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Book Review: Friedrich Nietzsche's Anti-Education

Book Review: Friedrich Nietzsche, Anti-Education

Friedrich Nietzsche, Anti-Education: On the Future of Our Educational Institutions

“Education is dead. And we have killed it.” Or so one might summarize the message of these 1872 lectures on education given by Friedrich Nietzsche, freshly translated into English by Damion Searls. Nietzsche is better known for his later philosophical writings; these invited lectures on education came early in his career, just after his appointment as professor of philology at the University of Basel. While on the surface the lectures are more “occasional” than his later philosophical work, they’re surprisingly relevant critiques of trends in higher education that remain with us today: a hyper-specialization that fragments and isolates knowledge, a utilitarian evaluation of education’s worth, and the subordination of education for state purposes.

The lectures take the form of Nietzsche’s narrating an overheard conversation among college students and older philosopher. (As Alan Jacobs notes, this form makes it difficult to say with certainty what Nietzsche thought about the educational systems of his day, though it seems safe to read them as a mouthpiece for at least some of Nietzsche’s own critiques.) Given the cultural moment in which Nietzsche produced his lectures, the evaluation of German education that emerges is surprisingly pessimistic. The educational reforms in German-speaking Europe during the nineteenth century’s first decades had transformed education. These reforms breathed new life in the moribund German university of the eighteenth-century, reanimating it as a leading institution of knowledge and cultural production in Europe. By the time Nietzsche was writing, the world had taken notice. The latter part of the nineteenth-century saw a swell of British and American students crossing the English channel and the Atlantic, journeying to German universities in order to experience what they considered the greatest institutions of advanced learning in the world.

Yet Nietzsche looks past the rhetoric surrounding German education and aims his critique at two contemporary trends: “the drive for the greatest possible expansion and dissemination of education” and “the drive for the narrowing and weakening of education.” Though on their surface contradictory, Nietzsche argues that these two educational trends reinforce one another to “ruinous” effect (15). As Nietzsche witnesses education expanding to a much wider segment of the middle classes, he critiques a rising mediocrity among both students and teachers in secondary and university education. And the growth in enrollment comes mostly at the expense of more humanistic orientations toward education. Nietzsche laments the loss of Bildung—a kind of comprehensive humanistic cultural and spiritual formation—as an educational ideal, and the rise instead of a utilitarianism that valued education for its instrumental ends, especially the economic, political, and social benefits to the state. With growing technical specialization among the academic disciplines—which Nietzsche memorably terms “scholarly obesity” (47)—comes the loss of synthetic unity and education’s ability to serve as a guide for life well-lived. Nietzsche’s icon for this narrowing was the academic philologist, immersed in the minutiae of parsing Greek and Latin words while completely losing sight of classical culture and (even more importantly) the profound relevance of that culture for the present.

Critique comes through clearly in the lectures; proposals for reform not at all. In later lectures, he longs for an educational system in which individual genius could be produced through submission to intellectual authorities, disciplining “genius” in order to allow it mature and flourish. Only then might the “German spirit” attain the levels of cultural achievement for which Nietzsche and many of contemporaries believed it was destined.

While Nietzsche’s calls for cultural authority and the triumph of the German spirit sound troubling this side of two world wars, nevertheless his educational critiques resonate with contemporary concerns about American higher education. We, too, have experienced a “dumbing down” of higher education accompanying the twentieth-century’s massive expansion of college enrollment. The bachelor’s degree has effectively become little more than prerequisite for white collar work, or, in the words of one recent critic, a “modern day finishing school” for professional life. Utilitarianism likewise seems more rampant than ever. College instructors frequently lament that students—even at top universities—approach their education more as a series of hoops to jump through in order to land the necessary credential for a desirable job, rather than as a process of developing mind and character. And the noisy fights of the last couple of years over “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and the like point to a troubling desire among students that college education be comfortable rather than transformative (which almost always requires some measure discomfort and even pain).

Nietzsche left his lectures unfinished, envisioning no constructive proposal for a way through his contemporary “crisis of higher ed.” We live today in a similar moment, where the crises of higher education seems clear, but the way forward still unknown.

