Many contemporary discussions of the demise of the liberal arts, especially by their supposed defenders and advocates, often reveal the fundamental inability of a secularistic or naturalistic worldview  to come to grips with the inherent contradiction of a liberal arts education without Christ or the paideia of God.

The liberal arts, I believe, are inextricably and historically rooted in a radically biblical vision of paideia, first articulated in the Scriptures (Moses: Deuteronomy 6-8, Solomon: Proverbs 1-3, Paul: Ephesians 6, Paul/Apollos?: Hebrews 12, et al/etc.), institutionalized by the Medieval church, and promoted by the Protestant tradition. Historically, the liberal arts have only flourished and endured  in a self-consciously Judeo-Christian context.

Over the centuries, the liberal arts may have been borrowed and mimicked by pagan Greeks, Romans, and Moderns, but only partially, never wholly. That borrowing always lacked the spiritual and social capital to sustain them over time.  The attempt by Enlightenment Europe to rationalize the liberal arts and amputate them from their deep spiritual foundations in paideia was doomed to failure. Without spiritual capital and a healthy Christian culture to sustain them, the liberal arts in American society were doomed to wither, atrophy and die by the early 20th century. The “liberal arts” in today’s academic context are often a random and incoherent collection of wildly variable courses without foundation, relation, or telos.

Here’s a video, Who Killed the Liberal Arts?,  via the Wall Street Journal’s Uncommon Knowledge program (associated with the Hoover Institute), with Andrew Ferguson and Joseph Epstein who address the value and challenges of the liberal arts in American education and society today. Sadly, their comments and criticisms are somewhat scattered and fail to recognize the deeper spiritual problems that underlie the current implosion of American universities.

Note the brief discussion about the new liberal arts colleges at 22 minutes into the video. They also go on to discuss the limited ability of the internet to perpetuate  liberal learning.

Advertisements