To Renew Faith in Education, Look to Passover and Resurrection

“You cannot own a child of God.” Those were the words I read and re-read in most term papers from the community college course on American government I taught in the COVID-19 spring semester of 2020. In light of a divided America on edge amidst a pandemic, this was the most common answer to the prompt asking for the central idea behind the 2016 Civil War epic, Free State of Jones. The film depicts the historical figure of Newton Knight—played by Matthew McConaughey—a Confederate soldier-turned-abolitionist who led an uprising against Democrat control in Mississippi during the Civil War. The responses from my students not only offer a glimpse of civic and spiritual insight that is virtually extinct in higher education and seldom heard of among today’s college students but also get to the core of what ails higher education.

The Jewish holiday Passover and the Christian holiday Pascha—”Resurrection Day,” but better known by its paganized name, “Easter”—are not only intertwined stories of freedom from human tyranny and death itself but are at the very basis of Western civilization.

God’s liberation of the Israelites from Pharaoh is a reminder of the dark side of human nature and unlimited government. Without revelation, as exemplified by the Israelite experience at Sinai, there is no objective truth or goodness to be had. The fickle and constantly moving goalposts of social justice and identity politics are the fruits of removing these very notions of objective truth and allowing “lived experience” and subjective truth to fill the void.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which occur during Passover, are not only reminders of the dangers of corrupt government and mob rule but also that the same God of liberation will even rectify the effect of evil to the point of obliterating death itself. Unlike the collective liberation and revelation at Sinai, the resurrection and empty tomb are profoundly intimate and personal individual events. The story of Christ is that of an omnipotent God becoming a human being so that every person can commune with Divinity and reconnect with eternity.

Do rights come from the government or from somewhere else? This is the question I posed to my American government students before covering anything else. Without fail, nearly half of my students would assert that rights come from the government, while the other half declared that rights are given by something else. This is as much of a theological question as it is a matter of civics and is arguably the most fundamental question to the American experience and the purpose of education. How Americans collectively answer this question ultimately determines whether this will be a free country.

In the Free State of Jones, Newton Knight deserts from the Confederate Army and flees into the woods, where he meets and befriends a group of runaway slaves. The friendship between Knight and one of the runaway slaves, aptly named Moses Washington, is not only pivotal to the film but also holds significant theological implications for the essence of America. After meeting and discussing the immorality of slavery, Moses answers Knight’s question of why he is free with the statement that, as a child of God, he cannot be owned. The question is rhetorical, as Knight concurs and notes that while “you can own a mule, a cow, an ox, you cannot own a child of God.”

The idea that the human being is a spiritual being is not only rooted in the Biblical narrative of humanity being crafted in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) but is antithetical to the morality currently offered by American education.

Critical race theory (CRT), gender studies, and Marxist economic ideas are rooted in materialism. Material conditions are contextual and finite, and it is precisely for these same reasons that they are ultimately nihilistic and based on subjective morality and subjective truth. Marxism, in both cultural and economic forms, can only be enacted by a government or political authority appointing itself the arbiter of what it deems to be equitable. The end result is never the equity promised by proponents of social justice but the new Pharoah and Pontius Pilate in bureaucratic form. Thanks to near-total secularization, today’s educators share outlooks closer to Marxism’s vanguards Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, and Fidel Castro than they do to America’s Judeo-Christian foundations.

However, without the inherent human value of the individual offered by the empty tomb and the universal objective moral truth offered by Sinai, educating students to be reasoning citizens empowered for self-government becomes impossible.

Accumulating wisdom is only possible if objective good and truth exist. Similarly, without inherent human worth and universal morality, human life becomes cheap and all behavior becomes permissible. Without the lessons of Passover and Pascha, moral arguments devolve to contests of force and violence. You only need to look at the news to see the effect of total secularization in education and culture.