Banner image for "Integration of Science & Faith," a conference on Saturday, April 18 at Constant Free Church

Integrating Science and Faith:
Recommended Reading from John Walton and Keith B. Miller

Integrating Science & Faith

Science and faith. Many people feel that these subjects don’t blend well. Some public intellectuals loudly proclaim that modern scientific discoveries have disproven the God of the Bible. They are ready to sweep Christianity into the dust bin of history. Even some Christians wonder whether they can really trust the Bible. How can scriptures written thousands of years ago possibly be relevant in our modern scientific world?

Other Christians harbor deep suspicions of the scientific community. They know that God’s word is reliable and true. Yet people of faith sometimes feel that their way of life is under attack from the relentless advance of the scientific enterprise. They don’t feel that scientists can be trusted. Everyone makes mistakes, after all, don’t they? How can scientists really claim to know how old the earth is, or how our universe came to be? If you have ever asked yourself questions like these, then these lectures are for you.

The Integration of Science and Faith Seminar featured Dr. John Walton of Wheaton and Dr. Keith Miller of Kansas State. It was hosted by Constance Free Church in partnership with MacLaurinCSF and took place on Saturday, April 18, 2015. The video recordings of the lectures are available on our YouTube channel; the audio is available for download on Soundcloud:

Recommended Reading

We asked our speakers, as well as other science-minded Christian friends, for their recommendations of the best books on science and faith. We then divided the books into several categories, so you can choose according to your areas of interest.

Most of these books don’t fall neatly into any one category, however—they’re rich works that engage science, theology, and Biblical studies in significant ways. So, for instance, although the books in the “Science” category were written by scientists, they’re very strong on the “faith” side as well.

Books by Our Speakers

  • Keith B. Miller (editor), Perspectives on an Evolving Creation
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology & the Origins Debate
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Adam & Eve: Genesis 2-3 & the Human Origins Debate
  • John Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture & Biblical Authority

Introductory Books

  • Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
  • Francis S. Collins (editor), Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith
  • Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, & Intelligent Design
  • N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues


  • C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, & Theological Commentary
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology & the Origins Debate
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Adam & Eve: Genesis 2-3 & the Human Origins Debate
  • John Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture & Biblical Authority
  • N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues


  • Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?
  • Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, & Intelligent Design
  • Keith B. Miller (editor), Perspectives on an Evolving Creation
  • Davis A. Young & Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks, & Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth


  • Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists
  • Ronald L. Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail & Other Myths about Science & Religion
  • Davis A. Young & Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks, & Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth


  • Francis S. Collins (editor), Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith
  • Darrel R. Falk, Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith & Biology
  • John F. Haught, Deeper than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution
  • John F. Haught, Science & Faith: A New Introduction
  • Alister McGrath, Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, & How We Make Sense of Things
  • John Polkinghorne, Faith, Science, & Understanding
  • John Polkinghorne, Science & Providence: God’s Interaction with the World
  • John Polkinghorne (editor), The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis

Other Useful Resources

Announcing the 2016 Colin MacLaurin Fellows Program

We’re pleased to announce that we’re now accepting applications for our 2016 Colin MacLaurin Fellows Program. Read through the brochure below and visit our MacLaurin Fellows page for more information. Please share widely with friends or any students who might be interested!

Opportunity for Student Scholarships at Regent College’s Summer School

Regent College and the Consortium of Christian Study Centers have announced a co-sponsored program furnishing scholarship money to potential Regent College summer school students. The scholarships provide for two weeks’ full audit tuition, a food stipend and lodging at RC’s summer school, and students will also be able to attend two evaluation discussion meetings per week. This rich experience is particularly designed for graduate and advanced undergraduate students participating in CCSC member study centers—including MacLaurinCSF!

Check out their list of incredible summer-session courses. For more information and to request a scholarship application, contact the Regent College/CCSC Summer Project registrar at or 434-296-3333.

Spring 2016 healthcare retreat on the human person

Announcing Healthcare Retreat #2: Healthcare and the Human Person

Through a collaboration among the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical and Dental Association, the Coptic Medical Association of North America, and MacLaurinCSF, we are offering a series of retreats designed to encourage Christian formation of grad/professional students in healthcare fields.

