Did you watch the Super Bowl? (Updated)

And if so, with whom did you watch it?

My family and I joined the rest of our Adult Bible Fellowship for our annual Souper Bowl Party. This has become a central tradition among our group of church friends: a Super Bowl watching party combined with a soup & chili cook-off. We have a few families in our group with houses large enough to host everyone comfortably, along with finished basements where the many, many kids can gather. We’re still waiting for Cincinnati’s turn, but our group includes a couple of Purdue grads who were very happy with this year’s outcome. At least it wasn’t the Steelers. 🙂

The Super Bowl is a powerful cultural liturgy in the United States, part of the “military-entertainment complex” that James K. A. Smith describes in Desiring the Kingdom. Here, he explicates the National Anthem ritual:

The sounds of the anthem are usually accompanied by big, dramatic sights of the flag: a star-spangled banner the size of a football field is unfurled across the field by a small army of young people…And almost always, the concluding crescendo of the anthem — announcing that this is the “land of the free” and the “home of the brave” — is accompanied by a flyover frm military aircraft… (105-106)

A dead-on description of Carrie Underwood’s performance, no?

Meanwhile, in his Christianity Today cover story “Sports Fanatics,” Shirl James Hoffman questions whether our obsession with sports isn’t something diabolical:

On one level, Christians’ attraction to sports is easily understood. Sports are fun and exciting; when played well and in healthy contexts, they can be constructive leisure pursuits that enrich our lives. But organized sports, played at almost every level, too often bring out the worst in us. With astonishing frequency the reputation of higher education is sullied by players’, coaches’, and alumni’s crimes and indiscretions. Recruiting scandals, under-the-table payoffs, and academic cheating—all perpetrated in the name of athletic excellence—have become such regular features on the sports pages that we have come to accept them as the cost of a Saturday afternoon’s entertainment.

It’s worth reading the whole article, as well as Scot McKnight’s brief response. Hoffman’s new book, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports, delves into this issue in more depth.

Still, there are some good things that came out of the Super Bowl. Our church class has used it over the years to create a community-forming tradition, adapting the NFL’s big game into our own “cultural liturgy.” Last night, amid all of the ads objectifying women and belittling men, there was the small island of normality formed by Pam and Tim Tebow’s ad for Focus on the Family:

The ad was controversial, mainly because Focus on the Family is controversial. NOW strongly criticized the ad before it ran, but Andy Crouch asked an interesting question (via Twitter):

Was there any Super Bowl ad other than Focus’s that featured a realistic, admirable woman in a central role?

Did you watch the Super Bowl? What did you think of the ads, the hype, the combination with Christianity?

(BTW, lots of people asked, rhetorically, what NOW thought of all of the ads featuring objectified women. Well, you don’t need to ask rhetorically, because you can watch an awesomely titled video from NOW, Jockocracy Sexism Watch with Gloria Steinem, to get the straight scoop. I haven’t watched myself, so I can’t vouch for it except for the ridiculously awesome title.)

Update: I almost forgot another relevant resource.  Blog commenter Mike Austin edited Football and Philosophy: Going Deep, a collection of essays exploring, well, football and philosophy. Mike also publishes the Philosophy of Sports blog. His post last Friday: Religion and Football.

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Best Books for Graduate Students?

A while back, I asked for your recommendations for the best books for undergrads, and you came through with a pretty impressive list. Let’s advance a few years.

What books do you recommend to graduate students, on God, on academia, or just about life in general?

There will probably be some overlap, but here are some common graduate school situations that might affect the list:

  • Deeper exploration of a specific discipline or profession
  • New life experiences (e.g. marriage, children, death of family and friends)
  • Coping with failure and success
  • The “quarterlife crisis
  • Growth and change in one’s spiritual life

What are your suggestions?

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Are Christian Professors Politically Conservative?

American Flag

American Flag at William Jewell College

On Friday, our week in review linked to Patricia Cohen’s article about political liberalism in the academy, “Professor is a Label That Leans to the Left.” The article was based on the work of sociologists Neil Gross (U. British Colombia) and Ethan Fosse (a PhD candidate at Harvard, where Gross worked until recently), who propose that academic liberalism is due to typecasting, similar to how nursing is considered a “woman’s job” by most Americans.

The academic profession “has acquired such a strong reputation for liberalism and secularism that over the last 35 years few politically or religiously conservative students, but many liberal and secular ones, have formed the aspiration to become professors,” they write in the paper, “Why Are Professors Liberal?” (PDF) That is especially true of their own field, sociology, which has become associated with “the study of race, class and gender inequality — a set of concerns especially important to liberals.”

Photo Credit: bbaltimore via Flickr

Gross, along with Solon Simmons of George Mason, has written a number of articles that have been quite valuable to my personal understanding of the academy, “The Social and Political Views of Professors” and “How Religious Are America’s College and University Professors?” Both papers are worth reading. I’ve distilled some of the more interesting numbers from the 2nd paper, along with some other sources, for a description of the climate for Christians on campus that I often share with churches.

The excellent website GetReligion.org, which focuses on the mainstream media’s converage of religion, asked if there were any “religious ghosts” in the article — that’s “GR-speak” for religious angles to a story that a journalist overlooked or ignored. Specifically, what role does religion play in the politics of university professors? Steve Rabey of GetReligion.org writes,

I wish Cohen had devoted more space to discussing the religious elements of academia’s liberal tilt. Unfortunately, she only briefly mentions “secularism” and academia’s preference for professors who embrace “a non-conservative religious theology.”

