God doesn't give up

"God doesn't give up" Continued...

Issue: "Playing with capitalism," May 23, 2009

The escapist genre, Westerns, of the escapist medium, movies, also moved me out of an escapist mentality. I decided to write a dissertation that would connect changes in Westerns from the 1930s through the 1960s with changes in American culture. That subject made dealing with Communism unavoidable, because Marxist screenwriters in the 1930s and 1940s had gained Hollywood power, blacklisted their opponents, and tried to insinuate their ideas of class struggle into popular movies such as Westerns: Small ranchers against big cattle barons, California gold rush miners cheated by capitalists, etc.

My dissertation draft also showed how conservatives had triumphed briefly in the late 1940s and 1950s and red-listed the left, only to encounter a Marxist comeback in the 1960s that turned Westerns into an attack on America. This was politically incorrect stuff, but maybe because Susan grabbed my heart and Westerns stiffened my spine, I pushed ahead. Maybe the Holy Spirit was working, as is often the case, through intermediate means.

The chairman of my academic program and dissertation committee, Marvin Felheim, had praised me fulsomely when I was a Marxist in his class during my first semester in graduate school. Here's a quotation from his recommendation, which I include only because the contrast with what followed is so sharp: "Marvin Olasky has made the most distinguished record of any of our graduate students in recent years. He is a phenomenally good student and a first-rate teacher. He has made his way through our Ph.D. program in record time, without sacrificing his scholarship or his sense of humor."

He went on in that vein, stating that "in everything he has studied, he has been thorough as well as imaginative and has come up with new insights, even about old subjects." But Felheim was on leave during my second year in graduate school and did not know that my new insights were far from Marxist. His first reaction to reading my new approach was sympathy for what he saw as temporary insanity: He wrote, "I have great faith in your determination and drive. I also respect your intelligence. But I have no insight into your emotional state."

When he saw in the next draft that I wasn't backing down, he (still on leave) wrote back furiously that the films I critiqued as anti-American were "simply telling the truth" and that I had been taken in by fascists who "control the mass media of this country." He wrote, "From now on I have no intention of trying to argue. I will simply reject." He plaintively concluded, "I thought you were one of our most intelligent students."

He finally wrote, two weeks before my final Ph.D. examination was scheduled, "You are using the program and the university in a way that I cannot accept. This is the last communication you shall have from me and I would prefer not to have it answered." He resigned from my dissertation committee. That could have meant one more academic career of a non-leftist aborted-but God had other plans.

Stephen Tonsor was the only conservative among the U. of Michigan's 38 history professors. We had never met: He was in European intellectual history and not my area of American politics and film. Nevertheless, when I showed him my A-laden transcript, my dissertation summary, and Felheim's angry notes, he saw an academic lynching in the making. (Thank God that long-distance telephone calls were expensive then, so Felheim had put his attacks in writing.) Tonsor agreed to chair my dissertation committee. In June, 1976, he steered me through. As Dr. Olasky I became the proud owner of one of America's rare titles of nobility.

Susan steered me as well. She had stuck with me when I clearly did not deserve her. She did not think my brains had fallen out. She even liked my heart. We were married near the end of June, in a secular ceremony, but God was pushing on both of us. In July we drove the least expensive car I could buy, a Chevette with no back seat, no radio, and no air conditioning, to my first full-time teaching post at San Diego State University.

It was time to go beyond reading Puritan sermons and start finding out what a church toward the end of the 20th century was like. I grabbed from the library a book with a title something like What United Methodists Believe, but it seemed merely a pale reflection of liberal politics. Finger-walking through the Yellow Pages to find a church, I saw many under the "Churches-Baptist" heading-and I knew from my reading that Christians baptized. Within that category was a sub-heading, "Conservative." I didn't want anything related to Communism, so "Conservative" sounded fine.


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