Academic Oppression of Christians: Fact vs. Fiction

As I reviewed of the movie God’s Not Dead (GND), one of my biggest gripes was the lack of realism in the plot, particularly the way the conflict between the fictional Professor Radisson and freshman Josh Wheaton materialized. It began with Radisson, a philosophy professor, taking the first day of an introductory philosophy class and bullying the naive students into signing a “God is Dead” statement. Josh Wheaton, of course, refuses to sign the statement and takes up Radisson’s challenge to make the case that “God’s not dead”.

What bothered me about that is that such a scenario is almost unheard of in academia. Very few, if any, philosophy professors–not even the most ardent Atheists–are going to be so brazen. Philosophy professors–yes, even the Atheist ones–are more likely to welcome a spirited discussion while playing the role of Devil’s Advocate.

That is not to say, however, that there is no oppression of Christians in the academic world. It is there, and it is fairly widespread. Having said that, unlike the scenario in GND, the anti-Christian element is far more passive-aggressive, and that is because academia is inherently stacked with passive-aggressive people.

In reality, here is how it works in the classroom.

(1) For one thing, in the classroom, the anti-Christian sentiments are subtle. If you are in a philosophy class, an Atheist professor is likely to take an occasional dig at the Bible while calling favorable attention to the New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris). He may otherwise be fair in grading you if you are a Christian, but his underlying message with be quite simple: Atheism is for smarter people; Christianity is a crutch for lesser-intelligent people.

(2) In science classes, evolution–particularly macro-evolution–is presented as “settled science”. The professor may not be particularly contentious against Christians, but will present things in matter-of-fact fashion. In my biology class, the professor–an affable secularist–was very fair; having said that, my biology textbook was little more than an aggressive marketing pitch for macro-evolution.

The underlying message: you can be a Christian, or you can be pro-science.

(3) In humanities classes, a secular/Atheist professor is likely to feed you a steady diet of Agnostic/Atheist writers, or even writers having an Eastern Religious bent. The professors are not going to be overtly anti-Christian–like the philoshophy professors, they may even treat you fairly–but will be positive toward viewpoints that are at odds with Christianity. In these classes, the skeptical position is not going to be in-your-face, but in fact will have a rational and seductive appeal.

Outside the classroom, things get dicier, and the bias ranges from passive-aggressive to open hatred.

(1) If you are applying to an Ivy League school, you may have a hard time being accepted if you are an outspoken conservative Christian.

(2) If you are an aspiring professor in a field other than engineering, you probably need to keep your Christian faith under your hat. If there is anything in your pedigree that remotely appears conservative, that can work against you. Dr. Mike S. Adams–an Associate Professor of Criminology at University of North Carolina at Wilmington–was on the academic fast-track in his early days as an atheist academic. Then he became a Christian, after which he was denied a promotion to full professor in spite of the fact that his academic production exceeded that of contemporaries who HAD been promoted. He sued the university and, after a long fight, a jury ruled unanimously in his favor.

(3) If you are a Christian and seek to form a Christian organization–such as a pro-life group, a Christian fellowship club, etc.–you will be forced by administrators to abide by established “diversity” standards, which means you have to admit anyone for membership. Even if they’re Muslim, even if they’re Pagan, even if they’re gay, even if they’re avowed Satanists, even if they’re members of the pro-abortion group and work in the Planned Parenthood office.

(4) If you seek to have a conservative speaker on campus–such as Ann Coulter or Dr. Mike Adams–be prepared to face backlash from university administrators.

(5) If the university sponsors a play, a special guest, or featured group, it is often going to be a promotion that is hostile to Christians or ideas that Christians support.

(6) Hiding behind the “diversity” canard, universities will provide all sorts of funding for “women’s resource centers”, which are, more often than not, outfits that serve to promote abortion.

(7) Also falling in the “diversity” play, universities will fund and staff centers that promote gay rights and related matters.

What I’m getting at here is that the face of the anti-Christian agenda on campuses is not the overt, in-your-face jackassery of Professor Radisson but rather a long, protracted passive-aggressive onslaught that alternates between seductive appeal and gnawing and clawing at you for four years.

Meanwhile, Christians entering college are often woefully unprepared for this assault. This is because their parents, their pastors, and their youth ministers, have utterly dropped the ball on every relevant front.

