Dr. John Patrick’s Talks on Education, Parenting, and Cultural Renewal

Dr. John Patrick’s talks on Education, Parenting, and Cultural Renewal over the 3-day period were truly refreshing and enlightening. He is a rare breed of people who can speak comfortably about so many different subjects, and make it all connect very easily from a Christian perspective.

In the first half of Thursday night, Dr. Patrick spoke about the Parent’s Role in Cultural Renewal. He began by citing that Jews believe Deuteronomy is the reason why they produce more than 30% of the Nobel Prize winners. It lies in storytelling that includes the biblical narrative of the Creation, Fall, and Redemption. Jewish children grow up hearing “And they did evil in the eyes of the Lord” all the time. As a result, they have a strong ethical backbone to their culture. And because they cultivate a strong sense of right and wrong, they cultivate a culture of trust. Dr. Patrick argues, citing many other sources, that trust is the rockbed of a flourishing culture and nation. Where the fear of the Lord is not taught, you can be sure that it is difficult to find trust.

A second major outcome of a culture where parents raise their children to trust and obey the Lord is that they gain wisdom. Dr. Patrick belabors the point that there is no concept of wisdom in modern university. Wisdom is a mumbo-jumbo language to reductionistic atheists who believe only in data and pragmatic results. But for the Jews, wisdom is more important than knowledge. Dr. Patrick said, “Information without knowledge is meaningless, and knowledge without wisdom is dangerous” because wisdom is what provides meaning and purpose to knowledge. And wisdom comes from stories of redemption that children hear from their parents.

Dr. Patrick shared his own life stories about how he grew up, and the lessons he learned about the blessing of raising children. He began with his own story of growing up in a poor working family, with a devout mother, who immediately after being converted, began to pray for his son to return to Congo as a medical missionary. 45 years later, after the death of his mother, Dr. Patrick was invited to go to Congo, and reluctantly he accepted to call, only to find out from his father the fact that his mother had been praying everyday for 30 years for him to go to Congo as a medical missionary, which was an impossible feat because it was very uncommon for a child of a blue collar worker to become a doctor let alone a missionary.

While in Jamaica, before Congo, when Dr. Patrick was only a nominal Christian, his wife suggested that he teach Bible to graduate students, which he did with hesitation, only to result in him realizing that he did not really know the heart of the Bible. While he was reading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, he was challenged that, whenever we are going through spiritual doldrums in our lives, we should ask God to speak to us through a specific Bible passage. When he started to pray for that, God opened his eyes to the Beatitudes, which became his favorite passage in the Bible for the rest of his life.

Briefly expounding on the Beatitudes, Dr. Patrick explained that the first one (“blessed are the poor”) has to do with internal honesty, saying that if we can be dead honest about moral spiritual deficiencies, it is the beginning of living in the Kingdom of Heaven. His favorite is the third one (“blessed are the meek”) saying that the word “meekness” describes a horse that is trained and “broken” to the point that she is totally ready to obey the master into the battle. He mentions a lady who prays at the beginning of everyday, “Lord, ride me into the battle,” meaning “I will obey you totally.”

Dr. Patrick shared the story of how he spent time reading to his four children, and now his grandchildren, how he would send his grandchildren to Africa every summer, and how such an upbringing in the redemptive narratives and service has made his children not only very bright, but very happy and active in serving the community. One of his children is a professor of Stochastic Analysis in the University of Ottawa, a brilliant teacher. This son was once offered a professorship at Stanford University, which he took, and then left two weeks into it, telling his father that he does not want to lose his soul at that university. One of his daughters is working in Malawi and has adopted 99 orphans as her own. Dr. Patrick says that he believes his four children’s marriages are happier than his own, and that his grandchildren are even happier than their parents.

For the second half of the talk, Dr. Patrick talked about the cultural history from 1277 to the present, showing how western civilization grew because of those who were seeking the glory of God, and how the western civilization began to be disintegrated when it lost the sight of God, beginning from the Enlightenment. More specifically related to education, he pointed out that children who are not brought up reading God’s Word do not have a deep understanding of the Western Civilization, since the most significant progress has been shaped by biblical worldview. (See below for books recommended by Dr. Patrick related to this talk)

For those of us who were able to spend more time with him on other days, we were able to get much more details about his family members, the great people he worked with, the impacts he made in many places around the world, and many books that he recommended us to read. Here is a list of some of the books that he recommended, some with brief descriptions.

  • Allen Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, especially the 1st Chapter. Dr. Patrick loves to quote Bloom on how the loss of biblical narrative in modern education is responsible for dumbing down education.
  • Peter Kreeft’s Best Things in Life. An excellent book for Junior High school and High School students to raise fundamental questions about the most important things in life, in the context of the pop culture that surrounds them.
  • Robert Frost’s “Whitetailed Hornet.” A poem which Dr. Patrick quoted at Harvard in persuading the atheist liberal women at Harvard why pro-choice is bad.

As our comparisons were stoutly upward
With gods and angels, we were men at least,
But little lower than the gods and angels.
But once comparisons were yielded downward,
Once we began to see our images
Reflected in the mud and even dust,
‘Twas disillusion upon disillusion.
We were lost piecemeal to the animals,

He is saying that if we always set our human standards compared to animals (“yielded downward”), we will treat each other like animals, which the pro-choice people are. Rather, we need to constantly compare ourselves upward, as we are meant to.

  • Watership Down (Richard Adams). Dr. Patrick recommends this children’s book (and film, the 1978 version is better), a parable about 4 ways of life, showing us both the dangers of a way of life without meaning and purpose, and a way of life of purpose, love, and sacrifice.
  • Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, and Signature in the Cell
  • David Stove’s Darwinian Fairytales

Both of these books put the nail in the coffin of Darwinism

  • Wendell Berry’s novels. Watch With Me, Fidelity. Stories about agrarian life, community, and God.
  • Lesslie Newbegin’s Foolishness to the Greeks. On the importance of tacit knowledge.
  • Robert Fogel’s Fourth Great Awakening. On the list of virtue for American progress
    1. Sense of Purpose
    2. Vision of Opportunity
    3. A sense of mainstream of life & work
    4. Strong family ethic
    5. A sense of community
    6. A capacity to engage in diverse groups
    7. An ethic of benevolence
    8. A work ethic
    9. A sense of discipline
    10. Capacity to focus and concentrate one’s efforts
    11. A capacity to resist the love of hedonism
    12. A capacity for self education
    13. Thirst for knowledge
    14. Appreciation for equality
    15. Self-esteem
  • Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. With introduction by Harvie Mansfield. A classic on what makes America great, and different from democracy in Europe.
  • Alistair McIntire’s After Virtue. In this seminal work, the author shows the root of the decline of virtue in our modern age—a loss in teleology, the purpose for our virtue.
  • C. S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man—C. S. Lewis’s classic work on the problem of modern education: Dr. Patrick’s favorite line: “For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.”
  • Father Lukefahr’s Four Levels of Happiness. The author argues that we confuse true happiness with false happiness, which is first three levels of happiness without the fourth level of happiness of experience of God himself.
  • Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God. The author argues that throughout history people acting for the glory of God have shaped our modern culture.