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“Christ Against the Multiculturalists”

“Christ Against the Multiculturalists”

Address written for entering students of Wabash College, Class of 2012 by Stephen H. Webb, found at the First Things blog.

A couple of excerpts:

Education used to hold students to the highest standards of Western culture, but now it gives students bits and pieces of many cultures. Nonetheless, multiculturalism is not a plot devised by left-leaning liberals to dumb down America, though it often seems like that. Instead, multiculturalism follows inexorably from the rejection of a universal human nature. If there is no single human nature, then there is no single standard for human excellence either. Indeed, there is no single standard for anything, from rationality to morality. When rationality and morality are reduced to social constructions, the best we can do is learn how societies construct things, rather than why certain constructions endure the test of time. Learning becomes a matter of uncovering the social and historical context behind every book and every idea. Rather than ask what a text has to teach us, we now have to dig deep in order to ask what the text is trying to hide. And the answer to that question is presupposed from the start: What is foundational to all social constructions just happens to be what is so self-congratulatory about modern education. All books and ideas are trying to hide their prejudices about race, gender, and class. Learning is about identifying with the experiences of the victims of social injustice�experiences that will be held up for you as absolutely different from your own.

Multiculturalism might seem like a harmless game of cultural tourism mixed with a little detective work, with the crime (sexism and racism) always being the same, but it is actually much more serious than that. Liberal professors assume that you, the student, come to their classes believing in universal truths, and they think that it is their job to get you to leave such baggage behind. Since professors these days do not believe in human nature, they think that the most important thing they can do is to teach you that all values are relative. And they do this by trying to convince you that you do not understand other cultures because you are trapped in your own.

To return to the central truth of Christianity, Christians believe that God experienced the totality of the human condition by becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ. That is, God did not need to become incarnate in each one of us in order to understand every one of us. Each one of us can experience a personal relationship with Jesus because Jesus was completely one of us. If cultural relativism is true, then Christianity is doomed, because God became incarnate in a very specific person at a particular time and place. From the perspective of multiculturalism, God could not have understood what it means to be human by becoming a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. It follows that if God did understand man by becoming a man, then multiculturalism is a lie.

Applying this truth to the world of higher education, we can say that every human life is, in principle, sufficient for the discovery of every truth. You don�t need new experiences to become educated; you just need deeper ways of understanding your own experience. As a human being in the midst of passing into adulthood, nothing human is alien to you. You need to learn how to think more carefully, imagine more fully, and judge more humanely, but you do not need to learn that your beliefs are wrong because they are limited by your experiences and that the only way to broaden those beliefs is to immerse yourself in radically new experiences. What is true in any book you read or any idea you consider is true because it is true for everyone, and its truth is available to you because you already have the rudiments of what it means to be human.

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27 comments
  • Oh, my favorite is first:  Steadfast Tin Soldier.  I just loved his steadfast bravery and his sacrifice for the paper ballerina girl.  And the Frog King ‘cause the ending is so sweet and unexpected w/ the faithful servant’s happy heart breaking its iron bands.

  • I’m with you on the sentiment here. I’m trying to filter out the dreck and give the kids a taste for what’s true, good, and beautiful. But I’m less critical of the Disney stuff than you are. The older movies are truer to the original source than the recent ones.
    A few forays into other stuff isn’t going to rot their brains, though. Like a hot fudge sundae. Once in a while, it does no harm, but a steady diet rots your teeth.

    That being said… It’s SEUss, not SUEss… I know you posted an excerpt, but that’s a pet peeve of mine. Like “its” and “it’s.”

  • Heather,

    The focus in the article is on the Disney books, not the movies per se. I’ve never read them but am generally leery of any book made from a movie or television show.

    I mostly agree with you about the older Disney movies, (the newer ones I’m less willing to give a pass) though I’d say more cotton candy than hot fudge sundaes, cloying and sweet and I can understand why the kiddies like them but whatever taste I used to have for them I’ve pretty much outgrown. Once I got my books and started to read the real stories I grew disenchanted with the Disney princesses, though I do recall my prior infatuation.