Students training in healthcare fields at public universities like the University of Minnesota receive first-rate educations in their specialties. But given the secular nature of public higher education, Christian students receive little or no support for understanding how their faith affects their work in healthcare.

To remedy this, we’re offering a rotating series of overnight retreats—one each semester—so that students in medical, dental, pharmacy, and other healthcare programs can gain a Christian vision for their professions.

We’re pleased to announce that this semester’s retreat will focus on the topic “Healthcare and the Human Person.” Dr. Jon Tilburt, Associate Professor of Biomedical Ethics at the Mayo Clinic, and other practicing healthcare professionals will join students to facilitate conversations concerning a Christian vision of the human person. Together we’ll discuss the ways that healthcare can be practiced with greater regard for the human person. We’ll explore why Christian healthcare professionals must not treat the patient as an isolated set of physical symptoms, but seek healing and care in ways that are consistent with a Christian understanding of the person as a bodily, spiritual, moral, and communal being.

The retreat will take place March 18-19 at a retreat center in Montgomery, MN. Registration costs $25, and includes four meals and lodging, as well as all retreat materials and readings. A limited number of need-based scholarships are available.

What to expect on the retreat:

  • learning together about a Christian vision of human personhood through presentations and small group discussions
  • conversation and fellowship with other students and practitioners in a variety of healthcare fields
  • time for quiet reflection
  • prayer and worship together

To register for this retreat, please fill out this Google form. We welcome students from outside of the U of M to register, but because space is limited, students from the U of M who register by March 4 will have priority. If you have questions, email Andrew Hansen, program director at MacLaurinCSF.

The Land, the Voice, the Nation, and the King: A Chronological Retelling of a Classic Narrative

[Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from Michaela Bunke. Michaela is a history major and religious studies minor at the U of M who focuses on intellectual and church history. She’s passionate about Europe specifically and how God has been perceived and responded to in the ideological landscapes there. Michaela is the co-founder of Round Table at the U, a student group that engages students in round table discussions on big topics.]

The following is a story about how a small Semitic family became a nation, and how that nation persevered through endless challenges because a voice from the sky promised that there would someday come a great ruler who would turn their nation into an never-ending empire.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

The Land

Four thousand years ago there were about 30 million living people on the earth. Europe and the Americas were almost completely uninhabited. Asia was just starting to see the beginnings of ancient China and ancient India. The majority of the world’s population resided in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Humans had invented papyrus and discovered bronze, but the existence of coins, swords, and glass would not come for another several hundred years.

It was at this time, around the year 2000 BCE, in the city of Ur (present-day Iraq), that a particular Semitic man decided to move his family westward to Canaan, a land with rich soil and gorgeous landscapes that sat on the coast of the Mediterranean. It was well-known that whoever controlled this area, which lay at the intersection of three continents, controlled many of the trade routes from both east and west. However, for unknown reasons, the family was unsuccessful in reaching their destination and settled instead in Haran, a city slightly northeast of Canaan. But the family continued to dream of moving to this fertile land on the sea. To their east were the great empires of the Babylonians and the Persians who were ever at war with each other; to the west was the beautiful, peaceful Land that they longed for.

the voice

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The Voice

After the man grew old and passed away, his son, who was giving up hope on ever calling the Land his home, began to experience a phenomenon that was just as bizarre and stupefying to him as it would be to us today: out of nowhere, without explanation, a voice would come from the sky. This Voice from the Sky spoke in his language. It spoke with authority, but also with gentleness. The Voice began to tell the man that his family would indeed reach Canaan someday, but it would be his descendants that would inhabit the Land. So he trusted the Voice from the Sky and obeyed it in everything it instructed him. His family soon accepted his odd relationship with the Voice, and indeed, when his son, grandson, and great-grandson came of age, it spoke to them as well, promising the same thing.

They trusted the Voice, but they often doubted. Many times, their circumstances made the promise of the Land seem almost farcical. During the lifetime of the man’s great-grandson, a severe famine came over all of Mesopotamia. This famine caused the family to relocate to Egypt, where food was available. There, in Egypt, their offspring multiplied quickly, until the king feared that their greatness in number might threaten the stability of his empire. So around the year 1600 BCE, the Egyptian king made them his slaves, and they became very oppressed.

