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In 2007 Lauren Caitlin Upton became national news and an Internet draw due (78 million views) to her response to a question in the 2007 Miss South Carolina Teen USA pageant.

Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?

Now, I have to say that there is enormous pressure in these situations. The contestants have a lot to think about in their posture, maintaining a pleasant demeanor, there is a large audience and some questions come from out of left field. But, Ms. Upton’s response was a bit humorous none-the-less:

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, uh, people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future.

I, like so many others, used this incident as a teaching moment in Some People Don’t Have Maps . She was able to clarify a few days later on the Today Show with Matt Lauer and Ann Curry:

Well personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on our map. I don’t know anyone else who doesn’t. And if the statistics are correct, I believe that there should be more emphasis on geography in our education so people will learn how to read maps better.

Map reading isn’t a high priority item in our current educational system. I am not sure why. It could be because assumptions are made that those who need to get places already know how to read maps or perhaps because GPS devices are so widely used and even most cell phones have a GPS mapping program that such knowledge is no longer important. This has had ramification in the trucking industry. I am more and more running to younger drivers that rely almost exclusively on GPS to route them. If their GPS breaks down or heaven forbid, the address doesn’t exist on their particular GPS (happens more often than you might expect) they are stuck because they have no idea how to read a map. Added to the difficulty, truck maps include other information like road classifications. Not all trucks can drive on all roads. Some have weight restrictions which even the tractor alone exceeds. Some have trailer length restrictions. Since Joy and I generally have a 53’ trailer, that is important to know. Some have bridge height restrictions. Our trailers are 13’6” high and do not fit through a 13’4 high bridge very well.

The reliance on technology is playing itself out in other areas as well. A learned Professor says kids no longer need to learn spelling and grammar because of smartphones. Interesting. In a sense, language is the road map of communication. Spelling and grammar are the indicators of direction and types of roads. Even with spell check one can write a nonsensical map in trying to communicate their idea. I was at a chain store today to pick up a few things. At one end of the checkout register was s sign with an arrow pointing to the conveyor belt which read:

Put you items hear. Pay and bag you items at other end.

Since I had taken a break from writing this blog to run the errand I chuckled at the coincidence. Obviously the sentences would have survived the spell check because “hear” is spelled correctly but should have been “here.” Likewise, “you” is spelled correctly but should have been “your.” This can wreak havoc in assembly instructions. “Would you like to go phishing?” is not the same as “Would you like to go fishing?” but again both pass the spell check and grammar test on my spell checker. But according to the professor, kids no longer need the roadmaps of spelling and grammar.

This plays out in myriad of ways in numerous venues. Context is a thing of the past. Asking questions of a written communication like, “Who wrote it? When was it written? To whom was it written? Why was it written? What were they trying to say?” are a thing of dusty Ivory Tower academia. This makes communicating historical and/or biblical concepts very challenging. Clarity of thought is diminished and feelings take the forefront in making decisions. In the case of the faith, secularism and pragmatism are replacing sound biblical teaching of doctrine and communication of the gospel.

The Chicago Tribune carried the article, At churches, a growing emphasis on charity beyond passing the plate . The article talks about how churches are serving the poor. Something, by the way, that the church has done since the first century. The heart of the reason given lies in the middle of the article:

Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary professor, said such calls for Christians to address pressing needs within their communities are becoming more common across the country. In just over a decade, the percentage of large churches he surveyed that said their congregations were “working for social justice” increased from about 1 in 3 to about 6 in 10.

“Working for social justice.” Okay, where is my roadmap? Social justice has a context and meaning. They are quite different than the biblical teaching on helping the poor and infirmed. A brief paragraph from the Wikipedia entry Social Justice gives us meaning and direction:

The term and modern concept of “social justice” was coined by Jesuit priest Luigi Taparelli in 1840 based on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and given further exposure in 1848 by Antonio Rosmini-Serbati.The phrase has taken on a very controverted and variable meaning, depending on who is using it. The idea was elaborated by the moral theologian John A. Ryan, who initiated the concept of a living wage. Father Coughlin also used the term in his publications in the 1930s and the 1940s. It is a part of Catholic social teaching, the Protestants’ Social Gospel, and is one of the Four Pillars of the Green Party upheld by green parties worldwide. Social justice as a secular concept, distinct from religious teachings, emerged mainly in the late twentieth century, influenced primarily by philosopher John Rawls.

Note, “Social justice as a secular concept, distinct from religious teachings, emerged mainly in the late twentieth century…” It starts from the idea that because all humans should have equal rights that means there should be equal distribution of stuff and opportunities. We find no biblical teaching toward that end. What we have in Scripture is to work hard, be industrious, serve others as we are able and be content with what we have. Even in the Old Testament as God outlined the ways to provide for the poor it included their working for their food. The fields were to be harvested in such a way as to leave produce at the corners for the poor to pick for themselves. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul writes that if someone is not willing to work, they shouldn’t eat either (2 Thess. 3:10).

The lack of a biblical roadmap to life is having deleterious effects. (cool word eh?) The Churchmouse Campanologist sums it up pretty well in The origins of ‘social justice’ – you might be surprised:

Is that making ‘disciples of all men’? Traditionalists are right in saying that it does not. Modernists and postmodernists would counter that it doesn’t matter – the perceived social benefits trump Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for our sins and His promise of eternal life.

Unfortunately, recent Popes have openly supported social justice concerns as have ‘liberal’ Protestant churches.

A Gospel message of eternal life has gone by the wayside.

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