Freedom and ignorance do not mix.
Such was Thomas Jefferson’s analysis of things. Following the American War for Independence, his mind turned to the long-term play to sustain the principles of liberty espoused in the Declaration of Independence. His mind settled on education as the key. The republic had to be maintained by qualified, educated men. One historian says Jefferson’s educational goal “was to marginally increase the pool from which those at the top would be drawn.” His vision was not necessarily education for all, but education with a purpose. And he wanted the government involved in it, at least on some level.
Jefferson sought to create a culture wherein new generations of men, steeped in the writings of Plato, Cicero, and Locke, would constantly emerge, ready to advance the cause of liberty and other such noble ideals. For Jefferson, liberty could only be maintained by a well-educated citizenry.
I recognize Jefferson as a prescient thinker, but not as a wise or godly one. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and this Jefferson soundly rejected. His educational creation, the University of Virginia, was conspicuous for its lack of Christian connections. And while Jefferson may have favored a decentralized approach to national politics, he was not averse to asking for taxpayer money to fund education in the state. Thus, his educational legacy includes the bane of American society today: government-run schools.
But Jefferson was right about the need for an educated citizenry. If we are to have true liberty – as defined as freedom to serve God and serve neighbor according to God’s Law (which is not how Jefferson would have defined it methinks) – we will indeed need an informed citizenry.
Informed as to what, though? Plato? Cicero?
Jefferson’s vision failed primarily because he attempted to buttress the ideal of liberty with Enlightenment thinking and vague natural law philosophy. Ancient Greek philosophers and John Locke are insufficient to establish or maintain true liberty. The blessings bestowed on America following 1776 came because, despite heavy Lockean influence, a considerable number of Americans still retained an explicitly biblical worldview, not an Enlightenment one.
It appears the mere vestiges of that biblical worldview remain, and our society and our county stand in desperate need of a citizenry educated in the Law of God.
There are multiple obstacles to this need, however.
Most disturbing is that the churches have largely rejected God’s Word as the standard for all areas of life. Even in Lancaster County, the vast majority of churches are unwilling to practically and intentionally apply the Law-Word of God to every area of life (including education, taxation, regulations, etc.). Whereas the church is called to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), she has abdicated her responsibility to humanistic statists and liberal clowns, the modern-day equivalent of Enlightenment thinkers. Here is a test to apply to a church: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
Another related obstacle is that many so-called Christian thinkers have adopted the statist, humanistic vision of civil law, wherein the average person is deemed unable to understand the various intricacies of government work. Therefore, there exists little need to get involved in civil matters because only the experts (or those voted to be the experts?) can truly grasp and understand the law.
This mindset is widespread in our day. But the only reason the average man cannot understand civil matters is precisely because the simplicity of God’s Law has been jettisoned, and the ever-increasing corpus of manmade law has been enthroned in its place. The recent omnibus spending bill – a document of over 4,000 pages – is a case in point.
Since our founding, Americans have dug for themselves a pit worthy of a sarlacc. We are now surrounded by the tentacles of humanistic philosophy and are being slowly consumed by manmade law.
But there is a way out. We must relearn the fundamentals and we must rebuild the foundations – this time with the precious stones of biblical law, not the wood, hay, and stubble of Enlightenment thinking.
We can begin by committing ourselves to be educated – educated in the Law of God.
John Foxe tells of William Tyndale’s encounter with the Catholic John Walsh in the 16th century. In response to Tyndale’s unswerving faith in the Bible, Walsh said, “We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Tyndale’s response is now legendary: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”
Jeffersonian thinking, alive today in subtle forms, says, “We had better be without God’s laws than the natural law theorists and Greek philosophers.” Our response ought to be: “We defy all the laws of Ahab and Omri. If God spare our lives ere many years, we will cause our children to know more of the law than all the lawyers and representatives leeching off the Nanny State.”
If God spares our lives many years, will it be so? It will take work, but we have no other option but the Law of God if we hope to understand (and experience) true liberty. May we and our children be well acquainted with Moses, Jeremiah, Paul, and the Lord Jesus. May we know more of Cotton, Rushdoony, and Bahnsen, than we do of Locke, Jefferson, and Burke. Then we, like the psalmist, can say, “I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.” There is no need to be ashamed, there is no need to shrink back, when confronted with civil rulers trained in the arts of civil obfuscation. We have a clear Word to cut through the haze. Will we avail ourselves of it? Or will we acquiesce to being an ignorant people, ever under the heel of petty tyrants?
Chris Hume is the managing editor of The Lancaster Patriot. He is responsible for managing customer service, sales, and content across all The Lancaster Patriot’s print and digital channels. He can be reached at email@example.com or @ChrisHume1689 on Twitter.