Yesterday, CWR’s own Kat posted “Do Western Christians Want Martyrs?”, a short post questioning the motivations behind the recent outpouring of Western sympathy for the plight of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, currently being massacred by the forces of the terrorist group formerly known as ISIS. That post prompted the following comment: “[it] seems a bit sick to turn this into a critique of Christians or Christianity… what is it in you that wants to make this a critique of Christian hypocrisy?”
Now I don’t think it was Kat’s intention to downplay the genocide in progress in the Levant and it certainly isn’t mine either. So why critique Christians?
Because Christians are guilty.
No, they’re not pulling the triggers or wielding the swords, but the actions of Western Christians have contributed not only to the slaughter of Iraqi and Chaldean believers, but the persecution, suffering, and misery of the church all across the world. And even as Western Christians switch their profiles to the Arabic letter “nun” for “Nazarene”, the self same people continue to be part of the problem.
Let me show you a picture:
These are the first of the first. The oft-forgotten Christians of Palestine. The descendents of the very first followers of Christ. These people are literally Nazarenes.
EVAN: This week on E> we take a break from scrutinizing film to look back about seven or so months to a different time of our lives: college. Now that we’ve both graduated we find ourselves in a different stage of life, and it begs the question of what those four years did for us, and whether or not that’s what we wanted or expected.
GORDON: Throughout my college career, especially towards the end, I heard a recurring argument:
“College is a scam,” they said, “It’s a trap or, at very best, a waste of money. You don’t learn anything you can actually translate into a job, so either drop out while you can or don’t sweat the grades and party your buns off.”
EVAN: Wait, who is the “they” that was saying this?
GORDON: I’ve read it in various Cracked articles, I’ve seen it covered in webcomics and in comments, I’ve heard it on the radio. Not always the same tone, but it always boiled down to that essential idea. “College doesn’t teach you what you really need to know, it just puts you in debt and wastes your time.”
EVAN: Well, I guess that really begs the question of “What is it that we’re really supposed to know?” If college is the great institution to prepare us for our lives, what should it have taught us?
GORDON: Some would argue that technical and vocational skills are what we really need. Stuff that’s meant to train us for jobs. Wrenches, not Whitman.
EVAN: Which is the sort of thing you see advertised on television late at night or in the middle of the day; schools for electricians and dental assistants and plumbers and what have you.
GORDON: Which always come across as propaganda films from a dystopic alternate timeline. They can claim to be breaking the mold all they want- I’ll still always just see Orwellian Factory-Schools designed train the subservient masses for laboring in name of supreme leader and glorious fatherland.
EVAN: Heh heh.
The contrast to this idea you brought up when first introducing this topic, that the two sides could be seen as college prepping us for our careers or making us more well-rounded individuals.
There’s obviously more to it than that, but how would you boil the latter option down to its essence?
GORDON: I’d probably cite our own alma mater’s (for me more just “mater”) slogan of “global mindedness.” The idea is to create people who are, first and foremost, thinkers. Logical and critically minded thinkers with strong creative abilities and appreciation for art and wonder. A noble enough sentiment to be sure.
EVAN: To really engage with this topic I feel like we should have equal footing, and I’ll have to give our readers a little bit of context-
I’m currently unemployed, and chose to live the latter part of 2012 living with and taking care of my grandfather, whose wife [my grandmother] passed away in September. My job hunt has only very recently started up again.
I say that because as it stands one of us is currently working and knows how his education has aided him and the other is not.
GORDON: I, unlike my Canadian counter-part, am currently employed, having worked two jobs simultaneously for a while there. Having vainly searched for a job the entire summer and most of the fall, I am now working a job helping unemployed people find work, the irony of which is not lost on me.
EVAN: And did you, my Employed-American friend, find that a degree helped you in your search for work?
GORDON: In all honesty, I’m not sure.
On one hand, I can say that certain classes I brought definitely assisted me in securing a job, but those classes really more on the whole “applied” spectrum of education. I definitely didn’t need to go to a top 3% college. People, it turns out, don’t give a crap about where you went.
EVAN: Again, I can’t comment from experience, but I’d like to say that it depends on the job.
GORDON: This is probably true. However, if you were looking for a job, which is gonna look better on a resume? Four years of college, or four years of experience in that field? From everything that I’ve seen, I’d take experience every time.
EVAN: And I agree with that entirely. I can’t count the number of want ads I’ve seen [and this is for stuff like janitorial work, and dishwasher] that require “minimum 2 years work experience.”
