Apostasy in 21st Century Academia: Religion-Politics in America’s Higher Education



Conesa-Sevilla, Jorge

Titel: Apostasy in 21st Century Academia: Religion-Politics in America’s Higher Education
Jahr: 2012

Übersetzung des Textes ins Deutsche auf http://www.freidenker.at/index.php/blog/528-apostasie-in-den-akademischen-einrichtungen-des-21-jahrhunderts-religion-und-politik-in-amerikas-universitaeten-teil-1.html (Zugriff am 03.08.2012)

“There is no uncertainty about it. There is not a better defined word in the English language. Secular is whatever has reference to this life. Secular instruction is instruction respecting the concerns of this life. Secular subjects therefore are all subjects except religion. All the arts and sciences are secular knowledge.” (John Stuart Mill: Speech on Secular Education, 1849)

1. Introduction

Power structures, particularly traditionally entitled and religious ones (or allied with religion in order to justify their authority), have long developed epitaphs by which to label oppositional and dissenting voices. Terms such as heretic, blasphemous, and apostate denote the breaking with orthodoxy and convention and signify stepping outside the restrictive boundaries of an established ruling body. The connotations of these three terms are varied and, generally speaking, describe the departure from orthodoxy as an evil act – a moral accusation.

By way of example, a charismatic and physically attractive Sarah Palin, who is also a believer, becomes, overnight, a pinup for sighing conservatives, some of them practicing Christians. The sexual undercurrent is hard to miss from a psychological perspective, but if Sarah Palin were to become an apostate, even her physical charms would fail to move the same masses who must balance, one supposes judging from our conflicted “American values,” a hypocritical mixture of rapacity, sanctity, family alienation, and perverse sexuality on a pinhead. Surely, she would almost instantaneously become a different institutional archetype: the whore of Babylon. Thus, any of the above terms can be equated to any lack of virtue, worst of all the negation of an assumed righteousness and entitlement preached and enacted by prevailing religious dogma as ultimately, absolutely, “true.”

1a. The “Apostate”: Person and Function

The term apostate, our borrowed construct, is derived from the Greek word apostasia (αποστασία), suggesting defection or even revolt (from απο, apo, "apart", στάσις, stasis, "stand").

The academic apostate, a person, could either present (or represent) a sharply contrasting and alternative ideological perspective that challenges a prevailing and equally dogmatic status quo – the power structure. Or, the preferred definition of the apostate throughout this paper: he/she attempts, with the greatest integrity, to be an honest broker and agent of discourse disambiguation and deconstruction, applying the most rigorous standards of critical thinking whenever academic discourse seems to be hijacked by a more influential group of ideolog-believers or petty rhetoricians. The apostate is a progressive educator, if we mean that he/she pursues no recognizable ideology but seeks understanding toward the betterment of learning so that students become informed citizens in democratic societies in order to sustain them.

In another sense apostasy is “simply” a deconstructive function, the challenges and objections presented (represented) by an entire body or group of persons. In this collective sense, even an entire institution could be said to be apostatic relative to, for example, whimsical or idiosyncratic political or religious forces that aim to exert undue and arbitrary pressure on the freedoms of academia (e.g. departmental constitution, learning outcomes, or course content). A specific example of the latter would be schools that must defend the teaching of evolution against the pressures of a conservative (and misguided) school board body of “believers” (parents and politicians) who without training or expertise, and solely on the basis of religious ideology, make antithetical and antagonistic claims and policy (Coyne, 1999).

A complementary thesis to the above definitions is that in theocracies such as the United States, and contrary to an ideal of a free-thinking university, the status quo, the power structure, implicitly and/or explicitly, and routinely passes apostatic judgment against dissenting voices. This ostracizing effect can be seen at all levels of an institution where a particular belief translates into a functional mode of conducting administrative dealings---where unspoken and/or overt ideology dominates “discourse.”

Moreover, since at least at face value (unless self-disclosure occurs) it is difficult to know who the “believers” are, what percentage of “believers” could tip the balance of academic quorums, then apostatic judgment could also operate in subtle but equally controlling ways ‒ be implicitly collusive.

