Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on November 7, 2008


typewriter5          Well, after Wednesday’s beat-down of the Maple Syrup post in the comments section, it may have seemed to many of you that advice written in a more serious, rhetorically formal tone had been knocked down for good here at Dr. Wizard.  But, when you think about it, you’ll come to the realization that this simply can’t be the case.  There are far too many serious lessons that must be covered in Dr. Wizard’s Advice for College Students to watch that ship sail completely away, and today’s lesson falls into the more serious category.  So, let’s think of Wednesday’s experiment as being analogous to The Rumble in the Jungle.  Sure, George Foreman might have won the better portion of the fight’s early rounds, but the tactical Muhammad Ali was just waiting for his moment, playing the rope-a-dope game until the time was right for a late-round comeback.  Still, when I think about that fight, I wonder what would happen if we were able to genetically engineer a boxer that combined Muhammad Ali’s strategy with George Foreman’s right cross.  Wouldn’t that be a devastating combination?  (And didn’t a similar boxing hypothetical give us the masterpiece that is Rocky VI?)  Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.  It’s far more interesting when Dr. Jekyll is also Mr. Hyde, when Bruce Banner can turn into the Hulk, or when Slavoj Zizek opts for the third pill.  And so today, in the interest of offering you, the college students of America, a more balanced palate of advisory taste, let’s examine what often happens to the faiths of college students when they arrive at a state (or non-religiously affiliated private) university.

          As has been previously established, the vast majority of your professors are extremely liberal.  For the most part, we see it as our duty to open up your minds, and make you question your worldviews.  Behind this axiom lies our governing assumption that the questioning of beliefs can only make them stronger; and so, we attempt to operate surgically on everything from your nascent political affiliations to your religious faiths.  Our goal is to occasionally pull out an organ and ask, “what function does this serve, class?”  If we grab your heart, and you scream out, “put that back quick, it’s pumping blood to all of my extremities and if it doesn’t get back in their in the next fifteen seconds, I’m going to die,” we know, and you realize, that the organ is vital.  If, on the other hand, we pull out your appendix, and you come to find that you don’t need it, we simply throw it in the trash can, and your life is forevermore unencumbered by an antiquated organ meant to process tree bark and rocks.

          When I think about, however, this philosophy calls to mind my favorite Emily Dickinson poem.  It goes, “Surgeons must be very careful / When they take the knife. / Underneath their fine incisions / stirs the culprit – life!” – and you have no idea how appropriate this metaphor is in the case of your professors.  You see, here’s the problem when it comes to our surgical tools for questioning faith: they’re just not very precise.  We’ll hit you with something blunt like Karl Marx’s “religion is the opiate of the masses,” and then fail to explicate (often because we either forget it’s necessary or forget Marx was actually, in part, referring to the important soothing effects of religion), leaving you to sort out the aftermath.  This surgical procedure is roughly akin to trying to perform a fine incision with a bowie knife – the tool just isn’t quite right for the job.  And thus, what ends up happening is that we either completely miss the organ we were going for in the first place, in the process pissing you off, and driving you to become one of those reactionaries who watches Pat Robertson on The 700 Club everyday; or, we just end up cutting out everything – and we kill the spirituality inside of you that can be such an effective compass for navigating through the turbulent world of university life.

          The world needs dialogue, and the world needs moderates.  Unfortunately, the average modern college experience doesn’t do a very good job of fostering an environment where either of these tendencies can grow.  So, what do you do?  Well, in this case, the secret isn’t so much to take definitive actions steps, but rather to know the rules of the game before you start to play. Everyone in life who is in a position to disseminate ideology has an agenda.  Sean Hannity doesn’t deliver anything fair and balanced on Fox News, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews don’t deliver anything fair and balanced on MSNBC, and your professors don’t deliver much that’s fair and balanced in the classroom.  If you know this ahead of time, it’s a lot easier to wade through the bullshit, to turn our bowie knives into finer, more useful scalpels, and to actually gain the benefits of questioning your faith without unnecessarily losing it altogether.  You’ve got to remember that we’re only human, and just as the vocation of medicine is referred to as a “practice,” so too should you think of the work of your professors.