It’s like, heck, what was I doing in school when I could’ve been out working this whole time?
GORDON: But of course, that brings up the first question: what’s the point of college? Are we expected to choose a career path and be trained like the mindless, dehumanized proles that we are?
EVAN: Well, for me personally my career goals were more tailored to an academic setting. My personal interest in writing and editing is definitely something that can and is fostered in that environment.
That being said, if I had skipped my four years of college to simply freelance as hard as I could out there in the real world, would I be a better writer today? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
GORDON: The problem is that both sides have really, really big flaws.
On the one hand, turning college into a simple vocational training course does truly rip the soul right out of academia. It makes it just the place you go to get a desk job instead of a manual one.
On the other hand, college as it is now, while fostering intellect and creativity, is as unhelpful as it is expensive. Why put yourself over a hundred thousand dollars in debt to not get employment?
EVAN: I guess in the bigger picture, what is it that we want to do with our lives?
There are plenty of jobs out there that don’t require a college education, and that certainly benefit from hard work at an early stage.
On the flip-side, there are jobs that you simply can’t get without a degree.
GORDON: We also can’t imagine that we can simply get any job we want to begin with. It’s all a gamble. I can get a degree in biology, but that doesn’t at all mean I’m gonna get a job in biology- heck, I’d probably be lucky if I got something even close!
EVAN: Like a janitor in a pharmaceutical company. Or the guy who delivers mail to a biology professor’s house.
GORDON: Exactly. So is that it, then? It’s the whole dang system?
EVAN: I mean, yeah. I feel like more often than not that’s all it really boils down to.
GORDON: So let’s talk about an ideal universe. Or at least one that ain’t quite so screwed up. What’s college look like? Give me your take.
This does not count as an ideal college…
EVAN: It’s tricky, man- Because I would like everyone to be well-read individuals who think about the media that they access and have a fuller understanding of what makes us who and what we are as a culture, I mean, that’s the dream-
But at the same time I acknowledge that there are people who don’t care a whit about any or all of that.
And with so many people who enjoy poetry and the arts, while those are debatably important parts of society, what happens when they need to find work? How many playwrights can any single country sustain?
GORDON: My response would be “how many playwrights are there actually out there?”
EVAN: I think there’s a difference between the actual number, and how many individuals would actually like to be a part of that number.
GORDON: Touché, but we can blame certain jobs being glorified and others suffering from unwarranted contempt.
But let’s move on. College. Your college- what’s it look like?
EVAN: A thorough exploration of the ideas that created Western civilization, the one most of us live in today, because it’s extremely important to observe our origins before we can look at our present and then ahead, after that.
A strong emphasis on writing with the reason that without the ability to properly communicate our thoughts how can we even really fully think them to begin with.
GORDON: Sounds to me that you’re still leaning more towards the side of academia.
EVAN: Well, like we’ve discussed, I have a slight bias. And I suppose we haven’t really defined the question as far as the purpose of college.
GORDON: My take would a combination of both sides, with the end goal being application. We’re talking about the study of English for the purposes of applying the principles in same, either in writing or screenplays or entertainment or communication of some kind.
I feel this would allow for all the creative and academic elements while keeping the whole process grounded. No ivory towers.
EVAN: I don’t think my take discounts the possibility of lining up with what you said, but that’s a really good description of how college could and maybe should be.
That being said, we are actually overtime.
GORDON: You wanna talk about drugs and culture next time?
EVAN: I think at some point we could hand this back to the viewers, actually. We’ve really gotten a handle on this whole E>. I’m just not sure when or how to do so.
GORDON: The readers are slack-jawed cattle who would eat their own shoes if we told them to.
EVAN: I should probably edit that out of the final post.
GORDON: Nah, we can let ’em vote. My subject would be Drugs and Culture.
EVAN: Mine would be . . . um . . . huh. About SNL. How to fix SNL.
GORDON: Nice. Let it be so.
EVAN: Tell the nice people to have a good Wednesday, Gordon.
GORDON: Have a good Wednesday, Gordon.
EVAN: And don’t forget to vote, readers! Thanks for putting up with my co-writer!
EVAN: So in spite of the fact that I voted for my topic of preference on last week’s poll, Facebook and privacy and whatnot won. Having bitterly admitted that, Gordon?
GORDON: While the topic of Facebook (or all social networking) and privacy certainly isn’t a new debate, it’s not one that’s lost its relevance either.