These tendencies are another form of groupthink, further penalizing the extant secular and sometimes, out of desperation, strident and foreign voice. In academia, this could result in the elimination of an entire department, courses, and denying tenure to non-believers. In some cases the apostate happens to be an unruly or demanding foreigner who does not fit a “puritan” American ethos that advertises itself as “progressive and liberal religion and/or education.”

Thus then the dilemma for the believer who functions in the capacity of administrator or professor in so-called “unsectarian” or “secular” institutions: They have an academic obligation and perhaps and well-intentioned desire to be, or to be perceived as, progressive and liberal “believers,” not the other kind, the fundamentalists, while at the same time, carry the ballast of religious ideology everywhere they go, in their thoughts and heart of hearts.

Ironically, and befitting of a long history of both apostasy and religiosity in American institutions, our puritan founders were apostates in their own right in rebellion against the church of England, eventually founding the Congregationalists’ string-of-pearls-colleges across a continent starting with Harvard University. That these institutions were (are) a material statement of apostasy is perhaps lost to most present-day believers. Sarah Vowell’s bestseller “The Wordy Shipmates” is both an insightful and satirical view of the inconsistencies and hypocrisies that ensue when dogma rather than rational and logical thinking lead and govern – inconsistencies between believers.

1b. Methods and Preliminary Results

Informal interviews were conducted soliciting specific examples from faculty (tenured, non-tenured, and emeriti-retired), students, and staff who felt that discourse was manipulated toward a non-democratic end by groups whose members shared religious values (“Christian,” “Spiritual”) in common and because of their dogmatic thinking, did not always accept empirical-neutral data in order to formulate policy. When further analyzed these combined observations indicated that:

1) A significant number of tenured faculty and administrators are believers (see also Gross and Simmons, 2007).

2) Believers group themselves and function as ideological units, small but functionally able coalitions, much smaller than the “saga” cadres described by Clark (1972). (See definition later in the text.)

3) These ideological units oftentimes “happen to be” responsible for earmarking institutional funds toward supporting some but not other activities, some but not other salaries and tenure lines, broadly speaking, for making personnel, curriculum, and program decisions.

4) Although the presence and intervention of an independent and equally powerful faculty senate or union did not always guarantee a more fair process, the absence of theses bodies only increased the likelihood that a traditional “saga” would dominate discourse.

These informal but nevertheless heartfelt interviews and examples were obtained from students, staff and faculty at four colleges or universities (small and large, two public, two private institutions) and correlated with direct observations, experiences, and institutional records – email correspondence, meeting minutes, and final outcomes or decisions on a broad spectrum of issues. Particular attention was paid to the constitution of power structures – believers versus non-believers – that oversee and generate college policies and the level of academic freedom that exists in an institution as measured by a complete separation between administration and faculty—the presence of an independent and unionized faculty.

Research Approches

The present work is journalistic in essence although the author claims no expertise of formal journalistic practices. As part of “journalistic luck” some staff and administrators, in a relaxed environment and/or under the influence of legal narcotics (beer or wine), also made self-incriminatory (or would incriminate others) references that became part of the narrative of this text when they could be confirmed.

Although not true to its methods, this is a social scientific exploration marked by a voice of great concern. The author biases toward the more positive functions of the academic apostate are obvious and part of the public (institutional) record. The bias is for open-ended and empowered discourse that leads to the best possible outcomes after a long and careful examination of “information,” approached in an empirical fashion. This is a foundation of progressive education.

1c. Elaboration

Although it may seem that the trend in, at least, state institutions of higher learning is toward “secularism” (ambiguous label that could mean: liberal, agnostic, atheist, pragmatic, progressive, and/or scientific and evidenced-based), a trend that has been refuted by empirical means (Gross and Simmons, 2007), it is much harder to assess a more pernicious countermovement: a collusive, secretive, subtle, and/or conspiratorial underground of “professional” believers who might pass for open-minded professors but who are, nevertheless, fairly successful at stalling a truly liberal and progressive academic agenda.

