This has been one of the stupidest fights in recent memory. After Kentucky's (my beloved home state) state board of education passed a resolution to allow (not require) schools to use the "new" way of dating history, B.C.E. and C.E. alongside the Christocentric B.C. and A.D., conservative and evangelical Christians pitched the hissy-fit to end all hissy-fits. The idea that schools teach students the dating system used in almost all universities and preferred by almost all historians along with the overtly Christian way of dating history was offensive to those whose idea of religious freedom is the state endorsing their own views and imposing it on the public in the name of the majority.
I've marveled at the outcry since it began. To me, the decision to expose children to a way of marking history that shows up on - among other things - the national standardized tests which evaluate them, is a no-brainer. It certainly doesn't challenge anyone's religious beliefs to acknowledge that not all people view the life of Jesus as the defining point in the history of the world. But it does, it turns out, deprive evangelicals of one mode of evangelism.
While I was trying to get inside the perspective of the large and vocal segment of my state's population up in arms about how we date history, I remembered my past infatuation with Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and author of a number of apologetic and evangelistic books. I was introduced to Kreeft's work through my passion for C.S. Lewis. Kreeft wrote an intriguing dialogue in response to this quirk of history: Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John F. Kennedy all died on the same day, November 22, 1963.
That coincidence gave rise to the witty and wonderful Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death, with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley. I read the whole book in an afternoon, and for a time was hooked on Kreeft, who was able to reduce complex religious and philosophic ideas to manageable (and readable!) chunks. Of course Kreeft was guilty, like Lewis, of oversimplifying the complex so that the average reader could understand it. But, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. If you wish to be an academic you don't want to stop with Kreeft or Lewis. But if you are an average person who doesn't have the luxury of devoting your life to contemplating the metaphysical mysteries of the universe, Kreeft, like Lewis, does a good job of filling you in on how the conversation has gone on so far, and allows you to catch up and join it.
But Kreeft, like Lewis, has an agenda which is not limited to just inspiring reflection. Kreeft desires to convert his non-Christian readers, and to arm his Christian readers with some intellectual ammunition. And this is where the way in which we date history comes in. One of Kreeft's most interesting books is another dialogue, Socrates Meets Jesus: History's Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ. The book asks what would happen if Socrates suddenly woke up on the campus of a major university and enrolled in its divinity school.
The delightfully improbable plot unfolds on the campus of Have It Divinity School, a not so subtle stab at a certain Ivy League institution. Socrates goes to classes and converses with both students and faculty, asking the same sorts of impolite, probing questions he was famous for in ancient Athens. In doing so, he confounds the wise, and cuts straight to Kreeft's idea of the heart of the claims of Christianity.
In chapter seven, titled Jesus: One of a Kind Socrates finally visits a Christology class, where, of course, the discussion centers around the question of who Jesus was, and what it means to say that Jesus is or was the Christ. At one point in the discussion Socrates asks what the terms B.C. and A.D. mean, setting up an exploration of how we date time and why we date it that way. As the conversation begins to shift away from how we date our history to who exactly the class thinks Jesus was, Socrates asks this pointed question:
So why was Jesus so much better than the others [great philosophers and religious figures to whom Jesus has been compared] that you date all of history around him?
Dating our culture's history by Jesus is an overt public acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ. But, of course, not everyone does affirm the Lordship of Christ, which presents a real problem for those who wish to be involved in public life without saying something which their conscience or their intellect rejects.
Dating public history by Jesus is in and of itself an evangelistic act - an attempt to impose the statement "Jesus is Lord" on an entire culture, regardless of the religious beliefs represented by that culture. No wonder evangelicals are upset that this tool is being slowly removed from their box. They phrase their objection in many different ways, but I fear that this is the real issue at stake. Not the rights of the majority (which hardly need protection) or religious freedom (which is being subverted by the tyrant majority rather than protections for minorities), but instead public support for Christian evangelism.
I say this as a Christian, someone whose own personal history is in fact ordered around my experience of God through Jesus. I say this as an evangelical Christian (even if a liberal one), someone who tries to share that experience of God as revealed through Jesus with others. The uproar over exposing kids to another way of dating history is nothing short of religious tyranny, the relentless imposition of majority views on a minority whose beliefs and concerns are simply not respected. And worse still, it makes for bad education. And education, not evangelism, ought to be the concern of public schools.
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