14 Responses

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  1. UVA Mike said, on November 7, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Passion of the Christ! – that Mel Gibson shows Signs of being one crazy motherfucker. Look at him, standing there like he’s a Patriot, holding a Lethal Weapon in one hand a Braveheart in the other. What a Maverick!

  2. Meghan Jansen said, on November 7, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Dr. Wizard, I think this is a really important post. I know that when I started school, I was completely unprepared for the lack of what I would call options for finding just a regular Protestant church anywhere around campus. It was basically either you went to the Campus Christian Fellowship, which was a little bit too zealous for my tastes, you stayed home, or you went to the Presbyterian church with a bunch of really old people out on the edge of town, and I chose the middle option after trying the other two. Eventually, I found a Methodist church that actually had people my age that I liked, but not until last year, which was my third at school.

  3. Chris said, on November 7, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    This is a fantastic post – but I think one part was left out. It’s true that professors make us question many of our previously held beliefs, yet I feel that major exploration and internal revelation was brought about by my roommates and friends.

    My professors may have discussed socialism and poverty, atheism and social justice, capitalism and colonialism, yet the conversations that shaped my view were held in a dorm room at 2am. We may have been a little tipsy, and perhaps even putting off the reading for class the following morning, but those are the lessons I’ll never forget.

    Remember to do yourself a favor, though: Surround yourself with people who disagree with you.

  4. scandalmonger said, on November 8, 2008 at 12:36 am

    How about a lesson encouraging students to go to class and learn from the best and the brightest…

  5. Greece Lightning said, on November 8, 2008 at 1:04 am

    UVA Mike: You’re like the Mad Max of commentary. Iracane would have definitely given you a gold star for that one.

  6. MS said, on November 8, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Let me start by twisting a popular Christian, Jesus Freaks T-Shirt/Trucker Cap/4×4 Bumpersticker to my own ends: Robert Ingersoll is 1/5 my homeboy (I’m only granting him homeboy status because of his agnosticism). Here’s the thing, Wiz, that you fail to mention: most professors, while they do have an agenda, don’t have a faith based agenda (at least those that I’ve encountered – and after 12 years of Jesuit schooling to date, plus the fact that I am now also employed by a Jesuit institution, I have encountered only 1 professor who was on a mission: she was an orthodox jew and gave me a C in her 19th century American class because she didn’t agree with my choice to wear tattoos – so it goes. She wasn’t even asking me to rethink my belief, just punishing me that I didn’t share her’s). That being said, and I suppose I can only speak for myself, I do question my students’ belief systems thoroughly, but not to get them to abandon them, but to understand why and how they believe. In all honesty, I couldn’t care less what they believe in spiritually – perhaps that’s why I’m a crazy liberal, not a super-over-the-top-ultra-crazy-mega-turbo-extreme-5000-XXXXXXXXL-conservative: meaning, my agenda isn’t conversion, it’s apathy. And because I’m not a moderate, because I would gladly TP Sean Hannity’s house with Olbermann and Matthews lending a helping hand, because I think the 700 club is creepier than that Mel Gibson picture or any picture you could have possibly found and posted, and because I think Rocky Balboa (aka Rocky VI) was a good movie, that people of faith will always have it just a little bit easier than people without. Go see Religulous.

  7. MS said, on November 8, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Chris and scandalmonger,
    You are both correct: Step 1, go to class, learn from the best and the brightest. Step 2, go to the bar and further discuss with the best and the brightest. Step 3, remain at the bar long after your professor has left to continue discussing amongst yourselves. Step 4, repeat.
    It worked for me, anyhow.

  8. MS said, on November 8, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Three seconds after posting that, I realize this was not a post I wanted to comment on.

  9. Barry H said, on November 8, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    I’ll tell you what’s creepy about the 700 club, it’s the way they act like it’s real news, when secretly, we all know they’ve just hired the guys who wrote Left Behind to make up stories and cryptically tie them in to pieces of the book of revolution.

    Also, note to women everywhere. If you want to make sure you’re not left behind when the rapture takes place, apparently it’s helpful to wear a purple skirt-suit.