A relevant situation: in 2006 the biology department at The University of Minnesota denied tenure to candidate Dr. Francis Beckwith given his belief in “intelligent design” (ID). It is not the focus of this paper to attempt to explain the contradictory epistemologies of a professor-to-be that must, on one hand, embrace and operate under the most significant scientific paradigm in human history – natural selection – while at the same time, accept the pseudo- or non-science of ID. This is both a psychological and philosophical inquiry. However, the fact that Dr. Beckwith’s ID-ideology was only a problem at the juncture of deciding his tenure is disturbing enough. Before this decision was made, Dr. Beckwith taught and influenced, one imagines, dozens of future scientists, some of these students having been exposed to and even influenced by his beliefs.

This example aside, the general point is that institutions of higher learning are dynamic social spaces affected by the work of administrators, supporting staff, alumni, donors, students, and faculty – a large population of individuals – all bringing with them their own beliefs and values. Although it may be easier to be a “secular scientist” in almost any credible (reputable) biology department, an institutional population of diverse values could countermand the efforts of objective science and fact-based discourse. In the United States, and to the extent that the majority of our population claims to be believers of some sort, these ratios and percentages might be representative of higher education as a whole (See later in the text: Gross and Simmons, 2007).

If so, then any political shift (masterminded or unintended) that produces a higher representation of believers and elevates them to a position of power and control is, potentially, an unguarded faction that may sway opinion and direct policies in significant ways. If unguarded, their actions, when originating from a religious bias, could be perniciously subtle – unconsciously or consciously – and hard to spot. In their respectful and even sympathetic fashion their underlying and robust biases could upset a hard fought academic equilibrium where believers and non-believers today stand at a tenuous truce.

The need to “convert” the secular, particularly youth, is more overt and organized than indicated above, as seen in writings by Engle (1979) and Hunter (1992). To cite a singular example and to highlight one of these efforts, the aim of the Sciphre Institute(1) based in Idaho is: “…to engage in scholarship and story that leads to a secure base in Jesus Christ.” Their motto is: “Promoting balanced inquiry in Science, Philosophy and Religion, through scholarship and story.”

Before we move on to examine how apostasy could fulfill the function of discourse disambiguation and deconstruction in situations where a believer point of view prevails, we would like to emphasize that we are not denying the individual and private right to believe in the supernatural but rather examining the consequences that a group of believers could have in a so-called “freethinking” academic institution, particularly if they control the “power of the purse.” On the other hand, belief in supernatural forces should be (and is) studied as a matter of scientific curiosity, like any other phenomenon – as any other ideology (the sociology and psychology of religion).

Briefly, psychologically speaking at least, it has always been of great interest and importance to inquire about the internal motivations, social exigencies, and ideological connections that give rise to ruthless and irrational dispositions that demonize or devalue the other, particularly, the apostate other. In some cases, belief in the supernatural morphs into its dysfunctional or even pathological forms from the innocent, ill formed sentiment, and thus needs to be addressed as any run of the mill psychological mal-adaptation or dysfunction.

2. Our Theocracy USA

Peter Berger (1999), editor of the influential book, “The Secularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics”, begins his first chapter by writing about new trends that contradict the basic claim of secularization theory, namely, the counterintuitive fact that religiosity and belief are on the rise, or continue to be influential forces in discourse and politics:

My point is that the assumption that we live in a secularized world is false. The world today, with some exceptions to which I will come presently, is as furiously religious as it ever was, and some places, more than ever. This means that a whole body of literature by historians and social scientists loosely labeled “secularization theory” is essentially mistaken.

A second case in point, in his latest book “Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith”, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, openly espouses his beliefs (taking unfair advantage of his high and public office in our opinion) as a testament that a rational scientist can be equally a rational believer. A double standard is quickly rebutted by biologist Dr. Jerry Coyne (2009), author of “Why Evolution is True”:

Imagine, for example, the outcry that would ensue if Collins were an atheist and, as NIH director, published a collection of atheistic essays along the lines of Christopher Hitchens's “The Portable Atheist”, but also arguing that scientific evidence proved that there was no God. He would, of course, promptly be canned as NIH director.