God’s Not Dead, but the Movie Sucks

MrsLarijani and I watched God’s Not Dead (GND) last night. We had heard good things about it, as opposed to Noah and Son of God. Moreover, others in our church small group wanted to see it. So, we went to a theater in Lexington.

I was sorely disappointed. It may be a step up from the horrid 1970s end-times-based movie A Thief in the Night (and the sequels), but, compared to Fireproof and Facing the Giants–with which I had no small number of misgivings–it was a gigantic step backward.

The entire plot of GND was awful, and it was all downhill from there, devolving into a game of “Count the cliches”.

The late novelist Tom Clancy once summarized the difference between fiction and non-fiction: “Fiction has to make sense.” Very little of the plot of GND made sense.

The primary antagonist–philosophy Professor Radisson, who pressured students at the beginning of the semester to sign a statement saying, “God is dead”, and challenging the protagonist (Josh Wheaton) to three twenty-minute presentations to make a case for God, with the class deciding the winner–was utterly unrealistic.

While many philosophy professors–perhaps most–are in fact Atheists or Agnostics, very few of them are abrasive with students. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them, irrespective of their religious leanings, are are systematic and professional. When hot topics–such as the existence of God–come up, they welcome the input of Christians and others with various perspectives. This is because, as off the rails as they may be, they respect, as a matter of principle, people who think for themselves. They usually pride themselves on their ability to stoke productive and spirited debates. This is why I found the fictional Professor Radisson to be woefully unrealistic.

I also found myself conflicted with the portrayal of Wheaton’s “Christian girlfriend”, as she dumped him after he insisted on challenging Professor Radisson. If anything, I thought that she would have been drawn to him for standing up for himself.

(In my single days, I sparred–sometimes very heatedly–with many a hardcore atheist feminist. What’s funny about that: most of them privately said they admired me for making my case and not backing down. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was part of the dynamics of Game. Then again, given that I found myself single for many years, perhaps Christian women are conditioned to be drawn to a different type of persona.)

The character development was similarly short of the glory. The fictional Josh Wheaton was a freshman who, upon accepting the challenge, rose to the occasion, providing well-animated presentations that would wow a corporate board, presenting with the skill of a graduate student while communicating at a common level. This is a skill that I find in very few people, and those are usually older, well-educated adults who have extensive experience thinking and presenting.

While the case that he makes for God is not a bad one–and the way he addressed the problem of evil was pretty sound–his character portrayal in the movie is inadequate and not congruent with reality. His responses to Professor Radisson’s angry expressions of personal suffering were lacking in either compassion or empathy.

Had the crew wished to present a more realistic dialogue, they could have done some homework and pulled from the C.S. Lewis-J.R.R Tolkien playbook: Professor Radisson had many of the same issues that C.S. Lewis had during his days as an Atheist. Presenting a more productive and collegial debate between Wheaton and Radisson–with perhaps including the insights of professors who were believers–yes, they are out there!–would have had great appeal. In GND, none of the academics are presented as Christians.

As for some of the other particulars:

  • While I have nothing against the Robertson family, Willie’s appearance struck me as loud, out of touch, and unnecessarily contentious. It fed the “Professor=BAD/Student=GOOD” cliche.
  • The gonzo blogger/journalist–Amy Ryan (played by Trisha LaFache)–was a comical vegan/uber-liberal troublemaker whose cancer diagnosis, and subsequent rejection by a Roissy-like boyfriend, sent her world crashing down. Her conversion struck me as cliche, but others may differ on that.

For some of the characters I felt were better-developed:

  • Aisha, the Islamic-raised student who hid her Christian faith before finally being outed by her brother and disowned by her devout Muslim father, was fairly realistic. Had she come from a secular Muslim family, the tension would have been minimal, but, in a hardcore family, this would have been a very big deal. Honor killings are not unheard of in cases like hers, and disownment is very likely.
  • The Chinese student who contended with his father about the discussions in the class–and eventually received Christ–was realistic. The lines of reasoning by his father were exactly what you expect from a secular Chinese; his initial confusion with Wheaton’s acceptance of Raddison’s challenge was also expected.
  • Professor Radisson’s girlfriend (Mina, played by Cory Oliver)–who was a Christian conflicted by her relationship with an avowed Atheist who constantly belittled her in front of others. Her character is semi-realistic.
  • While GND has its strong points, one has to fight through the cliches and other cheesy presentations to appreciate them.

