After the magazine folded, he edited a book series on the history of Christianity.
Ted Byfield, for a lot of western Canadians at least, is an icon of the modern conservative movement. Mr. Byfield is almost 90 years old now, and this week, he’s our special guest on Lighthouse News. We reached him by telephone, at his home in Edmonton.
LN: I’d like to start by asking you about a series of blog posts you’ve been writing on the controversies in the Alberta education system. And I’d ask you, “What’s actually going on there?” I mean, we know, in a sense, what’s going on, with the promotion of the so-called “alternative lifestyles” and gender issues and such. That’s the political reality. But what’s underlying all of this? Is it just because the NDP has a different worldview, or is there an underlying philosophical and societal shift on these moral questions?
TB: Well what’s underlying it – as I try to make out in a little book I published not long ago – was a revolution that nobody in the media covered. And it was probably the most important revolution insofar as the western world’s concerned in the 20th century. And that was in our educational system. And very succinctly it has to say…they switched from objectivism to subjectivism. That is where the educator – the teacher – used to have a body of skills and information that he or she had to impart to the pupil, it became a question of imparting to the pupil a certain attitude, so that feelings became more important than facts. And this permeated the entire educational system over the latter half of the 20th century, and it resulted in the feminist revolution for example, the sexual revolution. They’re all sort of the children of that educational revolution which nobody covered at all. If you go back over the press coverage of that one, there’s hardly any mention of it. Occasionally, some editor will write an editorial deploring something they’re doing in the schools, but nobody put all the pieces together. And what they were doing in the schools was radically changing society. And that revolution is what’s causing the symptoms that you notice socially. We all do.
LN: So how should Christians respond to what’s going on? I mean, it seems conservatives – especially social conservatives – are always fighting a rear-guard action on this stuff. Trying to make up for lost time and playing defense. Is there a way to get pro-active on this stuff?
TB: Yes, of course there is. And that is to get into two things. The media – the general media, not the religious media – the general media. And also the education system. The way that some parents are very effectively reacting. I’ve had quite a bit to do with the homeschool movement because we are running a program that involves it. When you see how much better a mother can do with her three or four kids than a teacher with 30 or 40 students; so a kid that’s being homeschooled has a high-value education that you only recognize when you figure that he can write and he can understand grammar and he’s good in math and this kind of thing. That’s where the fruition occurs. But that’s one thing we can do.
And the other thing to do is do exactly what you’re doing. Get into the media. You know, young kids starting out who have a religious vocation immediately think of becoming a pastor or something like (that), and heaven knows we need good pastors, but we also need good journalists and we also need good playwrights that can get into the public mix and write things and produce things that are gonna cause people to think “I better take a look at this Christianity thing.” That’s what we should be stirring up in the public mind. And I see young people coming out of the system now – many as homeschoolers, some from Christian schools – who are gonna be able to do that, and we should give them every possible encouragement.
LN: Would you include in that the notion that we need more Christian politicians?
TB: I think that politics is in itself a very dicey thing for any Christian, because our system – and it’s I think the best there is – is built on compromise. Christianity says “these statements are true”, and if you’re being called upon to compromise truth, then you’re compromising your religion to some degree. And very few politicians are prepared to say “this is where I stand. If you don’t like it, vote me out of office.” A few do, but most haven’t got the courage to do that, and you can hardly blame them because the media will do everything possible to kill them.
LN: And that leads to something else to close the interview. I want to shift gears a little. It’s not every day we get to speak to you, and I don’t want to let this opportunity pass without asking (for) your impressions of the federal conservative leadership race. What do you think of the crop of candidates that’s there?
TB: To tell you the truth, Al, I have hardly followed it. Mainly because we are so preoccupied in Alberta with this provincial government we’ve managed to elect, that it takes the centre of our attention away from Ottawa to a large degree, and focuses (us) upon what’s going on here, in our own backyard.
LN: OK, so you haven’t really been paying attention, but some people have described this leadership race as “a battle for the soul of the party.” A battle between social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. What’s your thought on that?
TB: The divide between what they call “social conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives” is phony. The fiscal conservatives seem to think that they’re not dealing with moral questions; they’re dealing with practical facts. And then, in the next breath, they say: “Why do people so easily involve themselves in these enormous debts? We shouldn’t be doing that.”
That word “shouldn’t” means morality, because using your head and being wise with money is a virtue. Now, if you discredit all the social virtues – sex, and that kind of thing – because they don’t matter anymore, (then) don’t be surprised when all the fiscal virtues disappear as well. Because they’re all standing on the same ground.
So what we see is people dismissing the social conservatives as irrelevant and then whining because we allow the debts to go so high. Well they’re going so high because the same disbelief that enabled us to reject the old sex rules also enables us to reject the economic rules. They’re all standing on the same ground.
“I ought to.” “I should.” “We should.” We ought to.” “We ought not to be building up debts like this.” They’re all moral values, and if you discredit morality, don’t be surprised if it spreads into areas you take as sacrosanct. So we should get rid of the idea of “social conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives”. What they’ve gotta “conserve” is good and bad, and it applies in both regions.