"Christian" imperialism


Here’s a very sad local story that’s becoming all too familiar in this state:  a young man who appears to have suffered a form of religious derangement went on a muderous rampage yesterday at a local ski resort.  (It’s the one my family members ski at most regularly.)  The murder itself is not what’s most noteworthy (sadly)–rather, it’s the murderer’s possible definition and use of the term “Christian” that interests me:

[Derik] Bonestroo [the murderer], who was not well-known in the laid-back mountain community and had worked only this season as a lift operator, fired a bullet into the ceiling of the resort’s locker room after saying something along the lines of: “I’m a Christian and if you’re not a Christian I’m here to convert you.”

West said that Bonestroo asked resort manager Brian Mahon about his own beliefs. Mahon told the gunman he was Catholic before being shot to death.

Fortunately, Mahon was the only person killed, although the murderer was gunned down by a sherriff’s deputy shortly thereafter.

Over the past few decades, evangelical Protestants have commandeered the blanket term “Christian” to refer only to their brand of Christianity.  Instead of calling themselves “evangelical Protestants,” or aligning themselves with a particular doctrine or faith tradition, they call themselves “Christians.”  This strikes me as a particularly obnoxious form of “Christian” imperialism–seizing the term exclusively from themselves, and implicitly denying it to other Christians.  Evangelical leaders downplay the role of tradition and doctrine in their own beliefs and practice, so they don’t teach their flock that Catholics, Episcopalians, Eastern Orthodox, and Presbyterians, for example, are Christian too.  Since most evangelicals have little sense of the complexities of the millenia of Christian history between Jesus and Jerry Falwell, many young evangelicals are ignorant of major religious and historical turning points like the Reformation.  Accordingly, many young “Christians” of the evangelical persuasion are unaware that Roman Catholicism is one branch–some would say the main trunk!–of Christianity. 

A friend of mine taught history at an evangelical Protestant college in the 1980s and 1990s, and he told me that his students were usually quite surprised to learn that Catholics were Christians.  (Then again, at the Catholic university we both taught at, the overwhelmingly Catholic students there were usually in the dark about evangelicalism, although I think they were aware that their faiths had shared roots.)  Bonestroo’s murderous reply to Mahon’s statement of his Catholicism suggests that perhaps Bonestroo labored under the same misinformation that Catholics are not Christians.  Mahon’s reply, which he intended to mollify Bonestroo, may have instead inspired Bonestroo to kill him.

We don’t know for sure what Bonestroo said or exactly why he killed Mahon.  (Later in the linked story, it states that “Bonestroo spewed something religious — a statement that was heard differently by witnesses.  ‘There are various interpretations of what was said,'” according to one investigator.)  How desperately, desperately sad and even more pointless is Mahon’s death if it turns out that Brian Mahon was killed in part because of his killer’s utter ignorance of his own religious tradition.

UPDATE, 1/1/09:  See here for updated stories at the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.  Both stories suggest that Bonestroo wasn’t particularly devout, so the religious derangement he appears to have suffered was a surprise to friends and family members.

For more informed commentary from some actual American religious history scholars, see JJO’s comment below, as well as the thoughtful post by John Fea at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Says Fea on the definition of evangelicalism,

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MLA wrap-up: the job candidates talk back

Rate Your Students has posted some concluding thoughts on the job interviewing scene from the perspective of the job candidates.  Here’s one that represents a range of viewpoints, from “Three interviews and each one was friendly and just like talking to friends. I’m stoked for the future,” to “This is how it works? I felt like a piece of meat – and not in a good way.”  (Is there ever a good way to feel like meat?  Special tip for the Meatman:  showing up on time for your interview and not an hour late sure helps start things off on the right foot, doesn’t it?)

And, you knew this was coming, didn’t you?  “Diaper Dave” wrote in to justify the behavior of most of the ten boneheaded candidates from yesterday’s post.  I’m pretty sure Dave is a senior faculty member posing as a young turk jerk.  Just a guess–I could be wrong.  Tell me:  do you think he’s sincere?

FLASH: MLA is all booze, schmooze, puke, Judith Butler, Stanley Fish, repeat

It’s all here in this post at Roxie’s World–keep an eye out for the mysterious recluse who makes a brief appearance in the post.  (Allegedly, the barfing was due to a stomach flu, not an excess of Harvey Wallbangers, or whatever it is those MLA-types are drinking these days while they watch the world go by outside of Trader Vic’s.)  Love you, gals!  Wish I could ring in the New Year with you, but I’ll probably be in bed before 2009 even hits Nova Scotia, let alone Sonoma!

I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date!


