God is Dead: Or When Professors Become the Bogeyman

Many a child has felt the shivering fear that prickles the spine when a parent whispers the words, “Be good, or the Bogeyman will get you!” Some children will search their room methodically before bed to ensure the Bogeyman is absent, and even some brave souls will arm themselves with pots and spoons for the pending nightly attack of the feared monster. Yet everyone knows the Bogeyman is there watching, as Oogie Boogie himself declared, “I am the shadow on the moon at night / Filling your dreams to the brim with fright. “

The figure of the Bogeyman, similar to other nightly terrors, symbolizes a cultural projection of fear and power, personifying the repressed desires and terror of society. Kendall Phillips explains,

The bogeyman embodies the chaos that exists on the other side of these cultural boundaries. The chaotic force of unleashed desire and wickedness waits on the edge of the systems of order and reminds of the importance of these systems of restrictions (Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture, 133).

Thus, the figure of the monster out to get children, is an age old symbol used to reinforce a particular social group’s boundaries and restrictions.

Recently, I’ve read about the 2014 upcoming film, “God’s Not Dead” (trailer included below). The film stages a young teen’s journey to college and his enrollment in the dreaded Philosophy intro class. He is warned by an older student to run because the Professor of the class is out for blood, comparing the experience to the Roman Colosseum. On the first day of class, the dreaded Professor enters the room and insists that every student write the words “God is Dead.” The protagonist, a believing Christian, refuses, and for the rest of the film he must defend his faith against the Professor set on “getting him.”

 A few months ago I wrote perhaps one of my most popular blog posts entitled, “I Am A Scholar, is there Room in the Church for Me?” I wrote of the squeamish feeling in the pit of my stomach when I have to acknowledge my academic work in a church setting. I described the countless warnings I myself was given to beware of the threat of the Professor. And this film reminds me that the notion of the college Professor out to get your faith, a bogeyman of sorts, still circulates in many Christian circles. The fear of crossing intellectual boundaries, of asking unanswerable or complex questions, drives some Christians to avoid secular collegiate institutions and the work of scholars. As I was even told as a young student, “If you go to that school, you will lose your faith.”

As a phd student, as a young scholar, as a person driven by questions from the moment I first opened my eyes as a child, this fear of me, this projection of me as the bogeyman, baffles and pains me. I am not trying to destroy your faith by making you think about history, context, and theory. I am not an enemy because I desire intellectual exercises in addition to my spiritual practice. Yet this film makes it seem that the college professor lurks on the edge of chaos, ushering in all manner of evil with the words “God is Dead.” In effect, the college professor is the Christian bogeyman.

And in the face of this projection, I’m left asking,

How many times will I receive threatening messages, emails, and texts insisting Satan has deceived me as I deceive others?

How many times will my name be taken in vain with the “dangerous” words: academia, college, intellectual?

How many times do I have to look at the Church and whisper, “I am not a monster.”

If your faith is so fragile that the mythic bogeyman can destroy it, then it is nothing more than a child’s blanket fort easily crumbled to begin with.

*Image used under Creative Commons License 3.0 by Super-Pleb http://super-pleb.deviantart.com/art/The-Oogie-Boogie-Man-49994043?offset=10