H.G. and me

As students begin a new year, watch for honeyed poison

Issue: "The new school year," Sept. 11, 1999

A friend recently gave me an early edition of H.G. Wells's The Outline of History, the book written in 1920 that contributed to my teenage theological corruption in the 1960s. Bar mitzvahed at 13, I was an atheist at 14, and Wells was a catalyst in that prideful transition. I've been reading Wells for the first time in 35 years while walking my pre-breakfast treadmill, and the charm of his simple yet elegant writing comes back to me. Wells started by propounding macro-evolution as fact and religious belief as fiction. He did not rant and rave against what I believed as a child, but condescendingly referred to the Old Testament as "the most remarkable collection of ancient documents." You can subvert more minds with honey than with vinegar. Wells skillfully portrayed family, nation, and religion as antiquated concepts. I'm not blaming him for pushing me down a decade-long blind alley-I was ready to roll-and God in any event has used for good the process Wells began. But, as new school years begin, we need to understand the Wellsian vision that still rules many secular institutions, a vision of mankind "at first scattered and blind and utterly confused, feeling its way slowly to the serenity and salvation of an ordered and coherent purpose. That, in the simplest, is the outline of history." Within this vision, significantly, we gain salvation only by avoiding intellectual conflict. Writing soon after the "universal disaster" of the Great War (sadly, we now label it World War I), Wells stated that "There can be no common peace and prosperity without common historical ideas. Without such ideas to hold them together in harmonious cooperation, with nothing but narrow, selfish, and conflicting nationalist traditions, races and peoples are bound to drift towards conflict and destruction." Common historical ideas to rule us all! Common ideas to bind us! The diversity of races and peoples can be saved from destruction only if we move away from a diversity of thought! The Wells vision, now dominant at many secular universities, is rarely stated openly, although it is apparent in catalogue descriptions of some courses in Women's Studies and other overtly radical areas. For example, WS301 at the University of Texas this fall is "starting with the premise that gender is cultural construction"-evidently, all students must agree that gender is merely a social construct. Similarly, the WS321 description notes that "the objective of the course is to allow students to demonstrate the skills of feminist critical analysis." Other analyses appear to be verboten. Those descriptions are blunt and in that sense un-Wellsian; H.G. used a stiletto rather than a bludgeon. For example, he did not attack Jesus head-on, but praised him as a wise prophet, although obviously not divine. (Tee-hee, how could someone be so foolish as to believe that?) Many college students will find the most attractive, soft-spoken professors to be the most dangerous. What antidotes are there? Logic, for one; C.S. Lewis took a chainsaw to Wellsian illogic when he showed that the Gospels give us three choices: Jesus was lunatic, liar, or-the Son of God. Parents sending children away to college should make sure they've read Lewis's Mere Christianity (and, of course, they should have had the Chronicles of Narnia read to them a couple of times early on). Parents should also send students a new book by J. Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College (NavPress, 1999). Longtime subscribers may have noticed that World is weird among current magazines in that we do not promote in our columns books by the editor or other World writers; Proverbs tells us to avoid self-flattery. But I'm making an exception here, because the professor with a hard-to-pronounce name (Boojee-shefski) has written a guide to avoiding entrapment by the H.G. Wellses of the world. Jay has thoughtful chapters on talking with non-Christian friends and dealing with lifestyle conflicts, but he also provides a handy analysis of some of the most honeyed lines students are likely to hear. (Oldies but goodies include, "The important thing in life isn't having truth, but searching for it," and "Faith and politics should be separate.") Jay also provides good advice on "Holding your own without being a jerk" and "Dealing with hostile teachers." Providentially, God found me and changed me when I was 26, but I pray that my children, given a good Christian foundation, won't have to wander in the wilderness as I did. As you pray for yours who are away at college also, stay in contact, suggest connections to a good local church and a good campus organization such as Reformed University Fellowship, and once in a while send a good book.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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