The first thing the Christian churches need to do is to ignore the secularist assumption that Christianity should be confined to some mythical private sphere; there will be time enough for that when secularism voluntarily does the same. It’s assumption that it is neutral is just that, a self-deceiving assumption. Secularism takes as normative the view that church and state and church and education occupy separate spheres; for most of our history the opposite assumptions have obtained. Christianity is is not some sort of overcoat you can put on and off according to where you you; it is, for Christians, the central part of who we are – the man (and woman) made new in Christ Jesus. We either come from the heart of the Church, or we come from nowhere except our own imaginings.
The oft-touted notion that our bishops should ‘stay out of politics’ should be ignored. Our Lord gave no mandate for any particular set of economic policies, but he did give one for what should not be done. The rich should not exploit the poor, and the widow and orphan should be cared for – that last is, St James tells us, ‘true religion’. In our worship of the market, have we, as Christians, ensured that is the case? If not, we have failed. It is our job, as Christians, to sacralise politics – or at least to remind politicians that there is a moral dimension to their vocation. The long climb of the greasy pole is an unedifying, and ultimately unsatisfying affair, if it is an end in itself. Christianity’s great bequest to the political world is the notion that each individual human being is uniquely valuable; this is not something which has been a common belief in other cultures, or, indeed, into the culture where Christianity first grew.
The same thing applies in the world of education. The very notion that the material world is all there is, and that unless we can touch or measure it, it does not exist, is contradicted by the experience of life; we cannot ‘prove’ or measure concepts such as love and beauty, and yet we base many of the most important decisions in our life on them. If belief in formal religion in the West is on the decline, it could hardly be argued that it has been replaced by a Dawkinsite scientific rationalism. Most people say they have a spiritual side to them, most people think there is more to life than eating, drinking and ‘getting on’. We are not educating students to become cogs in a machine, we are not running a sausage-making factory, in which we fill empty skins full of matter and turn them out neatly pre-packaged. Proper education addresses the whole person and if we are performing our vocation in the right way, we are nurturing students who will be rounded people and who will go out into the world to change it for the better. It is a slow process, but all those who complain about the pernicious influence of cultural Marxism on higher education implicitly acknowledge it can be done.
The question for Christians is whether we have the will to do it, or whether we will be content to manage decline. The Great Commission is quite clear what our answer should be.