Extending Coyne’s comparisons, imagine if George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Joseph Biden, Nancy Pelosi, or Harry Reid, were to declare that they were atheists or agnostics, overnight. The collective uproar and indignation would be so immediate and calcifying that in a very short time these individuals would lose their prominence and prestige in our glorious theocracy. Understandably, of necessity, politicians must pander to the delusional masses (if they are proven to be true delusions at some point. However, any ideology by definition contains delusional elements, or their extremism portends a dysfunction) if they are to be elected. This fact is only disturbing to a minority of Americans (~20%) who, if not atheists, go about exploring the wonders of our universe with a sobering attitude of agnostic skepticism: they do not feel they have enough evidence to pass a premature judgment on the complexities of our psyche and outer universe, or to assume that supernatural forces of any flavor – singular or in families, turtle backs or evil twins – created and still direct our “destinies.”

The above trends and facts predict a top-down effect that permeates every aspect and influences affiliation dynamics of our multifaceted society. Academic institutions are not excluded. Thus, as part of an archival, even formal study, a more comprehensive undertaking of the present monograph, it would not be difficult to obtain information about who in academia, particularly in administrative posts that decide where and when money is spent, are professed believers, give public testimonials of their faith, create social situations that force a large campus community to hear hand-picked, pro-religion (or pro-spirit) speakers, or in any way promote family members and friends – nepotism – to positions within the college. About this later point, it would not be hard at all to track down, for example, “incestuous” situations where individuals with an advantageous institutional ranking and who are privy to all sorts of information could “hedge discourse” in ways that are favorable to themselves and consistent with their religious agendas. In these situations, aided by nepotism, discourse could be further controlled and managed so as to render rational and apostatic arguments a matter of ungrateful gossip or unconventional annoyance.

In its more “benign” forms, the believers’ club is akin to playing golf, kayaking and fishing together, or Habitat for Humanity weekends. These individuals would logically spend more time together, their discourse would become highly and subtly codified by virtue of their intimate knowledge of body language and personal preferences, and would tend to judge and react to threatening situations in a similar, and more importantly, unified manner.

In a seminal and still relevant work, Burton Clark (1972) compared these cadres to Norse sagas, or groups of individuals who have cemented an intimate and working relationship on the basis of beliefs or a particular telling of a story:

The participants have added affect, an emotional loading, which place their conception between the coolness of rational purpose and the warmth of sentiment found in religion and magic. An organizational saga presents some rational explanation of how certain means led to certain ends, but it also includes affect that turns a formal place into a beloved institution, to which participants may be passionately devoted. Encountering such devotion, the observer may become unsure of his own analytical detachment as he tests the overtones of the institutional spirit of place.

Whether Clark’s “observer” is a believer himself/herself or an actual apostate who’s looking in, at times, even what defines “the institutional spirit of place” is a vague enough milieu as to be interpreted along a shifting continuum that may be hard to discern. In some cases this ethos becomes a sort of propaganda and slogan that supposedly encapsulates an entire and vague philosophy, for example, “We are a teaching institution,” that unites and coordinates the actions of the cadres (non-researchers). Other examples might be “We were founded by Congregationalists,”  “Pedro is not a University of Glory material because we are ‘glorious’ and he isn’t – we canoe together, he gets sea-sick,” “We are a teacher’s college,” or “We turn athletes into god-fearing men.”  (“We crack our eggs edge-wise here, fellow.”)

At this level of groupthink, defensive attitudes can and do degenerate into confabulation, and active confabulation (as message control) degenerates further into delusion: the creation of an alternate but false reality that continues to serve the cadre’s self interests. When the apostate openly and directly challenges their logic and “facts,” the routine responses are: ignore their challenge, cast doubt on their credibility (state of mind), or spin their passionate appeals as irrational, disgruntled, or even aggressive.

The literature on the discourse of power is replete with credible accounts and respectable science (some referenced throughout this paper), all of which support the basic observations related in this article. The present findings add to this body of human communication research. Clark’s paper is particularly important because it is more or less neutral with respect to the author’s opinion of whether the “saga” is beneficial or counterproductive to higher education. Clark observes and acknowledges that the “saga” is a prevalent and influential social dynamic in academic institutions without passing judgment. For him this is a practical observation, a “beware,” informing the neophyte how to approach these cadres – the anthropology of academia.

