Monday, 3 December 2012

The Church of University

I was going through some old University stuff of mine, trying to get it all nice and organized for some reason, and I stumbled across this gem that I wrote for a class called "Religion and Pop Culture". I know it has nothing to do with advertsising.. but it might? Nah, it probably never will.

I just wanna preface this by saying that it in no way is meant to undercut the validity of religious institutions. I've been a supporter of the Catholic church since my baptism and regularly attend masses. It's basically just supposed to make fun of Universities. Thank you.

From the moment the institution’s followers walk through its big wooden doors, they are expected to follow specifically outlined creeds, rituals, and codes. The doctrines imposed by higher powers inherently form a community of believers, who adhere to the teachings of the preachers. They either succeed or waver in their faith, and are excommunicated. This doctrine demands a total expenditure of the whole self, but promises great rewards to those who adhere until the very end. The organization may closely resemble a traditional place of worship; but I am in fact referring to the “alternative religion” of The Church of University. 
The major beliefs of The Church of University (which shall henceforth be known as The Church) are supported by the holistic absorption of unquestioned knowledge. Believers are taught to value specific rules and regulations regarding their contribution to this faith, and if these dogmas are not met, the individual is excommunicated and is sentenced to a lifetime of hell (thisworldly equivalent being fast food restaurants). There are many myths that surround the doctrine. The University of Manitoba, a sect of The Church, has outlined some examples for wary unbelievers including falseoods like “at [the Church of] University, you are just a number” and “[the Church of] University is a whole lot harder than high school”. It adamantly denies these claims, perhaps in an effort to increase attendance, as many similar churches are experiencing dwindling numbers, but staunchly resist a modernizing overhaul based on the fundamental value of tradition.
 The Church is offered to believers on a global scale, but is divided into sects based on particular classifications, regions and specializations; but the overall goal remains the same: the attainment of eternal happiness upon completion of the journey. Eternal happiness is usually derived from a professional career and solid pension plan. 
 In the beginning, students of this faith encounter a “calling” throughout their individual existences that motivate them to enrol, or else are indoctrinated by their parents at a young age and are morally forced to attend in order to uphold family honour. Once the student is accepted into the institution, a more formalized baptism takes place. The waters are equated with a series of forms, which constitute a binding oath that publicly declare the student’s admittance of membership in The Church of University, who from then on is expected to pursue the institution’s firm religare.  Regular attendance and participation is expected, and followers must listen carefully and absorb every passage that they are taught during regular lectures. The appointed preachers have devoted years of their lives studying in The Church in order to achieve the status of messenger of the great knowledge. These prophets organize a set time and a place and deliver sermons from Holy (text)Books to a congregation of believers, who unquestionably trust the teachings of the sermons. The students are expected to read the Holy Textbooks every day to further expand upon their lessons. The institution is divided within itself in an authoritarian hierarchy. The Dean (aka The Church of University’s Infallible Leader) holds the highest power over the Deans of Faculties (Bishops and Archbishops), who dictate over Teachers (Preachers), who oversee Teaching Assistants (Altar Boys), and so on. 
In order to fully comprehend The Church’s intrinsic messages, sacred relics are entrusted upon the followers. Notes are taken and reviewed, and the students are meticulously tested on their faith in the material (as Jesus was tested by the Devil, only to a much more diffused extent). The large majority of students use a modest pen and paper to record their notes, but the Holiest of all notes are displayed on revered, glowing MacBooks. The two respective instruments function on the same fundamental level, but the latter offers a physical and monetary expression of the full dedication of the adherent to his or her quest for knowledge. The light that the pure, white screen emanates offers the implication that the enthusiast is studying his or her relics at all hours of the day. All followers rehearse their sacred texts repeatedly, like a prayer, until the information is memorized and implanted. Students should be able to recall these prayers on command, and are judged on their accuracy by the teachers. The marks that they are allotted are generally directly reflect the students’ intelligence and self-worth. Often, when this judgement of character is deemed unfavourable by the institutions standards, the being will discontinue their studies by choice or by excommunication. For those who do leave, the possibility of returning is always available but is based on forgiveness by His Holiness, the Dean of Admissions. This figure acts a St Peter character; the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, who accepts and denies applicants into the University’s esteemed pearly gates. His judgement can be based on academic devotion, but can also be swayed by a “monetary expression of dedication” in some special cases.
