Does education alone provide empowerment? Joseph Stalin attended Gori Church School and excelled academically, displaying talent in painting and drama classes, writing his own poetry, and singing as a choirboy. Historians attribute between 6-9 million deaths to him.
Karl Marx studied law and philosophy at university. Though it’s unfair to attribute all the negative impacts of communism to Marx, communist regimes are estimated to have killed of the order of 100 million
Pol Pot was a boarder at school and had a privileged education He learned to play the violin and took part in school plays football and basketball. While leading his Khmer Rouge government over 4 years an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork
Kim Jong-un attended the private English-language International School in Gümligen in Switzerland and then Military University, in Pyongyang for 6 years and obtained two degrees.
So clearly, education on its own doesn’t provide an empowerment that is necessarily worthwhile.
Here in Australia, we enjoy levels of free education that ranks among the best in world. Not only that, across the secular west we have a globalised economy, digital connectedness at levels we have never known, consumerism at its height, infant mortality at its lowest, ever increasing life span, global travel at an all-time high, peace and democratically elected governments, and pretty close to universal health care. By any measures, we have it really good now – or at least better than any time in our history. But as a society, many don’t feel empowered.
Despite a range of indicators that we should be doing well, different measures speak otherwise. Addictions are up. Suicides are up. Anxiety is up. Depression is up. Family breakdown is up, Rates of happiness are down. Prescription of antianxiety and antidepressant medications are up. Deaths from alcohol and drugs are now at highest level since record-keeping began. Futurists warn of an epidemic of loneliness in our cities. We could go on.
Doesn’t sound like we are empowered.
There seems to be a subtle doubt, or perhaps disappointment, that the great secular experiment that’s been rumbling on in the west since the enlightenment can bring us the utopian empowerment and peace that we have been promised by human progress.
There was such hope in the progressive belief that all we need to do is throw off shackles of oppressive morality, reject primitive notions of God, and trust that if we stay true to ourselves we can empower each other, work together and make the world a better place.
How could an Obama presidency be followed by Donald Trump? How could Boris Johnson, be prime minister of England? How can extreme right or left wing politicians actually be legitimate potential candidates in elections around the world? Its all going wrong; or is it predicable?
Lesslie Newbigin said that because we are created with a religious impulse, with eternity in our hearts, the meaninglessness that results from the secular vision of society starts to eat away at the hope it promised.
And as the doubt that the promised utopia can be achieved, we see an increasing tribalism and an increasing polarization between left and right in politics, each blaming each other for preventing the utopian secular vision of radical individual freedom that was supposed to be a sign of empowerment.
So can we locate the root causes and solution of this loss of hope and empowerment?
Genesis 3 1-4 gives us the cause and cure of the deepest problems and tragedies of us as individuals and society. It sets the scene for humanity’s fall in poetic, figurative language.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?
Surely you will not die
All our individual and social tragedies and the brokenness that we face grow from two temptations common to all of us. The temptation to believe in God too little; “Did God really say that?” or to believe in ourselves too much; “Surely you will not die!”
These two temptations lie at the heart of everything that goes wrong in our lives and society.
- Not knowing who God is and so doubting Him and
- Not having a right view of ourselves and so over-believing in ourselves
So how are we fully empowered?
We are fully empowered when we understand 2 things deeply. Firstly, when we understand who God is.
‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. Jeremiah 32:17
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. Isaiah 40:28. In these verse we see the Almighty God, the Great I AM and, at the very least, we know that he is in control especially when we are tempted to doubt.
Secondly, we are fully empowered when we have a right view of ourselves. God says we are loved and called to a purpose. That though broken and disabled without Him, we are made in His image and that our purpose is to represent Him to all creation and partner with him in its restoration.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” Jeremiah 1:5
Education is empowering, but it is an empowerment without a foundation.
We are fully empowered when we understand who God is, who we are and have a right view of ourselves through who God says we are and well educated.
Mr Mark Ash / Principal