As we rely on the internet more and more as our primary means of communication and entertainment, how do we address the issue of having every little element of our lives dissected and sold to the highest bidder?-
EVAN: I mean, really, everyone has been the target more or less of having their information used by Facebook. Log on and check out those sidebar ads; every one has been tailored using the cookies of sites you’ve visited. Which is why mine are always StarCraft related, etc.
GORDON: First thing we gotta ask is- “Is this really a problem? Aint it better to have ads that are actually relevant to you, rather than yet another ****ing insurance commercial courtesy of Geico?”
EVAN: Ugh, Geico. How many ad campaigns can a single company have?
EVAN: Moving disgustedly along, that’s a very relevant point. I’m interested in video games, so to have sidebar ads about such things is not something I can really complain about.
GORDON: I’ve got a pretty aggressive adblock, so I’m fortunate enough not to have to deal with that; but the underlying assumption with that kind of thought is that ads are inevitable. That you can’t get away from ’em, so you might as well try to get ones you like…
EVAN: Which is why, as you well know, I only thumbs up a select number of ad types on Hulu. Food, alcohol, video games, and certain movies.
GORDON: But with Hulu- you are the person in control. I mean, think of it this way: would you tolerate a guy going through your garbage so he can send you junk mail tailored to you?
EVAN: I’ve gotta think about that for a second . . . I mean, not getting junk mail about window/door services would be nice.
The whole “going through your garbage” thing definitely carries some different associations then simply tracking cookies. Maybe it’d be more like- a TV guy who follows you around when you shop, noting what you are and aren’t interested in.
GORDON: But that’s also flawed- in that scenario, you’re actually looking for stuff to buy….
EVAN: Well, you window shop, I mean- browsing, etc. Looking at what you look at, that sort of thing.
GORDON: So I’ve got this obnoxious guy following me wherever I go, listening in on my every word, and trying to sell me his wares without rest. Isn’t that one of the ironic punishments in Dante’s Inferno?
EVAN: Bringing this back to Facebook and whatnot, do we in general have a problem with the ads? I mean, they’re not the most obtrusive to begin with.
GORDON: Well, ads are only one example. What about your location?
EVAN: People want that stuff, though. It’s part of this new generation, tweeting where you are, statuses that read “I just had lunch with ______ at ______.”
GORDON: I’m not talking about when you state your location, I’m talking about when your location is pinpointed and used regardless of your awareness. Sexy Singles in Houghton being a prime example.
For context, Houghton is where we both attended college. It is so small it is not considered a town. It is a hamlet.
GORDON: The majority of the population- vast majority- is made up of the student body.
EVAN: Vast majority.
GORDON: Meaning that the town decreases by about 80% each summer.
EVAN: But those ads are all the same- they’re just slapping a different town [or hamlet] name onto whatever’s being advertised.
GORDON: But are you really okay with that? That not only your interests are out there, but your location as well? Regardless of your consent?
EVAN: As far as I can tell, it’s more eerie than anything else. And it goes from creepy to laughable when something like “Sexy Singles in Houghton” comes up.
GORDON: Now, as you are in Canada, this might not sound as relevant to your situation- but what about the gummint’ commin’ t’get’ ya?
I mean, there have been issues here in the States, huge issues, with companies turning over personal information- including conversations- to law enforcement and security agencies without much (if any) process.
EVAN: Heh. “Gummint.” But yeah, that stuff has definitely happened. And seriously, what Facebook does with our personal information is very important.
GORDON: I guess it’s more or less the same for me- though I was a bit older, and having grown up in Syria (where they eventually blocked Facebook)- I never put anything on there I didn’t assume everyone could and would read.
Still do. Or don’t, rather.
EVAN: It’s interesting in that privacy settings are so much more advanced now though, in a way. If you don’t want people looking at even your profile pictures you can do that. Meaning that potential employers can’t use it as a legitimate check on future employees anymore.
GORDON: Now that is messed up. We can all agree on that.
GORDON: Employers attempting to maintain control over their workers by monitoring their FB profiles, citing “character” as a reason or justification.
EVAN: Ah, that’s what you were getting at. So to some extent we’re in control of an aspect of our privacy on Facebook.
GORDON: No question. But speaking in a more general sense, what does that do to us as a people? As a society?
EVAN: Well, I for one am incensed when I want to look at a pretty girl’s profile pictures, and even though she clearly has them, I’m told that “there are no pictures in this album.” Bold-faced lies.