3. The Power in Discourse

Hall (2007), in a chapter titled “The West and The Rest: Discourse and Power”, defines discourse as “a coherent or rational body of speech or writing: a speech or a sermon.” A more formal definition that distinguishes among many possible types of discourse, for example, uninformed versus informed, is explained by Hall in the same, while quoting sociologists and Michel Foucault in particular:

A discourse is similar to what sociologists called an “ideology”: a set of statements or beliefs that produce knowledge [of some sort] that serves the interests of a particular group or class. Why, then, use “discourse” rather than “ideology”? One reason that Foucault gives is that ideology is based on the distinction between true statements about the world (science) and false statements (ideology) pg. 56.

Hall does not fully accept Foucault’s distinction (pg. 57). It may not matter then, practically speaking, in situations of unequal power, if a superficially convincing “argument” is presented to individuals who are excluded from scrutinizing the most basic information that, supposedly, forms the foundation of the discourse in question. Thus the verbal expression of ideology and discourse easily become overlapping constructs and behaviors.

Although Hall is focusing on East-West power relations, his observations apply to almost any situation when the balance of power is so great that no open-ended discourse exists. In this and many other situations discourse is never “neutral.” Even when open-ended discourse is allowed to take place, it is sometimes merely a show, an exercise in appeasement since the “saga” was in control of the final outcome or decision from the start, oftentimes having predetermined the outcome. It is as if the only function of discourse is to, paternalistically, “air out,” “vent out,” and “let off steam.”

To add to the problem (Hall’s and ours), namely, that power dominates with a prepared and rehearsed (spun) “sort of truth,” controlling prevailing forms of speech, mannerisms, body language, languages, dialects, the use of certain vernacular, a certain dress code, etc., is the fact that power is habit-forming and so is the language of power. In this situation, even a “rational” philosopher, for example, could slip into the most absurd contradictions by negating the reality of, say, committee functions that would be accepted by most rational people. Even a self-proclaimed Buddhist may choose to look the other way when called to do “the right thing.”

That is, put on the defensive by an apostate, a seemingly rational and competent administrator would craft untenable arguments, a top-down messaging that must be assumed to be correct simply because it is generated by him/her.

From this platform of ignorance, defensiveness, and posturing ensues a host of bad decisions that detrimentally impact the lives of real people and the future of students – family purses. Through it all, the “believer” administrator, one supposes, goes to Sunday services, talks to his/her pastor (or cadres for reassurance) and decides, on the basis of a supernatural notion of righteousness, that “he/she made the right decision under unfortunate circumstances.” His/her conscience now clearer, and assured that his/her actions emanate from a privileged source, the very spring fountain of Logos, he/she then proceeds to drop the next atomic bomb or exfoliate the last school of cod found in the Atlantic Ocean –or more appropriate to our theses, resist the functioning and the evolution of a free-thinking universitas, veritas.

4. Hedging Power

As a conjecture to be tested, one can propose that ideological units, or a single but powerful individual orchestrating specific institutional outcomes based on personal ideology, can tip the balance of power (and important decisions) with the best of minds never noticing. It is for this reason that we referred to the actions of ideological units as subtly pernicious. To use a criminal comparison, the sexual harassment “pass” is made in such a way that the victim even feels obligated to thank the perpetrator. “Rape serviced with a cup of tea and a smile” might be the slogan.

Most of the discourse dynamics we are focusing on do not lead to the kind of despicable behavior just analogized. Because ideological units are usually subtly pernicious (even the most extreme ideolog wishes to be perceived as a caring and rational individual), they behave more like nocturnal scorpions than daytime noble rapacious eagles—they are petty tyrants rather than real tyrants. In other words, they hedge their bets, their influence, rather than risk affronted attacks and fact-based presentations. However, whether a bully or a loquacious and endearing gabber, the result is almost always the same: manufactured consent (Herman and Chomsky, 1988).