    I didn’t notice the Seuss misspelling, not on my short list of peeves, but I completely understand.

  • Kate,

    You put your finger on exactly what I think the problem is in most schools today. Reading is seen as a goal in itself. What children read is unimportant. (Or, worse, children are given all kinds of drek that indoctrinates them into good politically correct thinking about social issues.) The idea that literature is about moral and intellectual formation is foreign to so many parents and teachers.

    So often when I was teaching college my students would tell me they never read books. I had one college-aged student referring to novels as “chapter books”, clearly she hadn’t read much after that period in her education when she’d first transitioned from picture books.

    I am much more concerned about feeding Isabella a diet of good literature, beautiful stories with elevated language, gorgeous picture books with inspiring artwork. She’ll learn to read at her own schedule and will hopefully come to love books for their own sake. So far this seems to be working. I never prompt her, but she’s always bringing me books to read to her and she frequently sits down and pages through them “reading” them to herself.

    I think another component is the competitive parenting you see so many parents get caught up in. I was recently reading an article about growth charts and how parents even get competitive about what percentile their children are in.

  • I have followed your collecting efforts very closely, waiting patiently to see whether I will end up green with envy or with a knowing smile.  I, too, carefully and painstakingly selected a generous bookshelf of fine children’s literature for my son, before he was born.  After all, I was an English major, had taught my little brother to read when he was three, and had successfully taught a classroom full of highly resistant inner city kids to appreciate Shakespeare.  My son is now eight, and I have spent hours droning endlessly on and on about the horsepower of the original Pontiac GTO and how many cubic feet of pressure ‘Big Boy’ (the largest steam engine) could produce.  My favorite?  ‘Classic Caterpillars’, and it wasn’t about bugs.  The chapter on what kind of bolt-on attachments could be purchased for the 1941 ‘Mulie’ tractor was particularly riveting.  There were a few exceptions – he went through a longish Uncle Wiggily stage.  But his very first ‘favorite’ book was ‘My Big Book of Numbers’, and he has consistently been drawn to books for information about things which interest him (math, various mechanical devices, (real) animals) and not to literature.  The most perused, worn, taped-up book on his shelf?  ‘The Dot and the Line’ by Norton Juster.  ????  I’m not sure how hard to push the issue.  I will admit to teaching reading as a goal; he has a visual impairment resulting in some dyslexic-like difficulties.  He reads at grade level now, but the only time he reads voluntarily is when he has to do ‘research’ (his word) on something.  He will read or listen to what he calls ‘Mommy books’ (Do we HAVE to read a Mommy book today?), but it’s usually as a trade-off for a mind-numbing chapter involving steam or internal combustion engines.  I think of you, as I strive not to descend into a monotone mumble during these sessions, and will continue to watch and wait to see the fruit of your efforts.  May they be more successful than mine!

  • Jan,

    My dad warns me frequently that all children come with their own personalities and proclivities and I may find that none of mine are the bookworms I hope they’ll be.

    I’ve read many stories from moms with children like your son and have always been aware of that as a possibility. My younger brother has learning disabilities and about the only books he willingly reads are art books and biographies of artists (He’s a painter, can you tell?), so I do have some first-hand experience of family member who doesn’t quite “get it”. I have always been quite aware that the primary beneficiary of my avid book collecting may well be me, myself and I.

    While I have high hopes of inspiring a love for literature and have been very gratified so far at Bella’s response, which has been much warmer than I ever expected, I still know deep down that I’m most grateful to her for being an excuse for me to indulge my own love of beautiful children’s literature. Though it will be hard if Bella and Sophia don’t fall in love with the Pevensies, Anne Shirley, Frodo and Samwise,  Laura Ingalls, Sarah Crewe and all the rest of my beloved friends, I suppose I’ll eventually get over it. 