The Voice from the Sky, however, continued to speak to this people just as it had spoken to their ancestors. It continued to promise that they would soon be freed from the Egyptians, obtain the Land of Canaan, and establish themselves as an autonomous nation.

Sure enough, around 1400 BCE, the people managed to escape into the desert, but as they began toward Canaan, they soon found themselves lost. Yet the Voice continued to speak, guiding them and giving them new laws, rules, and traditions that solidified their identity as a people.

"The Chaldeans Carrying Away the Pillars of the Temple of Jerusalem" (1569) by Philips Galle (Netherlandish, Haarlem 1537–1612 Antwerp); image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Chaldeans Carrying Away the Pillars of the Temple of Jerusalem” (1569) by Philips Galle (Netherlandish, Haarlem 1537–1612 Antwerp); image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Nation

Eventually they arrived in their long-awaited Land and settled there for nearly a thousand years. Just as the Voice from the Sky had predicted, they multiplied greatly in number and became an autonomous Nation. However, they were dwarfed by the great empires that surrounded them. The Voice continued to promise that they would successfully defeat those who attacked them, and indeed, they were largely victorious for centuries despite their small size. In the 8th century BCE, the Roman and Greek Empires began to grow to the west, while their neighbors to the east grew as well—the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Achaemenid Empires.

In the midst of the increasing threats that surrounded the Nation, the people found comfort in the promises that the Voice gave them: someday they would be mightier than all other nations, someday they would plunder their enemies to the east, someday the empires that continually harassed them would be cut off, and the Nation could know that their children and their children’s children would live forever in the Land that was now theirs. All of these promises were wrapped up in one promise in particular that the Voice gave them: someday they would have a king who was mightier than any king Mesopotamia had ever seen. The Nation held onto these promises, but as their enemies grew, so did their doubt.

In the 6th century BCE, an unprecedented tragedy occurred: the Babylonians conquered the Nation and forced them out of their homes in Canaan. Suddenly, they had lost not only the Land, but their culture and traditions were threatened as well. They could no longer worship in their temple or perform their holy ceremonies as they had always done. But the Voice from the Sky told them to be patient; they would soon have a great ruler who would lead them back to the Land and establish their kingdom forever. This promise seemed to be coming true when, in 539 BCE, the Achaemenid Empire under Cyril the Great conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Nation to return to the Land of Canaan and operate relatively autonomously. However, many of them had dispersed throughout the ancient world since their evacuation from the Land, so there was great challenge in reuniting the Nation and reestablishing their culture.

Then another tragedy occurred—one more unprecedented than the first: the Voice ceased to speak. Suddenly, the Nation found themselves back in their own Land, occupied by one foreign empire after the next, struggling to hold onto their culture, their laws, and their sacred traditions, which were being constantly jeopardized—and the Voice provided no answer. The Nation and the Land became victims of continual occupation and exile by other nations, including that of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, and later those of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire. It seemed that the promises had been only utopian fictions.

In the year 63 BCE, the Roman Empire gained control of the Land, and the Nation was given a ruler of their own people, but they were far from autonomous, their culture had been Romanized and Hellenized, and their leaders were growing increasingly political. The people of the Nation wondered if the Voice from the Sky would ever speak again.

the king

The King

In the midst of these dying hopes, around the year 6 BCE, in a small, unpopular town in the north of the Land, a young teenage girl reported that the Voice had spoken to her—the same Voice who had spoken to her ancestors hundreds of years before. She claimed that an angelic being purporting to be a messenger from the Voice had told the girl that she would soon bear a child who would become the long-awaited King promised to them. No one in the Nation believed her.

However, nine months later, as the girl and her husband were journeying from their hometown in the north to a small city just south of Jerusalem, she went into labor. Unable to find better accommodations, she gave birth to the boy in a stable of animals. In this stable, surrounded by cows and horses and bundled up in barn rags, it was this baby boy who would indeed become the most powerful King of the greatest kingdom the world would ever see. But his people would include many more than just those of the Nation, and his territory would include much more than just the Land.

