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Thursday, February 16, 2017

187. Religion And Rationality: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Religion And Rationality 

The Supreme Court Ever son ruling of 1 947 established the principle that America would 
have no truck with spirits. There was no mention that the previous 150 years of American 
judicial history passed without any other court finding this well-hidden meaning in the 
Constitution. But even if we grant the ruling is sincere, an expression of the rational 
principle behind modern leadership, we would be justified in challenging Everson 
because of the grotesque record laid down over the past fifty years of spiritless schooling. 
Dis-spirited schooling has been tested and found fully wanting. I think that's partially 
because it denies the metaphysical reality recognized by men and women worldwide, 
today and in every age. 

It is ironic from a contrarian viewpoint that the most prestigious scientific position in the 
world today is surely heading up the human genome project, and that project, as I write, 



is in the hands of a born-again Christian. Corporations are lined up all the way to China 
to make fortunes out of genetic manipulation. The director of that project is a man named 
Dr. Francis S. Collins, who, according to The New York Times, personally recognizes 
religion as the most important reality in his life. Collins was reared in an agnostic home 
in western Virginia where he was homeschooled by his outspoken, radical mother who 
stretched the school law in a number of ways to give him an education. While in medical 
school, he came to the conclusion that he would become a born-again Christian because 
the decision was "intellectually inescapable." And he has maintained that faith 
energetically ever since, a decision that makes his professional colleagues very 
uncomfortable. 

The difficulty with rational thought, however valuable a tool it certainly is, is that it 
misses the deepest properties of human nature: our feelings of loneliness and 
incompletion, our sense of sin, our need to love, our longing after immortality. Let me 
illustrate how rational thinking preempts terrain where it has no business and makes a 
wretched mess of human affairs. After this, you can tell your grandchildren that you 
actually heard someone at the onset of the twenty- first century challenging Galileo's 
heliocentric theory. 

In materially evidentiary terms, the sun is at the center of the solar system, not the earth, 
and the solar system itself is lost in the endless immensity of space. I suppose most of 
you believe that; how could you not? And yet, as far as we scientifically know to date, 
only planet Earth looks as if it were designed with people in mind. I know that Carl 
Sagan said we'll find millions of populated planets eventually, but right now there's only 
hard evidence of one. As far as we know, you can't go anyplace but earth and stay alive 
for long. So as of 2000, earth is clearly the whole of the human universe. I want to push 
this a little farther, however, so stick with me. 

Planet Earth is most definitely not the center of your personal life. It's merely a 
background which floats in and out of conscious thought. The truth is that both 
psychologically and spiritually you are the center of the solar system and the universe. 
Don't be modest or try to hide the fact. The minute you deny what I just said, you're in 
full flight from the responsibility this personal centrality entails: to make things better for 
the rest of us who are on the periphery of your consciousness. 

When you deny your own centrality, you necessarily lose some trust in yourself to move 
mountains. As your self-trust wanes — and school is there to drill you in distrusting 
yourself (what else do you think it means to wait for teacher to tell you what to do?) — 
you lose some self-respect. Without full self-respect, you can hardly love yourself very 
much because we can't really love those we don't respect (except, curiously enough, by 
an act of faith). When you can't trust or even like yourself very much, you're in a much 
worse predicament than you may realize, because those things are a precondition to 
sustaining loving relationships with other people and with the world outside. 

Think of it this way: you must be convinced of your own worth before you ask for the 
love of another or else the bargain will be unsound. You'll be trading discounted 



merchandise unless both of you are similarly disadvantaged and perhaps even then your 
relationship will disintegrate. 

The trouble with Galileo's way is that it's a partial truth. It's right about the relations of 
dead matter; it's wrong about the geography of the spirit. Schools can only teach 
Galileo's victory over the Church; they can't afford to harbor children who command 
personal power. So the subtlety of the analysis that you and I just went through about the 
way religion confers power has to be foregone. Galileo's Tightness is only a tiny part of a 
real education; his blindness is much more to the point. The goal of real education is to 
bring us to a place where we take full responsibility for our own lives. In that quest, 
Galileo is only one more fact of limited human consequence. 

The ancient religious question of free will marks the real difference between schooling 
and education. Education is conceived in Western history as a road to knowing yourself , 
and through that knowledge, arriving at a further understanding of community, 
relationships, jeopardy, living nature, and inanimate matter. But none of those things has 
any particular meaning until you see what they lead up to, finally being infill command 
of the spectacular gift of free will: a force completely beyond the power of science to 
understand. 

With the tool of free will, anyone can forge a personal purpose. Free will allows infinite 
numbers of human stories to be written in which a personal you is the main character. 
The sciences, on the other hand, hard or soft, assume that purpose and free will are 
hogwash; given enough data, everything will be seen as explainable, predetermined, and 
predictable. 

Schooling is an instrument to disseminate this bleak and sterile vision of a blind-chance 
universe. When schooling displaced education in the United States just about a century 
ago, a deterministic world could be imposed by discipline. We entrap children simply by 
ignoring the universal human awareness that there is something dreadfully important 
beyond the rational. We cause children to mistrust themselves so severely they come to 
depend on cost-benefit analyses for everything. We teach them to scorn faith so 
comprehensively that buying things and feeling good become the point of their lives. 

The Soviet empire did this brilliantly for a little over seventy years. Its surveillance 
capability was total. It maintained dossiers on each human unit, logged every deviation, 
and assigned a mathematical value so that citizens could be ranked against each other. 
Does that sound familiar? It schooled every child in a fashion prescribed by the best 
psychological experts. It strictly controlled the rewards of work to ensure compliance, 
and it developed a punishment system unheard of in its comprehensiveness. 

The Soviet Union lasted one lifetime. Our softer form of spiritual suffocation has already 
been in place for two. The neglected genius of the West, neglected by the forced 
schooling institution as deliberate policy, resides in its historical collection of spiritual 
doctrines which grant dignity and responsibility to ordinary individuals, not elites. 



I have the greatest respect for every other religious tradition in the world, but not one of 
them has ever done this or attempted to do this. Western religion correctly identified 
problems no one can escape, problems for which there are no material solutions, 
problems you can't elude with money, intellect, charm, politics, or powerful connections. 
It said also that these problems were, paradoxically, fundamental to human happiness. 
Serious problems necessary to our happiness? That's some perverse doom, I know you'll 
agree. The question is what to do about it. 

The Illusion Of Punishment 

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