, and the U.S., since the beginning.

    I have heard progs stupidly wish that we’d just ‘go away’, but that’s just an emotional, irrational outburst; they never specify where; they really just wish we’d disappear, like magic, into thin air.

    @ Zrim: No, they had it worse; they were murdered for their faith. I’m fully aware of that.

    But today, we have to contend with a culture that wants to indoctrinate our children in sexual matters, into deviance. You can stick your head in the sand like an ostrich, all you like, but we do have something to face that likely even the early believers didn’t have to, in terms of heathen education.

    Not sure how you can read what Machen and Van Til had to say, as well as the others, and still end up supporting public education, esp. today.


  13. Will, as a bachelor you like to tutor us married men on women. (And for any women reading, recall that Will is partial to blaming the women who have the nerve to pursue higher education and suffer physical assault on campus.) I take it you also have no children, which means you’ve never sat on a review committee for your daughter’s sex ed curriculum, which means you’ve never realized that public school sex ed is a lot more boring than the sensationalist rhetoric culture warriors slum around for to prop up their program. And now you say my head is in the sand? About what, sweat glands and pubic hair? Hide the women and children. You’ve read too many headlines and tabloids.

    Not sure how you can read AW Strong and not grasp that the earlier believers were made of stronger stuff. If they had it worse (as you concede) and stayed in the mix, what’s it say of those who have it easier and yet withdraw? You like to complain about weaksauce. He-man, heal thyself.


  14. @ Zrim: “you’ve never realized that public school sex ed is a lot more boring than the sensationalist rhetoric culture warriors slum around for to prop up their program. And now you say my head is in the sand? About what, sweat glands and pubic hair? Hide the women and children. You’ve read too many headlines and tabloids.”

    Oh, so none of the reports of children being forced to read “Daddy’s Roommate” and “Heather Has Two Mommies” and the like are real? Reports from even secular media like this:

    Are not true?

    No; I’m fully aware what’s going on in public schools today. Evidently you aren’t, since you’re making excuses for them.

    @ DGH: Yeah, so what of it? Our ancestors defeated them; they’re a politically and socially insignificant minority today, in the neighbourhood of 2% or so here.

    Hey, if you want to invoke them, the example of what happened to them illustrates the dangers of mass immigration of unassimilables. Let’s not let what happened to them happen to us.


  15. @ Zrim: “And for any women reading, recall that Will is partial to blaming the women who have the nerve to pursue higher education and suffer physical assault on campus.)”

    Misrepresenting, as you’ve previously done.

    I merely pointed out that if women weren’t so focused on having a career as the end-all, be-all, making it a higher priority than getting married and having children early, and therefore if accordingly less pursued higher education, then that unfortunate situation of stalking might never have occurred.

    If you’re going to slam me for being retrograde, chauvinist, etc., have at it – I am entirely unapologetic about my reactionary views – but don’t misrepresent what I’ve said.

    Nice rhetorical trick. Try to shame me in front of the womenfolk. Like I care. 🙂


  16. Will, I didn’t say fake. I said sensationalist.

    Yeah, exactly, your whole post can be summed up thus: “If you’d never have been there, it never would’ve happened.” Classic blame-the-victim, you twink.

    Like C-dubs has said, you’re easy.


  17. @ Zrim: You think highlighting these egregious attempts to indoctrinate children are sensationalist and overstating the case? Then you’re a fool, and again, an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

    @ DGH: That should be left up to their husbands.


  18. Will, if you weren’t hanging around OL this unfortunate situation of you being misrepresented would have never happened.


  19. Will, you don’t think media feeds you a parade of horrors to make a profit? But when I’ve never experienced forced reading and always given the opportunity to exempt my kids from anything no questions asked, etc., why would I jump on the martyrdom bandwagon?


  20. @ MG: Actually, you’re right.

    I’m not sure why I bother.

    @ Zrim: Of course media has their own agenda, but nevertheless, they do report events that are occurring, even if not in one’s own school district, in others’. Just because things are good in yours (great, I’m glad for you) doesn’t mean they’re good all over, and when the media does report conditions in multiple locations, all telling variants of the same story, as to how the progs are pushing their agenda on public schools, in various ways, it seems to me that to just pass off reports of things happening outside one’s own immediate vicinity as overstated, and overblown, etc., is a huge case of denial.

    I now get it, though. Why you and other OLers don’t view things as dire as Dr. Clark and I do. You don’t want to, so you refuse to. You have your blinders on, you only see what’s in your tunnel vision, and roll your eyes at those of us ringing the alarm bell.

    I get it. You have your dream world, and nothing will disturb you from it.

    Enjoy it, for now. While you can.


  21. D.G.,
    To be precise, the book is a compilation of writings of quite a number of people. And I have no problem in recommending it. I recommend books because of their content, not their authors.


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