Anti-Statism, Relativism, Prosperity Gospel, etc.

So I took a trip to Myanmar this week. I’ll blog about it later. In the meantime I have a bunch of tabs of stuff I’ve been meaning to share and I’ll have to just dump them w/o much comment because they’re slowing down Firefox.

  • The Atlantic: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” by Hanna Rosin. Short answer is No, it didn’t… but the name-it-n-claim-it prosperity gospel probably contributed a little at least.
  • “Who’s Afraid of Relativism?” by Carl Raschke – summary & review of the first two chapters from Merold Westphal’s book Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Raschke is expectedly excellent:

The term “relativism” nowadays is routinely and indiscriminately used as a handy synonym for “postmodernism” by Christian and cultural mossbacks in the same way that “deconstruction” is taken as the first thesaurus entry for nihilistic devastation of the entire legacy of Western culture.  Pondering the “relativity” of the symbolic order – Einstein’s special and general theories notwithstanding – is generally regarded in these same circles as akin to taking a puff of Ouachita Gold and then inhaling.  That is, it is the first tragic slip on the slipper of the slippery slope to reprobation and incurable insanity.

  • The A.V. Club is trying to sum up the past decade. One of their lists is “The Best TV Series of the ’00s” wherein Arrested Development is somehow not #1 and NBC’s The Office bribed someone to earn an entry. I remain unimpressed by Judd Apatow’s TV work (I did like most of Funny People though, fwiw).
  • They’ve also got a big 50-entry list of “The Best Music of the Decade” which I will say is not the worst list I’ve ever read. Arcade Fire got robbed, of course, losing out to Outkast and (FFS!) Kanye; “this is an outrage” “how dare they” et cetera. No My Morning Jacket at all. Zilch. Actually, with all due respect to Win Butler & Jeff Tweedy, I may have to give my vote to “Best Album of the Decade” to Mr. Lamontagne for “Trouble.”

God’s Word Has a Liberal Bias

The Conservative Bible Project is a tragi-comic effort by some politically conservative Christians to produce a translation paraphrase of the Bible that removes/edits anything that can even remotely be considered “liberal.” It’s not worth writing much about this because the problems with this approach should be so LOLobvious that I won’t waste my time. I will say, however, that I continue to wonder if my alma mater is ever going to repudiate this type of stupidity and permanently sever ties with the batshit-crazy wing — ie WorldNetDaily, Worldview Weekend, et al — of conservative Christianity.

I’m also amused because I, too, started a conservative paraphrase of the Bible. A little over 12 months ago I wrote a draft entitled “A Practical Guide to Waging a Just War: by Jesus of Nazareth” but never put it online until now. Inspired by the CBP, here’s my conservative rendering of Matthew 5:1-13:

Now when I saw your military bases, I immediately went to the mess tent and sat down. Many of your troops came to me, and I began to teach, saying:

Blessed are the poor, for they are easily persuaded to join the armed forces.

Blessed are they that mourn when a buddy is killed, for they shall then have the motivation to kick more ass.

Blessed are the badasses, for they shall conquer the earth.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteous wars, for they will certainly invent them.

Blessed are the merciful, for they lull the enemy into complacency while we find more grenades.

Blessed are the pure in eyesight, for they shall see their enemy clearly and snipe him unscoped.

Blessed are the warmakers, for they are peacemakers in disguise.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for freedom, because our enemies hate our freedom.

Blessed are you when pacifists confront you, and march in your streets, and say all manner of untruth about you. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in Washington.

You are the asskickers of the earth. But if the asskickers stop kicking ass, how will the world get democracy? Former asskickers who conscientiously object are no longer good for anything, excepted to be relentlessly hazed and dishonorably discharged.

Where Gay Apologists Go Wrong

I really hesitate to write this post, but a confluence of factors has prompted me: Carrie Prejean’s Miss America drama, the CA Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold Prop 8, and a friend’s thoughtful response to that decision. Furthermore, now that I am done with C.U. I am free to write my opinions without fear of institutional reprisals (25 demerits and dismissal/expulsion).

When we talk about gay marriage, I think it’s best to drive straight to the heart of the issue. By that I mean that gay marriage, while an interesting subject in itself, is usually just a red herring: nobody who sanctions homosexuality will be opposed to it, and some who condemn homosexuality nevertheless won’t be opposed to gay marriage (I was once one of these for a long while). So the thorniest issue isn’t really marriage first & foremost, but homosexuality itself.

The friend I referenced in my first post is Bryce Bahler, who — it’s worth noting — was tremendously generous enough to host me for a day or two when I hitchhiked to Seattle. Bryce is also in charge of Facebook’s “Believers for Equal Rights” group and a staunch defender of gay rights. In light of the most recent Prop 8 news, he wrote a very good essay on why, as a Christian, he feels compelled to affirm homosexual believers. (I’m unsure, by the way, if this link will work if you’re not “friends” with Bryce on Facebook, but try it anyway).

