Hello, we have not met. My name is Atlas. Pleased to meet you. I am currently enrolled in a graduate program at an elite university, and I have been asked to say a word or two about my experiences. Being a Christian in graduate school is probably not very different from being a Christian in media or government. Together, these three broad institutions constitute what is called “the Cathedral,” the nebulous consortium that ensures the dominance of political orthodoxy. The university is responsible for generating, justifying, and indoctrinating new theories in an elite, which it also generates. This is a functional elite because it wields power, but it is really a pseudo-elite because it is founded on credentials rather than competence.
My favorite metaphor for what it feels like to be a Christian in an elite graduate school comes from Roger Scruton’s little book on How to Be a Conservative. There he wrote, “In intellectual circles conservatives, therefore, move quietly and discreetly, catching each other’s eyes across the room like the homosexuals in Proust, whom that great writer compared to Homer’s gods, known only to each other as they move in disguise around the world of mortals.”
“Oh, you’re. . . you’re one too?” we whispered to each other over the Keurig machine. “We should get coffee sometime.”
There was a glint in his eye. He smiled. “Yeah, we should.”
This is the eros and the sick-to-your-stomach sensation that seizes you when you know the knives are being honed for you, and it yet it feels so grand to be perceived as dangerous just for subscribing to the Nicene Creed. What did the prophet of the modern age, Nietzsche say in the mouth of Zarathustra? “Live dangerously!” We cannot overlook that perception, spin, and optics are everything. This is why we can liken the experience of the Christian in intellectual circles to that of the conservative. The Cathedral’s axes of evil are three: Christians, conservatives, and whites. This is the dark triad: if you are guilty of one, you are guilty of all and an enemy. Welcome to grad school, Christian! Now kneel and say Cathedral kyrios!
Still, there is fun to be had for the nimble of mind and foot. Do you delight in the dialectic? Care to dance along the razor’s edge in a boiled wool skirt suit and kitten heels, aspiring associate dean-style? Being a Christian in such an environment is both difficult and easy. Let me parse each of these claims before offering some conclusions.
Being a Christian in grad school is difficult because we are all aware of the bias against Christians in academe, and in blue, “progressive” America. Get ready to be stereotyped and labeled (sometimes to your face, sometimes not) by professors, administrators, and peers. Late-modern members of the “Educaste” are completely unprepared to understand “Christian” as a nonpolitical category. Having banished all forms of divinity from consideration, politics has swallowed up all their analytical categories. Everything is political, and this betrays the abject poverty of the late-modern imagination. In the iron cage of this totalizing discourse, Christians are enemies of the Woke agenda that has been swallowed whole by the American Left and the many personae under which it appears: “Progress” or “the current thing,” as Marc Andreessen calls it.
There are still moderates in academe, but they are spineless and self-serving: they may occasionally push back against Wokeism in a symbolic way, perhaps for a grift, but on the whole, they are satisfied with their benefices, the mess of pottage that is tenure, 401K, and free university education for their children. Their years pass with forgettable articles, potted lectures, and blessed sabbatical years until they are dragged out of the faculty lounge feet-first. These vitiated, ghoulish characters will not think twice about gatekeeping and sabotaging the careers of aspiring scholars whose beliefs run contrary to the Woke agenda. They wholly lack the virtue required to educate the next generations. They are the system we have. Amen.
Being a Christian in graduate school is also relatively easy. The fact that one is a Christian is not easy to detect. The age calls for prudence. Take off your golden cross: get rid of your images. And while you are at it, junk your sentimentality too: it has only ever weighed you down. Think twice about telling anyone your religious convictions. Ignorance of any religious beliefs, especially Christianity, is widespread. Almost no one in graduate school knows anything about Christianity, even the people who are supposed to teach related subjects. This ignorance creates a moat of safety—if you drop any subtle hints about where you were last Sunday, chances are few will understand. It has been said before that our age is more like the first century than previous ones. If that is the case, we should take the early church as an example. Roman Christians met in catacombs for a reason. Do you have a taste for martyrdom, dear reader? I do not, and I only have one cheek to turn.
