What do Christians think about education? Is education compatible with Christian faith? Aren’t Christians those weird people who keep their children as ignorant as possible and think of science as an invention of the devil?
Well, no, that’s not us—in spite of a few crackpots in the news. (And every human group has crackpots.) Christians believe that education is a good thing—more than that, that it is a God-given blessing we are supposed to share with our children and with as many other people as possible. Let’s talk about that.
A Practical Gift
First and simplest, education is practical. Even the birds teach their young how to fly and where to find food and shelter. How much more should human beings teach their children what is good for them in their lives! A child who can read, for example, is a child who can see that there’s a poison notice on the bottle of cleanser she’s picked up, and decide not to play with it. A child who’s been taught about vitamins and food groups is a child who just might decide to eat his carrots and pass up dessert (hey, we can dream, can’t we?). So basic education is clearly a good thing for everybody, just on practical grounds.
Good for Society
But of course it goes much further. Educated people are good for the society they live in. They are much more likely to vote for good leaders and laws, and less likely to be suckered in to the con games of criminals. They are able to help others in need around them, whether that means helping them fill out paperwork, or walking them through the process of filing a complaint against a slumlord. They can use their education to figure out what would be the least harmful and most helpful thing they should do in a particular situation—should I donate to such-and-such a charity? Buy a hybrid car? Plant a large lawn or grow native plants instead? And since the correct choice may vary depending on individual circumstances, a good education is all the more necessary for everybody.
Intended by God
Education is one of the major ways in which human beings come to reach their full potential—and that’s something God is very interested in. He wants you to be all that he made you to be. He doesn’t want to see you stunted, immature, or (worst of all) content with being that way. He’s got big plans for you, and they don’t include laziness, fear, or stupidity.
God made us for many reasons, but one of them is certainly to ask questions—to trace God’s operations in the universe—to rejoice and stand in awe when we see the wonderful things he has done. We are made in God’s image, and God is creative. How should we, then, not be creative? How should we not be interested in the creation God has made?
And because God is a God of logic and intelligence and wisdom, we can expect to find those things in creation as well. Do the stars obey astronomical laws? Of course they do, because the Mind who set everything up in the beginning is an orderly Mind. What about genetics—nuclear physics—mathematics? The same sense of order is found everywhere, and that means there are new discoveries just waiting to be made in every field, all the time. No scientist ever has to fear that she will leave her lab at night only to come back the next morning to a different set of physical laws. God is consistent, and therefore his universe is consistent. That is what makes learning possible.
And so the human race heaps up more and more discoveries, and we teach what we have learned to our children. And this is right for us to do. To do otherwise would be to insult the God who made such an awesome cosmos. It would be like yawning through Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or turning our backs on Michelangelo’s David. And so we have education—both informal and formal.
All Truth Is God’s Truth
Christians believe that there is no truth anywhere that will ultimately come into conflict with the truth of the Christian faith as the Holy Spirit has delivered it to us. God is the God of all truth, not just theological truth, and truth by definition cannot be in conflict with itself. So Christians don’t need to fear that some new truth will appear that will cause Christianity to collapse. We should delight in education, not fear it; and for the most part, that’s what Christians do. (Again, every human group has some members who are weak or confused, and we have our share too.)
That said, we need to watch ourselves so we don’t blame education for our own personal errors, like panicking too soon, or failing to verify our sources to be sure they are trustworthy. Every scientist knows that the discoveries of today may be overturned tomorrow—either more will be learned that supersedes what we learned today, or a new discovery will cast a completely new light on a question, or a study will fail to be replicated and it will become evident that our conclusions were premature—or simply wrong. This is why science moves so slowly and requires peer review and multiple study verification. This is why we remind each other to “take it with a grain of salt,” whatever it is that someone is urging us to believe. If something crops up that appears to threaten Christianity, the intelligent Christian waits to see how things shake out.
Sins of the Intellect
Does it surprise you to know that there are sins of the intellect, just as there are sins of the heart? The God who gave us intelligence calls us to use it well. We can fall short of his call by:
- careless work;
- deliberate falsification;
- allowing personal or political concerns (such as reputation) to get in the way of truth;
- pride and arrogance;
- prioritizing anything (education included!) over God himself;
- fuzzy or downright misleading leaps of logic, false inferences, un-challenged bias, and basically anything that could be cleared out of the path of truth—and isn’t.
God is concerned by these sins—how should he not be? Jesus came to earth to destroy these evils as well as the ones we hear about more commonly—murder, hatred, greed, and the like. A scientist driven by Christian faith will do the best research possible. A student driven by Christian faith will study his or her heart out, examining everything as carefully as possible, and building a fund of knowledge and wisdom for future use. A teacher driven by Christian faith will present material fairly and truthfully to his or her class, in the most effective way possible.
An Odd Observation
It’s an odd fact that evil—any evil—seems to have a nasty effect on human intelligence. Our movies are full of supervillains who use their supposedly great intelligence to persecute the heroes and heroines. And yet, if you look at real-life examples, the choice to “go evil” almost always leads to sheer stupidity in the end. Review the famous dictators of history, the murderers, the committers of atrocities—how do they get caught? Very often it’s a single stupid move—daring the authorities to catch them, making dumb strategy decisions, giving orders that even a five-year-old can see will turn out badly (See the Evil Overlord list for a funny take on this). Once upon a time these people had brains. But by the end of their evil careers, those brains are in a pitiable state. This is probably a result of natural laws—you can’t mess around with fire and not expect to get burnt—but it might also be a case of God’s mercy on the rest of us, who suffer under them.
Knowledge and Wisdom
Education aims to develop two things in students—knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is what we usually think of when we consider education—dates, facts, skills, and concepts. Wisdom is what tells you when to use that knowledge—and how. Both are incredibly valuable, but if you had to choose, wisdom would be the better.
Christians believe that, in the end, God himself is the source of all wisdom. The Bible tells us that God gives wisdom generously to those who ask for it. This is why the Christian Church as a whole has always been the mother of education, establishing schools and universities around the world. Literacy flourishes wherever Christian missionaries go, and other kinds of education soon develop (such as classes in basic health and safety, training for farmers and business people, and programs for new immigrants). All of these exist because we are firmly convinced that God wants human beings to develop to the full potential he gave them, and education is a way to make that happen.