GORDON: You’re a pervert.
EVAN: My point stands.
GORDON: So we’re more dishonest with each other? We’re still ironing out the wrinkles in our old-world/cyber-world blend?
EVAN: Are we more dishonest with each other? I mean, if we’re really deconstructing this, the internet has made us more dishonest than we’ve ever been ever.
EVAN: Nothing we put online is necessarily true. Dating website profiles back me up on this.
GORDON: This is true. Are we then actually more skeptical and guarded despite the critics’ claims?
EVAN: Which are-
GORDON: The general spiel- the internet (social networking especially) is playing on our trust and making us more and more exposed for those who would make money off of us.
EVAN: Ah. Vulnerable, etc. I gotcha.
I’d say people in general are still naive enough to fall for obviously stupid ads [if they didn’t work they wouldn’t still be around]. But we are more skeptical as a generation, so really both are true.
GORDON: Fair enough.
EVAN: And we are exactly out of time.
GORDON: Remember to stop by next week for our discussion on the upcoming season of Community.
EVAN: Yes. It’s gonna be good. And I already know you’re going to end this with that Troy/Abed gif.
When I was in the first grade I wanted to be an archaeologist.
I wasn’t too big on the actual dinosaurs – I couldn’t tell you whether Brachiosauruses lived in the Triassic or not – but I thought that finding things buried in sand sounded like the most fun anyone could ever have. I became addicted to those little toy blocks of hardened sand that have plastic tyrannosaurus skeletons in them. I drew pictures of myself wearing desert gear and a wide-brimmed hat. I watched Jurassic Park. I taught my 8-year-old self how to spell archaeologist.
If you asked me in the first grade, being an archaeologist was my dream. If you told me, in the first grade, that I’d be going to college for Not Archaeology, I’d be despondent.
When I was a sophomore in college, when I was choosing a track to follow for my psych major, I initially was going to go with neuroscience because it was the most impressive-sounding. I avoided declaring an English major because I was afraid of what my family would think.
We tend to think in extremes when planning or considering the future – I sure did, especially when I was a child. I thought I would marry a movie star; then I made plans to live in the woods for the rest of my life. I imagined the perfect house to be full of pianos and books, and I decided that Heaven must be a dining room with one giant bowl of macaroni and cheese in the center.
Now, my plans are less imaginative but more concrete. Instead of impressiveness, I’m looking for stability. Instead of individuality, I’m looking for ways to fit into work environments. I want my future house to have a laundry room and my conception of Heaven is considerably different from what it was when I was growing up.
And I don’t think this is a bad thing. When I was 8, my central life goal was apparently “coolness.” While coolness is, admittedly, high on my priority list, it’s tempered by “health insurance,” “family,” and “not being homeless.” Similarly, my wish to have an impressive neuroscience major has been tempered by the fact that I wouldn’t actually enjoy working in neuroscience.
I’m enjoying my new, slightly-more-relaxed mindset about my future. I’m glad that I don’t have to achieve grandiose goals to find fulfillment in my life.
But that was what I had been told. I could be the President, or a doctor, or a lawyer! I was an individual. I was special. I could do “anything” – but all the “anythings” listed were only impressive, dramatic, or glamorous anythings.
Now, though, I’m realizing that I don’t want to be an archaeologist, or the President, or an astronaut. I’d prefer a steady job over a glamorous one and a stable home over a dramatic one.
Humans are wired to be slightly delusional, but we often wouldn’t be content with the things that seem ideal to us. Being an archaeologist, while cool-sounding, requires a lot more work that I wouldn’t enjoy than my adolescent self imagined. Neuroscience sounds impressive but the pre-therapy track is way more applicable to my career plans.
I used to imagine myself being an English professor because I liked tea and I imagined it would be a career void of troubles with bureaucracy – I then realized that (a) that second point wasn’t true at all, and (b) I didn’t want to go into academia. My plans now – going to grad school in communication, finding someone who will pay me for doing something I enjoy, and maybe having a family – are more complicated than what I had planned when I was 16, but I’m also more excited about them.
We have the capacity to be discontent wherever we are. I thought that being an archaeologist – and, later, having an impressive major – would be the ideal, and would make me happy. I’m now starting to suspect that nothing’s going to make me happy – at least, not in the way I was expecting.
