…so very angry…

I don’t get out much. I’ve been happily ensconced in my nerd cocoon for the past couple years, working on my new book about the history of conservative higher ed. So I know I’m out of touch with what normal people think and know about these things. But I’m still surprised by the venom of some recent comments about Wheaton College. Is the average person-in-the-street really so very angry about evangelical colleges?

raw story wheaton comments

…so very angry…

Here’s the background: I recently published in History News Network a few thoughts about the history behind Wheaton’s decision to terminate tenured Professor Larycia Hawkins. In short, Professor Hawkins is being fired for saying that Muslims and Christians “worship the same god.” RawStory picked up the essay.

I am floored by the level of venom in the RawStory comments thread. Of course, I know that internet comments are the abode of trolls. Still, I’m surprised by the hostility people seem to have toward Wheaton College.

Here are a couple of examples of the comments people saw fit to make:

  • I have a very special file for job applicants who graduated from religious “schools.” It is round, and lined with a plastic bag.

  • So people willingly and enthusiastically jump into sewers and then act shocked when they’re shit upon? I just don’t get it.

  • How wonderful it is receiving a degree from a Troglodyte University!

  • Hopefully Prof. Hawkins can find another position at a real school and put the memory of Holy Roller Hogwarts’ behind her.

  • I don’t get how a strict, fundamentalist college can also be an elite learning institution. In what exactly? The made up field of theology? Perhaps (heavily censured) literature and definitely rewritten history to fit the Christian angst? Home economics? Does creationism even qualify as serious subject of study? Really, what?

And there’s more!

Again, I know I live and work in an intellectual bubble. But are people in general really so very angry towards evangelical colleges? I thought people in general respected Wheaton as a top-tier evangelical school. In fact, I KNOW people do. But are they the exceptions?

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10 Comments

  1. Small Grey Cat

     /  January 8, 2016

    I think what you’re seeing is the combination of three different things, all fuelling each other.

    1. All people are capable of being bigoted and hateful, and the behaviour that results is just as ugly no matter who’s practicing it, or who it’s aimed at. The New Atheist movement, advanced by figures such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, that has become quite popular in recent years has attracted its share of zealots, in the same way as any movement, religous or otherwise, tends to do over time. It’s become trendy among some groups of people to regard religion – any religion – as a thing of the past, a relic of humanity’s superstitious childhood which would be far better cast off and replaced with metaphysical naturalism. These zealots express their contempt for religion just as loudly and obnoxiously as any other sort of zealot. But, just as in any group, the zealots do not comprise the majority.

    2. As a result of the first point, in certain circles, the Christian religion has acquired the reputation – rightly or wrongly, I make no comment here – of being the architect of all oppression in modern society. Christianity is percieved as a white man’s religion, and therefore an acceptable target, whereas to express similar animosity towards, say, Hinduism, would open the expressor up to charges of racism. Any website’s commentariat will have its own culture; if RawStory’s culture is one that embraces the Christianity = Opressor idea, and/or endorses, implicitly or explicity, metaphysical naturalism over other worldviews, the RawStory commentariat would view your article through that lens, seeing the story from a very different perspective from yours and very much not taking it in the intended spirit.

    3. The Internet is a unique sort of environment, both in the scope and the nature of the communication which it enables. In terms of scope, the net links everyone with a computer and a modem together, across the whole earth. However, whereas in a conversation in a classroom, for example, you only have to contend with the loudest, most obnoxious, most abrasive person in the classroom, on the net you have to contend with the loudest, most obnoxious, most abrasive people on Earth. In terms of the nature of Internet communication, its anonymous nature enables antisocial behaviour – the anonymity afforded the speaker makes it easier psychologically to act out one’s worst impulses, and the anonymity of the audience makes it easier to treat them as subhuman – to put it another way, seeing your listeners as words and Gravatar symbols quite literally dehumanizes them.