    Your son sounds very much like my Uncle Patrick, the engineer who used to hang around watching road construction crews and once ended up miles from home as they let him tag along. I know he once expressed to my dad, though, how grateful he was to a certain English teacher who taught him how to write. He was certain at the time she felt like the whole experience had been a failure, but to him her caring concern did make a huge difference.

    Hang in there, I am certain that no matter how much he resists your “mommy books”, they are working somehow. And he may never know how much he owes you for all the time you’ve spent on his beloved internal combustion engines, but I am certain your acts of self-sacrifice will not go unrewarded. God bless you for your patient endurance! 

    I’ve actually spent some time thinking about how I’d handle this kind of challenge. My instinct would be not to push too hard, but not to give up altogether either. I’d let him indulge his passions for learning the subjects that fascinate him. It sounds like he knows what he likes and that really is a good thing. You may have a budding scientist or engineer on your hands. But even scientists and engineers do need art and culture so I’d keep adding those “mommy books” too.

  • Amen to everything written here. It sometimes baffles me how Miriam (almost 3) finds the Disney and Sesame characters so attractive (introduced by well-intentioned babysitters). My response has been to strictly limit the Disney to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty—the older films, which didn’t quite bastardize the tales. There will be no Ariel in our home (in a fit of disgust, I even removed all the Ariel bandaids from the box my mother-in-law bought)! But she always returns to the classics—Where the Wild Things Are is a favorite—after a little princess indulgence. The lasting favorites are the ones that have lasted for years before she arrived on the scene!

  • Let me just say one word here …

    BAMBI

    I beg of everyone here that if you have not read the book, which was intended for adults, PLEASE go get it! Talk about truth. Wow.

  • Bambi, I’ll have to check it out. Adding to my wishlist. (You keep doing that to me, Julie!)

  • At this rate it will take me more than a year just to get through my current to-be-read pile if I don’t add any more books. smile

    But I have to say, so far I’ve never been disappointed with one of your recommendations.

  • Thank you for the post and the link to the article.  I have been thinking about this at length recently.  Count me in as one of the mothers you inspire to dig deeper for good books.  It is, indeed, hard at times to find good children’s books.  A relative gave us two big boxes of books but I whittled it down to less than one box.  Unfortunately most of what was given to us was childish, poorly written, and pure marketing. 

    Are you familiar with Mars Hill Audio Journal?  Their recent volume discusses how the number of American readers (for leisure) is dropping.  They note that we seem to do a good job at teaching kids to read in elementary school but lose them later on.  But I question, with what are we teaching them to read?  Is is it really all that important for our 4/5 year olds to be able to read proficiently or is it more important to immerse them in literature and good storytelling and trust that they will read when they are ready and prepared? 

  • May I mention something?  Years ago when my oldest was tiny, I read Jim Trelease’s (sp?)The Read-Aloud Handboook, in which he argues that parents often make a big mistake: They stop reading aloud when the child is old enough to read on his own.  Our oldest is a gifted reader and the other two are still developing—and revealing—their particular temperaments, but we’ve never stopped reading aloud, and the oldest loves to listen in to all of it.  It’s more about being with Mama or Dada, but at the same time they are listening and learning with joy…which is always a special learning glue.  Maybe that would help answer a need for good stories for a child not yet willing or able to read them independently. 

  • Yes, Bella is already showing far more interest than ever Michael did.  He would follow me around with books about trains and cars and point to the pictures and say “tell me about this one, Mommy”.  He also likes good illustrations, but doesn’t particularly care about the story.  I will admit to hanging on to my favorite books, ones I could have passed on to friends for their own children, and my only excuse is potential grandchildren. 