He would not become the type of king that the Nation was expecting. Working as a carpenter and living only thirty-some-odd years, he was executed by the Roman government because of the turbulence he caused among the Nation. But those who would become his people believe that he carried the words of the Voice who had been silent for over 400 years, and they claim that he is still alive, that his kingdom is continuing to grow, and that through him, the Voice is still speaking to those who will listen.

David Ingold: The Rhythms of Advent: Which Calendar Rules Your Life?

David Ingold on the liturgical calendars of Christmas

[Editor’s note: Today’s guest post comes from David Ingold, one of last year’s Colin MacLaurin Fellows and one of the members of our pilot residential program. David graduated from the U with a degree in mechanical engineering and now works as an engineer.]

It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving. After a weekend of gratitude, rest, and maybe homework catch-up, it’s time for the final end-of-semester push.

Seventeen days. 17. Just seventeen days of until the last day of class! So much work to do in less than 3 weeks!! But twenty-four days until the last day of finals. I just need to make it twenty-four more days, and then… pass or fail…the semester will be over!

Even though I’m no longer taking classes, it’s not difficult to remember these end-of-semester thoughts common to students, especially since I live with a bunch of students at the U. In fact, just thinking about how soon the semester is ending makes me feel anxious on their behalf.

But this week marks the onset of something else, something more significant then the arrival of winter break. Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a season of eager longing and joyful hope for the arrival of Christ.

For those unfamiliar the practice of Advent, I want to ask a question: Which calendar rules your life?

For students, it is often the Academic Calendar; for much of America, the answer is the Consumer Calendar (which culminates with the Black Friday—Small Business Saturday—Cyber Monday trifecta). But for the church, Christ’s people, we have an alternative available to us: The Liturgical Calendar, a calendar of worship that begins with Advent and peaks at Easter, bringing us through the life of Jesus each year.

"The Nativity" by Antoniazzo Romano (1452-2512)

“The Nativity” by Antoniazzo Romano (1452-2512) (courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

It is an easy temptation to put your heart and soul in the results of finals and the hope of vacation. Rather than completely orienting our lives around the pressures of our world, the wisdom from Christian tradition calls us to remember Jesus and orient every part of our life (and year) around him.

In Advent, we join the church around the world in remembering the longing of Israel, God’s people, for the long-expected Savior while in Exile. Though Immanuel, God with Us, has indeed come (which is why we so jollily celebrate 12 liturgical days of Christmas!!) we wait still as ones in exile (1 Peter 1:17). We wait for Christ’s deeper presence in our lives and community, and even more so for Christ’s second coming. But we wait with joyful expectation, for he IS coming!

While Thanksgiving is not part of the liturgical calendar, how fitting that the prelude to Advent is a time for gratitude to God for who God is and all he has done for us. And yesterday evening I enjoyed starting this liturgical year with an Advent Feast, to rejoice and feast together because of our shared hope, and to express our longing for Christ as we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

To aid us as we long for the advent of Jesus more than we long for the advent of vacation or relief after a strenuous Black Friday, I’ll end with an Advent prayer from Henri Nouwen:

Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus.” Amen.

Terror and Fear: Reflections on Christians' Call to Love

Terror & Fear: Reflections on Christians’ Call to Love

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Andy Bramsen, assistant professor in political science at Bethel University. This post originally appeared on Redeemer Journal, the blog of Church of the Redeemer, where Andy serves on the vestry.

As we reflect on the horrific acts of evil in Beirut and Paris that have killed scores and inflicted terror on the people of those cities and beyond, we grieve with them and pray for the Lord’s mercy and comfort. Yet it is all too easy to turn from mourning with the suffering to becoming hardened toward anyone who shares a national, religious, or ethnic identity with the perpetrators. This turn from sorrow to a hatred fueled by fear stems from a natural desire for self-preservation. Sadly, I am already seeing evidence of this in news and social media.

But as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called not to fear but to love. We are called not to focus on our own interests, but to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, as we would serve Christ Himself. If we are serious about being Christ followers, we must take seriously the command He gave to His disciples: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

Part of taking up our cross involves loving and caring for all in need as we have opportunity to do so, remembering that the needy are our neighbors, whether or not they seem safe. And as we do so, we remember that our Lord chose not the path of safety, but the way of the cross.

So today I challenge us to reflect anew on what it means to live out the prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.