2007-01-06

WWGD: What Would Gramsci Do?

I read an article the other day written decrying how atheist secularism has invaded our University systems and turned them into Godless cesspools of rotting postmodernity. It ponted out how many Universities (even Religious ones!) have a systematic method of "catechesis" designed to make the student body seriously question, if not deny, the traditional values espoused by most traditional religions. And, judging from my experience at six Universities, they were largely right about the method, even if they were wrong about the extent (there are still lots of faithful academics out there who have not bowed their knees to the Baals of secular culture). And what is supposed to be the reaction of "good Christian" parents and children? Hide! Vacate secular universities for home schools and "safe" Bible colleges. But is that the right response for people who believe that Jesus came to redeem and reconcile ALL creation to the Father?

Of course those with an anti-Christian worldview have been promulgating it through University "catechesis" for the last 150 years. And Christians have not followed their Lord's advice to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves". In the face of intellectual challenges, orthodoxy of all stripes- Protestant and Catholic- decided to opt out of the game entirely because they could not figure out the rules. Instead of arming up our intellectual defenses (and offenses!), we chose to implicitly and explicitly teach that it is more "spiritual" to merely accept things on faith than to rigorously propound a crushing intellectual counter-attack to secularism.

We should not decry the great secular fathers of modern academia (such as Marx, Freud, Skinner, and their ilk) for effectively pushing through the secular program until it has become the orthodoxy of the academic world. We should not talk about how "bad" they were. They were brilliant. We should not wring our hands over the fact they thought religion was a farce. That is a bit like blaming a blind man for not seeing what is in front of his face. They were unregenerate sinners who were probably never confronted with the claims of the Gospel in a manner rigorous enough to speak to their learning. And what do unregenerate sinners do? They act like unregenerate sinners and try to get others to do the same! This should not surprise us.

What we should, however, be surprised at is the almost complete lack of orthodox Christians at that time who would stand up and produce a world-class academic counter-assault on the secularist program. Are we really to believe that from 1850-1950 there was a lack of brainpower in the orthodox Church? Well then, why did the Church fail so miserably to produce Christian intellectuals? I think it is because we fostered a rampant anti-intellectualism that is still lurking today in the Church. I mean, let's face it: Bare-bones materialism should be a fairly easy dragon to slay, and the underlying moral rationale (i.e. if there is no God, I can do what I want) is easy to deconstruct and expose. We should have been able to deconstruct the secular ideology and put forth a truly God-centered approach to the natural and social sciences. But we didn't. We opted out of the intellectual arena by-and-large, and left generations of academia without a viable intellectual witness to the Gospel. We failed culture, and we bear the guilt of that as the Church. Don't blame the "secularists"- we need to look in the historical mirror!

One of the secularist thinkers that has deeply affected me is an Italian Communist named Antonio Gramsci who lived and worked in the early 1900's. He came up with a concept of "organic intellectuals", and a method to transform society into a communist state without having a revolution (as they did in the 1917 Russian revolution). His method was two pronged:

First, they would need to send young men and women to University and get advanced degrees at the leading Universities in the state they wished to change. They would catechize these people heavily in Communist ideology before sending them, and while they were in University they would provide strong mentorship to make sure they stayed Communist. After earning their degrees, they would then be sent into the workforce to spread the Communist message as organic intellectuals. These organic intellectuals would be experts in Communist ideology, but would present their views in everyday dialogue with peers in the workforce, gradually "leavening the dough" with Communist ideology. They would invite people to party meetings and get them to join the movement. The central idea is to put highly educated, highly motivated people in everyday, workaday situations so that they can effectively spread the message on a popular level.

Wikipedia has some telling words about Gramsci: "Famously, he stated that all men are intellectuals, in that all have intellectual and rational faculties, but not all men have the social function of intellectuals. He claimed that modern intellectuals were not simply talkers, but directors and organisers who helped build society and produce hegemony by means of ideological apparatuses such as education and the media. Furthermore, he distinguished between a 'traditional' intelligentsia which sees itself (wrongly) as a class apart from society, and the thinking groups which every class produces from its own ranks 'organically'. Such 'organic' intellectuals do not simply describe social life in accordance with scientific rules, but rather articulate, through the language of culture, the feelings and experiences which the masses could not express for themselves. The need to create a working-class culture relates to Gramsci's call for a kind of education that could develop working-class intellectuals, who would not simply introduce Marxist ideology from without the proletariat, but rather renovate and make critical of the status quo the already existing intellectual activity of the masses. His ideas about an education system for this purpose… [make] Gramsci an important voice to this day." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Gramsci)

The other prong was to infiltrate the meaning-control institutions of society and gradually move in whole cadres of Communist specialists into them. These meaning-control institutions include education (especially secondary and university level), news media, and entertainment. Everyone knows that ideas tend to start at the University level, and then filter into media, entertainment, and lower-level education, and from there infect society itself. Gramsci simply came up with a plan to do this. And his plan has been stunningly successful. Our news media and all public educational institutions are markedly more secularist and leftist than other entities in society.

As Christians, we have the choice of what to do about this. We can again "opt out" of being a voice in society and continue fleeing into homeschool movements, Bible colleges, and Christian ghettos. I think this would be a catastrophic mistake that would deny the missionary character of the Church, and put us deeper in the hole that the Christians of the 1800's began digging for us. Or, we can play Gramsci's game and re-infect educational systems with the life of Christ. Christians have a word for this, and it is not "organic intellectual". It is missionary. We need to send well-equipped, world-class missionaries to academia, Madison Avenue, and Hollywood.

We as Christians have a choice. We can choose a missionary mentality or a bunker mentality. I hope we choose the right one, because the fate of our culture and all of the souls in it are at stake. In addition to asking "what would Jesus do" when confronted with personal moral choices, maybe it is time that we ask "what would Gramsci do" when confronted with the task of converting society to Christ.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.