Thursday, December 29, 2005

Education: what is it?

Irritated beyond endurance this morning by one too many Right Wing Death Beasts over at Larvatus Prodeo banging on about how schools of humanities are the dens of the devil and humanities academics the spawn of Satan, I astonished myself by furiously tapping out a spirited, nay passionate, reply in defence of the humanities.

It made me think hard about what an education is. I had a liberal arts education and was obliged in the course of it to learn the basic things (and the basic thinkers) in history, politics, philosophy and literature, including big chunks of social theory that came as part of all of those things. Then there are languages, psychology, fine arts, music, classics -- sometimes in smatterings or informally or on the run. But they are all part of each other and you can't be a halfway decent scholar in the arts without knowing at least a bit about all of them.

Here, however, are a few of the things I know almost nothing about: economics, law, accounting, business, mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, computer science. I get the strong feeling that some of the commenters at LP who freak me out the worst have backgrounds in one of those disciplines: some materialist area or other that deals with the concrete and tangible.

Does an education in the 'hard' fields, to the neglect of instruction in abstractions, leave you with a terrible yearning for the ineffable? And if it does, is this why so many of them have become Christians? And why are so many of those Christians Christians of the worst kind -- aggressive, crusading, critical, self-righteous, dogmatic, narrow-minded, punitive and/or bigoted?

Why are they convinced that everyone not for them is against them, that non-Christians are their enemies, that the word 'moral' is about other people's sex lives rather than about the generosity or otherwise with which one behaves towards other human beings in all things? Does being a self-proclaimed practising Christian somehow get you off the hook of having to at least try to love your fellow persons through the exercise of such things as tolerance and generosity, or, failing that, to at least try to be more interested in understanding their behaviour than in judging it?

An education in the liberal arts teaches you not only to analyse things, but to want to analyse them. It gives you an inexhaustible desire for answers to questions that begin with 'why'. But ironically enough, perhaps the most valuable thing it gives you is an essentially religious, or maybe I mean spiritual, habit: the habit of self-examination and a reverence for the examined life, in the belief that the unexamined life is indeed not worth living. On a daily, sometimes hourly basis, one asks oneself endless questions: Was that the right thing to do? And was it a good thing to do? Are they always the same thing? Why did I say X? How did I come to believe Y? Have I done those things I ought not to have done, or left undone those things I ought to have done?

It's ironic to me that these practices and these ways of thinking and talking about them have their source in the religious life, and yet that so many non-religious people live like this automatically, as a result of their alleged brainwashing in the schools of humanities so feared and hated by the religious right. At the same time, and even more ironically, many of the religious right themselves seem incapable of questioning their own behaviour or beliefs: they seem to be projecting their own unexamined selves onto some perceived orthodox Christian template, rather than introjecting the ideals that Christianity teaches.

9 comments:

Another Outspoken Female said...

I guess if god is always right and man is made in the image of god...then christians feel they have a god given right to always be right. The rest of us heathens are in touch with our fallibility a bit more.

Brownie said...

Exactly. I like your theory. I just posted on this Guardian thing:
"in The Guardian, on a December religion theme, Jeni Russell sums up my thoughts on the whole religion (Belfast, Vatican City, Missionaries, Dili Massacre) thing neatly:-

"I may not be able to believe in the existence of a God, but that doesn't stop me from being moved by the Christian messages of peace, hope, love and redemption, nor from sharing the longing to feel that there is something above and beyond our own small desires that might give meaning to our lives.
And yet there is no consistency in what I want. I am deeply and sentimentally attached to this festival, and want it to remain part of our public life. But how can that make any sense when I am so distrustful of religion's influence in so many other ways? I fear its capacity for authoritarianism, self-righteousness, and hostility to non-believers. I think faith schools, with their utter certainties, are dangerous and divisive."
there is a link to the whole article at my scratching pole...

R H said...

You protest too much. I just don't know where you get all this from. You and so many others. It seems all the rage, the latest thing, to be a Christian Kicker.
I don't care a damn if you're an atheist or whatever. And most Christians wouldn't. But you seem determined to feel persecuted. It's like you're calling out for someone to chase you.
If you search hard enough you'll find religious nuts, and some very unreasonable people. You'll find nuts anywhere. I cop evangelism from dopes who want to convert me into healthy diet and non smoking. They can go to hell. And so can any other stupid bastard trying to interfere with my life.
You don't like Christianity? Well good for you, I couldn't care less. Just don't try shoving atheism down my throat. Because I don't care about it one way or the other.
Just be whatever you like. Okay?

R H said...

Has studying humanities made you some superior sort of person? Is it a more worthy discipline than science? Is it of more practical use to society? Tell me that.
My education went no further than primary school. And I'm glad, because I see so many tertiary bums on this internet squawking taught words and phrases in such constipated formal style that I feel like weeping for them

Pavlov's Cat said...

RH -- I don't think you can have read my post very carefully or you would not be responding like this.

I did not use the words 'atheist' or 'atheism' at any point, nor was I attempting to shove anything down anyone's throat. You visited my blog, remember?

The post was in defence of the humanities, in response to several different classic RWDB/fundamentalist-Christian-blogger type attacks, in several different places, on a discipline about which the attackers clearly knew less than nothing. Knowing nothing was fine. Blithering about something they knew nothing about was not fine, any more than me blithering about economics or physics would be.

As I've said on Larvatus Prodeo, some of my best friends are Christians. (The RWDB response to this was 'Oh well, they must all be flakes then.') I have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AGAINST Christians or Christianity as such.

What I do object to is for fundamentalist Christians to be running the agenda behind the laws by which we live, as they have begun (Tony Abbott, Steve Fielding) to do. I find this profoundly disturbing and reserve the right to whine about it.

The answers to your questions are No, No and No, though if you removed the word 'practical' from the last question then the answer would be Yes. Again, you obviously did not read the post properly or you wouldn't be asking these questions.

In the meantime I trust we can agree to disagree. I'm not remotely interested in getting into any kind of blue with any kind of aggressive bloke, on or off-line.

R H said...

Your posting on this is like a thousand others. A boring assurance that you're part of the crowd. You wear it like a ring through your nose.
RIGHT WING DEATH BEASTS, you say. Well I think you'd be disappointed if there were none. You can find crazy people everywhere. Anywhere you want to look. There's crazy people among stamp collectors. But why on earth would you want to yell about them? Really, you're worse than This Day Tonight.
I get annoyed because you blindly use a few nut cases to smear the entire Church. You're being used yourself, if you want to know. And why you'd let that happen I've no idea. Some people do it because they've no independance, no ideas of their own.
There might be Christian fundamentalists in government, I don't know. And nor do you, because they wouldn't be in a hurry to announce it. I do know there's Muslim fundamentalists elsewhere because they've announced it by blowing people up all around tha world. They announced it in Indonesia not long ago by decapitating three Christian schoolgirls. But not a word about that. Not from any of you.
No one is more aggressive than you. You get yourself all worked up, all hysterical - and go totally blind. People like you are the reason I abandoned the ALP. Too much doctrine. Too much name-calling. Too much latte, and not enough sense.

Pavlov's Cat said...

'Your posting on this is like a thousand others'.

How would you know? You obviously haven't read either of them.

Enough, RH. Go froth at somebody who cares.

R H said...

Okay.

Miss Cliche

guile said...

nice, cozy place you got here :)..