A new front in the war

"A new front in the war" Continued...

Issue: "Do the math," Nov. 7, 2009

In 1983 the president of the neoconservative Smith-Richardson Foundation offered a position as a program officer. The offer was attractive: Program officers shift big bucks by praising or panning grant-seekers. It was also a position that would open doors in publishing: Major foundation officers regularly meet media gatekeepers who don't want to alienate those from whom they request money. The foundation president showed me around his Manhattan Upper East Side condo and explained how articles financed things: "This is the Wall Street Journal dishwasher. . . . This is the Forbes trash compactor."

Since the neoconservative movement was and is largely Jewish, the question arose of how my conversion to Christ would affect my involvement in it. Author/editor Irving Kristol died early this fall: In the 1970s and 1980s he truly was the godfather of the neoconservative movement, so it was good that he blessed me, saying, "We need a smart Jew who's a Christian." But, after my escape from the Marxist hive, did I want to be part of another (although much superior) ideological movement? Also, if Susan and I doubled the number of our children, would there be enough room in a Manhattan apartment?

I saw a three-line ad in the magazine Editor & Publisher for a position as an assistant professor in the journalism department of the University of Texas at Austin (UT). On the face of it, that was a foolish alternative. The academic environment was likely to be hostile to a Christian, particularly a politically conservative one. The salary was half of what I made at DuPont. I had spent a total of four days of my life in Texas, and Susan had never been there.

When Susan and I were dating and hitting movies on the University of Michigan campus every night, we once watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After that her only restriction on where to live was "anywhere but Texas." Yes, in Texas I'd have time to write, but the Smith-Richardson Foundation president warned me: "If you go to Texas, no one will ever hear of you again."

In August 1983 we put 6-year-old Pete and almost-3-year-old David into our Chevette-it now had a back seat but was still without air conditioning-and headed to Texas. Susan was once again a heroine, ready for another adventure despite her qualms. The 50 percent income cut didn't much matter because we had been living on only half my DuPont salary. We rented a house in Austin. I bought cowboy boots, a computer, and a handgun.

The immediate challenge for me was academic hazing, otherwise known as a publish-or-perish rule. Teaching was a minor part of the job: Six hours a week in the classroom during two terms of 15 weeks each, plus preparation time and office hours for meeting students, still left plenty of hours for writing. Since articles and papers had to be reviewed by three professors who almost always were secular liberals, the recommended way to get tenure was to write noncontroversial articles that would not challenge their assumptions.

Taking that advice for what it was worth, from 1983 to 1988 I developed-in "refereed" academic convention papers and journal articles, all of which led to books-a critique of corporate public relations from a free enterprise perspective, a critique of journalism from a Christian perspective, and a critique of abortion. The topics and my approaches to them were obviously risky, but the problem with being a stealth Christian until a certain goal is reached-tenure, promotion, nomination-is that those who start down that path rarely leave it. Another promotion or opportunity waits. Then another, and another.

Dishonesty has its perils, and honesty-rare in academia as elsewhere-had surprising benefits. Since almost all academic writers on these subjects were secular liberals, I didn't have to spend weeks doing "literature searches" to make sure I wasn't duplicating what someone else already had done. Uniqueness was practically guaranteed, because few people would be foolhardy enough to come at such subjects biblically.

The abortion issue was particularly worldview-centered (I had been a pro-abortion Marxist), but Susan led us further into personal involvement when she founded in 1984 the Austin Crisis Pregnancy Center. During our Texas years we would help to start a church, a school, and an anti-poverty program, but the CPC (now called Austin Lifecare) is what I'm proudest of-and Susan led the way. She formed its initial board, raised funds, and was its first chairman. Then I chaired it for a while.

We were poor but life was good. God blessed us with our third child in 1985. When Pete, our oldest, started youth baseball at age 7, Susan and I began 21 straight years of watching our sons play. We had a great backyard that ended at a small creek, and in it we played ball and raised rabbits: Eventually our menagerie included dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, turtles, and fish. Teaching took up two afternoons a week and I worked from home the rest of the time, so we could go out and shoot baskets in the driveway, or swim in the neighborhood pool.


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