    What’s hardest for me is trying to teach him the faith.  How do you teach Catholicism to a child who doesn’t have a head for stories?  He is fascinated by the patterns and the symmetries of the faith.  Concepts such as the dual action of the Mass, the symmetry of the Trinity, vocabulary like ‘transubstantiation’, he is enthusiastic and eager to learn these things.  He loves to pray the rosary, with its patterns and rhythms.  We spent ten minutes going over the Paschal Candle this spring, and he would happily draw you a very accurate one and explain all the symbols.  We spent two weeks on three Old Testament stories, and my guess is if you questioned him he would get them all mixed up.  We’ve managed to master the high points of the life of Christ (although he probably wouldn’t get them in the proper order).  But the parables?  The stories of the saints?  The figures of the Old Testament?  He’ll do his best if I insist, but his heart isn’t in it (and it doesn’t stick).  In this, more than anything, I feel myself strained to the point of inadequacy.  Ah, well.  We do the best we can, and leave the rest to God, right?

  • Jan,
    I’d be keeping the books too. You never know what children will enter your life.

    Oh dear, I feel your pain, I hadn’t even considered the religious ed aspect. For me one of the ideas that has been central to my experience of the faith is Lewis’ idea of Christianity as the true myth, the story that we most want to be true and that really happened. But God made your son the way he is and so He must have a plan for how he will communicate with your son. it does sound as if you have a point of entry with the interest in patterns and symbols. It could be that he’ll be more drawn to abstract theology and the ideas of the faith rather than to stories. Maybe eventually he’ll be one of those people who fall in love with St. Thomas Aquinas, which I just can’t wrap my head around. At least he does show some interest in some aspects of the faith. I’d work on reinforcing those and seeing if you can’t find ways of presenting material that speaks to his strengths.

    But I am sure that if you do the best you can, God will find a way to work with that. Especially if you ask him directly with lots of prayer. And bug Mary a bunch. She’s a mother, she understands.

    Sheila,

    Great point. I’m firmly of the opinion that one is never too young or too old for read-alouds. (Or for picture books for that matter.) My best friend in college told me how her father used to read them Narnia and Jane Austen at the dinner table (he was an English professor). 

  • Jan, I know I’m late to the party here, and don’t know if you’ll see this or not, but I found a great book online about inventors/inventions, written in a very storylike manner.  My son who read this this past year for science is 9, and if it seems too much for yours to read on his own, it would be great as a read-aloud.  I was thrilled to learn things about the inventions that changed our lives.  Sorry, I don’t know how to insert a link in a combox!

    http://www.mainlesson.com/display.php?author=bachman&book=inventors&story=_contents

  • Oh, hey, it put the link in for me!  How nice!

    As for Bambi, I picked it up at a used book sale thinking I could add it to my children’s collection, and then started thumbing through it…WOW, how did Disney ever get ahold of that as a kids’ movie?

    I find that as an adult, though, I can enjoy children’s literature when it is written well…like most of the classics you’ve talked about, Melanie.  Here’s one I’d never heard of before—Rollo at Play, by Jacob Abbot—great stories that my children (ages 4, 5, 7 and 9) just love:
    http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/11140

  • Just read the full article…I had checked out Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales but hadn’t read them yet, so I will get right on that!  And Hans Christian Andersen…the REAL Little Mermaid will make her appearance one night this week…no more Ariel and Prince Eric and Ursula nonsense…although the lobster/crab character is pretty funny in the movie!

    Fantastic point about what they read is how they will write, too…garbage in, garbage out.

    What, if anything, does anyone here think about introducing some of the more difficult classics in the “Great Illustrated Classics” versions when the kids are younger, then reintroducing the original text when they’re older?  Sort of like a pre-Cliffs Notes study guide?

  • Lori,

    Oh I adore Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant.” I had an audio recording of it when I was a child and it’s one of my all-time favorite stories. I must confess I don’t think I’ve read many others of his fairy tales. If I have, I don’t remember them well.