While there is the possibility of regretting any decision we make, we also have the ability to find contentment and joy in a wide variety of situations. Not all career choices or income levels or house photos will be impressive at class reunions, but sometimes less immediately exciting choices are the things that are actually fulfilling.
A while ago Evan wrote “Christians, Sex and Marriage”, in which he discussed the culture of sex among Christian young adults. Most of them, it was assumed, would be “saving themselves” for marriage, which is (on the surface) a fairly safe assumption, and applicable to a fair amount of Christian students. The culture of silence about sex, however, and the nervous giggles that attend any discussion of it, and the lack of admission that respected, smiling young Christian couples could possibly be doing anything but kissing chastely behind the dormitories makes me want to shout from the rooftops:
Lots of Christian students are having sex. What’s more worrisome is that lots of Christian students are professionals at alternately justifying and denying it.
Even more students are doing everything they possibly can with each other as often as possible without having the kind of sex that potentially impregnates women—and yeah, I think that the long list of not-actually-that-kind-of-sex possibilities is significantly different from the real deal. I also think that it’s sex. I’m pretty sure it would be as defined by our commandment-following-12-year-old selves, at least.
The problem with sex (for nervous promise-ringed young adults) is that it’s a good thing. The other commandments have translated pretty well into a social behavioral code, because one could argue that stealing, lying, murder, etc. are basically destructive things; sex, however, out of all of the commandments, is not.
So sex is super important, is my point, and an essentially good thing. It is one of the most creative things humans can do. It’s taught to us, however, with all the other Evangelical commandments: Don’t be drunk, Don’t do drugs, Don’t have sex. It’s treated, largely, as a thing to be avoided, feared, or even dismissed (“I Love My Future Wife, And I haven’t Even Met Her Yet” shirts, I’m looking at you). Our sex drives, in a vestigial Gnosticism in the contemporary church that saddens me, are seen as shameful things to be suppressed or ignored.
This attitude works fine until we are actually with someone. The main reason to remain celibate was often, basically, “Because the Bible says so,” an argument which weakens palpably the moment you’re alone with an attractive human being who’s attracted to you too. Most of the sex—including the sex leading up to the “real” sex, which, yes, is very different and which, yes, I’m going to continue to assert is still a big deal (commandment-breaking, I would posit, if you’re concerned about such things)—is wrapped up in substantial layers of vague guilt and shame and self-berating.
To assuage our guilt, we also end up deciding upon arbitrary Ultimate Borders of Virginity (which tend towards frequent revision), e.g., “We’re going to keep on all our clothes.” We then realize, e.g., how much one (I guess two) can actually accomplish while remaining clothed. Rinse and repeat with almost any “line” with which we decide to define Purity. I have never seen any line, like “hands above the waist,” work for a couple. Ever. And yet, sadly, it seems to be one of the main strategies of the inhabitants of steamy cars (or, for the carless: stairways, practice rooms, lean-tos, lobbies, cafeteria booths, parking lots, closets, or lawns).
So what we do is immerse ourselves in cycles of guilt and denial and more guilt. This, needless to say, isn’t super healthy. We start to talk about how it’s basically impossible to find a consistent definition of “adultery” as it’s used in the Old Testament. We find out that “fornication” often only applied to women and commandments against it are preceded by things like “don’t marry your dead husband’s brother.” We reassure ourselves that “sexual immorality” in the New Testament, when you come down to it, is pretty vague. The subject of our “Virginity Rocks” t-shirts becomes somewhat more complex than perhaps we once thought, and these newfound nuances conveniently complement our recently emerged interests.
This quick justification, while rather impressive in its ability to persuade even the previously prudest new couples (our argumentative skills and ability to think outside the box can probably be attributed to a strong liberal arts education), is seriously unhealthy. We are taught from an early age to regard sex as plainly Bad, down there with murder and lying and stealing, and so when we realize that it isn’t quite so terrible, it’s pretty easy to renege on our former simplistic convictions. This—not the sex itself, but the quick way in which we flip from “Obviously Not” to “well maybe just a little bit”—is worrisome.
Christian students are deprived of practical conversation about sex. It seems that the contemporary Christian church doesn’t really know what to do with sex besides tell young people to avoid it. Unless the goal is to leave young people confused and ridden with guilt, unless the goal is to communicate an attitude of oversimplified fear and denial when it comes to sex, and unless we prefer a confused silence to more risky and constructive dissenting discourse, the attitude with which sex is approached throughout young Christians’ lives needs to change.