    What angers me about the movie: it has dubious appeal to a skeptic. Rather than make an engaging, collegial “come, let us reason together” case for God, it was more of a rallying cry for cultural fundamentalists and a “Screw you!” to intellectuals, all wrapped up in cliche, bad plot development, and incomplete character development.

    Why do Christians have to be the poster children for Movies That Suck?

That All-Inclusive College Education

Louis Menand has written a piece in The New Yorker titled, Live and Learn, Why we have college. He gives a nice overview of higher education in the States.

There were two particular things that stood out to me. Here, as we’ve discussed often, Menand quotes another author who writes:

Professor X thinks that most of the students he teaches are not qualified to attend college. He also thinks that, as far as writing and literature are concerned, they are unteachable. But the system keeps pushing them through the human-capital processor. They attend either because the degree is a job requirement or because they’ve been seduced by the siren song “college for everyone.” X considers the situation analogous to the real-estate bubble: Americans are being urged to invest in something they can’t afford and don’t need.

I do not think that, “most of the students he teaches are not qualified to attend college,” is directly related to: “Americans are being urged to invest in something they can’t afford and don’t need.” Obviously, there are those who can afford college who are not otherwise qualified to attend college. And there are those who may not be qualified who truly need an education of some sort to get a job to earn enough money to support a family. However, in a society where everyone is encouraged to go to college, it is a natural default that there will be many there who are not qualified. That Americans are being urged to invest in something they cannot afford and often do not need is something we’ve discussed out here often and that Amir has solidly backed up.

There other thing that stood out to me is this:

When he is not taking on trends in modern thought, Professor X is shrewd about the reasons it’s hard to teach underprepared students how to write. “I have come to think,” he says, “that the two most crucial ingredients in the mysterious mix that makes a good writer may be (1) having read enough throughout a lifetime to have internalized the rhythms of the written word, and (2) refining the ability to mimic those rhythms.” This makes sense. If you read a lot of sentences, then you start to think in sentences, and if you think in sentences, then you can write sentences, because you know what a sentence sounds like. Someone who has reached the age of eighteen or twenty and has never been a reader is not going to become a writer in fifteen weeks.

My special needs daughter is severely dyslexic. Her learning curve, when it comes to reading, has been very slow, yet steady. I have been shocked at how little teachers have understood this despite how known dyslexia is. I am also shocked that her teachers are surprised that her ability to write has increased in direct proportion to her ability to read (and that her inability to write well for many years was directly proportional to her inability to read well). Really? Really. If a child cannot read a sentence fluently (without having to focus on reading each word rather than fluidly reading through a whole sentence), then how are they going to create a whole sentence to write?

It is also a bit stunning to me how so many teachers have been freaked out over her very slow learning-to-read curve, despite their knowledge of her severe dyslexia. She continued to move forward, so I was never concerned. But, boy howdy! The public education system has turned itself inside out over this. Now that she’s reading they are so pleased with themselves! Sheesh.

The truth is that the combination of her individual brain development and the progress in other disabled parts of her life, the fact that her father, sister, and I are all avid readers and therefore reading has a high priority in our home, the fact that I have been reading to her since she was born, and the fact that she has been in specialized dyslexia classes since the end of first grade, have all factored into her ability to read a whole novel now without audio or assistance (here for the first time in 8th grade!). This is a huge milestone, but it is not a surprising milestone.

What do you find interesting in Menand’s piece?

Another Conservative Christian Leader Bites the Dust

There had been rumblings about Bill Gothard–over financial and even sexual indiscretions–for quite some time.

Finally, last week, the defecation hit the circulation at a very high velocity, and his board placed him on administrative leave. If they have any semblance of dignity, they will welcome and cooperate with law enforcement.

Gothard, a champion for homeschooling and other issues dear to Christian conservatives, was very popular, and his Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) commanded a huge following among Quiverfull types.

For years, however, rumors swirled about Gothard’s indiscretions. Gretchen Swearingen–alias “Charlotte”–has published a fair number of credible allegations on the Recovering Grace website, and the board of IBLP had no choice.

Color me cynical about the board.

The latest actions have more to do with the financial meltdown at IBLP in the wake of Reovering Grace’s published allegations. If Gothard exempted himself from rules to which he held everyone else, then the board knowingly permitted a telltale practice symptomatic of a cult.

That they are now throwing Gothard under the bus tells me that they are merely covering their asses.

They are, in my estimation, every bit as bad as Gothard.