Freedom in the Fire–Fahrenheit 451

by Josh Dyson, Classical School of Wichita

Montag: ”I don’t want to change sides and just be told what to do. There’s no reason to change if I do that.

Faber: ”You’re wise already!

fahrenheit 451The dialogue above between Montag, the protagonist, and Faber, the wise sage, in Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, takes place in the middle of Montag’s crisis of belief. He has come to realize that the entertainment-saturated society that he lives in—a society that has turned the four walls of each person’s living room into four Large Screen TVs; a society that is suspicious of anyone who takes walks; a society in which hit-and-runs of such pedestrians is an encouraged youthful pastime (boys will be boys, you know)—has lost touch with reality. Entertainment has become the religious opioid of the masses, even as their children and “loved ones” (though “loved” is probably too strong of a word) go off to get slaughtered in some far off war.

After coming across this bizarre book called “The Bible” (Josiah’s reform?) he knows that he and society at large has missed the depth of true existence. He know he needs a teacher and he recalls an old trouble maker (you know, one of those kind of folks that likes to walk), Faber, then seeks him out. After getting past Faber’s reasonable skepticism about Montag’s conversion, Faber finally opens up to Montag. To Montag he says, “‘I don’t talk things, sir,’ said Faber. ‘I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I’m alive.’”

Closer to the end of the book Faber identifies three things missing from their modern society: 1. Quality previously found in books; 2. Leisure; 3. Freedom to act based on the first two.

As classical educators, this resonates with us. We look at our modern society with similar concerns. Many of our own prophets sound much like Faber. The quality of our curriculum is something that we have become quite proud of. What sets our curriculum apart from progressive education? I believe it is first and foremost quality—time-tested books that are readily applied to the Gospel truths that we live as followers of Christ. Leisure or Schole/Scola, the root word behind the English word “school”, has also received a lot of attention in our cCe (classical Christian education) schools.

The third point is the one that I find the most interesting presently—the freedom to act based on our use of leisure to absorb what is of a True, Good, and Beautiful quality. Is this an essential element to a classical Christian education? The Liberal Arts get its name from it being the education that was originally given to the children of “free” families—those who were not slaves to others and had the resources affording them the leisure to study. On the contrary, the children of families of slaves or without resources to enjoy leisure had to work from a very young age, as they could not afford the time for such things. But we find ourselves in quite a unique situation in modern America. Now, every child has the resources, provided by the government, and the time, provided by the Law, to take the leisure of study. Yet for most, this feels more like the yoke of slavery than a fountain of freedom.

So where is the “freedom” found today? It is found in the same place it has always been found. Jesus Christ himself said, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” While Faber was on to something by indicating that leisure to read what is of high quality was of great value, he did miss one important element (this is evident in the book as he has a great respect for the Bible as literature, but little respect for its True Author). Freedom comes through Christ. Therefore, can you truly have a Liberal Arts education without Christ at the center?

I highly commend Fahrenheit 451 to you as a quality book to read in your leisure. Its warnings are very timely for today, yet like most dystopian (and actually most utopian) literature, hope seems to escape the author, the protagonists, and sadly most readers. It truly is a joy to be part of this tradition reclaiming the True, Good, and Beautiful of the past, but hope is only found in the One who Was, and Is, and Is to Come.

I’d love to hear and interact with your comments below, especially if you have a response to the question: Can you truly have a Liberal Arts education without Christ at the center? Blessings to you and yours in Christ Jesus.

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