Monday, October 18, 2010

In Praise of Education--And How Many Evangelicals Get It Wrong

History is a race between education and catastrophe. H. G. Wells

I've taken a break from my reading of fiction to read Greg Mortenson's Stones into Schools. I've had a great drawing to his books (including his previous one, Three Cups of Tea) mainly because I've had the opportunity, twice, of working in the same area of Pakistan that he works in. I know the towns, villages and highways, which he describes so vividly.

Greg got involved in the school building project by accident. He took a wrong turn and ended up in a village where the elders asked him to, please, build them a school.

That's often how life happens isn't it. An unpredicted set of circumstances sends you off in a direction that you never would have dreamed of. But in the process, Greg has become convinced about the tremendous value of education.

About a year ago I was sitting in my old Evangelical church during a period of discussion, which came at the conclusion of a Ken Ham video series. I had sit patiently through about six weeks of arrogant, ignorant and brow-beating, self-righteous lectures . . . via video. I kept my mouth shut because I knew that I was the lone voice . . . the one person who didn't see Ken Ham as the new Evangelical hero.

I listened as the leaders of that church discussed how most of the youth (I would say 95% of that particular church's youth) were no longer in church and the reasons why, in agreement with Ken Ham's premise, was that the parents had "allowed" the kids to be exposed to secular education. One church leader said that no good Christian parent would allow their kids to be exposed to a non-Christian school system. Another, senior elder man, chimed in that no good parent would allow their kids to go to college. He suggested that Christians should send their kids off to trade school or Bible college at best. The point being, if they are exposed to "humanistic, evolution they will be brainwashed and leave the church." The conclusion was that we need to crack down on the youth.

I felt really sad. It was on that morning that I think I really made final decision to leave that church. I voiced my opposition but was labeled as someone else who had been brainwashed by the humanists.

In Mortenson's latest book, he goes into detail about the history of Afghanistan. He describes how the Taliban sprung from the ashes of the post-Soviet war chaos. It started with a group of about 200 uneducated men who came out of a refugee camp near Kandahar and recruited many more . . . then took over the entire country. They sent Afghanistan back into the Dark Ages but with far more brutality.

Mortenson says that the word "Taliban" is Arabic for "Student of Islam." Actually (and I do have a degree in Arabic) the word "Taliban" is simply the exact same as the English word "Students" but it has taken on the connotation of being a student of Islam. However, ironically, these "students" are largely illiterate and know nothing of science, history, sociology, psychology and etc. They profess to be experts on Islamic law, yet they do not understand Arabic, the only language of the Koran.

I had a unique opportunity once to share about 45 meals with a group of pro-Taliban men in Northwest Pakistan. I was warned (due to the high tensions surrounding us Americans being there) not to bring up political topics. We were there strictly to help with the earthquake relief. However, one evening I looked around. There I sat, the only American in a circle of bearded men, eating ground goat meat and curry. I couldn't help myself.

We had a very long discussion about the the Taliban, the war (wars), American politics, Christian vs Islamic perspective on issues. It went well because I spoke as the humble inquirer, not the trouble maker. But I did question them on a few points.

But the thing that hit home to me was how identical the thinking of these men was to that of my Evangelical friends . . . just switch a few labels around. Both groups opposed secular eduction . . . if you are devout to the faith you only study your faith. Both groups were filled with conspiracy theories based on rumors . . . not on an educated understanding of the world. Both groups demonized the other.

Above is me with with one of my buddies in the Pakistan's Northwest Territory, 2006.

It would have been funny if it wasn't so sad to hear the pro-Taliban guys talking about their fears that the evil, brutal Christians want to come into their countries and force their babies to become Christians (using Hell-fire missiles, launched from drones to back them up). I had heard the same from many Evangelicals, "the militant Muslims want to come in and take over America and force our babies to become Muslims." The MO of both groups . . . well, is ignorance.

Like the founders of the First Great Awakening, I too see education as a key to a better world. I don't mean "education" through a political filter such as a Christian school (or, on the other side, an anti-Christian school) but truth seeking at all cost. God is a God of truth, therefore no one should fear truth.

I wish all Christians could get a PhD from Harvard. They would be better Christians. I know a couple people at Harvard and they both told me the same thing. You would be surprised how many believers teach and attend there. Good for them.

I also know someone who is a pastor of a church just off Berkley's campus. He has many scientist and professors in his congregation. Good for them.

Not that God can't use the humble, uneducated fishermen. Certainly He can. But whoever see the seeking of truth (education) as the enemy is indeed poor. Greg Mortenson, (although a missionary kid but who has no claim on being an evangelical anymore) IS doing God's work.


Eagle said...

So are you saying there's no difference between Mullah Omar and Mullah Robertson? ;-) Or that there is no difference between a Taliban school in Pakistan and Liberty/Bob Jones University? If so when do we invade Lynchburg or the Hampton Roads area of Virginia!!!!

MJ said...

Not "no difference" but similarities. You can still invade Lynchburg if you want. However, I have friends who own a bookstore there (Inklings) so please spare them.

Or, maybe on the other hand, we should invade anybody.

Eagle said...

Well in that case the bombing of Lynchburg will begin in 5 minutes :-)