Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Tales from academia

I've added several new music blogs to my blogroll. One of them is terminaldegree, by an almost-PhD musician teaching at a Christian liberal arts college she dubs Oxymoron U. Reading her posts about the conflicts between certain religious beliefs and the study of music reminded me of a possible path that I thankfully did not tread.

When I was applying for jobs during my last one-year position, one of the openings for a music theorist was at a large Baptist university located in Texas. It was only a term position, but I was applying for almost anything at that point, as my job had no possibility of renewal. The application process seemed normal enough for the Baptist position, requesting the same sorts of documents as any other search. But then I was sent a Religious Beliefs survey from upper administration, asking me to detail my religious upbringing, habits and beliefs. First, a brief history of my religious beliefs: I was raised in the Congregational church, United Church of Christ, a rather liberal Protestant church. By the time I got to college, I decided that I was agnostic. I then fell in love with and married a woman who had deep beliefs in Christianity, though she had not been an active church-goer. She soon did become active in the Episcopal church, to the point that she is now discerning to become a priest. I attend her church every other week, to show my support for her. About four years ago my agnosticism developed into deism, somewhat from the argument of First Cause, though my thinking is more along the lines that there must have always been something, which can for convenience's sake be called "god." So, my beliefs do not align with the Southern Baptist Church, but I could play a Christian rather convincingly if I so desired.

I could have lied in the survey, labelling myself as an Episcopalian, and moved on to the next step in the interview process. But I did not want to mislead them, or get myself into a teaching situation that I philosophically disagreed with. So I answered truthfully, though I emphasized my respect for Christianity as a reasonable belief based on my regular church attendance and support of my wife (though at this point she was not thinking about a career in the church). I also emphasized that I believed in the existence of "God," though without the scarequotes and with minimal explanation of deism. My answers were too vague for them, so the chair of the search committee phoned me and asked me to clarify my answers. Then I explained my deistic beliefs in full, and answered his questions about when I stopped thinking of myself as a Christian. He was very polite, and I still tried to make the point that I respected the religious beliefs of others. I thought that would be enough, based upon the claim's of this university that its faculty included non-Baptists and non-Christians. But apparently it would not included deists. The chair made clear (nicely) at the end of the phone interview that they would be pursuing other candidates for the position.

In the end, I got a tenure-track job at a liberal arts college that is de jure Methodist, but de facto secular. I am quite happy here, and I know I would not be happy at either the Texan Baptist university or at terminaldegree's Oxymoron U. And I have a good parable supporting moral behavior without reliance upon a higher authority. It's all good.

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