 For those who are accepted into programme, The Church of University expects certain bodily sacrifices from its followers; most prominently, the sacrifice of a regular sleeping schedule. The student must be willing to schedule this seemingly necessary duty around prior commitments to The Church. Just as Buddhist Monks are to wake at “3.45 am when [they] are supposed to start praying and meditating” (BBC), an early morning or a late night is to be expected of the devout student. These monks occasionally adopt a vow of silence, in The Church of University, this is paralleled in the way in which the students must forgo many of their personal relationships in order to fully focus and “silence” their beings in order to be finally vested with the most sacred of ancient documents, The Degree. Often, prior relationships will be put on hold in favour of repeated “prayer” sessions, sometimes to the point in which they eventually erode. The only way in which the desperately mute students can communicate with each other is in secret non-verbal code,  by sending a text message. 
The Church adopts certain sacred food and drink to recharge its weary attendant’s minds. The diet of the University Student is humble, and consists of small and sporadic meals, usually eaten at a rushed pace. In some sects, the stress or time occupancy of the doctrine necessitates a fast; other cases report a rite of passage known as “the freshman fifteen”, in which the ascribed diet is reversed and is replaced with high-calorie, preservative-laced nourishment. This method of sustenance in particular marks devout followers, as it is a physical manifestation of their lack of free time and their absolute commitment to prayer memorization. Though the diets of the followers vary, certain commonalities are distinguishable amongst the masses. The sacred drink, made from ground coffee beans, seems to be an omnipresent relic in the hands of the followers. Coffee is attributed by the drinkers as containing otherworldly powers, and is described by many devotees as “my saviour”. Holy Coffee is typically dispensed at the entrances and exits of the institutions so that participants can bless themselves with the sacred drink before when entering and exiting The Church. 
When one considers the momentous donations that followers must contribute to The Church on a regular basis, is it logical to deduce that they are often left with chaste possessions and modest savings. This chastity leaves supporters with little to spend on non-religious items, but humans must eat in order to survive. They have adapted themselves with the ability to digest seemingly inedible foods, the most prominent of which being Ramen Noodles and/or Kraft Dinner. These items are made up mostly of starch but they, in correspondence with Holy Coffee, offer enthusiasts enough energy to propel them through an early morning sermon or a day-long retreat.
 Despite the frugality that devotees adopt, it is imperative to note that they always seem to be able to meet the expense of another type of sacred drink: beer. Disciples are often seen in establishments near their respective Churches around the globe, regularly consuming the beverage. This, the world’s oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage, comes in many forms but is mostly composed of starches, paralleling the aforementioned Holy Foods of Church-goers. In rare jovial displays, students play games revolving around the beer. In certain cases, followers overindulge in the liquid and are speedily punished with the wrath of a hangover. Those who are not morally sharpened enough to resist its temptations are judged as unworthy followers in The Church, as their rates of sermon attendance are generally negatively correlated with the attendance of said beverage establishments. The Church of University expects supporters to resist their bodily desires in consideration of any matter that is unrelated to its teachings. 
The institution has been a prominent fixture in the news due to its seemingly endless string of leaked controversies. Many students are offering the so-called “ultimate sacrifice” to The Church, a total expenditure of self for the institution by taking their own lives. In David Chidester’s novel entitled Authentic Fakes, he reveals that Ronald Regan and Jim Jones preached the sacrifice of youth represented the greatest offering. Though arguably no one is benefitting from this sacrifice, reports from (The Church of) Cornell University’s conditions have recently “gotten so dire that, as a temporary measure, they have even placed fencing on campus bridges.” (Huffington Post) While it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the reasoning behind this ultimate surrender, it appears to equal a sacrificial totalization, a passage from incompleteness to completeness as a means of ritual closure for the participant. The sacrifice of the believer’s total self, according to Chidester, “promises ritualized perfection” (103). Perfection often being mistaken as the ultimate goal of The Church, and failure to attain it leads disciples into the realm of a total bodily punishment, as a macabre martyr for their cause.