Bryce’s note stirred up the usual responses, which often includes great consternation & befuddlement from the Cedarville crowd. I have a lot of sympathy for that kind of reaction, having spent most of my life with that mindset. I find Eugene Cho to be among those who’ve articulated this viewpoint in the most compassionate & thoughtful way possible. 

Yet I diverged from this path more than a year ago as a result of a paper I wrote for a C.U. Bible class on human anthropology (the professor, while disagreeing with me, nevertheless gave me an ‘A+’). I entered my research with an open mind, though with certain biases, but when it was all said & done I concluded quite differently than what I expected. You can read that paper in full right here: “Romans 1:26-27 and the Pauline Condemnation of Homosexuality” (pdf).

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CU Finances Pt. 4 — Miscellany

Sorry for the delay, but here’s the last post in our series on the financial health of Cedarville University. In this last segment I simply want to relay some miscellaneous stuff I came across that didn’t fit really well elsewhere.

  • In case you’re curious, when Cedarville went Baptist in 1953, tuition was $58/hr; when my dad enrolled it was $163; by the time I got in it was $314 and by the time I got out it was $656/hr.
  • The number of CU employees paid more than a $50k salary has steadily increased in recent years, with a total of 207 in ’06-’07.
  • Anybody familiar with Cedarville knows we’ve had some legal trouble recently, which is clearly represented on the tax forms: we paid $38k in 2003, but it quickly escalates to almost $305k by ’06-’07. The bulk of that goes to CU’s lead attorney David Haffey, who makes $200k.
  • Dr. Brown’s salary increases the longer his tenure (understandably), and in ’06-’07 was at almost $228k including benefits & expense account. This is below average for our sister schools, which usually paid $242k+ to their president. The best-paid was Wheaton’s ($498k) followed by Biola ($404k); worst was Grace ($85k) and then BBC ($143k).
  • I couldn’t find good information on faculty salaries, but for most of the schools it was possible to determine the highest paid professors. Average salary for the top earner was $133k; CU’s made $112k (Dr. Irene Alyn). I’d imagine Wheaton pays pretty generously, but I couldn’t get numbers — the most I did find was from Masters, whose top earner made a bit over $205k.
  • I don’t know why, but our contract with Pioneer Caterers (ie, Chuck’s) spiked upward sharply after the ’02-’03 year — it went from $1.77M to $3.09M, and it’s hovered in this three-million-ish range ever since.
Too bad none of this made it into Cedars. If it were all cleaned up, edited, and graphed/charted out nicely it could’ve made for a great spread. I imagine the new incarnation of Cedars (coming 2010) will revert to its modus operandi from the 20th century — ie, all safe news and “omg isn’t teh opposite sex confusing?!” type editorials. Shame.

Dumpster Diving for Fun & Profit

This weekend was busy: finally graduated college, hung out with frieds & family, threw out my arm playing Wii rowing, watched Celtics mop up Bulls, then watched Manny Pacquaio flatten Ricky Hatton in under 6 minutes (“I didn’t know it’d be so easy,” said Manny before leaving for hours of celebratory karaoke). 

I also spent about 5-6 hours dumpster diving around campus while all the bourgeois students moved out. Saturday the crew included my sister, father, brother, future-sister-in-law, and our friend Scott. Yesterday Kraig, Laura, Scott & I went out again where there was essentially just one full dumpster left but it was a goldmine. Cedarville has acknowledged the typical profligacy of its students and this year filled multiple truck trailers with donated stuff — but an obscene amount was still thrown out. We’ve been inspired by international hero Micah Hans Holden, who essentially does 80% of his grocery “shopping” by rooting around in dumpsters. He would’ve gone nuts if he’d seen the Cedarville dumpster piles this weekend. It’s a great hobby that I intend to keep up this summer — it’s anti-consumerist, voyeuristic, and profitable… what more could you ask?

Here’s a bit of the haul from day 2:

  

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CU Finances Pt. 2 — Financial Aid

It seems counter-intuitive that in a bad recession Cedarville University would deliberately increase the cost of attendance so dramatically. Yet their explanation for this is that more money will be diverted to financial aid to ease the burden of needy students. Their already-established goal is to increase aid by 20% every year, though since ’02-’03 they’ve only averaged a 16.4% yearly increase. But things may be looking up: in ’07-’08 (the last years I could find numbers for), aid was increased almost 22% over the previous year, coming out to $13.1M in total. CU is proud of this, and also touts the increase in aid as “over 100% in the last 5 years.” This, of course, depends on which five they’re counting & whether or not they adjusted for inflation. Unadjusted, they hit this number almost any way you slice it. However, if properly adjusted then it could be a different story: if they’re using numbers from ’07-’08, then in the last 5 years financial aid only increased 85.9%. Of course, it’s not unreasonable to assume they have the ’08-’09 numbers, on which I can only speculate. In order for their claim to be true however, they would need a 21% increase which — as mentioned above — is above what they’ve typically done. So it’s possible, and we can certainly hope it’s true.

