Communitarian Heresy in the Classroom: Charles Haynes and the Bible Literacy Project
As the finance industry’s meltdown accelerates and Wall Street’s swoon deepens, the media abound in obituaries for free market capitalism. Politicians and pundits insist that we must be prepared to accept a greater role for government in the economy, and perhaps even surrender some of our individual liberties in the name of the common good. This is an old refrain, one sung in previous generations by devout disciples of Marx and Keynes.
Today, however, the call to collectivism has been transposed into a slightly different key. The newest version bears the oddly appealing name “communitarianism,” a label that seems to connote neighborhood gatherings, frontier barn-raisings, and other examples of spontaneous cooperation.
As defined by its chief exponents, however, communitarianism is a doctrine of “community through coercion.” Its practitioners inhabit a continuum running from relatively mild Nanny State bossiness all the way to totalitarian social regimentation.
The communitarian formula doesn’t embrace altruism as a chosen virtue; it rests instead on the assumption that a supervisory elite can dictate and impose sacrifices on behalf of their notion of the “common good.”
Amitai Etzioni, the “godfather” of communitarianism, explains that the communitarian perspective “assumes that collective decision making often entails imposing on various participants sacrifices for the common good.”
Harvard’s George C. Lodge of the Harvard Business School observes in his 1995 book Managing Globalization in the Age of Interdependence: “Individualism argues for a voluntary consensus; the communitarian believes that it may be necessary to secure consensus through coercion (e.g., prisons).”
This being the case, it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that “Stalin and Hitler were communitarians,” as are “authoritarian communitarians” such as former Singaporean dictator Lee Kuan Yew and the rulers of the People’s Republic of China, according to Lodge.
As Lodge pointed out nearly a decade ago, the movement seeks nothing less than a final unity of mankind by “meshing … the various national brands of communitarianism to create a legitimate basis for the transnational governmental mechanisms required to manage globalization.”
Amitai Etzioni , who was a special adviser to Jimmy Carter, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton, is the founder of the Communitarian Network (CN), whose members include key figures in academia, politics, the media, tax-exempt foundations, and other influential positions.
These people aren’t merely ivory tower dwellers content to spin elaborate utopian fantasies; instead, they belong to what Lodge describes as a semi-covert organization of “creative and talented individuals in government, interest groups, and corporations [who] are quietly assembling global arrangements….”
Rather than trying to uproot America’s traditional institutions by force, communitarians are pursuing their objectives through “education.” The movement’s most significant effort focuses on the literal foundation of America’s culture of liberty: Acceptance of the Bible’s moral teachings as inviolable revealed truth.
The communitarian view of morality as a work in progress draws heavily from Hegel’s concept of the dialectic, in which a “thesis” generates an “antithesis,” and these two are resolved in a “synthesis.” Communitarian “consensus-building” exercises dilute the “white” of Bible-based morality until it is a shade of gray suitable for the needs of collectivist social policy.
The Communitarian Network’s point person on religious education, Charles Haynes, embraces the Hegelian approach to synthesizing a statist “morality.” Haynes is key figure in the Bible Literacy Project (BLP), a public school initiative that has won the eager support of many people - school administrators, secular pressure groups, liberal politicians in both the Democratic and Republican camps - who have historically distinguished themselves by their unyielding opposition to any form of religious instruction in public schools. The BLP should be considered a project of the Communitarian Network: five members of its board of directors are signatories to the Responsive Communitarian Platform.
Haynes is co-author of “The Relationship of Religion to Moral Education in the Public Schools,” a lengthy communitarian treatise-cum-manifesto, and “Finding Common Ground: A First Amendment Guide to Religion and Public Education,” which he co-wrote with ACLU legal activist Oliver Thomas. Haynes is also a major editorial contributor to The Bible and Its Influence, the Bible Literacy Project’s textbook.
At first glance, Haynes would seem as ill-suited to his new role of promoting Bible literacy. In addition to having a close working relationship with ACLU, Haynes is a former employee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Haynes now insists that teaching religion in the public schools is necessary in order to instill a community-focused sense of “morality.” This means attempting to harmonize irreconcilable truth claims in order to extract synthesize he calls a “shared vision” - or, to use the correct communitarian term, a “consensus” - as the basis of civic action.
Indeed, the perspective offered by Haynes and his communitarian allies is the same cynical multiculturalist view Edward Gibbon famously ascribed to the rulers of Imperial Rome. As historian Edward Gibbon pointed out, the pre-Constantine Empire permitted religious freedom — as the religious faithful placed Rome and its Emperor first. This led to severe persecution of the early Christians, who insisted that all men and institutions were subordinate to God’s law.
Bible-oriented Christians pose similar problems to statists and globalists today. Those who believe in permanent truth, in the God-granted, irrevocable rights of the individual, and in the accountability of leaders to God will never accept an “evolving consensus.” Sooner or later, in the interests of the “community,” such people will have to be dealt with in a fashion similar to their forebears in ancient Rome.
In the meantime, however, communitarians are working to capture the future in the public schools, and thanks to Haynes and his comrades, they’re making unwitting allies out of at least some conservative Christian activists and leaders (including notables like Chuck Colson of the Prison Fellowship) who support the Bible Literacy Project - as if it were the only suitable vehicle for classroom moral instruction.
There is an alternative. The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) offers a course used by more than 1,900 schools in 38 states. Unlike the BLP, the Bible Curriculum program is not intended to evangelize on behalf of a political dogma. It teaches the Bible on its own terms and documents its central role in Western history. This includes an unflinching treatment of the Bible’s influence on America’s unique civic institutions and culture of liberty under law.
The “Responsive Communitarian Platform” envisions “the emergence of a global community” ruled by an “evolving normative synthesis” administered by an all-wise elite. There’s nothing novel about this vision, which has been pursued by ambitious men since the Tower of Babel.
The heresy now repackaged as communitarianism — the worship of collective human power - led to the slaughter of tens of millions of innocent people during the 20th Century.
The disturbing novelty of our situation is that this spiritually toxic and temporally lethal heresy is now being propagated in the name of “Bible education.”
(Mr. Grigg is an award-winning newspaper columnist, he was a Senior Editor at The New American Magazine for 12 years, and a contributor to many other magazines, including American Conservative, Chronicles, and Liberty. He also is the author of five books and publisher of the Pro Libertate blog). Contact: WNGrigg@msn.com