Saturday, December 06, 2014

Making money off Christians...

Skip to #4 below if you want to know that this post is about. Key sentence in this post: "I have a hunch that, in Christian circles, it is the most ideologically conservative professors who are most in attitude like the professor in God's Not Dead."

1. I work at a Christian university. It would be interesting to know what people think we do here. Probably what people most want us to do is train students with the skills to be able to find a good job. I think indeed that society has more or less dictated to us that "skills for work" are our number one task. Seems completely appropriate to me.

As a Wesleyan Christian university, many of us think a primary goal of an education is the spiritual formation of the students, to facilitate a deeper love for God and others and a deeper commitment to Christ. We have required chapels. There are small groups meeting on campus. Professors are expected to integrate their faith with their teaching and in general with how they interact with students. I'm in a reading group that this week spent an hour reflecting on IWU's goal of seeing our students become "sanctified" in the sense of growing toward spiritual maturity while they are at IWU.

There is another goal a good university will have and that has to do what are traditionally called the "liberal arts." No, that isn't "liberal" in the way we currently use the word. The phrase has been around for centuries, long before our contemporary sense of conservative and liberal existed. I almost feel we need to come up with a different phrase because of how stupid people are today.

The liberal arts are about making us reflective humans who aren't just slaves to whatever ideas and habits we happen to be born into. They are about learning how to think objectively. They are about being able to understand how people and groups different than we are think. We learn from the past to help us live for the future. They are about appreciating things that distinguish us as humans from other animals, things that enrich life like art and music.

At a Christian liberal arts college, part of this broader enrichment includes learning about the Bible and usually a Christian philosophy class, one that examines life from a faith standpoint. IWU just this year added a required theology class. They studied the OT and NT already, but now Christian beliefs will be taught in a course that organizes core beliefs into a systematic form.

 2. And now for the title to this post. First of all, the title is not about Christian colleges making money off people. I assure you that the pastor of a medium sized church earns more than the vast majority of Christian college professors. I know one Christian college where the most senior professors earn a little over $50,000 a year. If you think anyone at your neighborhood Christian college is getting rich, think again.

What inspired this post is a recent event at IWU that, as usual, was twisted in social media. Why anyone continues to think you are getting the straight scoop in social media is beyond me.

First of all, you're insane if you think IWU is liberal. I am a Republican and the fact that I feel the need to say so in itself indicates how stupid the situation is. I assure you that the very few people at IWU who are Democrats don't tell anyone about it. I'm not even sure who they are, if that is any indication.

IWU had Mike Pence, Republican governor, on campus recently. Susan Brooks has been on campus. I can't remember when any Democratic candidate on this level has ever been on campus. Once upon a time when someone wanted to start a student Democrat organization, it took a little time for everyone to process that and I'm not even sure if it still exists. A Republican professor had to serve as its faculty advisor because no one could find a professor who was a Democrat to do it. We're suing the government so that we do not have to provide abortion associated health care in our insurance.

It is a disgrace for our context to be such that I feel like I should say these things. College is about learning to think objectively, which means that you need to understand the positions of people who disagree with you. Those who are afraid to hear opposing points of view--and can't do so without exploding--probably aren't very confident in the views they claim to have. Critical thinking isn't necessarily about changing your position. It's about holding your positions with eyes wide open, not as a robot.

3. So there was a recent event. I think it was actually part of a series initiated by students. Once again, they searched high and low for someone who might try to present at least some contrast, even if the person had to play the Devil's advocate. If you know what I'm talking about, if you've seen the small snippet, you can see that the thrust of the panel was so overwhelmingly pro-life that it is absurd to the highest degree to think that IWU has any ambiguity at all in its position on abortion. It doesn't.

A warning here. A good thinker gets suspicious when the deck is stacked or when s/he thinks opposing views are being treated like straw men. Having a panel that is so overwhelmingly stacked in one way, where it even feels like the pro-life team is almost bullying the person drafted to create contrast, will actually have a tendency to push the smarter students in the room away from the dominant position.

I wish someone else had served in the "push back" role. I don't know if the guy knew he was destined to be a sheep to the slaughter. I know at least two people turned down the role knowing it would be a piranha fest. The professor basically said he was conflicted. He was pro-life but he recognized that there were difficult situations sometimes. As you would expect, he's been stoned in the social media since the event.

4. Now to the real point of this post. The organization that presented the pro-life position has seemed to have a hey-day with this thing. Here's my hunch. It sure seems like they are using this event to raise money for their organization. They've taken a snippet of the event and put it on their website and now seem to be raising money off it.

So here's a scenario that I wonder if we are prey to, now speaking in general. Do organizations that advocate for certain causes make money off public frenzies like this one? Take a situation. Blow it out of proportion. Play into the fears or anger of your constituency. Raise a bunch of money off the masses.

In this case, you already have this stereotype that universities are liberal. You all know the movie, God's Not Dead. Here's an ironic thought. Could it be that conservatives sometimes act like the atheist in this movie? There are no doubt liberals at secular colleges that badger those who disagree with them. But could it be that some Christians act this way toward those who disagree with them? If you watch the video of this event, who is most badgering the other side?

I have a hunch that, in Christian circles, it is the most ideologically conservative professors who are most in attitude like the professor in God's Not Dead. Both liberals and conservatives are surely guilty of bullying those who disagree with them, yes? Absolutely yes! But that's just not what college is supposed to be like.

I'm thinking of a Christian college I know. IMO, the president's recruitment strategy is to vilify other Christian colleges as liberal. He or she loves programs that skewer the liberal and the atheist. I have at least heard that any faculty or administration person who disagrees with him/her is quickly pushed out of the university. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if s/he tries to use this event against IWU if s/he hears about it, to try to recruit for his/her own college.

So what is the impression we get here? It is of a college where professors are encouraged to be militant for a particular conservative point of view and where anyone who disagrees or even asks questions is quickly silenced. In short, it looks like a college situation where the ideal is for the attitudes of professors to be just like the professor in the movie God's Not Dead, just on the opposite side of the issue. Now isn't that ironic?!

5. The bottom line is that I hope we as Christians will be better thinkers than this. Brain science tells us that we do not think as well when we are in an emotional frenzy. Could it be that there are groups out there that are preying on our irrationality? In this scenario, they would know, consciously or intuitively, that the more worked up we get, the more money they can raise. And we seem to mindlessly play right into their hands.

Truth is no respecter of person. A real commitment to truth requires us to be willing to change our positions on things given a sufficient reason. The other approach talks a lot about truth, but it's really about preserving its own traditions.

God's not afraid for us to question whether he exists, because he knows he does.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution....” - in J. K. Rowling’s _Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone._

Universities, to live up to the first part of their name, must have professors, classes, situations, that make an honest attempt to present important positions that they don't agree with. Students, for example, who never hear as good a case as possible for an old earth (or for a young one) go out ill-equipped and under-educated.