The Romeikes and the Myth of Secular Education
by Marc Hays
Today in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Romeike family’s case will be heard in open court. They have been granted asylum in the United States on the grounds that they were being persecuted for their religion by refusing to enroll their children in Germany’s government schools. Prior to 1938, homeschooling was legal in Germany. Adolf Hitler decided it should be otherwise. I wrote a brief post about that here. Today the status regarding their asylum in the United States will be determined.
Over the past week I have continued to read HSLDA’s articles about the Romeikes, other German homeschoolers, German law, United States law, and international law. I am not an expert in these matters, which is why I help to pay Mike Farris’ electric bill each month and am happy to do so. As much as I enjoyed reading HSLDA’s articles, I remembered that everyone seems right until another comes along with a challenge (Prov. 18:17), so I looked up some opposing views as well. You can read one of the better opposing arguments that I found here.
Nikki, the author of the above-linked article asked some good questions, and she gave some bad answers, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere. One of her answers that I weighed in the scales and found wanting was this one: “There were secular reasons for the compulsory attendance law, even if it had been deemed persecution it wouldn’t have been persecution suffered because of their religion.” Here, the author makes a false dichotomy, but the one she makes is so commonly made in our day that most don’t recognize it anymore. She contrasts secular reasons with religious reasons.
Though the argument may begin as etymological, the roots are philosophical and betray commitments that are not irreligious, but anti-religious. The thought that ‘secular’ can be used to justify ‘compulsory’ at the state level and that the ‘religious’ must simply acquiesce, as long as all religions must do the same, is to effectively institute the overarching religion of the state. The ‘secular’ state has now become god, reigning as king of kings, lord of lords, god of gods.
For the etymological component, the word ‘secular’ was first used in the 14th Century. Derived from the Latin saeculum, saeculi, meaning ‘generation, lifetime, or century’, the usage implied ‘temporal’ or ‘worldly’. Prior to the Reformation it was primarily used to denote a difference between roles of priests in the Roman Catholic church. There were monastic priests, and there were secular priests. That sounds strange, eh? Say it three times fast and maybe it’ll stick—secular priests, secular priests, secular priests. The monastic priests served in the monasteries and the secular priests served in the world, the parishes. During the Reformation, Martin Luther defined it further by referring to secular work as being just as glorifying to God as sacred work, i.e., the humble washerwoman glorified God as much in the faithful fulfillment of her vocation as much as the bishop, priest, or nun did in theirs (maybe more).
Whereas the Medieval usage of ‘secular’ was a distinction within the church, the Reformation era usage was between service inside and service outside the institutional church. However, neither of these came anywhere close to being a distinction between religious and not-religious. In these premodern eras of Christendom, it was better understood that the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. (Ps. 24:1, 1 Cor. 10:26)
Words change, or shift, meaning over time, no doubt, but the new ways to use words always refers back to the same underlying assumptions that have steered cultures since the world was created. The earth has always been the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, so to redefine ‘secular’ to mean ‘irreligious’ and to narrowly define religious as ‘of or pertaining to those who believe in God’, is a not-so-veiled attempt at nominalism, i.e., nothing is concrete; the world is (or becomes) what I name it. Given the Medieval and Reformation uses of the word ‘secular’, there remains a possibility of using the term to actually refer to something that exists. Given the post-modern usage, which denies the concrete reality of the ‘God who is there’, the term only refers to one thing—rebellion.
Getting back to the Romeike family and education, if there is no such thing as secular, as the post-moderns want to define it, then there is certainly no such thing as secular reasons for compulsory attendance laws in the government school. Here we have a case study of the intolerance of intolerance. The German government wants everyone to believe that ‘what’s true for you is true for you’ unless of course ‘what’s true for you is not tolerant of the aforementioned truth about relativism’. All education is an attempt to instill eternal, concrete truths, even if the eternal, concrete truth is that there are no eternal, concrete truths. The German government has admitted this by saying they do not want competing philosophies to be promulgated against the ones they are promulgating. In other words, this law applies to everybody because everybody in Germany has to worship the same god as the German state worships, that god being the German state.
(Koestling’s) intention was to show that communism was not merely an experiment in government or social life, and still less an economic theory, but a comprehensive narrative about what the world is like, how things got to be the way they are, and what lies ahead. He also wished to show that for all of communism’s contempt for the ‘irrational’ narratives of traditional religions, it relied nonetheless on faith and dogma. It certainly had its own conception of blasphemy and heresy, and practiced a grotesque and brutal method of ex-communication.
This is not meant to accuse Germany of communism, but their mentality toward state-mandated ‘group-think’ is not very far away from the description of Koestling’s communistic religion. How long will it be before the persecution is actually something that turns an American’s stomach?
The German government’s attempt to stifle all competing philosophies with the state should concern the citizens of the United States and their representatives at the state and federal levels. Should we invade? Maybe send over some drones to whip them into shape? No. Goodness no. But we can allow some of their persecuted citizens to find shelter under our wings as they have come to us legally, seeking legal protection from religious persecution. Pray for Mike Farris and the Romeike family today.