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Secular Theology and John Dewey

QUESTION: Secular Theology – John Dewey and our Public Schools

ANSWER: Secular Theology – John Dewey and our Public Schools

The Secular Theology (atheism) of leading Humanist John Dewey has had such an impact on American culture that it requires more intense scrutiny. Because of Dewey’s status as an educator, and especially because he had such a profound influence on America’s public school system, his theological views must be understood by everyone seeking to understand modern education.

In his work A Common Faith, Dewey distinguishes between the words “religion” and “religious.” He reserves the term “religion” for the supernatural while maintaining the term “religious” for the world of the natural (especially as it involves human relations, welfare, and progress). Dewey rejects the supernatural and a supernatural God. He accepts only evolving nature, with all of its “religious” ramifications. “I cannot understand,” says Dewey, “how any realization of the democratic ideal as a vital moral and spiritual ideal in human affairs is possible without surrender of the conception of the basic division to which supernatural Christianity is committed.”1 For Dewey, democracy cannot ingest the Christian notions of saved and lost. He considers such notions “spiritual aristocracy” and contrary to the ideals of democracy. A democratic church must include both believer and unbeliever.

Secular Theology – John Dewey and his Rejection of Christianity
John Dewey makes it clear that he believes science has largely discredited Biblical Christianity. “Geological discoveries,” he says, “have displaced Creation myths which once bulked large.”2 Biology, says Dewey, has “revolutionized conceptions of soul and mind which once occupied a central place in religious beliefs and ideas.”3 He also says that biology has made a “profound impression” on the ideas of sin, redemption, and immortality. Anthropology, history, and literary criticism have furnished a “radically different version of the historic events and personages upon which Christian religions have built.”4 And psychology is already opening up “natural explanations of phenomena so extraordinary that once their supernatural origin was, so to say, the natural explanation.”5 For Dewey, science and the scientific method have exiled God and the supernatural to the dustbins of history.


Rendered with permission from the book,Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews(Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 John Dewey, A Common Faith (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1934, renewed 1962), 84.

2 Ibid., 31.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid. 5 Ibid.

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