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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Column: The Honors Thesis Drinking Party

Do not underestimate the power, the glory and the majesty of the Mean Friend.

There is this kid in my Christian theology class named Kang, a walking skeleton who wears T-shirts with sleeves that go down to his elbows. This kid is so skinny he looks like a character from a Tim Burton movie (specifically, the Halloween-themed one where eight out of its 10 characters have presumably died from malnutrition).

If this elicits compassion for third world countries, it soon vanishes when he opens his mouth, which is so wide it could fit an orange. This kid speaks with the rage of a Babylonian refugee, ready to tear down anyone who disagrees with him. And if he shoots you down, he turns his head to the side in disdain, giving you a better view of his curled upper lip and his condescendingly high cheekbones.

In class, we are discussing whether God is irrational because he does not make sense, or if humans are irrational for not understanding God.

“If one culture rationalizes things this way, and another culture rationalizes things another way, then is one irrational? Not necessarily,” my friend Caitlin says. “It’s because they are in different contexts.”

“Um, that’s an anthropological argument and you can’t bring that up because it has nothing to do with theology. It’s like not even relevant,” Kang says in response.

Caitlin’s argument officially dies. He looks at her as if he just saw a naked baby boy run across the dairy aisle in the North Davis Safeway.

If you think this person is the most unlikable person in the class, then you are right. But that has nothing to do with the fact he has passionate disciples.

Kang and his disciples all sit on the far right side of the room, and whenever Kang has an opinion, they flock to defend him whether they understand it or not. They are the critical theorists who dominate discussion with words like “eschatological” and “anthropomorphic.” They are the ones who plan the Honors Thesis Drinking Party, which consists of several rounds of The Lord’s Kingdom Cup and double shots of Kirkland Vodka for those who still believe in objective truth by 11 p.m. This event is private, and you are not allowed to bring friends.

Back to the argument about irrationality.

“It doesn’t matter if humans have partial rationality,” says Kang. “If God does not make sense to us, then he is irrational, or we are irrational for not comprehending God.”

“No, that does not automatically make us irrational,” replies Martha, an undergraduate in her mid 40s who is arguably the only student in the class who has done all the reading.

People look up because if you do not belong to the Honors Thesis Drinking Club, you – along with Martha – are part of The Others: the left side of the classroom full of campus fellowship kids who only take religious studies classes about Jesus and love to look out the window when the professor’s lecture gets boring.

This is where I sit.

“It’s like the difference between a Ph.D. and a college student,” Martha continues. “The Ph.D. has a much greater knowledge than the college student, but it does not mean a college student has no knowledge.”

“Less rational than absolutely rational is not irrational,” I say.

“Exactly,” Martha adds.

At that moment, time stops and we glance at each other. We say nothing. We don’t need to say anything, because we understand. She understands what it means to be shut on the outside – the left side – because you dared to speak against the establishment and refused to be silenced.

I look at her, and I understand what it means to have your intelligence insulted by underage drinkers half your age who get As on their papers without buying the class textbook.

The clock hits two, and the class is over. The professor smiles and wraps up the class’ history lesson that has become obsolete by now.

“These disagreements happen all the time during early church history,” she says about the split between Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy. “And what happens in history when people disagree with one another?”

The class does waits.

“You suppress your dissenters by force.”

GEOFF MAK wants to know who, other than his Facebook friends, reads this. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu to let him know that he is not alone.

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