I do not want HB readers to get the sense that the worst that can happen to a Christian in academe is a little ribbing and stereotyping. Data from the US, UK, and Canada have been collected and analyzed, evidencing that those with conservative views are systemically discriminated against at every professional level: graduate, postdoctoral, and tenure-track. This discrimination takes the form of disqualification from program admission, grants and fellowships, and jobs. Would you expect anything less from a university system that is 99% Leftist? Christians pursuing academic jobs have a choice between voice (challenging the system), exit (exile), and dissimulation. Challenging the system is suicide. Exile is unpleasant but tolerable. Dissimulation is soul-destroying. Readers who think this analysis extreme, it is high time to reconsider your doctrine of man, the Fall, and Dordt’s first head (that is human depravity, for those who skipped Sunday school). Faith that academic committees and tenured Leftists will give Christians a fair hearing, will evaluate them on their merits, will give them a chance is vain sentimentalism and “faith” wholly unworthy of Christians, unworthy even of noble pagans. Politics rule the age—you may not like it, but you must accept it. And the essence of politics is the distinction between friends and enemies.
So what can Christians do in grad school? Gain disciplinary competence, cultivate prudence, seek after wisdom, prepare for the unexpected, and, perhaps, get out. The system is against you. Knowing this, you can survive it, and even thrive in it. You can probably succeed within it, and beyond it. If you act on sentimental notions of what the university ought to be rather than what it is, you will fail or compromise your opportunities for advancement. At best, you will achieve a mediocre result. There are strategies to guard yourself. Are you a member of a protected class? A woman (Oh, the nostalgia!) in STEM? Indigenous, black, or latinx (bonus points if you use the x)? Are you L, G, T, or Q? (Sorry, being B, I, or A probably do not count for much. In fact, the Ls and Gs count much less than the Ts and Qs.) All these “identities” can provide some cover, but if you cannot claim one or more, then perhaps you can be a noisy activist and sycophantic ally. If you are white, heterosexual, and Christian, you are sore out of luck. Wondering how you stack up? Calculate your “systemic oppression score” right here! Whatever the case, any modicum of success rests on relentless brown-nosing.
Is this picture bleak, dear reader? The reality is bleak, and I have painted the lady from life. The sooner the scales fall off your eyes, the better. Almost all universities are debauched and ruined, especially in the arts and humanities but in STEM fields too. Get ready for “anti-racist” math and science. The situation is hardly better at so-called “Christian universities,” run by the same corrupt class of administrators, career bureaucrats, and pusillanimous academics. There are no clear solutions to this quandary, but the first step is to take a clear-eyed account of the situation as it stands. We need to look into the abyss in order to look beyond it and imagine something better. Rehashing “how we got here” stories is a historiographical fetish with limited utility to point a way forward. Do we need to build our own institutions? Maybe, but that is a massive investment. We would need to do so in a way that does not contribute to the fruitless credentialism that animates higher education. Competence should be our keyword, and we need to consider every means to build it.
© Atlas Chang. All Rights Reserved.
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Hi Atlas. I stumbled across your post whilst looking for a new church!
As an older person, I can’t really relate to your experience in university. It was a sobering read, in between a few smiles at your dry sense of humour. (We need that!)
If you could have just wrote out the Gospel at the end, it could have put balance to your blog post. 🙂
Blessings to you and the of luck with the rest of your studies.
thanks for reading. Your comment makes an excellent point about general Christian perspectives on the state of the woke, PC, radprog university. Christians need to understand that there is no gospel in the Cathedral––the complex of government, university, and media. My post is NOT a sermon. I haven’t laid down the law or stated the gospel. I’ve offered a cold-eyed description of the state of the university and a call to think hard about new realities. Accept things as they are.
Insightful read. I’m attending graduate school next year.
I’m trying to understand the current circumstances in graduate studies at a major university these days versus what I myself experienced near the end of the 80’s. I enrolled in a graduate program with a strong focus on Information Technology and other applied telecom applications in the Fall of 1987 and finished in mid-1990. Now, granted as an older (mid-40’s) part-time student who had a full time career and a 100 mile round trip to the university offering the graduate program, I didn’t see the day-to-day campus life going on there. But in the classrooms back then I saw nothing of what apparently takes places nowadays.