 Those who argue that this University society does not qualify as a designated religion need only examine Chidester’s depiction of baseball as a religion. “First, through the forces of tradition, heritage, and collective memory, baseball ensures a sense of continuity in the face of a constantly changing America” (36) and/or world. The basic format of the educational system has changed very little over the course of its lengthy existence. The reliability of the system of The Church of University “institutionalizes a sacred memory of the past that informs the present” quite literally because the information that is transferred to the indoctrinated is based almost entirely comprised  of past academia.
 Second, it “supports a sense of uniformity” (36) so much so it lies right in the name Uni-versity. The emphasis of consistency is expected and valued from the disciples, who are rewarded for following the set guidelines of the program; not only considering their prayer recitation or relic production, but all social, political and mental features that the code of belief provides. It is a place where students and preachers alike can “[share] a fabric of beliefs, symbols, and mutual agreements with those around [them]” (37) based on their uniformity and unquestioned digestion of materials.
 Third, The Church of University offers a unique and distinctly human quest for “the absence of mysteries” (37). It celebrates the explanation behind these mysteries in an attempt to understand almost any mental and scientific concept from a variety of perspectives. It concerns itself with solving the illusive “unanswerable questions”, just as many other religions do. Some have critiqued the discipline’s explanations for its stance on the creation of the universe or the origin of thought. They believe its claims are too simplistic or dogmatic, but traditional academics argue that to question its infallibility is a moral sin.
 Lastly, The Church presents the believer with “a ritualization of time ... [which] affords those extraordinary moments of ecstasy and enthusiasm, revelation and inspiration, that seem to stand outside the ordinary temporal flow” (37). Examples of University-related revelation are evoked when a new and valued concept is fully absorbed. Ecstasy could be encapsulated upon the graduation of said institution onto a higher plane, towards the ideal existence.
 The community of believers that this doctrine assembles is undeniable. It attracts members from all over the world, and from all walks of life. The Church of University is so popular that it receives billions upon billions of dollars in charitable donations every year, and is constantly in the market for expansion so that it may accommodate more followers. In many poor countries, the attendance of the institution is considered to be the ultimate dream, as its promised benefits for successful devotees equate truly endless rewards. Just as there are many divisions of Christianity, the departments provided by The Church allow the individual to customize their religious experience in a way that retains the message but divides the means. It presents the adherent with a tailor-made lesson to respond to their own interests and therefore is able to attract an enormous demographic. The institution boats that it does not judge based on classifications of age, race, gender, sexuality or socio-economic position (although the latter may be debatable) as some traditional fundamentalist religions do, and often volunteers spaces within the organization to specifically accommodate said groups. The Church is one of the only non-domestic institutions in the world that advertises more female attendance than male. This is an enormous accomplishment for the doctrine, as it has been active for thousands of years, but has only opened its doors to “the fairer sex” for the last few centuries. It draws large numbers of those who are dissatisfied with their current state, and offers the disciple a sense of purpose.
Attendants are presented with the conception of an open mind. This claim may appear to be abstract, but it successfully encompass the “mission” of the faith. The Church is distinctive in comparison to many other religions because, although its religare is strict, it presents a young person with the seemingly foreign concept of choice. The disciple is able to dictate their path in life and must then deal with the personal consequences on a thisworldly level. It deals with the ordinary, but addresses the basic need of a daily purpose. Most sects promise eternal happiness once this life has terminated, but too rarely emphasize a focus on the happiness of the ephemeral journey. It offers socializing tools that help train individuals to function in this globally connected world, whether the emphasis is morally good or not. Finally, it conditions the adherent to tolerate the repetition and boredom that a legitimate career offers once teachings have been institutionally and publically declared to be fully absorbed. After years of sacrifice, the student attains the ultimate relic, metaphorically encompassed in a single piece of paper, The Degree. He or she is finally bodily, socially and morally conditioned to pass on to a higher, more esteemed realm and get a job.
Oh yeah, it's also super long, so kudos if you read through it all. 


  1. I found this funny, a real nice read.

    1. Haha thanks John, you're as reliable as the opposite of the content on this blog (what?)