Being a Christian in Grad School

I’ve been working on my first graduate degree for a few years, and I’ve had the luxury (due to the cross-disciplinary nature of my degree) to be a part of many different courses.  I’ve been in history classes, sociology panels, English seminars, and I’ve taken classes at the on-campus seminary where conservative Christians are as common as athiests and followers of so-called “post-modern” belief systems. (Don’t worry – they don’t know what it means, either.)  It’s been an interesting experience with a variety of people – and I am normally the only Believer in the crowd.

You may not realize it, but history majors and English majors are very different people (“Dickens wasn’t writing about the Cold War!  He never saw such a thing!”  “The author is dead, old man, this unlocks the ‘being’ of the text!  Haven’t you read Levinas?” “Who’s Levinas?”)  Every group has it’s own idiosyncrasies, but all of them have the same prejudices that are universally accepted at all levels: they all hate Christians.

Most of my teachers are fine.  Even if they have strong negative feelings toward Christians, most of them are far too professional to bring that prejudice into the classroom.  Good professors can teach without bringing their beliefs into the curriculum.  (Unless the class is titled ‘Professor So-and-so’s Thoughts on the Tea Party Movement,’ this is to be expected.)  But the students are another matter (and, some professors are jerks, too).

In grad school we mostly attend seminar classes.  Unlike traditional lecture courses, seminar classes involve 5-10 students sitting around a table discussing the work with their professor.  It’s more challenging then it sounds.  (Imagine, for example, you only skimmed John of Cross’ ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and the professor asks you to compare it to the other interior mystics of Spain based on passages of ascension.  I found myself in this situation and begging for a fire drill.  No such luck)  But with those students having so much authority to speak, their own political and religious thoughts come out.  And it can get nasty.

I have not been to a seminar class in two years in which a student (or professor) did not insult protestant Christianity.  The seminary students, the historians, and the English majors all think it is fine to talk about Believers like they are idiots.  Even when I have mentioned my own faith and my regular church attendance, these insults still come.  I would never say an insulting thing about another religious group (especially if someone in the room belonged to that group), but my fellow grad students think nothing of insulting me this way.  This is something I simply must put up with in every class.

As I said, the professors are the good ones and they usually steer the conversation back to the subject at hand, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling bullied.  No one ever says that these students shouldn’t be so rude or that personal religious fights don’t belong in the classroom, as I’m sure I would be told if I decided to campaign against their beliefs.

What’s ironic is that these people become guilty of the very thing they attempt to decry.  They lecture the class on how “preachy” Christians are without realizing that they are the ones giving sermons in class while the resident Christian is actually being respectful.  I am told that followers of my religion are rude, even though I’m not the one insulting anyone’s belief.  It’s frustrating.

Anyone with an axe to grind against Christianity will proudly present papers that make all Christians look bad and will do so with the approving laughter of their peers.  These people heroically think of themselves as “deconstructionists” who have “moved beyond” religion and can freely criticize any modern religious person as someone clinging to an outdated and uncultured tradition.  However, if I were to present a paper intended to show that Christianity is not such a bad thing I would be accused of favoritism.

And that’s how it goes in my classes.  I defend respected church leaders of the past from baseless allegations of pedophilia.  I explain that the inquisition punished Galileo, but the Pope and most of the church had no problem with him and that the church was mostly proud of his work.  And I have to correct people who’s ideas on the history of Christianity are the same ridiculous ideas that are found in ‘The DaVinci Code.’  I shouldn’t have to correct grad students (and sometimes professors) on these sorts of elementary mistakes, but since hating Christianity is so popular no one does responsible research on it.  Fallacies and historical inaccuracies about the church abound freely and sometimes I feel like I’m the only person trying to get the facts straight.  In a world that is supposed to be filled with scholars and academics, I find most people are only there to fuel their agendas and turn a blind eye to the facts.  Meanwhile, I attempt to remain completely objective in my research, but I have been told that being objective is wrong and that a scholar must use their work to affect people’s opinions!  Obviously, only the popular opinions can win out, so these people are using this abusive approach to scholarship to create a culture that agrees with their own religion and politics.  A horrifying trend for our scholars to follow.

I love scholarship and being a medievalist really makes me happy.  But it’s not easy.   The work is hard, the hours are long, and, if you are a Christian, it can be lonely.

(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)
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