    So mix all that together and you’re in a situation where Christianity is an acceptable target for a particular sort of bigot, enabled by the anonymous nature of online communication to act far more antisocially than they would in any other environment, and clustered together into an echo chamber where no-one calls them out on their antisocial behaviour because everyone else in the chamber shares their perspective. When an outsider, like you, comes into one of these echo chambers and says something which you intended as perfectly innocent and innocuous, the effect is very similar to dropping a side of raw beef into a tank full of hungry piranhas. You mentioned Wheaton College, and your actual point is lost amidst the frothing anger.

    So, to answer your actual question – no, I don’t think the average person on the street is that angry about evangelical colleges. I just think that the internet makes it possible for the minority who are that angry to assemble into a group and then dominate the conversation.

    Reply
    • I agree with everything you said. This is why I choose which sites to visit cautiously. The quality of the comments is determined by the moderator. If the moderator allows trolls of any sort to hijack the conversation, then it is a site that is not worth it for me, no matter how well the particular moderator presents his or her point of view. I prefer civil debate, which often enlightens me. The world of the trolls keeps me away. It all rests on the moderator.

      Reply
  2. Some atheists are really awful. A person posts some story or blog about an issue, and, if it is about Christianity, those awful people mock to the point of nausea. The substance of the issue is lost, as the comment section fills with juvenile jabs from the angry atheists. I can understand these folks privately sharing how they feel, but when one enters the arena of public debate, there should be some semblance of substance which enhances the conversation instead of hijacking it. I myself have left Christianity, but I would not post these types of things.

    Reply
  3. Agellius

     /  January 8, 2016

    “But are people in general really so very angry towards evangelical colleges?”

    And not just colleges.

    Reply
  4. willbell123

     /  January 8, 2016

    I think of it as the same sort of double standard as we see in political correctness issues. Left-wingers support being respectful of gays, other races, muslims, etc and for instance in the comments cited like to look down upon religion, Right-wingers support being respectful of their deeply held religious beliefs but otherwise will be purposely “anti-PC” in regards to the other groups mentioned above.

    Conservatives go to evangelical colleges to avoid the fallen nature of secular colleges intent on making them into atheists (confirmed by all Christian movies, e.g. Gods not dead). Liberals go to secular colleges intent on avoiding “brainwashing cults” or “returning to the dark ages”. Same trumped up claims, just the internet has a lot more of the second group than the first.

    Adam, you’ve seen a lot of conservative advertising, certainly you’ve seen some vitriol thrown at secular colleges by evangelicals. This is about the same in my opinion.

    Reply
    • Yes, it seems relatively tame and normal to me. There may be an increase in awareness of Evangelicals as a negative, powerful influence of “science denial” or as islamophobic nativists and nationalists who are remarkably supportive of Donald Trump. I also would bet that many of those hostile commenters have Evangelical parents or relatives who treated them or a sibling to significant emotional abuse for failing to toe the line, being liberal, being gay, “believing evolution,” etc. Most Americans have a religious background of some sort, and in environments like academe where it is stigmatized or uncomfortably privatized many “formers” are the loudest “secularists.”

      Reply
  5. Agellius

     /  January 12, 2016

    Apropos of this post, in case you’re interested: http://www.undergroundthomist.org/which-diversity-matters-if-any

    Reply
    • So glad to see that the Ahmanson theonomist family toady and sexophobe J-Bud has been driven underground with his irrational fear mongering!

      Reply
      • Agellius

         /  January 13, 2016

        Yes, I never knew about J. Bud’s blog until you mentioned him. It’s quite good. Thanks! : )

      • If you need further endorsement of the idea that “secular” and even “Christian” colleges are full of wild orgies and evil ideas, his “How to Stay Christian in College” book is fun reading. So are his ratemyprofessor.com reviews where students are nonplussed at his advice re. “self-abuse” in the context of a polisci class. (He rates a 2.6.)

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