Gene Edward Veith: Parent + Educator + Writer
Many–if not all–of our readers are praying earnestly for their children to lead God-centered, successful lives. Of course, God can work with any sort of material, but we’d like to minimize the hard lessons and wasted time as much as possible. Not just for our kids–for us, too! Seeking the counsel of experienced Christians, parents and educators is a good way to do that, and when they’re all rolled into one man, the benefit is huge.
Dr. Gene Edward Veith is currently Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, a dream destination for many Christian home schoolers. He is also the director of the Cranach institute at Concordia Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, a regular contributor and former Culture Editor at WORLD Magazine, author of 17 books related to Christianity and culture, and blogger at Cranach: the Blog of Veith. In short, a very busy man, which is why we’re especially delighted that he took the time to share with us.
How Culture Has Changed
Our first two questions, featured today, explore how the culture has changed in the twenty years since Dr. Veith first wrote about postmodernism. Tomorrow we’ll ask what Christian high school seniors (and their parents) should be aware of when considering colleges–or even rather to go to college.
1. You write in your 1990 book, Reading Between the Lines, that “The habit of reading is absolutely critical today, particularly for Christians . . . As we read, we cultivate a sustained attention span, an active imagination, a capacity for logical analysis and critical thinking, and a rich inner life.” Since you wrote this twenty-odd years ago, what would you add, moderate, or intensify, particularly regarding the internet and the advent of ebooks and apps? What do you think students need to know about the benefits and detriments of the digital revolution?
The internet is a blessing, but it is a very mixed blessing. The internet gives everyone a printing press. Everyone has a forum for writing, publishing, and finding an audience. Virtually every book is now available for anyone, living at any place, even places far from bookstores and libraries. With ebooks, you can download a title instantly, and no book need ever go out of print. And with internet searching you can now find things to read like never before.
It’s significant that the internet still is grounded in reading and writing. Writing letters had just about died out, but now the internet has brought back correspondence, the interaction between people by means of the written word.
On the other hand, the internet is increasingly a visual medium. The problem of shortened attention spans is increasing with the new technology. We are writing and reading in brief snippets. A twitter message is limited to 140 characters. Blog posts are supposed to be short and compressed, otherwise, we are told, people online won’t read them. This contrasts with the sustained discourses of essays, articles, and books. That kind of writing and reading is made more available by the new technology, but they are also undercut by the habits of reading the internet encourages.
2. In Postmodern Times (1994), you write, “The Enlightenment is discredited. Reason is dethroned, even on university campuses. The Industrial Revolution is giving way to the Information Age. Society, technology, values, and basic categories of thought are shifting. A new way of looking at the world is emerging.” (We would recommend our readers get a copy of Postmodern Times for a thorough examination of that “new way.”) How has postmodernism manifested itself on college campuses in the last ten years? What practical ways can parents and teachers prepare their students for what they might encounter at a secular college?
I thought postmodernism might be over with the 9/11 attacks. The airplanes crashing into those buildings constituted a truth that we did not “construct” in our minds. It was clear then that good and evil are transcendent realities, and that not all religions are equally valid. I was astonished, though, how quickly postmodernist relativism reasserted itself and, if anything, became harder. The old postmodernism allowed different people to have different religious beliefs. The new postmodernism almost insists that everyone affirm other religions. It’s the difference between pluralism and polytheism. It is no longer just a matter of being tolerant of homosexuals. Now you must affirm homosexuals. It isn’t just tolerating their sexual practices; they must be allowed to marry each other, to adopt children, to not be criticized.
The best way to prepare future college students for this is to ensure that they are well-grounded in the Christian faith and well-supported by the Church. Unfortunately, many evangelical churches are going the way of cultural conformity and have embraced postmodernism themselves! Parents and teachers and pastors must make sure that young people learn that Christianity has a content, and that they can see very clearly how faith in Christ–who is the way, the truth, and the life–contrasts with the false faiths that are all around them (and not just in college).
Read Part Two of this interview with Veith. You also might like to join our discussion on What Would You Do Differently?. For thoughts on e-reading, check out Brave Little Digital World. For words of encouragement on the scary brink of adulthood, see The Graduate.