It was pure political theater, of course. During Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, when asked if she could define what a woman is, said, “Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.” That was, on its face, silly. She had referred to women over and over again already in her testimony, and in most cases, she was referring to what you or I would call a “woman.”
But equally notable was what was spoken next. Senator Marsha Blackburn, from Tennessee, replied: “The fact that you can’t give me a straight answer about something as fundamental as what a woman is underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education that we are hearing about.” Indeed, Senator Blackburn. Judge Jackson’s words were perhaps the most public example in our time of the central failure of public education. Yet the great dangers here were pictured by the words of both women.
Judge Jackson’s testimony demonstrated a great ability to borrow a definition from the periphery, and to work with it, as if it were true, as if it were a tool, with some utility. But when asked what the thing is - its ontology, its actual nature, its definition, its character - she could not answer. Of course she was evading the simple question, so as to avoid some controversy within her sphere of political, academic and polite society. But it was more than that. She could not answer because, I’m convinced, she could not answer.
In other words, we should take her at her word at that moment, as much as we should any other moment of her testimony. And Senator Blackburn is right, to connect the Judge’s comment with “progressive education.” Though the Senator from Tennessee - and all who are “hearing about” this sort of thing are late, too late. C.S. Lewis looks over his shoulder at us from his tower, window broken, feet bleeding, machine gun in tow, yelling down to us, in his best Bruce Willis impersonation, though with a proper British accent, “Welcome to the party, pal.”
Lewis Saw Our Day
Lewis wrote about this “progressive education” in the 1940’s, in his book, “The Abolition of Man.” The book was prophetic. In it he observed how the “progressive” teaching philosophy even in his day sought not to teach such things as objective beauty or truth, but only to “condition” children as to what they should think, believe, or even see and feel.
But what they should think or feel or see was not based on some fundamental, unchanging reality, but on the opposite: on seeing through what’s there, to whatever’s behind it. And then seeing past that, and that, and that. No wonder today we are awash in a nihilistic wasteland where nothing is anything and everything is nothing. Because, as Lewis observed, when you see through everything, you’re left with nothing on the other side. Once you see through everything, you see nothing. You are blind.
And then you are a slave, enchanted by your own desires. As Lewis put it:
When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains. It cannot be exploded or ‘seen through’ because it never had any pretentions. The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure.
And thus this educational model “conditions” children, in the end, to see nothing and then become slaves of their own desires. And once enslaved to their own lusts, they become more easily fooled and enslaved by the state. This is the endgame of state-run education - again Lewis:
But the manmoulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.
Theodore Dalrymple famously put it this way in more recent times:
The purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.
The “conditioners” condition children to see only that this clump of cells is a uterus, and the biological function of a placenta, and the hormonal changes that happen with pregnancy, and a thousand other details. But they emasculate the children of the ability to say, “Marvelous!”; emasculate them of the delight in seeing the magnificence of the design; emasculate them of eyes to see the whole being who can create a child and nurture it to maturity, and say, “Beautiful!”; emasculate them of a “chest”, a heart that can look at this “thing” and say, “Woman. The glory of Man. Beautiful. Woman.”
Of course the conditioning itself is logical incoherent, because when you ask these “conditioners,” “By what standard do you say that we should see through everything, but not see through your claim that we should through everything?” well, then we are met with silence.
Thus there is no coherence to anything in our existence, unless it is connected to a fixed, unchanging reality. And that reality is God. But that reality - that Word - did not stay up in the sky, detached and ethereal. It came down and walked among us, died for us, and was raised from the dead. In the resurrection the reality of this Word was proven for all. Thus when you detach yourself from this fixed reality, sooner or later you will become so proud as to take His place, and you will dissolve into chaotic incoherence. Only He upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3).
To which Lewis points out, if you are not grounded in this fixed reality, this Word, and if you condition children to live apart from this Word, you will produce “men without chests”: people who know what to think, in their heads, but who then follow their base lusts from their gut, because they have no chest, no heart in the middle, no right-ordered loves. They are blind; consciences seared; having been conditioned by liars to lie to the deep reality of God Himself (1 Tim. 4:2).
Products Versus Fools
Thus Judge Jackson may have had the highest of privileges in our land, the most prestigious eduction, but it appears that she too has only a head and a gut, but no chest. She is simply a product of the system. And this system, this con, has been run for a long time. Lewis noticed it, and so did Paul:
2 Timothy 3:1–7 (ESV): But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
So who is the greater fool here? Judge Jackson is but a product of her conditioners. She is obviously intelligent, but as Lewis remarked about those so conditioned, her intelligence only seems significant in contrast with the small vacuum of her “chest” - her heart. But Senator Blackburn hails from the Bible Belt and presumably has freer access to the truth. Christianity did not just begin “hearing about” this “progressive education” scam in the last few years. We’ve been warned, for a long time. We’ve been told for two thousand years that arrogant “conditioners” would creep into households and capture women - as they have done to an entire generation of our young women today.
Who is the greater fool here - the conditioners, who know exactly what they are producing with their conditioning? Or Christians, who send their kids off to the conditioners for eight hours a day and twelve years of their life, and then are surprised when their kids come home unable to love anything enough to live courageously and sacrificially for it? As Lewis famously put it:
. . . such is the tragi-comedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
Rich to Repentance
In other words, it is rather rich for Senator Blackburn to demand of Judge Jackson that she define what a woman is - after all, Senator Blackburn has been propagating the compulsory educational system that produced Judge Jackson, and all like her. The only way forward is through repentance. But not a repentance back to the 1950’s, or any other “glorious” day in the past. No, the only repentance that will lead us through our self-created, nihilistic chaos is by training boys and girls not only to know what they should know, but also to love what they should love, to desire that which is desirous, and to see that which is truly beautiful. And then to enjoy it, with gratitude to its Maker.
There is no middle ground here. We either educate our children with Christ at the center of it all and permeating it all, or it will end up in chaos. Our repentance must go all the way back, to all the Word, for all of life, in all that God is for us, in all of Christ. We either go back to that, or we are lost. Our country is already lost. A generation is already lost. But Christians have in hand the power to rebuild a new civilization from the ruins of the old. But the way forward is not found by trying to join our elites - either Jackson or Blackburn - in their educational models. The way forward is found by going back, all the way back, to a reigning King on a cross, and then working out from there, once again.