In his, “If I Were the Devil,” broadcast given weeks before Easter in 1965, ABC Radio host Paul Harvey foresaw the effects of secularization in education and civic life. Speaking as the Devil, Harvey noted that he would convince people the Bible is a myth and that man created God; that, as the Devil, he would “encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions;” “evict God from the courthouse, and then from school house;” and get atheists to the “highest courts in the land.” Harvey, who tragically lost his father, a Tulsa police officer, in the line of duty in 1921, would likely see the spiritual roots behind the growing lawlessness in America today.

Long ago, American universities recognized the significance of incorporating theological values into education to foster excellence. The University of California’s motto,Fiat Lux,” is from Genesis 1:3 in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. Yale’s Hebrew motto, Urim v’Thummim, is from the Hebrew Bible’s oracle worn by the High Priest Aaron (Leviticus 8:8). Harvard University’s Latin motto of “Veritasbegan in 1636 as “Veritas pro Christo et Ecclesia,” which translated as Not just Truth, but Truth for Christ and Church. Education and faith are meant to go hand-in-hand.

Biblically-minded citizens who uphold their natural rights and stand for the common good against government overreach are, and have been, behind America’s finest moments. Historical figures like Newton Knight knew the lessons of Sinai and the empty tomb. Knight’s immediate family disavowed its slave-holding past based on their Primitive Baptist beliefs, and he worked as a U.S. Marshall during Reconstruction to counter radical Democrats and the Ku Klux Klan. During WWII, the U.S. military worked to build upon America’s Judeo-Christian foundations by using policy to create solidarity between Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish GIs. Without Sinai and the empty tomb, Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, would not have been accompanied by the likes of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos, or 900 Catholics. This was Sinai and the empty tomb in action, not Critical Race Theory.  When America reached for the heavens during the “Space Race” in 1969, astronaut and Presbyterian elder Buzz Aldrin took Holy Communion on the Moon.

Stories of courageous Americans of faith are truly remarkable, not only because of their unwavering faith and decisive actions, but also because they displayed perseverance, courage, and faithfulness in the face of danger and adversity. Education serves the purpose of empowering individuals and cultivating virtues with meaningful consequences. Citizens who recognize themselves as children of God are inherently resistant to subjugation because they understand the immeasurable value of their own worth and recognize that the impact of their decisions extends beyond mere material considerations. To reform America’s education system, it is essential to re-empower students for self-governance and reinforce the belief that they are indeed children of God.

Chag Sameach Pesach and Happy Easter.

Photo by Alla — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 665800662


  • Ian Oxnevad

    Ian Oxnevad is senior fellow of foreign affairs and security studies at the National Association of Scholars.

One thought on “To Renew Faith in Education, Look to Passover and Resurrection”

  1. I had no idea that Paul Harvey had made the “If I were the Devil” broadcast way back in 1965.

    America was still sane back then. One of my fondest childhood memories was in 1967 when my father’s high school students came to the house to sing Christmas Carols and they sung “Jingle Bells” just for me — I was 5…

    America was still sane….

    Six years later, their younger siblings would come and steal our Christmas lights — times had changed in a way that I don’t think anyone in 1967 could have possibly imagined. And when the Boston Globe wrote a Sunday supplement article about the 1970 burial of my grandmother, they wrote about the contrast between the island she was returning to and the larger society with no knowledge that the island would change as well.

    My point is that I’m not only hoping but thinking that society is going to change back. We are way overdue for another “Great Awakening” and I thought that Covid might do it as the first one was largely helped by a Diphtheria epidemic.

    I remember reading that the churches in Virginia “lying open” (i.e. abandoned) and prior to the First Great Awakening, they probably were. See:

    And that “Great Awakening” is what many people believe led to the American Revolution…

    It’s always darkest before the dawn — and it IS because the predawn fog will often obscure the light of the stars (don’t laugh, they *do* produce light) while the glow of the eastern horizon will mess up your night vision. But maybe, MAYBE, we will win this…

    But the real question is if we have people ready to grab the helm (ship steering wheel) the way that the Left did in the early 1970s, and are they people whom we can trust? If we have this, we will prevail, but without it, we won’t…

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