Education and Imbecility
"We have educated ourselves into imbecility," quipped the noted English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, as he bemoaned the many nefarious ideas that are shaping modern beliefs. Venting an identical disillusionment in his commentary on American culture, George Will averred that there is nothing so vulgar left in our experience for which we cannot transport some professor from somewhere to justify it.
Why this juxtaposing of aberrant behavior with the halls of learning? The answer is well worth pursuing if we are to deal with our present world cultural malaise by understanding its progenitors, and thwart what looms as a future with terrifying possibilities.
It is not unprecedented that as a young nation begins to reach its adolescent years, it craves freedom from any restraint. Emulating a legal proceeding in which an attorney tries valiantly to discredit witnesses who injure his or her case, secular thinkers unleashed a concerted effort to prejudice the minds of this generation. If even a slight doubt could be raised upon any minutiae of theistic belief, it was exultantly implied that the whole worldview should be deemed false. The goal was to forge a new breed of young scholars and opinion-makers who would be perceived as saviors, delivering society from the tyranny of a God-infested past and remaking culture in their own image.
The principal means to accomplish this was to take control of the intellectual strongholds, our universities, and under a steady barrage of "scholarly" attack, to change the plausibility structure for belief in God, so that God was no longer a plausible entity in scholastic settings. This assault on religious belief was carried out in the name of political or academic freedom, while the actual intent was to vanquish philosophically anything that smacked of moral restraint. Unblushingly, the full brunt of the attack has been leveled against Christianity as Eastern religions enjoy a patronizing nod and the protection of mystical license. As for Islam, no university dares offend. Hand-in-hand with this unmasked intellectual cowardice and concealed duplicity came mockery and ridicule of the Christian, which has now become commonplace, a "civilized" form of torture.
In such fashion came the onslaught of all that had gone before; the pen became the sword and the professorial lectern, the pulpit. If young, fertile minds could be programmed into believing that truth as a category does not exist and that skepticism is sophisticated, then it would be only a matter of time before every social institution could be wrested to advantage in the fight against the absolute.
However, over time the sword has cut the hand that wielded it, and learning itself has lost its authority. Today as we look upon our social landscape, the answers to the most basic questions of life, from birth to sexuality to death, remain completely confounded. The very scholars who taught their students to question authority are themselves disparaged by the same measure. No one knows what to believe as true anymore; and if anything is believed, the burden of justification has been removed.
Yet, all is not lost. In spite of the varied and willful attempts made by antitheistic thinkers to undermine the spiritual and to thrust it into the arena of the irrational, or at best deem it a private matter, the hunger for the transcendent remains unabated. After nearly two decades of lecturing on campuses around the world, it is evident to me that the yearning for the spiritual just will not die. In fact, at virtually every engagement I have found the auditorium filled to capacity and the appreciative response quite overwhelming, even in antagonistic settings. There is no clearer demonstration of this unrelenting hunger than the experiences of Russia and China as each has in its own way tried to exterminate the idea of God, only to realize that God rises up to outlive his pallbearers.
Our universities tell a similar story. Though proud skepticism is rife in academic bastions, the human spirit still longs for something more. This tension must be addressed, especially at this time of cultural upheaval, and it is imperative that the answers we espouse meet not only the intimations of the heart but the demands of the mind. The familiar adage rings true: the mind is too great an asset to waste, for it is the command control of each individual life. And it is my desire that each of us may come to recognize the greatest mind of all, even God Himself, whose existence or non-existence is essential to defining everything else.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.