A few years ago, I took time off work to attend a local university for two semesters…enrolling in five classes in religious studies and a class on the history of science.
The history of science class was taught by a brilliant PhD professor who had the gift of being able to not only lecture…but to be able to draw out the students into lively discussions on the wide range of issues involving the modern Scientific Revolution and the two Industrial Revolutions, along with the political, social, and cultural change-and-effect these historical events entailed.
This particular professor was an American who studied the Russian language, had spent a few years in graduate school in Moscow studying Russian, and had even worked on a Russian fishing trawler to perfect his Russian.
Some of the thought-provoking discussion therefore centered on what is called in recent history the Doctrine of Progress which was a prevalent social/philosophical thinking as a by-product of the rapid advances in science and technology that held promise for mankind alleviating the ills of poverty, hunger, and disease.
Some of the enthusiasm for the Doctrine of Progress has been eroded in modern times as a result of the sobering reality of the two major world wars in the 20th century…where it became evident that technological advancement can also be used to kill millions of people…80 million in WWII.
But one of the intriguing discussions…which I so much enjoy as an adult being immersed in university life…was the ultimate failure of the social experiment of the Soviet Union.
As usually happens with me…I am a slow and deliberate thinker…I would make a terrible courtroom lawyer…as my client would be hanged and buried for a few weeks by the time I figured out the one thing I should have said in his defense at the one opportune time during the trial.
In a blog exploring the subject of Christian politics…this comparison between the political systems of the Soviet Union in the 20th century…and the United States…is fundamentally important.
As I sat in this history of science class listening to the professor and the students interact…I thought about what would happen in Moscow in 1950 if Stalin and a small group of Kremlin leaders decided that they had too many PhD history professors…and what they really needed more of were manual labor ditch-diggers to widen the main road into Moscow.
The political system in the Soviet Union at that time had the power to simply announce that you were no longer a history professor at Moscow University…but instead now a ditch-digger with a shovel and a wheel barrow widening the road into the city…along with a lot of other people displaced out of their chosen careers…by a few politically powerful people who decided for the good of society that a road was more important than teaching history…and if anyone resisted…you were sent off to a prison camp in Siberia.
Then I thought about the contrasting political, social, and cultural system as expressed in a modern American university…that I was observing all around me.
Many students entering as freshman do not know what they want to do or to be in life. They try out a broad range of required general education classes…and some classes in subjects they think they might like.
The fascinating thing I observed is that once a student discovered something they liked and could excel at…religious studies, English, history, electrical engineering, physics, chemistry, mathematics, education, physical therapy, or a particular foreign language…to name only a few examples…their motivation to work their tails off in applying themselves to mastering their chosen field took on an urgency of purpose and will-power that would probably amaze their parents, family members, and friends back home.
In a political, social, and cultural system that allows the freedom to pursue this in-built, innate drive to actualize the uniqueness of who and what each of us individually are…this is the fuel that drives people to willingly choose to be part of and invest themselves in this self-same system…in total contrast to the Soviet Union system of a few powerful people interjecting themselves into the center of this individual, personal discovery and decision-making sphere.
As I sat in this history of science class watching and listening…what if we were all transported back in time to a university classroom in the city of Moscow in the 1950’s…and Stalin decided that my brilliant and talented history professor…doing what he loved and was best suited for…must leave his position as a university professor and take up a shovel for the good of the nation…simply because some other person decided that what they were born to do was no longer important.
As Christians…we believe that every human being is a special creation of God and has a unique, individual capacity to pursue the best possible life-script imagined within the mind and heart of God.
In this post I am making the argument that the best possible political, social, and cultural system…as differentiated in the contrast made above between the Soviet Union dictatorship and the open society of rules and laws in America…demonstrated by college students in free societies pursuing their talents with a motivated energy that invests itself throughout their lifetimes in perpetuating this system…that the best possible system is the system that provides the most opportunity to its people and at the same time removes as many barriers to opportunity as is possible.
As a Christian…I will close this rather lengthy post by saying that…this contrasting dichotomy between closed political systems like as occurred in the Soviet Union in the 20th century…and open societies like we have here in America that is built upon rules and laws…and not the whim of a few powerful people…leaves the atheistic philosophy of materialism and naturalism far behind in the dust.
This very sophisticated and complex discussion has nothing to do with survival of the fittest in terms of hunting wild animals for food and securing dwelling places for protection from the weather.
As a Christian…I reject the notion of Richard Dawkins that there are winners and losers merely “dancing to their DNA.” Material particles and energy could never rise to the level of a pre-law undergraduate student working night and day…as I observed at the university…working their tails off in the history of science class to achieve a high grade to move on and to actualize the life-plan goal that is within sight.
Is it plausible for moral reasoning of this caliber to evolve unguided through gradualistic, naturalistic causation alone? I do not think so.
This question affects our worldview…and therefore our politics.
More on this in future posts.