I have met many people later in life who regret getting a Christian education. In some ways they felt that this made them unprepared for the mostly secular society that is America. I can sympathize, and I got a mostly Christian education.
I completely understand the extreme culture shock of realizing that these new people have never heard the musical stylings of DC Talk. It can be somewhat jarring to run into people who thought that courtship died out in the 1800s and have never kissed dating goodbye. Sometimes you start to question whether or not watching James Dobson’s entire seminar on teen sexuality actually taught you anything about sexuality, or teens for that matter.
But there were some things that I learned in my mostly Christian education which have stuck with me, and have made me the philosopher that I turned out to be.
In my Christian high school I had only ever heard the word “feminism” spoken with the greatest disdain. My classmates evoked it when they needed to point out what was wrong with women in our society, or was that my teachers? In any case it was either not said at all, or uttered as though it were a secret curse that might summon up Sekhmet herself.
Everyone was doing it…except for my English Teacher.
One day I perchance happened to mention my dislike for feminism. It was between classes so there was no interrupting the work of reading Huckleberry Finn. In fact, I had mentioned my dislike of feminism precisely because she, one of my favorite teachers, had claimed to be a feminist. I thought that she must be mistaken, and I couldn’t fathom why this incredible woman would ever align herself with something so…nebulously and vaguely evil.
Her response still sticks with me. When I asked her why she would be a feminist she explained
“A feminist is someone who wants women to succeed in life, and since I want my students and myself to succeed then that makes me a feminist. It would be a very strange thing to call yourself a woman, but not want women to succeed.”
I realize that this was perhaps the first time in my life that my entire small-town, small-church, narrowly-evangelical, Conservative-Christian world view began to slip into doubt in my mind. It woke me from that peculiar dogmatism of youth, and made me realize that the world might be broader than I knew.
It was my junior year at my Christian high school, and I was definitely frustrated. I had this sinking despair around the sheer monotony of my 16-year-old-life. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, or what I was supposed to be doing. I hated my classes, I struggled to make friends, and I was worthless at sports. I liked nothing so much as escaping into a good book. It was the late 90s, so the internet hadn’t caught on yet and I didn’t know if anyone else felt the same way that I did.
Then I sat down with the music and Bible class teacher.
I remember lamenting to him, and I remember telling him my deepest fear: that my life was never going to change and that I would always feel behind, left out, and useless. His response was brief.
“Kids like you do great at college. Trust me, once you get there none of this is going to matter.”
It ended up being so true, I discovered what I loved in college, and I did end up surviving high school. You might laugh now looking back on those days, but you probably still remember that one kid who didn’t make it out. This teacher was one of the reasons I made it out; it was never a foregone conclusion that I would.
I even ended up going to a Christian college. It also happened to be a real accredited university but the atmosphere was decidedly Christian. I majored in philosophy and ended up taking some brilliant classes.
There are many moments which stand out in those years, and one in particular has influenced me through numerous life changes. No matter where I have fallen on the spectrum of politics, life, sexuality, theology, or science I remember the words of my favorite philosophy professor.
“Of course you’ve heard the philosopher’s motto. Deny everything, affirm very little, and always make a distinction.”
In all matters those words have guided me, and even when I made the wrong choices in life I still tried to live by that advice. It taught me how to be a philosopher, and I have been grateful for that education ever since.
James Taylor earned a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Texas A&M University, and is currently finishing his doctoral dissertation on the link between race and technology. He currently teaches philosophy and specializes in critical philosophy of race, technology, and religion. In his free time he enjoys researching family genealogies and going graving, the hobby of documenting cemeteries.