Could We Have Been Nazis? Healing Cultural Blindness

Healing Cultural Blindness: A Christian School Mandate Guest Post by Mark Kennedy, ACSI Canada

“I counsel you to buy gold refined in the fire so you can become rich, and white clothes to wear so you can cover up your shameful nakedness and salve to put on your eyes so you can see.” (Rev. 3:18).

Nobody likes Nazis. Well, at least I didn’t in 1973 when I was a young teacher in a Toronto boys’ school. I’d seen most of the Hollywood war movies and knew for sure that Nazis were all gleefully and unrepentantly evil people. Who could possibly have any sympathy for them?

That’s why I was shocked.

“I was in the Hitler youth,” said our school nurse, a weary sadness clouding her kind eyes, “All the young people were. We just thought it was normal.”

Normal! How could that possibly be normal?’ I thought, but didn’t ask. I was too appalled.

The problem with statements like that is that they can start you thinking and I didn’t like some of my thoughts. What troubled me most were a couple of questions, ‘What would I be like if I had grown up in Nazi Germany?’ and, even more disturbing, ‘Under the same conditions could I have been one of them?

What if I had almost no exposure to North American ideals of freedom and virtue, let alone to the gospel message? In a totalitarian Nazi culture where every public expression was carefully censored and dissent violently suppressed I would have been ‘marinated', in that one worldview. And unless I had secret access to a different perspective, chances are I would have accepted the tenets of Hitler’s Nazism as ‘normal’ too. Like our school nurse I may well have been oblivious to any other ideas, blinded by my culture.

The scriptures are replete with examples of cultural blindness – that condition where people can’t or won’t recognize truth because of their loyalty to national or societal values. A case in point is the church that Jesus rebukes in the prosperous city state of Laodicea.

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev 3:16 & 17

The people of Laodicea had become prosperous in legitimate and even admirable ways. They built up a successful industry refining precious metals, they wove textiles of a quality second to none and they produced salve that cured certain types of blindness. Christians there didn’t just enjoy the fruit of the city’s prosperity, they absorbed its secular values. The Laodicean status quo was fine with them. They were blinded by the standards of the materialistic society around them and they weren’t interested in having their blindness healed.

It is no accident that Jesus chose to condemn the very things the Laodiceans cherished most; their wealth, textiles, and eye ointment.

“There are none so blind as those that will not see,” says Mathew Henry in his Commentaries. Our school nurse knew the kind of cultural blindness that is inevitable in a totalitarian society. But the cultural blindness of the Laodicean Christians was worse because they had the God’s illuminating truth in the Old Testament scriptures and apostolic teachings. But they chose not to see.

I wonder how contemporary North American Christianity will appear to students at the end of this 21st century—people who aren’t suffering from our particular strain of cultural blindness. What will they think of our Christian schools? Will they look at us and see ‘God‘s school system’ or will some of our schools appear to be mere defenders of an ideology that is chronically conservative unthinkingly religious, and assertively materialistic? Will they see by our actions (if not by our words) that we venerate the values of the secular business world around us without question, absorbing its priorities, sharing its definition of “the bottom line,” and seeking first the kingdom of gold in the fervent hope that what’s good for General Motors is good for Christian schools?

In this first decade of this millennium we in North American Christian schools still have a wonderful opportunity and privilege. We’re still allowed to teach the two things that can raise our students above contemporary North American values, including the values we may have wrongly venerated in the past. We can teach a Christian worldview and biblical discernment - and we had better teach them well! We had better prepare our students to examine our North American culture as well as our evangelical Christian subculture in the light of the unchanging Scriptures. After all we have a distinct advantage over the church members in Laodicea. For now at least North Americans have free access to the whole counsel of God‘s Word. We can use it to help cure our students of the blindness that so easily afflicts us all—to discern where we have been mirroring and even exalting the false virtues of the broader society just like the Church of Laodicea did. And if our students accept the cure maybe they will build a Christian community that is increasingly defined by scripture.

It won‘t be easy. For us and for the Church of Laodicea, cultural blindness is a serious disability compounded by our stubborn tendency to deny it exists.

Jesus once asked a blind man, “Do you want to be healed”? When it came to cultural blindness, the Church of Laodicea in effect said, “No thanks.” And that is probably why it doesn’t exist today. We had better help our Christian school students respond to Jesus question with a resounding “YES!!”