Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Last Freedom: Religion from the Public School to the Public Square

By Joseph P. Viteritti, USD 27.95, 273 pages, hardcover, Princeton University Press.

“Once it was determined that we should all go to school together and learn from a standard curriculum, education became political” because people assumed that school would teach “fundamental values.” Who would decide those values? Increasingly, it has become the feminist-liberal-secularist group with the deciding power, and organized religion has been losing out in America (and Canada).

The Last Freedom recounts America's cultural battles between those who want to limit the role of religion and religiously-inspired institutions in society and people protecting those agencies. Focused on the judiciary and politics, the author examines the liberal-feminist-secular ideology behind much of this anti-Christian movement. He believes that secularism, though claiming to minimize religion's public face in the name of freedom, is impinging on people's freedom by replacing religiously-based, non-governmental “mediating organizations” with the state and state-dependent agencies.

“When such a narrow view of the world is emboldened by the power to govern what and how other people's children are taught, it represents a particular threat to personal freedom. When it is supported by a more pervasive popular disposition, it is a symptom of a larger problem. Ellwood Cubberley, an influential education professor at Stanford University who idealized education as an instrument for social engineering, summed up the prevailing attitude in 1909 when he rejoiced, 'Each year the child is coming to belong more to the state and less to the parent.'”

This is a thought-provoking book, because much of the same secular-inspired statism has become deeply entrenched in Canada and Europe. What will happen to society when every institution must bend to the worldview of anti-Christian liberal-feminist secularists? Though outside of the book's scope, one can turn to the experience of Central and Eastern Europe before 1989 to see the result: Everyone completely dependent on the all-powerful State and its single-minded, power-oriented ideology that served itself rather than people. Lifeless, cold bureaucratic procedure, Pope John Paul warned, replaces human relationship at this point.

The Last Freedom
recounts this process of totalitarian governance in America, as the state slowly overtakes all else in the public arena.

For instance, 1950s U.S. Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter in an important decision “was claiming, in no uncertain terms, that a state-imposed uniformity in thinking had to take precedence over the religious preferences of parents...Frankfurter portrayed religion as a divisive force that could undermine the unifying role of the public school.”

This book finds echoes in John Paul's writings such as Centesimus annus, which claimed that the problem with communist regimes was foremost the lack of mediating organizations. These are organizations, largely non-governmental, that fill out the many layers of society and take care of people's needs. They work best the closer they are to the roots of social and personal problems, and work poorest when functioning from a distant bureaucracy.

Viteritti writes: “I am troubled by the animosity that so many good people exhibit towards religious observers and institutions.” Religiously-inspired mediating institutions are in for a rough ride indeed.

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