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Off to college

Hundreds of years of bad philosophy are about to immerse your child

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You’re sending Johnny off to college and keeping your fingers crossed. You’ve heard the statistics about kids losing their faith at university; you believe the price tag is way out of proportion to the product; you know he’ll be paying loans off till he’s 40. But it’s a testimony to the power of tradition and cultural inertia that you’re going ahead with it anyway.

If that’s how it is to be, let’s at least be prepared for his Thanksgiving visit home, when he’ll remark over turkey that America’s a genocidal country that deserves to be destroyed. Or his Christmas visit, when he’ll educate you to say “Happy holidays” and not “Merry Christmas.” Or spring vacation, when he’ll declare his true Mother to be Earth.

Between the day you drove off campus waving bye-bye in late August and the chilly autumn morning he showed up on your back doorstep packing the freshman 15, here’s what academia pumped into his brain as you were busy writing checks:

Once upon a time people were ignorant and gullible and had a Faith in God and Church. That was called the Middle Ages, and good riddance to them. Then came the Enlightenment, so-called, because people believed in Reason now, and traded faith in God for faith in man’s ability to seek and find true knowledge. But now we know better, that there is no truth, that there are only truths, and that your truth is yours and my truth is mine, so let’s just “coexist.” (Bookstore bumper stickers are half off today!)

What our kids in college sit under is not just bad philosophy but watered down, to boot.

They’ll throw around some names that you’d do well to be boned up on for Thanksgiving. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) are the main ones. They were late Enlightenment turning points when it began to dawn on mankind (sorry, humankind) that reason reaches contradictory conclusions (Kant), so if we want to keep our faith in God in spite of that, we have to make a “leap to the absurd” (Kierkegaard). Better yet, just face the fact that “God is dead” (Nietzsche).

As God cannot be killed without a consequence, it wasn’t long till Modernism gave way to Postmodernism, where despair and skepticism were complete. The sons of Kant and Nietzsche talked like this: “All propositions of logic say the same thing. That is, nothing” (Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1889-1951); “In metaphysics, including all value and normative theory, logical analysis yields the negative result that the alleged statements in this domain are entirely meaningless” (Rudolf Carnap, 1891-1970).

These were the first generation of Postmodernist professors to hit the university—the pure and undiluted first-cold-press of this new wine. It was the 1950s. Then they died, and the professors who replaced them in the 1970s were their students, somewhat lesser men in academic rigor. Presently, we’re in the third or fourth dip of the tea bag in the water. What our kids sit under is not just bad philosophy but watered down, to boot. It’s like the row of queens in The Magician’s Nephew who, as you walk the line from start to end, diminish by degree. Dumbed-down Derrida and Foucault is the worst.

But here’s the curious thing: These Postmodernists, for all their insistence on the impossibility of truth and the absence of a philosophical basis for morals and values, are leftists. Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998): neo-Marxist; Michel Foucault (1926-1984): French Communist Party, later Maoist. Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) offers his deconstructionism in the service of Marxism. Claiming philosophically that we can know nothing at all, they turn around and claim to know that class power struggle is the driving engine of history. Claiming that language has no correspondence to the empirical world, they inconsistently make didactic statements about right and wrong and social justice.

Truth is subjective—but my view is right and yours is wrong. Values are impossible—but fight racism and sexism. America is evil—but it’s unjust to keep anyone out. Technology is ruinous—but it’s not fair that poorer people in the world don’t have it. Tolerance is good—but Christianity is intolerable.

Then dust off Johnny’s Bible and review in 1 Corinthians what God has said about the wisdom of this world.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.


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