A sociologist, Alfred Jones, is credited with inventing hedge funds in 1949 as a strategy for protecting a (his) valued and selected portfolio from extreme market fluctuations.(2) Mirroring the lack of a testable paradigm that could explain other social phenomena, the transductive reasoning that characterizes this science – going from cultural construct to cultural construct without grounding the social on the biological or the rest of the universe – Stephen Greenspan (2009), in his recent book “Annals of Gullibility”, describes gullibility as multi-varied and context dependent phenomena (another way of saying “I have no clue what is going on”). In another writing, Greenspan describes the lure of betting for the charismatic leader as a trap that anybody might fall for:

I think it would be too easy to say that a skeptical person would and should have avoided investing in a Madoff fund. The big mistake here was in throwing all caution to the wind, as in the stories of many people (some quite elderly) who invested every last dollar with Mr. Madoff or one of his feeder funds. Such blind faith in one person, or investment scheme, has something of a religious quality to it … So the skeptical course of action would have been not to avoid a Madoff investment entirely but to ensure that one maintained a sufficient safety net in the event (however low a probability it might have seemed) that Mr. Madoff turned out to be not the Messiah but Satan.

Gullibility is not the same thing as impulsivity. That is, even seemingly intelligent faculty do not go stampeding down a shallow ravine for no good reason. A politically savvy administrator who happens to be a believer operates as a hedge investor. That is, moment to moment he/she is aware that not everyone is a believer, that he/she must deliver discourse in a confident and seemingly rational manner – sell goods, conceal ideology – and that he/she, astutely and timely, from time to time, will be called to make an argument (or an allusion here and there) that hints at bare-minimum-benefits and alerts to a round-the-corner crisis to be avoided. Sometimes, and after religious tradition, his/her manner of speech is consistent with eschatological discourse: there is a crisis to be averted and thus we must all do “x” or “y” immediately, or else. The final sentence after this urging might be: “I am the right person for the job and I can do it with your help, if you let me.” Who can refuse? Let us then do the stampeding in an orderly fashion according to my rules.

When the sky is falling and the zombies are coming, who are you going to call? Ghostbusters, that’s who! A belief in ghosts and other supernatural forces qualifies the hedger-believer as the leader of the bunch of desperate and gullible faculty who then begin to panic and do each other in.

In the aftermath of ghostly attacks that can barely be substantiated (some never are; there are no data to support them, or these data are from a singular source, or are flawed), a super fortified structure has arisen. Multiple VP positions as feudal castles call for prayer (or host cocktail parties) five times a day and decide where the Holy City, Father Spirit, or Divine Sky are situated at any given time – a floating, flying island forever destined to remain errant, an unfixable point of market arbitrariness, cunningly eludes the discernment of our best minds and sharp eyes. Even our best mathematicians and self-declared statisticians cannot keep up with esoteric astral bean counting. All hope for the best: the mystery saintly donor who comes to the rescue in the penultimate act (a believer himself/herself); a bronze plaque as semi-eternal thanks, a cutting of a ribbon, and the kissing of a babe until the next crisis is fabricated and consent is manufactured.

Meanwhile, back at the O.K. Corral (“I’m OK, You’re OK, and the Rest of the World is So-So-and-Who-Cares”) the shooting has stopped, the smoke has dissipated, a few unrecognizable bodies and departments are strewn about, and only the most powerful and vindictive guns prevailed. Amen!

A caricature, yes, but nevertheless, an agreed upon sentiment of many students, staff, and faculty, who have witnessed the above political maneuvers and turbulences.

5. May the liberal agnostic or atheist professor step forward?

In a relatively recent article Gross and Simmons (2007) reported high percentages (between 50 and 70) of academics across diverse institutions of higher learning who believed in a deity or a sort of universal force. Only 23.4% of the professors surveyed stated that they were atheist (10%) or agnostics (13.4%). Their numbers debunk the often leveled conservative criticism that universities are populated by liberals and atheists – that they represent an apostatic conspiracy, an ever-present threat undermining “American” values.

