Thursday, April 14, 2005
Comparative Religion 117a: A Spectacular Load Of Nonsesne
I was going to write something about this article in my local paper about the growing, serious spirituality of college students in the region. But then I noticed there were similar articles online from USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor.

At first I felt a strange mixture of fear and relief. Fear that American academia is busy churning out a generation of Bible-thumping evolution-hating Jesophiles who will one day, when they take over America, put all the old liberals like me on a boat and ship us all off to Cuba--and not cushy Guantanamo Bay either, I mean actual Cuba to live under the reign of 150-year-old Fidel Castro's reanimated head.

The relief part came after reading the headlines about all this spirituality and religoius curiosity on campuses and thinking phew! I seem to have gotten out just in time. Sounds like total Squaresville, man. When I finished my BA in 1997 college was still all about debauchery and alcohol poisoning and party vomit with a little studying mixed in, a black sinkhole of the human soul. At least that's what it sounded like through my dorm room wall. I played a lot of Sid Meier's Civilization II in those days. That was it's own special kind of people-free fun. But the rest of it, that was definitely happening all around me. Usually in the hallway, for some reason. Some day I'll do a long study about the way dormitory hallways strip human beings of all inhibitions.

I read a little bit further into all three of the articles and there seems to be something of a disconnect between researchers and the students they're studying. Researchers drop quotes like "we have a generation that is on a spiritual quest" and college students giving quotes like "I consider myself more spiritual than formally religious."

The USA Today article delves into the things college students pray for: "Frequently it's for help solving problems ["Dear Jesus, I really want to nail my roommate's girlfriend"], for forgiveness ["Dear Jesus, I'm sorry I nailed my roommate's girlfriend"], and to express gratitude ["...but it was totally awesome, so thanks"].

OK, so I totally get it now. First thing, the researchers are making conclusions about this grand movement toward deep spiritual awareness when students are really just thanking Jesus for helping them pass chemistry instead of rubbing the kitschy happy fat Buddha statue's belly like we used to do.

The second factor is that the subject of this study is college students. College students, when asked any question by anyone, will give the answer most likely to convey burgeoning contemplative intellect, even above and beyond what is actually true. They don't realize--as I certainly didn't when I was a student--that the only thing that sounds more lame than not knowing anything is to not know anything, but then give an answer anyway. So when asked "are you religious?" they cobble together an answer they they hope their philosophy professor will read and be proud of or they give non-answers like "I consider myself to be very spirtual". The only option not on the table is something along the lines of "I don't know. I'm still trying to figure all this shit out. And please don't print my answer or use my name."

Maybe on American college campuses today religion is the new Marxism. If you invoke it--whether you're serious about it or not, whether you understand it or not--it instantly imbues your answer with cosmic intellectual dimension and depth, even if it's false.

We also have to look at this new measurement of campus spirituality diachronically, in the context of the generation that came before. These are still the children (late-term) Baby Boomers, compared to whom anything seems spiritually deep. Boomers rejected religion because their parents were into it. Now Boomer kids explore religion precisely because their parents didn't.

Like my mom, she always said "Man, guys are hot. And don't take heroin." So what did I do? Went out with girls and succumbed to the Devil Poppy. If her advice had been different, I could be a clean-living gay man instead. Parental suggestion is just that powerful.

That reminds me, I have to go remind my kids to never under any circumstances make a lot of money and buy me a house.

This post on the Narcissus Scale: 6.9



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