The annual meeting of the Modern Language Association is the gift to the lazy blogger that keeps on giving, isn’t it, friends?  Rate Your Students has posted more updates from Skeptinautica and Layla, but today’s must-read (so far) is “Does Anyone Know How to Interview?  Ten Mistakes from Yesterday’s MLA.”  Yes, folks–read it and weep.  Ten interviews, ten boneheaded blunders.  (Remind me:  why is it so hard to get a job teaching humanities these days?)  Some of my faves:

Candidate 1:Admitted [to a department with a 4-4 load] that teaching was relatively low on his priorities. “I really don’t want to lose the momentum I have in my own work.” Also apologized for arriving late becaue he assumed the time we set for the interview was his local time, not the time in San Francisco.  [Ed. note–unless he arrived from Alaska, Hawai’i, or Asia, wouldn’t he have been extremely early rather than late for an interview in the Pacific Time Zone?]

.         .         .         .         .        

Candidate 4: When asked if she had any questions for us, asked, “What time zone are you in?”

.         .         .         .         .        

Candidate 8: Brought out a banana and a yogurt (with metal spoon!) mid-interview, and said, “I have an interview right after this and no time to eat. Do you mind?”
.         .         .         .         .        
Candidate 10: Came one hour early, explaining that he’d never been out of “NYC,” and couldn’t find a clock in the hotel showing local time. Also asked if he could substitute his comp teaching for graduate courses in fiction.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot with the time zone confusion?  (Helpful hint:  Turn on your mobile phone when you deplane–it automatically knows what time it is wherever you land!)  These tales smack of Eastern cluelessness and that special provincialism of people who have never lived outside of the BosWash corridor.  I’d be just plain wary of hiring anyone who hasn’t yet mastered 30-year old clock radio technology.  (And a special note to the anti-Hunger Artist:  you don’t look like you’re in-demand when you eat during a job interview, you just look like a jerk.  Would you like a side of slightly used Chapstik with that?)
But enough with the cautionary tales–Tenured Radical has posted yet more sensible advice for earnest job-seekers about how to dress for the AHA, which is coming up immediately after we ring in the new year.  Now, just close your eyes and pretend that everyone from the West coast showed up 3 hours late for every interview and displayed as much active incompetence in discovering local time on the East coast.  Can you picture it?  Yes, my darlings:  that’s how dumb you Easterners look to us.  I have half a mind now to campaign to bring the AHA to Phoenix sometime in the next decade just to smell the toast burning as Easterners try to figure out whether or not Arizona is in the Mountain or the Pacific Time Zone.  (Hint:  it’s both!  But that’s how things are in Wonderland, where nothing is as it seems!)
UPDATE, later this morning:  RYS has posted a reply from Hank the History professor, who seems entirely too earnest to be published there, but who offers some excellent advice for job candidates:  “For God’s sake, eat an energy bar!”  Hank, you’re such a caring guy.  Why not offer them as door prizes for your job candidates next weekend at the AHA?

More updates from the MLA at RYS Hall

Don’t miss the reports from Overhearing Olive and Harry from Hartford–most entertaining.  (However Olive, you strike me as a bit too accommodating, although I’m sure you’ve endeared yourself to your colleagues.  But–seriously–typing up notes from the interviews and “saving one small question for the end?”  That sounds rather secretarial, and that’s not your job.  If the search committee members want notes, they can take them–and type them up–themselves.  If I were on the search committee, I’d never have let you volunteer for this.)

Harry writes:  “Given the choice of MLA without coffee or MLA without alcohol, I’d become an historian.”  No Harry, you’d become A HISTORIAN, because the word “historian” has a f*&king aitch in it.  Dig?

Watch your modern language roundup, yee haw!

I don’t think you’ve been able to tell, but since Saturday I’ve been blogging from an undisclosed location in the Rocky Mountains on a little mid-holiday vacation from my holiday vacation.  (Hint:  think vapor caves and hot springs, not snowboarding and skiing.)  There are a number of bloggers and academic opinionators out there writing about MLA, so herewith is a little roundup for y’all.  Enjoy, all you dudes and greenhorns!  Don’t say we didn’t warn ya.

  • Via Inside Higher Ed,  MLA will release a new survey of mid-career professionals, and it will report that women spend 1.5 hours per week more on grading, while men spend 2 hours more per week on research.  “Many women reported feeling hostility from many of their colleagues and a lack of support in research, even as many departments value it over teaching. This raises the potentially troubling question, she said, of whether women value teaching for the “magic” of the classroom or because “teaching can be a kind of refuge” in that the classroom is the place where women (and men) have the most control over their professional decisions.”  