Important to the points that have been made thus far, namely that these higher numbers of academicians (a number of them becoming administrators themselves perpetuating a “saga”) are influential in universities, Gross and Simmons conclude that:

…the fact that a higher proportion of professors are religious than the usual story of academic secularization would have us believe suggests that we need more research on the causal impact of professors’ religious value commitments on the formation of their ideas (and, conversely, on the possible effect of their intellectual development on their religiosity.)

5a. Basic Queries

If their observations are applicable to the majority of American higher education institutions, then they beget a multitude of queries, including the following:

1) How does the act of “believing” influence supposedly rational, unbiased thinking?

2) If believing is ideological thinking, and ideological thinking is exclusionary by definition, how many of the decisions made in university settings can be said to be pragmatic, rational, objective, open-ended, in general, operating under critical thinking guidelines?

3) More specifically, how can ideology be open to all points of view – be inclusive and accepting of them – during problem solving situations?

4) Once found out, how would believer and non-believer view and take stock of one another during problem solving situations?

5) What is the fate of individuals who hold no particular religious view – lack a “religious sentiment” – when it comes to yielding real academic power?

6) To the extent that a college’s presidency is basically a public relations job and donors and alumni are part of the greater percentage of believers who contribute to the college’s coffers, then, how much is religious affiliation also a social currency that influences how monies are spent?

5b. Apostasy as Discourse Disambiguation

At the beginning of this article it was suggested that apostasy, by its very nature can (should) disambiguate, that is, can act in the deconstruction of ongoing and pervasive orthodox and hermetic forms of discourse. More specifically, the above questions are an example of the type of preliminary deconstruction that is needed when discourse is suspected to emanate from controlling “sagas,” or significant groups of “believers” who “may feel” as though they conduct communication exchanges in a democratic fashion – toward inclusion and implementation of a diverse sphere of ideas rooted in factual evidence – but do no such thing.

As mentioned before, it is not always easy to see through the subtleties of the “saga,” their behavior being automatic and even unconscious as many instances of discrimination and injustices can be. For example, access to privileged information and the manipulation of committee agendas, despite, at times, the superficial and perfunctory use of Robert’s Rules of Order, preempt real democratic decision making. An example of a manipulation of agendas is the now common (practice) complaint by students and faculty that major decisions tend to be made during the summer months by a handful of administrators, staff, and hand-picked faculty. Oftentimes, the meeting-minutes do not reflect accurately the discourse of the apostate for having a paper record of these objections could put the “rulers” and the institution in “hot water” when more pragmatic board members and accreditation bodies get hold of this information.

The apostate – student, faculty, or staff – takes it upon himself/herself to criticize regardless of the consequences (not being granted tenure, extended probationary periods, expulsion, slowing down their research, damaging gossip, or termination). Nevertheless, this is an honorable and much needed task and role, particularly now during moments of dire environmental and ecological crises when empirical evidence is needed to prioritize academic agendas and the research enterprise.

The apostate can play this useful role simply by not honoring ideological traditions, some of which originate in delusional, animistic thinking – being a persistent and dogged Galileo or Darwin bent on demonstrating that the facts speak for themselves. A corollary to this exercise is the creation of alternative “traditions” that produce real discomfort and annoyance in university fathers (they usually are fathers). Encouraged or even forced to pray, to justify the role of a campus minister as privileged when university employees and programs are being let go and dismantled, respectively, the apostate refuses to worship invisible entities and complains – complains loudly and frequently. In addition to the above behaviors, the preferred and positive function, he/she can proactively and routinely redirect discourse toward empirical evidence, pragmatic and non-ideological solutions, progressive ideas, and equitable approaches that benefit “the institution” rather than a handful of “converts.”

To be fair, the apostate is not immune to less than useful thinking and at times when facing impossible odds, may feel powerless to change archaic systems – does so desperately and inefficiently given his/her minority status. In fact, out of depression and desperation, he/she may be perceived and labeled as, and even truly become, the archetypical “disgruntled employee.” This antagonism may take its toll in the end and reduce the objectivity of the apostate. Nevertheless, the apostate is obligated to explore and create, in situ, new discourse habits (though even when misunderstood and penalized) against the real probability that ideological functional units will, from time to time, control discourse in such a way that personally held belief systems rather than institutional excellence are in accordance with their “sagas.”