Personally, I think there is a religious component to the political liberalism of the academy, but it’s a complex relationship. Here’s what I wrote in my comment on GetReligion.org:

There’s really a need for two distinct articles, if not more. There’s the issue of conservative politics and the academy, and then there’s the issue of “conservative” religion and the academy. Many “conservative Christians” that I know in the academy, who hold to “conservative” views of Scripture, salvation, historicity of Jesus, etc., have overall political views that would be considered liberal by most Americans. In our culture at large, conservative religion and conservative politics are closely intertwined, but I think they are much further apart within the academy. (The most politically diverse group I know is the community of evangelical campus ministers, grad students, and faculty that I work alongside.) I’d love to see this distinction between religion and politics within the secular academy explored a bit more.

But enough of my thoughts. What do you think?

  • In the university, what’s the relationship between conservative politics and evangelical Christianity?
  • Are professors politically liberal because they are theologically liberal, vice versa, or doe one have nothing to do with the other?
  • How does the close association between evangelical Christianity and conservative politics in American culture affect the perception of Christianity within the academy?

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Christians in College: Some Basic Resources

Here are a few starting points if you are interested in the place of Christians at colleges and universities. These books are excellent for either those with a concern for Christians at colleges and universities, or for Christian students who are starting to feel the tension between their faith in Christ and their life in the university.

Foundational Books

These books make the case for Christian involvement in higher education. They have each been influential to many Christian ministries, including my own, the Emerging Scholars Network.

A Christian Critique of the University by Charles Malik — Malik was a renowned Lebanese Christian diplomat, philosopher, and university professor, heavily influential in the early days of the United Nations. He delivered a series of lectures in 1981 at the University of Waterloo, which were collected in this book. Malik famously noted that the important question was not what the university thinks of Jesus Christ, but what does Jesus Christ think about the university? (Note: This book is out of print, but Malik’s equally influential lecture “The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar” has been reprinted in a recent book of the same name, which features essays by a number of prominent Christian professors.)

The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship by George Marsden – In the conclusion to his book, The Soul of the American University, Marsden called for Christians to create distinctively Christian scholarship. The ensuing uproar in the secular academia led Marsden to write this brief follow-up, which has become a challenge to a generation of Christians scholars.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll – According to Noll, the “scandal of the evangelical mind” is that “there is not much of an evangelical mind.” A primary reason why evangelical Christians lack a presence in higher education is because many evangelical churches ignore the life of the mind and the importance of learning.

Books for Students

The next three books are excellent choices for either students heading to college or in their first year or two. Each of them will help students think about their Christian faith in the context of being a college student and, if they have ears to hear, will guide them in developing a well-grounded, well-educated faith.

How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski – Budziszewski is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and this book is a short, practical guide based on questions that students have asked him over the years.

Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey by Jonathan Morrow – This book is a series of short essays on nearly everything conceivable subject that a Christian will deal with in college – philosophical questions, peer pressure, sex and dating, drinking – complete with discussion questions and suggestions for further reading. Perhaps most helpful, Morrow has put together a devotional guide for a student’s first year in college.

Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness, The: A Guide for Students by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby – Taking its lead from Marsden, Opitz and Melleby challenge students to take both their faith and their studies seriously. They describe the invaluable opportunity Christians have while in college to study and exercise their mind, to distinguish themselves from the world of “bread and circuses” that dominates so much of college life. This book counsels students to truly study “as unto the Lord.”

Next Steps

This final selection of books will help students (and others) bridge the gap between their faith and the rest of their life: their vocation, their career, their family life, the day-to-day routine of living. These books are excellent choices for juniors, seniors, recent graduates, or anyone seeking to love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness – Perhaps few of us feel like we have a “call from God,” yet Guinness reminds us that all of us are called by God to love him and love our neighbor. How we live that out, is different for each of us. This deep and insightful book helps to understand our unique vocation in the light of God’s call.

The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief And Behavior by Steven Garber – Garber has put together has excellent guide to living a life consistent with your faith. I read this book the year after I graduated college, and it radically changed by understanding of Christianity by showing me that consistent Christianity requires a community of people living out their faith together. I’ve recommended this book frequently over their years.

Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life As a Christian Calling by James Sire – Jim Sire is the retired editor-in-chief of InterVarsity Press, and he brought to that role a strong sense of the intellectual life. This book, one of the more popular ones I have offered to ESN members, describes a variety of intellectual virtues and how they fit into a life of Christian discipleship.

My Letter about UC's "Sexploration"

Last week, the University of Cincinnati’s Wellness Center hosted an event called “Sexploration” – here is the Enquirer’s article about it. And here is the letter that I wrote to the Enquirer about the event:

The University of Cincinnati is hosting a “Sexploration” week, sponsored by local sexual aid company Pure Romance, to educate UC students about sexual health. After reviewing the event web site and the web sites of the presenters, “sexual health” apparently involves free condoms, talking about porn, and complaining about censorship.

As far as I can tell, the week will not include a single word about preparing yourself for a committed sexual relationship, resisting the urge to “hook up” for shallow and empty sex, or learning about the meaning of love and sex from any of the great writers, philosophers, and scholars who are studied at UC.

Ironically, the great novelist John Updike, who wrote more honestly about sex than perhaps any other American writer, died last week. After UC students have collected their free condoms and taken their free HIV tests, maybe they should head over to the library and become educated about sex in a more holistic fashion.

To put the issue another way: if there is a problem with the way that college students approach sex and sexuality, are free condoms and conversations about porn the solution?