We, the Students . . .

“We, the Students . . .” provides a platform for thoughtful reflections arising from the student body of Baylor University, and is addressed to our esteemed faculty, administrators, and regents. This blog conveys the sentiments of numerous current Baylor students and is not affiliated with nor approved by the University or any of its constituent parts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Notes From Underground: "The Iconoclast" Writes Again

A few weeks ago, the latest edition of The Iconoclast, an underground newspaper, suddenly appeared at various locations across the Baylor campus. Unlike other underground publications produced anonymously by Baylor students, this one packs a distinct intellectual punch and deserves to be taken seriously. One particular article has shaken up our campus and we have taken the liberty of reproducing it in its entirety below:

Baylor is a University in Need of Change.

The first and primary reason for this proclamation is the simple fact that, while we continue to tout ourselves as a “Baptist University” or even an “Evangelical Notre Dame,” we have allowed ourselves to become less and less distinctively Christian, Protestant, Evangelical, or Baptist. Aside from abnormally strict policies concerning dorm visitation hours and the consumption of alcohol (two issues on which scripture is strangely silent) Baylor has long since abandoned the very thing which other Christian institutes of higher education find essential to their distinctiveness: namely, the centrality of Christian belief and practice on the campus and in the classroom. In fact, it would seem that the only distinctively Christian experiences required during a student’s time at this university are two mandatory courses in religion and two required semesters of chapel. Of these, the former are so frequently apologized for that they do more to communicate our embarrassment for our faith than our conviction of it, and the latter are so insipid and inoffensive that no one would even bother to apologize for them.

This is not to say that Baylor has nothing to take pride in, or that we are completely headed in the wrong direction. Indeed, over the last decade, this university has made great strides toward becoming a first-rate academic institution. The number and quality of grants, academic scholarships, degree programs and students has never been better. However, while the academic education provided has made unquestionable and necessary progress, the religious education provided at this religious institution has stagnated and perhaps even regressed. Chapel has become less focused on what it means for evangelical Christians to worship and come before God. Instead, we choose to cycle through a host of unrelated faith-based entertainers, who either fail to clearly present the faith they claim to represent, or fail to do so in a manner consistent with an institute devoted to developing the Christian mind. Likewise, Scriptures and Heritage, while effectively presenting possible historical and theological views regarding the Christian tradition and its sacred scriptures, fail to defend or advocate an orthodox, evangelical, or Protestant view of them. This is partly out of fear of offending those who do not hold these same views, and partly because the Baylor Religion Department is decidedly less orthodox, evangelical, and Protestant than the rest of this allegedly Baptist University.

At this point, someone is certain to point out the fact that, despite my claims, Baylor has an overwhelmingly Christian student population. However, if we look at our situation honestly, we will find that the reason for this lies more with our advertising, reputation, and recruiting than is does with any intentional steps on the part of this institution to develop mature followers of Christ. Christian students are attracted to this school because it is known and promoted as a conservative, evangelical institution. Thus we see a higher percentage of such students than a secular institution. Our students do not develop their faith here; they merely import it. The sort of faith they bring with them bears testimony to this: it is a faith born and bred in youth summer camps—full of fervor, but devoid of substance. In short, it is lacking in any sort of intellectual gravity or significance.

For a Christian institute of higher education, one would think that this situation is ideal. Students enter the university passionate, though lacking in knowledge and maturity, and the university, in theory, encourages and stokes the fires of their fervor while honing their minds and granting opportunities for gaining experience and wisdom. Sadly, it would seem closer to the truth to say that we lure students and parents in with the promise of a Christian university which offers a Christian education, yet provide little and require less. We ought to take young, naïve, and passionate novices and four years later graduate mature, informed, and experienced disciples. Instead, we take those youths and leave them older, calloused, and burned out. We don’t strip them of their faith in the way that some secular schools strive to do; but we don’t take great pains to strengthen, mature, or preserve it either. In turn, these impassioned students become frustrated. Naturally, many turn to local churches to provide the Christian education that their university promised, and some find what they seek. However, many students, alone for the first time in their lives and lacking the sort of spiritual guidance and acceptance they had at home, find themselves sucked in by churches and leaders that are far from the truth, but are outwardly appealing and offer a sense of community and camaraderie. Since we do not offer the tools for them to discern these spiritual con artists, and are too afraid to take a stand, these groups grow and thrive while feeding off a diet of undirected religious fervor.

As a result, the sort of religious fungus that has grown most aggressively within the dark and cozy “Baylor Bubble” is anti-rational, emotionally-manipulated, and scripturally-ignorant. This parasite effectively blinds its students to the obvious needs of the world and to the demands which scripture lays on them. Furthermore, this plague has descended without opposition, perhaps because our faculty has been to preoccupied trying to oust an administration that attempted to promote just the sort of intellectual environment that would prove fatal to such unthinking religious sentimentalism.

Our campus, which should be a shining example of what it means to live the Christian life, has instead become a petri-dish for the kind of religious bacteria that sickens believers and makes Christian the laughing stock of an unbelieving culture. We have succeeded in training doctors to practice medicine and classicists to translate Latin, but failed to teach our students to tell the difference between truth and falsehood in matters of faith. We have become little more than a secular institution with strict visitation hours and mandatory chapel attendance.

In the end, these failures cannot be blamed on any single individual, board, organization, or department. The are products of an environment that each one of us contribute to every day. Therefore, any change must be the result of an effort made by all of us: students, staff, faculty, administration and alumni. While we do not pretend to possess all the solutions to this problem, I hope that the following challenges will start us on our way:

1. We must individually become the sort of Christians who are more concerned by the plight of children in war-torn Uganda than quotes on a coffee cup. We need to spend as much time thinking about our faith as we do ‘feeling’ about it, and spend more time reading scripture for ourselves than listening to what others tell us about it. We must engage our minds as much within the walls of the church as we do within the walls of the classroom.

2. We need to hire and train faculty and staff who are willing and able to apply the truth taught in the classroom to our lives, speech, and worship, and do so without fear for who may take offense. Those who teach at this university need to be able to demonstrate the Christian life not only in theory, but also in practice.

3. We need to choose and support leaders who care more about scholarship than politics, integrity than job security, and the pursuit of truth than the pursuit of wealth. Our administrators should have greater fear of offending God than of offending faculty, alumni, or local churches.

4. We need to view religious education at our university as seriously as academic education. Scriptures and Heritage should be classes which shape the way we think about the faith. Chapel should be a time where theology meets the concrete reality of the Savior. Every student who leaves this school ought to be able to articulate what an evangelical understanding of the faith looks like, even if they do not agree with it.

5. We must start questioning—questioning our motivations for majoring in our respective fields, questioning our professors about how their teaching stands up to the demands of faith, and questioning our ministers about how their preaching and practice stands up to the demands of reason and scripture.

6. We must, in short, become what we have claimed to be all along: followers of Jesus Christ who have formed a community dedicated to the serious and determined pursuit of the Truth.

- M. Aurelius