Our country’s history is full of men who espoused high ideals and sometimes failed to live up to them. It is peopled by men and women who were brave and courageous beyond what most of us will ever achieve, yet with the glaring accuracy of hindsight we see as flawed, sometimes mortally. How can we hold these people up as heroes for our children? To do so would be false. How can we allow these people to masquerade as heroes… unless… unless…
A lot has been said lately about “worldview” in homeschooling circles. Curriculum, conferences, and podcasts have bandied this phrase about for the last several years to point that it is almost becoming cliche. A Christian Worldview. I am writing for an audience for whom this phrase is well defined and defended. For this conversation I would like to distill it to its simplest form. A Christian Worldview is the view that man is flawed and in need of a savior- as opposed to the idea that man, given the right circumstances could create or obtain perfection on his own, whether it be in his personal life or society as a whole. As summer has brought time to reflect, I have been impressed with how far of a reach this thought has. Here are some of the connections I have been considering.
Many people have an issue with the statement, “America was founded as a Christian nation”. I get it- this is a loaded statement open to many interpretations. To support it, well-meaning people bring up the Pilgrims or the faith of some of the founding fathers. While these are worthwhile to consider, I think we have missed a broader perspective. A “Christian nation” is not based on any person or quote or document- but rather the Christian view that man is flawed. Our system of government is a unique blend of optimism (democracy) and reality (shared power). It is this duality that has made it so stable for so long. Where did this dose of reality come from? The thought that man is flawed is a uniquely Christian thought. Other worldviews and religions teach that man can apply himself a little bit more- work a little bit harder and meet the expectations. Christianity alone teaches that even on our best day our righteousness is as filthy rags. It is a simultaneously depressing and liberatingly honest thought. What does this have to do with government? One word- power. Our founders believed that no one was good enough to be trusted with all of the power-even with the best intentions. In fact, they believed in this Christian idea so thoroughly that not only did they share the power between three branches of government, those branches are made up of a host of different people intended to keep an eye on each other, who are in turn elected and kept an eye on by voters! No one is good enough. Man is flawed. Where did these men come up with this idea? Direct democracy was born in ancient Greece, but the seemingly subtle detail that made the difference in 1776 was born out of a Christian worldview. This is not a statement about church affiliation or morals or even men living up to their own ideals but rather an intrinsic belief about human nature. They didn’t even trust themselves. Why did Washington step down? He believed.
The second place a Christian worldview has entered my thoughts is in the frustration I have felt in discussing political theory and economics with certain people. I have dear intelligent friends who I know are well meaning, and yet we meet at the same impasse again and again. How can they not see the damage certain economic policies have wrought and are destined to bring. How can they believe these policies will result in the best. It occurred to me that this too could be rooted in this idea of a Christian worldview. And here again- this is not intended as an attack on faith or morals but rather an understanding of a pivotal thought. Man is flawed and in need of a savior. This is what the Bible teaches, but it is also the truth I experience in real life (the ultimate test of truth*). I am not against communism (for example) because I am a scrooge. I whole heartedly agree that it is a beautiful idea. I don’t support it- because I believe it is doomed to failure based on my Christian worldview that says man is flawed. To be specific, prone to greed, laziness and unfortunately in need of external motivation. Because I believe this is true, I also believe that the real question we must ask ourselves is- what system- economic or political- best harnesses or compensates for this unfortunate reality. My friends and I want the same things- justice and fairness. We don’t want people to hurt. We want everyone to live full satisfied lives. Because of this I am becoming more and more convinced that our differences lie in our worldview. Our view of human nature. We can all stop banging our heads against the wall of our differing political and economic ideas and begin a genuine discussion on the nature of man and the nature of God. For Christians- this should be the starting point from which all other thought flows. Should.
Finally, as I have been writing curriculum the last several weeks and looking at early American history for Form 1. I admit to having been timidly walking the line between the evils of some of our nation’s early figures and Charlotte Mason’s value of heroes. I was struck by the idea that here again a Christian worldview may be the crux that balances the matter. Our country’s history if full of men who espoused high ideals and sometimes failed to live up to them. It is peopled by men and women who were brave and courageous beyond what most of us will ever achieve, yet with the glaring accuracy of hindsight we see as flawed, sometimes mortally. How can we hold these people up as heroes for our children? To do so would be false. How can we allow these people to masquerade as heroes… unless… unless… we hold a Christian worldview.
Under this paradigm the flaws are to be expected and more than that, are common to us all. Under a Christian worldview we can admire and wonder at the men who rose above the expected norm and we hear hints of that in the writing of those early historians who are sometimes painted as naive by critics. There is a temptation for us, in our enlightened age, to rephrase some of these descriptions, but is that the right thing to do? I believe a Christian worldview- the view that man is flawed- allows us to have heroes, something Charlotte Mason felt was vitally important. We are, for the most part, living in a post-Christian society and as such we have had our heroes taken from us. This worldview has painted a bleak and unattainable picture of perfection. In times past, when the Christian worldview was more prominent, the understanding was that heroes were not perfect, because that was not an option! Rather, certain people rose above that inherited flaw, even if for only a moment and acted out of the norm. The norm in battle is a primal need for self-preservation- this is where bravery shines. The norm for position and power is to hold on and grab for more- this is where stepping down is exceptional. The norm for humanity is, if not selfishness, than at least self-centeredness- this is why self-sacrifice is so beautiful.
Charlotte Mason was a Christian who held a Christian worldview. In recommending the vernation of heroes she was under no illusion that these people were perfect. Quite the opposite, it would have been her belief in the imperfection of man that made some stand out, and it would have been her belief in the imperfection of man that made her see the need for role models. Real flesh and blood- flawed role models. Our society in its arrogance has attempted to withhold this asset from our generation. In place of the real we are placated by super heroes and mythical or supernatural characters in current media. But what inspiration is that to the boy who knows himself to be a coward at heart or the girl who feels vanity within her. If these flaws are not allowed- recognized as things to overcome, things that can and have been overcome by others; what inspiring idea is available to them? A Christian worldview not only allows- but offers us heroes.
To withhold heroes based on the fact that they are imperfect is to expose our worldview, even if it is subconsciously held. It is to say- perfection is possible, and anything less is unacceptable. What a hard taskmaster to place over our children. Belief in human perfectibility is the mark of a Humanistic worldview- one that doesn’t have connection to reality. If perfection is the norm- than of course every error must be pointed out and judged. But how does this play out in real life? Who shall judge- if we are honest with ourselves? No one is good enough. What kind of false reality are we presenting? What kind of hopeless standard are we setting? Perfect heroes are not heroes- they are idols. Idols do nothing to inspire me- because they are nothing like me. For a hero to function as a hero he must be flawed.
Of course some kids will create an ideal in their mind- but it can only ever be a composite of traits from many people since no one person has them all. This is healthy. This is merciful and full of grace for ourselves and for others. This guards against frustration in the pursuit of a false ideal but also arrogance in the misled notion that it has been achieved. Man is flawed. I am flawed. No one person holds all perfection. I will never be able to either. Ultimately, I need a savior. This is the healthy perspective that a Christian worldview offers us in our study of history.
Let them have heroes.
For this to be possible, let us hold a Christian Worldview. It really is a perspective on the entire world. It is vitally important not only to our understanding of the world around us- but also to understanding our own hearts.
*The ultimate test of the truth of something is that it works in real life. The physical and the spiritual world of ideas are inexorably linked. We can say any number of nice sounding things… but they have to work in real life in order to hold weight as truth.