Historiann respectfully disagrees.  At least in my experience, research is the only area in which I have near complete control–not in the classroom, where someone else designed the rooms, and someone else determines the number of students and the number of courses we teach.  Although I dig the gender politics here, I disagree with “Joycelyn K. Moody, the Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio,” who “said that what most troubled her about the responses was that women reported feeling shame about their interest and success in teaching. Women should be feeling pride in their success as teachers, she said, but are ‘perceiving themselves as performing below expectations,’ because they aren’t doing more research.  It’s time to ‘dismantle those institutional values,’ Moody said, so that the shame disappears.”  At research universities, I think it’s A-OK to value research more than teaching.  It’s what makes our work qualitatively different from teaching high school or community college.  Research is part of the job.  It’s why we have lower teaching loads than people at CCs or secondary school teachers.  If you’re at a research university, find a way to turn those grading hours into research time, ladies!

  • RYS posts another report from the field from “Schenectady Skeptinautika,” who writes that she “plan[s] on making extensive use of the hot tub, anyway.  Can we say last-minute bikini purchase to combat the pre-interview jitters? I wonder if alcohol’s allowed in the pool area…”  I like her style!  She’s so right to complain about the lack of free wifi:  “And now for the obligatory hating on the hotel: I have to *pay* for wifi?!? SERIOUSLY?!? (I’m stealing a signal now.) You mean my $400 wasn’t enough to get me access to a weak-ass Internet signal? Lame, Marriott. LAME, forcing me to go off in search of unprotected signals to poach.”  Even deep in the snowy Rockies in a late nineteenth-century hotel near a giant steaming hot spring, we’ve got the free wifi, friends.
  • Bing McGhandi from Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes reports on his first MLA job interview this year:  “The interview was touch-and-go. Some questions I knocked out of the park. Other ones haunt me still. The funny thing is that I hit it off with a cute waitress at the coffee stand while I waited, and while we were talking, I thought I recognized a couple of the faces of a few patrons. It turns out that they were the people who were going to interview me. Yikes! I thought that they were, but, you know, tried to play it cool. I don’t think that will have any influence on the outcome.”  It sounds like you’re overanalyzing it, Bing–if it’s meant to be, you’ll hear from that search committee again.  There is so much that’s not in a job candidate’s control–and the cute waitress probably took your mind off of the interview for a few of those anxiety-ridden minutes, right?  (You didn’t ask to borrow the search chair’s Chapstik, did you?)
  • Finally, Inside Higher Ed has a new blog strictly for reporting on the MLA, “Intellectual Affairs.”  (Do I hear a double-entendre?  Wev.  They liked my advice about not asking to borrow Chapstik during an interview.)

Tales from the Pit: MLA report #1

“Layla from Lounsberry” reports on the Modern Language Association meeting in San Fransico this weekend at Rate Your Students.  Well, it’s more A La Recherche des MLAs Perdus,from the perspective of a jobless job-seeker, and then as someone who conducts job interviews.  She says that her “visions of hell, consequently, generally involve the MLA interview pit,” that drafty hotel ballroom, basement, and/or loading deck that has been transformed not very convincingly into a warren of interview “suites” by beskirted tables and fabric dividers that offer all of the privacy of a torn vinyl shower curtain in the locker room of a public pool. 

She notes that it’s a good idea for job candidates to say or wear something that makes them memorable for the right reasons, and not the wrong ones:

Of course there are all kinds of ways NOT to be remembered: there was the hopeless candidate locked in the stairwell with no exit because she was nervous about elevators or the one whose bag fell over spilling a veritable pharmacy of drugs across the floor. Watch for that nervous tic: you don’t want the interviewers to be thinking, “If he touches his hair one more time I’m going to scream,” when they should be thinking about how terrific you’ll be in the classroom.

Historiann might add:  please don’t ask the chair of the search committee if you can borrow her Chapstik.  If you have the opportunity, ask a few questions about the department interviewing you–don’t ask about the (slightly) more famous university down the road, how far it is to drive to by car, what the library there is like, and whether or not anybody in the department interviewing you lives there.  And unless you’re sure you’ve got the charm and political skills of Bill Clinton, you really should try to answer the questions you’re asked and not ones for which you’ve already prepared answers.  If you’re a search committee member, you should find ways to put obviously nervous people at ease:  Informing a candidate that her research isn’t nearly as interesting or as revolutionary as she seems to think it is just makes you look like a jerk, and not a particularly smart one.  Using a job candidate to make a point to your colleagues is inhospitable and unkind.  (Note:  any resemblance to persons or incidents real or fictional is purely coincidental.)

The pit is undignified and it stinks.  No one is happy to be there, which means that departments interviewing there have a special obligation to appear friendly and thoughtful towards their job candidates, and job candidates have a special obligation to appear interested in the people and department interviewing them.  Etiquette doesn’t require sincerity–in fact, etiquette exists to shield us from too much honesty, because believe me–you don’t want too much honesty in a 30-minute pit interview.