‘Course, the students in my graduate program had mostly just finished their undergrad work and were jumping directly into graduate studies. Therefore, they were Gen-X kids. So…how did we get to the point where we are currently with either Millennials or (just beginning) Zoomers entering and graduating from such institutions? That’s a lot to happen in just over three decades of institutional indoctrination!
Also, I can easily see how the arts and humanities can be warped by the faculty in present day colleges, but the “STEM” fields?? How does that work? How does one change what has been discovered and continues to be discovered in the “hard science” and change them around in a way to say that their discoveries have been biased on the basis of their white, euro, anglo-saxon ethnicity? It’s all too absurd for my aging, feeble mind to comprehend.
As someone who just graduated from such a program last year, Atlas’s characterizations are soberingly astute. I was greatly shielded from much of the lunacy because of the particular circumstances of my studies in a physical science (what a providential kindness from God).
George, you expressed puzzlement at the extension of (for want of a better term at the moment) Wokeism into STEM fields. With so little training in the humanities for many who pursue advanced degrees in these fields, I find it unsurprising that these fields have been so thoroughly swept up by an emotionally strong suite of ideologies. To speak conspiratorially, my reflections on my time as a graduate student (2017-23) point to someone’s pulling a level in 2020 to unleash the floodgates upon the school in which my program was housed.
As compelling as that conspiratorial narrative is, evidence from as early as my freshman year of undergraduate work (2013) clarify that at least the gender-based ideologies are certainly older: For one of my first papers, I conflated sex and gender and received feedback that (for some in the world) these are not one in the same. I cannot know if such feedback would be as gentle today (I was not required to change my language on the final draft nor was I marked off for retaining my original language), but this shift in the academy away from welcoming Christianity (or at least some semblance of natural law) has been glacial and not instantaneous.
Atlas raised an important point for my current station, too. I just commenced a tenure-track position at an institution of higher learning. I have pursued this career because my calling is to be an educator, but the pressures to conform (if only by silence) are strong. Frankly, I do not have the time to be strongly vocal if I am to have time to focus on educating students in the courses I teach. This functional dissimulation frustrates me for I would see students taught practical skills instead of Satan-wrought lies.
Here, then, lies another rub of the faculty who advocate for _____ (place urgent cause of the hour here). Such persons will either run themselves ragged if they continue on as dedicated teachers and champions for social change, or they must neglect some other duties (be they pedagogical, familial, or otherwise). I remember them, too, in my prayers asking that our God and Savior would to them likewise show mercy and grace to redeem them from their destructive course.
Yes, with the psalmist I pray, “Help, LORD, because the godly man now ceases…” (Ps. 12).
What a great read! If only academics would take seriously the plea of Stanley Fish in his “Save the World on Your Own Time: “Fish suggests that academic freedom, correctly understood, is the freedom to do the academic job, not the freedom to do any job that the professor so chooses…” (from publisher summary)
thanks for reading. Unfortunately “if onlies” are to remain “if onlies.” American academics are with radically few exceptions cowardly, self-interested, small-souled people who have gained tenure and status by bending their necks to the yoke of peer-pressure and spouting the shibboleths of our time. There is a cottage industry of academics who speak up publicly in books and op-eds like Fish and who make no substantive reforms in their departments and universities when given the chance. They are not only virtueless but hypocritical.
If we want better universities, better schools, better institutions, we must take responsibility to make them and use the power of the state to do so when possible. Donors and alumni must stop giving funds to the universities that foment and teach hate of our past, our heritage, our culture, our families, our faith.
I would suggest a possible reef or shoal on which the ship of gaining education and experience might founder. That dangerous shoal threatening successful efforts to live beneath the level of visibility is Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Live Not By Lies. In speaking to the people of the USSR, he acknowledged that all forms of corrective action or protest had been banned by the ruling class. One course of action remains in such a time, he said: Never intentionally, knowingly repeat what you know to be a lie. You may not physically or vocally have the freedom to contend for the truth, but you can still refuse to participate in the lie. I do not have a subtle, prescient mind, so it is difficult to live in such a way – but I am a lot more quiet than I once was. As the net grows tighter and the rules multiply, it will be ever harder to avoid speaking the lie, bending the knee, but I ask God’s help to be steadfast, faithful, and willing to honor him.