Historically, however, Cedarville has not been known as a FinAid-friendly school. Among 53 CCCU schools surveyed by Noel-Levitz, CU ranked dead last on the category “Adequate financial aid is available for most students.”

The last school year for which tax forms are available (the non-profit 990’s) is 2006-2007, so we can do a comparative analysis for that year. CU has a list of “sister schools” that it routinely compares itself to; I analyzed 15 of these, plus I also added John Brown University. As always, these numbers are in 2009 dollars (click to enlarge):

For an average student, between 24.6-25.9% (mean/median) of the cost of attendence is mitigated by financial aid — CU’s reputation is warranted given its average of 15.65%. However, CU’s costs are slightly below the average of $28.1/$26.7k. The numbers for Grace College in Indiana certainly jump out, where costs are below par but where you’ll get virtually no financial assistance. Part of the reason for this is that the school itself is not financially healthy — as you’ll see in our next installment, it’s one of only two colleges on this list which did not turn a profit in ’06-’07… Can you guess the other one?

Cedarville By the Numbers

The epic Cedars article I was working on before being laid off was a piece loosely centered around next year’s tuition hike. My task was to research CU’s finances to provide some context and do a comparative analysis with other similar schools. The project was about 85% completed when we got axed, so I’m going to use this blog as a platform to publish my research. This will likely be a multi-post series.

In this first part, I want to simply show the average cost — an estimate CU publishes that includes tuition/room/board — since the school’s inception (adjusted for inflation of course).

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Moar Ceedurrrs Dramas

A brief history of Cedars, Cedarville University’s student newspaper, circa 2008-2009:

September ’08: We start publishing. A deliberate effort is made to add conservative voices to the Viewpoints section.

October ’08: I write an editorial criticizing Gov. Sarah Palin. Paige Patterson, a CU trustee, is not very amused and tells the board as much. I develop a mancrush on Monsieur Patterson.

November ’08: Obama beats McCain and campus sinks into deep depression over fears of our new-elected, coke-addled Communist dictator.

December ’08: CU gives its Public Relations department, namely Sharyn Kopf, final approval for every issue. Obviously, certain articles then get cut because they do not fit the proper Cedarville image/experience/lifestyle/voice. New school tagline: “An 18-credit Bible minor and suppression of dissent? That’s so Cedarville!”

February ’09: I write an editorial that documents the non-existence of a “liberal agenda” in Cedars. It is seemingly well-received by faculty & staff, but no word from the board.

March ’09: My colleague Sarah Jones publishes an editorial arguing that “modesty panels” are ridiculous and that, per Jesus, the blame for lust lies with the beholder, not the beholden. ENTIRE SCHOOL FLIPS OUT. Straw, meet camel’s back.

April ’09: CU Provost John Gredy, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, effectively shuts down Cedars and I am laid off work. Remaining issue is canceled; faculty advisor (and U2 guru) Scott Calhoun resigns in protest; Cedars is put on hiatus until at least Spring 2010 and moved from the Lang. & Lit Dept to the Comm. Arts Dept.

When CU’s administration was questioned on its opposition to free speech (in the theoretical, not legal, sense), they replied: “We did it all for the lulz.” Hard to fault them for that.

Update: What was to be my last article for Cedars — before this fiasco came to a head — can be found online here as part one of a four-part series. The series is proof-positive that paying me $7.25/hr was a travesty.

The Peter Enns Situation

Do you know this story? It’s that one about the conservative Christian school with a Calvinist bent where “you don’t have to be very liberal to be viewed as ‘left’.” A school where faculty have been split (even to the point of a vote), struggling significantly with “persistent faculty disunity” because “several years of faculty discussions had produced an evident impasse.”
 
The controversy erupts in the Spring & Summer amid concern over “the historic theological integrity of the institution,” and eventually morphs into “something a lot deeper than theology.” Eventually a popular tenured professor is fired (perhaps because of his theology, perhaps because of professional reasons)… giving rise to Facebook protests and write-ups in The Chronicle of Higher Education and local papers.
 
Sound familiar? No, it’s not that – ahem – school. I’m talking about Westminster Theological Seminary. Maybe their ordeal can be instructive for other schools (not that I know of any) in similar situations?