Education as an Idol

Consider Psychology Today’s article about Dylan Roof’s evil act (can we call it “evil” and admit there is a standard of good and evil?). The article claims his horrible act can be traced to the anti-intellectual attitude of the South and an abandonment of reason. The idea that humanity’s problem is ignorance and can therefore be fixed by education comes probably from Socrates and is extremely influential in much of modern thinking.

But humanity’s problem cannot be ignorance, anti-intellectual culture, or lack of education for at least 4 reasons. 1) Hitler had a college education. 2) Many of the fighters joining ISIS have college degrees from Western universities. Being exposed to the West didn’t automatically remove their prejudices. Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, was a college student. Osama bin Laden had a bookshelf full of books. 3) Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching said, “To have people who are well-informed but not constrained by conscience is, conceivably, the most dangerous outcome of education possible. Indeed, it could be argued that ignorance is better than unguided intelligence, for the most dangerous people are those who have knowledge without a moral framework.” 4) Rape culture is a big deal–on college campuses. The narrative that we can fix humanity with education just doesn’t fit reality. The New York Times is scrambling over these jihadists, many of whom are well-educated and had good economic prospects. They don’t fit the mainstream narrative. Prager University explains it well here.

Education and reason make everyone better? You have to contradict Shakespeare, who made his villains good reasoners. You have to contradict Johnson, who scorned the wickedness of Rousseau and others in his book Intellectuals. (Rousseau called himself “the most loving man who ever lived” and abandoned his children at orphanages where they likely died from disease or malnutrition.) You have to contradict C.S. Lewis, whose villain in The Magician’s Nephew was an intellectual. Education that is naïve about the human heart can’t change the heart, only amplify what’s already there. Knowledge increases a virtuous person’s capacity for good and increases a selfish person’s capacity to live selfishly.

This next part is for Christians. If you are not a Christian, I love you and don’t judge you. Like Paul, what do I have to do with judging those outside the church? Non-Christian, I love you and don’t judge you. Church, I love you and need to speak hard words to us. Christians, if we believe it’s education and not Jesus that will save humanity, we are idolaters who need to repent. Idols are always good things we love too much and trust as false saviors making false promises. Idols are enslaving. Jonah’s neighbors were in a storm because of his idolatry;  Gideon’s deliverance of Israel started by tearing down the altar set up to Baal, not attacking the Midianites; maybe America has massive student loan debts because Christians are publicly bowing down to something that’s not God. Education, money, sex, family, and jobs are good, but they must never dethrone God. We dethrone God if we believe education will save us. Christians, let us repent and trust in Christ as the only one powerful enough to save us. Let us return to God and enjoy His mercy. Education is good. Get educated if that’s your calling. But don’t elevate it to the place of God and commit idolatry. As G.K. Chesterton quipped in his typical whit, “No man who worships education has got the best out of education…Without a gentle contempt for education no man’s education is complete.” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, not education. When we fail, let us ask God for mercy and grace.

If ignorance is a false narrative, what is the true narrative? Check out Lecrae’s piece here. “There is a great antagonist, and it does not have black or white skin. It is the brokenness of humanity. May a love that miraculously mends our brokenness be the protagonist.” Let’s rejoice in the way the victims’ families have responded with forgiveness. Christ’s forgiveness is our hope, and we long for His love to heal our broken hearts and broken world.


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