Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Atheism: New York atheist gives millions to Catholic schools

Honestly, it makes way more sense than you think for an atheist to give money for tuition to Catholic schools. Here's retired hedge fund manager Robert W. Wilson's explanation for why he gave $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York's program for needy students' tuition:
"Let's face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization," Wilson said. "Shunning religious organizations would be abhorrent. Keep in mind, I'm helping to pay tuition. The money isn't going directly to the schools."

"It was a chance for a very modest amount of money to get kids out of a lousy school system and into a good school system," Wilson said.

It's not hard to see, in the background to this story, an indictment of the performance of the inner city public education system.

Frankly, I don't think that the problems of secularist inner city school systems are fixable.

When I was a child in the 1950s here in Canada, the "public" system was actually the "Protestant" system. Underlying British North American values, including spiritual values, were taken for granted. But as the Protestant bedrock moldered away or was legislated away over the decades, asserting any value whatever against a contrary value statement became more and more difficult.

Finally, it reached the point where a friend phoned me, bewildered by a school board document she was reading that pointedly refused to make any moral judgments about schoolyard bullying. That might hurt the bully's feelings, after all. He mustn't be encouraged to think that he is to blame for his behaviour and should just change it.

As policy analyst Robert Novak notes in a recent edition of First Things (June/July 2007, not on line yet), secularism did not really replace transcendent commitments with a humanist value system. On the contrary, secularism is more vulnerable than most habits of mind to deconstruction by post-modernism. No ethical standards can be confidently asserted in such an atmosphere (though endless irrational rules are made, together with strategic exceptions for whiners who have perfect pitch).

Plaudits to Wilson for providing an escape for thousands of child refugees.

(Note: What about successful secular private schools, you ask? In my experience, where they work well, they stay in touch with the broad, older Western culture where, for example, people are considered responsible for their conduct and bullying is considered shameful. But it is important to recognize that even the non-religious aspects of that culture were and are non-materialist. A wonderful movie illustrating that culture is The Emperor's Club, whose story revolves around the character issues created by the Mr. Julius Caesar contest at a not-especially-religious private boys' school. And what about religious schools mired in sex scandals? In general, these schools gave up older, spiritually oriented accounts of the human person for modernist therapy-centred ones - and reaped the bitter fruit in vast abundance.)

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