Finally, given the above descriptions, the apostate is generally not a “peace maker.” Rocking the boat is his/her preferred sport. The apostate does not fall for the easy tricks of “group moderation.” This is the case to the extent that group management and team building exercises are oftentimes designed to keep everyone in line – the tactics of corporations transferred to and implemented in academia. Worse, so-called conflict resolution and peace studies programs seem more and more to be another subtle means of controlling the proverbial herd. The sentimental, tender-hearted, and truly compassionate student could be manipulated into thinking that his/her education will change the world for the better when in fact it is a more perverse form of brainwashing and training in acquiescence and conformity.  Conformity has rarely changed the world for the better, toward veritas (Freire, 1985, 1998).

6. Conclusion

Justice implies veritas.

The above sentence exemplifies a much gallivanted-about slogan, a set of values based on veritas, “truth,” for which universities are if not beholden to, known for – or claim to be about. American values are also rooted in the rule of law, a process that seeks evidence rather than espousing and supporting ongoing vendettas to automatically incriminate the alleged offender. The “alleged offender,” typically, is an apostate who tells the king and all perceived angelical forms to “go to hell,” if such a realm truly exists. The apostate cannot abide by the “argument” faith.

By Latinizing slogans university emblems seem to scholastically obscure their ultimate function: truth or verifiable data despite prevailing ideological orientation and pressure. At times two or more bad (or good) ideas compete for the limelight and thus decision-makers must choose better or best alternatives or outcomes. Ideally, the decision that is less harmful or the one that holds the most promise and potential should be selected for the good of the institution.

The role of the apostate is now more crucial than ever given real trends toward applauding and encouraging religious-ideological thinking (Wolfe, 1997). The fact that “The Chronicle of Higher Education” published Wolfe’s essay is testimony enough to what non-secular American education is actually becoming.

These trends do not seem perturbing enough to mobilize a critical mass of apostates judging by the actual consequences of the decision-making of the “sagas.” More and more, it seems, these trends are accepted as “the way things are,” and already undermine a true separation of church and state. In a real sense, the very notion of a “separation of church and state” does not seem a tall enough fence to the extent that citizens are entitled to hold delusional ideas and act on them despite the consequences to a system of free-thinking academicians. When “the right to believe” trumps, by law, “the obligation to think clearly,” to be educated, then Americans become the laughing stock of more secularized and pragmatic systems – rightly so, with cause.

A division of church and state is expected in state-run institutions at least, to the extent that “education” presupposes exposure to factual information and should be the first line of defense against “lopsided,” unverifiable thinking. When teaching fiction or myths, they are called in fact “fiction” or “myths” and analyzed critically as products of human imagination, creativity, and fantasy.

When “the right to believe” quickly slips into “the right to be delusional,” regional, national, and international policies are blind to the new realities of environmental and ecological mayhem.

The unilateral decisions by the United States to find exceptions to almost every conceivable rational argument for protecting a dying planet suggest that there are not enough apostates around to challenge the delusions of the collective “saga,” a not so easily erasable ethos and continuation of “Manifest Destiny.”

Justice implies veritas. Apostatic discourse aims for veritas and hopes that justice follows. When the expert-apostate tells us that all the evidence points toward human-caused global warming and its consequences to all LIFE on our planet, then we should perhaps pay heed. Believing and saying that “God will make things right in the end,” or that “We are not of earth but of heaven,” are irrational and conflicted ways of solving human-caused problems.


(1) http://sciphre.org

(2) http://awjones.com; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Winslow_Jones


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(Wortwahl, Grammatik, Rechtschreibung und Zeichensetzung entsprechen dem Original. Hervorhebungen im Original durch Kursivsetzung wurden beibehalten. Ausdrücke in runden Klammern stehen auch im Original in runden Klammern. Hochgestellte Fußnotenzahlen wurden in runde Klammern gesetzt. In eckigen Klammern stehen Ergänzungen des Autors in Originalzitaten. Offensichtliche Druckfehler wurden berichtigt.)

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