Orcinus regular Ahistoricality has posted a remarkable piece of Falwell memorabilia over at Progressive Historians. It's a 1981 brochure, published by the North Carolina Moral Majority, that provides one of the best summaries I've ever seen of the educational messages fundamentalist high school kids get from their parents and elders. Here's the text:
Don'ts for students.There's a lot to comment on here -- and hope you all will -- regarding the ways in which these rules strictly limit self-awareness, imagination, and intellectual growth. (I'm surprised, frankly, that they weren't told to avoid art class altogether.)
1. Don't get into science-fiction values discussions or trust a teacher who dwells on science fiction in his/her "teaching."
2. Don't discuss the future or future social arrangements or governments in class.
3. Don't discuss values.
4. Don't write a family history.
5. Don't answer personal questions or questions about members of your family.
6. Don't play blindfolded games in class.
7. Don't exchange "opinions" on political or social issues.
8. Don't write an autobiography.
9. Don't keep a journal of your opinions, activities and feelings.
10. Don't take intelligence tests. Write tests only on your lessons. Force others to judge you on your own personal achievement.
11. Don't discuss boy-girl or parent-child relationships in class.
12. Don't confide in teachers, particularly sociology or social studies and english teachers.
13. Don't judge a teacher by his/her appearance or personality, but on his/her competence as a teacher of solid knowledge.
14. Don't think a teacher is doing you a favor if he/she gives you a good grade for poor work or in useless subjects.
15. Don't join any social action or social work group.
16. Don't take "social studies" or "future studies." Demand course definition: history, geography, civics, French, English, etc.
17. Don't role-play or participate in socio-dramas.
18. Don't worry about the race or color of your classmates. Education is of the mind, not the body.
19. Don't get involved in school-sponsored or government-sponsored exchange or camping programs which place you in the homes of strangers.
20. Don't be afraid to say "no" to morally corrupting literature, games and activities.
21. Don't submit to psychological testing.
22. Don't fall for books like "Future Shock," which are intended to put readers in a state of panic about "change" so they will be willing to accept slavery. Advances in science and technology don't drive people into shock. It is government and vain-brain intrusions in private lives, which cause much of the unbalance in nature and in people.
23. Don't get into classroom discussions which being: What would you do if....? What if....? Should we....? Do you suppose....? Do you think....? What is your opinion of....? Who should....? What might happen if....? Do you value....? Is it moral to....?
24. Don't sell out important principles for money, a scholarship, a diploma, popularity or a feeling of importance.
25. Don't think you have to associate with morally corrupt people or sanction their corruption just because "society" now accepts such behavior.
26. Don't get discouraged. If you stick to firm principles, others will respect you for it and perhaps gain courage from your example.
But I'm most bemused by the fact that fully a third of these admonitions directly or indirectly tell kids to stay away from any kind of thinking about the future. The Evangelical movement went through a serious panic about futures studies in the 80s and 90s: in fact, the first series of readings my Regent professor threw at me last semester included a couple rather hysterical (in both the unhinged and funny senses of the word) screeds along these same lines.
Their concern goes to the heart of one of the biggest problems Christianity has had with the modern era, which is its total loss of hegemony over people's visions of the future. For 1500 years, people took it as gospel (so to speak) that the Biblical account of creation was a stone literal fact. It followed, quite logically, that the eschatology outlined in Revelation could also be relied on as an equally literal account of how history would end.
Early Christians were so convinced that Jesus was returning Any Day Now that they constructed their entire societies around that fact. It was built right into their calendars, which had the world ending sometime in the 400s. Jesus may have said that "no man knows the day or hour" -- but that didn't stop them from trying to reckon it out anyway. Augustine (who readjusted that calendar to buy the world another couple hundred years) wrote persuasively that they needed to knock off the guessing games, and focus on the world at hand rather than the one to come. But, from that day to this, there's never been a shortage of Christian true believers doing whatever they could to hasten the day.
Through the centuries, this conversation has turned (and, arguably, still turns) on two key questions: What is the essential nature of humanity? And how much influence can it really have over its own future? On the first question, Christianity has taken a dim view of our essential nature: humans are profoundly corrupt and flawed, and therefore morally incapable of doing anything positive in the world. If we try to meddle in the future, we're going to screw up God's plan. As to the second question: Since a deterministic God really runs the show anyway, there's no real point in trying to change anything, now, is there?
These two assumptions -- we can't change the future, and shouldn't try -- put much of the dark in the Dark Ages. These assumptions didn't really change until the Enlightenment turned the lights back on, by affirming that a) yes, humans -- through the use of science -- can indeed understand the world well enough to create positive and useful change; and b) we are intelligent, moral, and inherently worthy beings who are entitled to use our influence to create the world we want. (Looking back now, it's fair to ask: How do we deal with the world that this belief ultimately created? That's another post for another day -- but suffice to say, our accepted answers to those two questions are up for serious review about now.)
Many futurists think that "the future" as we now understand it was born with these two realizations, which formed the philosophical foundation of modernism. Together, they liberated Westerners from the inevitability of Armageddon -- freeing us to imagine other futures, while also endowing us with powerful new tools to achieve them. The Church no longer owned the historical narrative, from beginning to end. Now, we had new stories about the beginning -- and were free to write our own end.
Traditional Christianity has never really recovered from the hit. The enduring grief over this loss echoes through these wretched bits of advice, which are clearly aimed at insulating the young faithful from any kind of post-Enlightenment understanding of the world. But the ultimate irony here is this: By carefully forbidding their children to learn the lessons of science and history -- which is the central goal of these rules -- the so-called "Moral Majority" also deliberately cripples their ability to act from any kind of authentic moral sense.
Science and history, between them, provide nothing less than our cognitive map of how the entire world works. The power and glory and horror, the inner and outer workings of the universe, the grand attempts and spectacular failures, the possibilities and dangers -- these understandings are essential to our ability to explain and predict the things that happen in the world around us. Our moral judgment depends utterly on clear foresight, which allows us to accurately analyze situations and foresee their likely outcomes. Thus, rules like these -- which deny cause and effect and inhibit pattern-making skills -- actually interfere with the development of effective moral navigation equipment, permanently maiming these students' ability to choose right courses of action.
We're seeing this now, of course. One-sixth of America has voluntarily accepted some version of these rules; and their inability to assess the moral consequences of their choices have already cost us all more than we have even begun to reckon. And because they recognize no past or future, no cause or effect, other than the one in their Bible, it's likely that most of them will never really understand the ways in which they brought these disasters down on us all.