  10. Barry H said, on November 8, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Whoops! And by “book of revolution”, I mean the Book of Revelations.

  11. drwizard said, on November 8, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    You know, several of the more recent posts may have intimated that I am not completely at ease with the liberal nature of academia – so I thought I should point out that this is simply not the case. As those of you who know me realize, I’m a huge supporter of most causes of the left (with one major exception – I’m pretty certain that excessive union power has more or less ruined the American automotive industry). But I also think it’s important for students to understand that we definitely trend in that direction, and to read our lectures with the same discerning eye that I would have them use to read Fox News. And Mike, good work!

  12. Sarah said, on November 8, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    MS – I’ll TP Sean Hannity’s house with you any day!

  13. Frank said, on November 8, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    A priest, a rabbi, and their childhood crush walk into a bar…

    I was really hoping this post would be about a three-way between Ed Norton, Ben Stiller, and Jenna Elfman.

    By the way, I know I’m a bit late, but maple syrup is great (and not just because I’m Canadian) – so I vote for Post #2 under ‘your H.S. sweetheart.’

  14. Dan Delzell said, on October 19, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    This may blow your mind….

    The Insanity of Unbelief

    by Dan Delzell

    Who could ever create a story as wild as the one in the Bible? What mastermind could put together 66 books by more than 40 authors and have it written over a period of 1500 years? Incredibly, all of these authors point to the same two ultimate destinations: first, an everlasting paradise offered as a free gift to those who believe; and second, a place of eternal torment for those who reject the gift.

    What could this many authors possibly gain by coming up with such an extraordinary story on their own and then presenting it as truth? It certainly didn’t make their lives any easier. Why would some of these same authors allow themselves to be tortured to death rather than recant their message? These clues provide healing from spiritual insanity for anyone who is open-minded. Are you open-minded or close-minded about Christ?

    Who would ever make up a story that a God of love sent His only Son to suffer torture at the hands of men? How loving is that unless God really did love the world so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins just as the Bible states? Why out of thousands of religions in the world does only one religion offer forgiveness of sins as a free gift? Why does this one religion just so happen to be the only religion that has each of these 40 authors over 1500 years describing the same reality? How did they all get their writings to fit together so well and with so much consistency?

    Were each one of these authors insane, except for their remarkable ability to agree with one another about heaven and hell and the Messiah? If they were not insane, then why would all the authors over many centuries contribute to such a conspiracy of deceit about a mythical God and a far-fetched narrative of redemption? Do you have enough faith and enough evidence to truly believe that it has all just been a worldwide hoax? Are you sane enough to see how it takes more faith based on less evidence to reject Christ than it takes to accept Him as your Lord and Savior?

    How insane is it for you to live 80 years upon this earth for yourself just hoping that the Bible is wrong about Jesus and about heaven and hell? How crazy is it for you to risk spending one year in agony, yet alone forever and ever in unimaginable torment? Who would ever lie and make up such a place? In a postmodern age where people are brainwashed to believe that nothing is absolute, are you absolutely, 100% sure that Christianity is a lie and that Jesus was a fraud?

    If you don’t believe in absolutes, then you are not really positive that Christianity is wrong, are you? Please read this next sentence slowly and carefully: Are you really willing to risk spending billions upon billions of years in hell rather than repent of your sin and accept a free gift from a loving God who has given us a written revelation of eternity? What if you really were insane on this issue? You wouldn’t know that you were insane, would you? Are you willing to admit that it is possible that you are insane about Christianity and about your need for salvation?

    How can you be absolutely sure that Christianity is wrong and that you are right? You! Not the 40 authors over 1500 years, but you! What makes you the right one? “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

    To quote a well-known motivational speaker from the 1990’s, I plead with you to “Stop the Insanity” before it is too late. Do you realize why God has allowed you to read this article right now at this very moment in your life? If you are unwilling to be healed of your spiritual insanity, then you won’t have a clue about what you have just read. That rejection of God’s good news for you would provide you with proof of the insanity of unbelief. Are you too insane to recognize your own insanity, or is there a glimmer of spiritual sanity in your soul today?

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