A feature article in USA Today tells us, "Most American kids and adults don't even have a basic knowledge of our Constitution" (Nat Hentoff, "What You Don't Know Can Hurt You," USA Today, International Version, July 14, 2006). This is virtually the same thing as saying Americans' grasp of their own history and government is becoming very feeble.
Indeed retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor said some shocking words about modern education. "Public schools have pretty much stopped teaching government, civics and American history...I truly don't know how long we can survive as a strong nation if our younger citizens don't understand the nature of our government... That is something you have to learn" (ibid., emphasis added throughout).
Many Americans are also somewhat ignorant of their national heroes. Take George Washington, called the father of America.
As noted British historian Paul Johnson cannily observed, "George Washington is at present an unfashionable subject in American historical writing. Joseph Ellis [author of His Excellency George Washington] points out that 'any aspiring doctoral candidate who declares an interest in Washington's career as commander-in-chief or president has inadvertently confessed intellectual bankruptcy.' More 'fashionable' he says, would be to study 'ordinary soldiers in his army or the slaves at Mount Vernon'" ("America's Greatest Stroke of Luck," The Daily Telegraph, March 20, 2005).
Political correctness has reached new heights, especially in the academic world.
A small-town education in Texas
Some 50 years ago my own experience was not by any means unique, but it apparently would be now. My junior year in high school (Kenedy, Texas) was transformed by a teacher named Leonard Harold Menn. He taught both American and world history in a manner that inspired many of my classmates to hit their history books and bone up on current affairs. We regularly had to write essays on such concepts as the American federal system, the separation of powers and other subjects of a similar nature.
To seniors Mr. Menn taught civics and English IV. We learned the importance of government and the American constitution from this scholarly gentleman who commanded great respect.
It seems this type of education is not so readily available to our young people today. In a recent American Bar Association poll, fewer than half of the respondents had any idea of what the "separation of powers" was all about. Too many Americans don't know the basics of how their own government operates, whether federal or state. Long-term, this clearly constitutes a serious and disturbing threat to the American democratic way of life.
As another article in USA Today explained, "Cocooning is back with a vengeance." It seems as the world gets scarier and more stressful, more people are turning their homes into entertainment centers and burrowing in with their stuff (Mike Snider, Oct. 5, 2004).
Many today prefer trivia
My memory is filled with major league baseball statistics learned in my youth. Their only benefit now is in remembering credit card pin numbers by association. How many number one hits has Madonna made? Her fans know. We are deeply into trivia today and its endless availability on the Internet is almost incomprehensible.
Many have cocooned into their own little worlds, whether it's watching time-wasting soap operas, frittering away money gambling on the Internet or some other useless and at times hurtful pursuit. Meanwhile essential biblically based spiritual knowledge, also readily available on the Internet, goes begging. It won't be there forever!
The Hebrew prophet Hosea resolutely recorded God's words: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge...You have forgotten the law of your God" (Hosea 4:6). Earlier in this chapter we learn that "there is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed" (verses 1-2).
Does this passage go a long way in describing the state of our Western societies today and how we break the Ten Commandments with impunity?
Understanding our core values
During the recent crisis where terrorists allegedly intended to blow up airplanes crossing the Atlantic, British Home Secretary John Reid described the ongoing struggle with international terrorism as one involving "the core values of a free society." Yet many of us have seemingly forgotten what these really are.
A Financial Times Magazine columnist understands that our liberal world "has raised the pursuit of wealth, hedonism and distraction to great heights," but also writes that "the core tenets of a free society are hard to define." He wonders "how they may be expressed and lived" (Aug.19, 2006).
Jesus Christ was also supremely concerned about core values. He knew exactly what they were from eternity and taught them to His disciples and future apostles. He further instructed this group of specially chosen men to preach and teach these biblical values to the nations of the world. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).
The knowledge of these core values is far more important than knowing how our respective national governments operate (although this is also essential for our general well-being), wherever we may reside. Ignorance of God's law endangers our spiritual salvation. What we don't know about God and His way of life can and will hurt us!
A famine of the Word coming
We need the knowledge of God, and we need it now. The time is prophesied to come when there will be a famine of God's Word. When the knowledge of God is no longer available, people paradoxically will want and search diligently for it. But then it will be too late.
"'Behold the days are coming,' says the Lord GOD, 'that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).
Now is your opportunity! The United Church of God publishes several magazines including this one, about 50 booklets and reprint articles and also offers a 12-lesson Bible Study Course. Please don't ask for them all at once, but everything is free and is available in print or on the Internet (www.gnmagazine.org).
Why not take advantage of these valuable spiritual resources while they are still available? Then God can say to you: "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3). WNP