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Underground Men

Conservative Christian reader, a future professor, embraces idea of resistance

A reader writes from inside the academy:

The article on enemies of the people was great. I read it on my phone between furtive glances around a crowded coffee shop while I was supposed to be reading some history. A friend from church also distracted from his research caught my attention and we immediately began talking in hushed tones about the article and our experiences in the academy. (I also had several friends email it to me, so this post seems to have really struck a chord.) Reflecting on the felt need to self-censor and go underground, he remarked that it really is an awful feeling. You lose having a public persona. You are always hiding. You feel dishonest. I told him I knew exactly how he felt–probably even more than he knew. I pointed out that when we feel that pressure, there is a danger of internalizing the public criticism.

So imagine the case where you don’t think same-sex marriage is really a thing but you don’t say anything around your colleagues because you know you will effectively be shunned out of the discipline. Even though you hang on to your belief hidden away in your conscience, by reacting to the public criticism and allowing it to affect your behavior, you might be letting it affect you in other ways you don’t realize. You might unwittingly internalize their criticism.

I told him about my decision to vote for Trump. How a few weeks before the election, a professor called every white student in the room a racist and said that if we did not vote for Clinton, we were voting for the KKK. I had previously resolved to vote for Gary Johnson but at that moment, I knew I had to vote for Trump. The professor was way out of line and needed to be punished; that kind of hubris should never be tolerated or rewarded. I remember thinking of his face when I hit the button to vote for Trump. It felt amazing. Not because I have high expectations for Trump, but because I finally had an act by which to defy the professor that was not academic suicide. The pre-academic me would have walked out of the room when the professor was ranting or laughed out loud, but years inside the academy have changed me. Maybe I should just let it all out and confront such people . . . but I know it would serve no purpose and only injure my future prospects.

There have been several moments the past few years when I have seen academics treat radical leftism as unquestioned orthodoxy (or do horrible personal things to others in the name of orthodoxy) and I have been fed up and thought to myself “That’s it! I’ve had enough. Now I am going to let them have it!” But on second thought, I realize there is nothing I can do. Make a scene in seminar? Make an angry and self-righteous Facebook post? That might be a good outlet for expressing my feelings, but it only exposes me and gets me out of the discipline. I cannot do any good for the discipline that way and will only harm myself. But you have to do something. If not, you risk internalizing the enemy’s judgment on you. You have to find little acts here and there by which to rebel. I have found more than a few, voting for Trump was just the beginning.

I say embrace the underground persona. We are resident aliens anyway. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. If we feel dishonest, maybe it is because we became too comfortable in academia. Maybe we were trying to have our cake and eat it too. I love my colleagues and I pray for them every week. Some really are my friends and know what I think. I do my best to find ways to affirm and serve all of them. But that does not mean that I buy into the system. I learn as much as I can, both the good and the bad. The good so as to build strong Christian educational institutions in the future and the bad for the same reason. I have come to think of myself as a kind of scout, like Caleb. You continually bring up the Eastern European experience and I think we just have to go with it. Accept that we will never be accepted and view ourselves as an underground resistance.

UPDATE: Prof. George Yancey comments:

I too am an academic. I am a little more out there than this academic. But I defiantly understand the pressure to shut up. Even though I am more willing to out myself than this professor I still do some amount of self-censoring. And it chaps me to watch academics who lack nuance or insight, but because they are leftist are free to spout whatever they want.

For the record I did not vote for Trump and continue to believe that it was a mistake to vote for him. But I have developed more of an understanding why people like this academic did so. With so much efforts to shut Christians out of the public square, some of them are going to feel a desperation to stick back. I disagree with the way they have struck back. Trump was an incompetent immoral man before his election and he remains that way. But let’s not pretend that if progressives had an incompetent immoral man to enact their programs that they would not hesitate to do that. The comments of many of them about how Christians deserve oppression reveals their true beliefs about equality for all. The replication of some of the techniques they have decried, such as rules with disparate impact to punish Christians says reams about whether they have universal values of equality as well.

While I disagree with his Trump vote, much of his comments resonate with me. For example I have blogged about the educational dogma in academia (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2015/05/education-dogma/). I also have written about what it is like to be a non-leftist in academia (https://heterodoxacademy.org/i-should-not-write-this-op-ed-confessions-of-a-non-leftist-professor/).

So I am outed as a non-leftist and I have survived. But we cannot pretend that the pressure this academic faces is a myth. And if we want a fair society we should so something about it. But having gained institutional power I fear that leftists will not address this issue in any serious manner. And that will feed this “underground” which will not be good for our country or for academia. It will not only be bad for non-leftist Christians but will also harm academia in ways that I do not have the space to enunciate at this given time. I am pessimistic to say the least.