    I’m not sure how I feel about Great Illustrated Classics. In general, I think I’d prefer to do the original as a read aloud if the kids can’t handle it on their own. I think kids can usually understand more than we give them credit for. (I know Bella listens attentively to texts I can’t believe she understands. I’m not sure what exactly she gets out of The Steadfast Tin Soldier, for example; but she asks for it over and over.) But I also think that it depends on the child and his or her capabilities. Maybe it also depends on which classic we’re talking about?

    I know I do like the idea of using Nesbit’s or Lamb’s shorter versions of Shakespeare’s plays. Not only because the language is so foreign, but also because the story form fills in what the play by itself does not, being only dialog and stage directions. I think there is a need for an intermediate form. (I wish I’d known of them when I was teaching Shakespeare to college kids, actually. I think I’d have had much more luck if they’d read a condensed story form first before trying to wrestle with the bare text of the play.)

  • There are a lot of scientist and engineer saints and men of God. (Women of God, too!) Your son would probably like those. Also, a lot of older catechesis books were written in terms of patterns, questions and answers, and problems. I know this is disliked and feared by some today, who can’t see how religion could be seen that way; but I think it’s just another way of perception. For your son, it might work a lot better than narrative! So heck, you might try him on The Compendium of the Catholic Church (Q&A format) or the old Baltimore Catechism. There are also books almost cataloguing saints for kids, which have pictures of the saint and their iconography followed by a short account of what they did, what their iconography means, and what they’re the patron saint of. Again, this might work well for him (and wouldn’t be too boring for you).

    Good luck and God bless!

  • Wow, what memories you’ve brought back—we had a huge Hans Christian Andersen treasury when I was a girl, and I don’t remember much of it, except for the Snow Queen. I read it over and over—what a wonderful story.

    I think I need to go out and find a similar treasury for my daughters….

  • If you can find him, I suggest you add Padraic Colum to your children’s library.  I think he’s one of the less-remembered writers of the Irish Revival because he specialized in folklore and poetry.

    My favourite of his books are “The King of Ireland’s Son”, which was available in paperback a few years ago, and “The Children Who Followed the Piper” (detailing what happened to the kids after they left Hamlim after the Pied Piper).

  • I love Padraic Colum’s Greek mythology stories…they have an online version that I believe may even be read aloud by him.  My son got so much out of listening to that…beautiful language and beautiful voicing.

  • MissJean,

    Actually we do have a copy of The King of Ireland’s Son, though I haven’t read it yet. Sadly, it seems The Children Who Followed the Piper is out of print; but I’ll keep my eyes open for it.

    I was familiar with Padraic Colum’ poetry from doing my MA in Irish Lit, but actually discovered his children’s books from a mom blogger (probably Melissa Wiley).

  • Jan,
    A thought on the religious ed – try teaching him through art and iconography. The saints for example, are often pictured with certain symbolic objects – there are certain formulas these things have (medieval mnemonics, more or less) that he might really enjoy knowing about. Its worth a try, right?

    Kate

  • Melanie, I didn’t know anything about his poetry until I was a college student, and that purely by accident. (Literally, I got lost in the stacks at the undergrad library.) There’s a few of his poems and children’s stories available on Kindle BTW.

    The one unsettling thing in King of Ireland’s Son was when the boy had to kill the enchanter’s daughter and use her bones as a ladder, then reassemble her to bring her back to life. It’s only about 3 sentences in the book, but I remember that part to this day because it was so scary.

    I can’t think of anything similar to it in Piper, except that one boy chooses to turn to stone by telling the truth rather than destroy a friendship.

  • As far as I am concerned, it is counterproductive to use television characters to lure children into reading.  Read them quality books and they will want to read more books; read Dora books and they will want to turn on the television.

    I do have an exception for Grover (Grover’s Resting Places and Hide and Seek are as good as The Monster at the End of this book) and Curious George (oddly enough we love the new stuff done “in the style of” H.A. Rey).

    I read picture books throughout the day; my husband reads “chapter books” at bedtime.  It seems to be working thus far smile

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