Addiction and the Academic

Last night, I posted a blog named “How Much Do You Really Want To Live?”. It was essentially about the concept of pain and pleasure in the context of my struggles with drug addiction. A few people have said thank you for it, which was a great encouragement to me because I was particularly fond of it. But as I was about to post it, I asked my wife to read it to see if she liked it (which I always do; her approval of a thing I do immediately makes it more gratifying), and she asked a simple question that made me utterly livid:

Mason, are you sure you want to post this if you plan on entering academia?

I stopped dead in my tracks on the path to the TV remote and responded with a fairly vulgar comment about what academia could go do it itself. As I reached for the remote, I quickly changed trajectories and decided that our puppy needed some fresh air. I went outside and sat on one of the patio chairs, put my head in my hands, and took a couple of deep breathes. It was a Pink Floyd moment. “Another brick in the wall . . . ”

You might be thinking, “So what, man? You have a past. Forget about it.” But you don’t understand. It’s not just this. I’m already in a weird place. I’m an evangelical Christian, but not really committed (and even diametrically opposed) to some of the key ideas that have been seemingly made dogma, both in their churches and academic institutions. I don’t think Christians should be in politics, I’m not really sure that Hell is a place of eternal conscious suffering, I’m not really satisfied with Divine Command Theory, I believe God used evolution to bring about diversity in life here on Earth and that Young Earth Creationism is deeply unbiblical, I don’t think that all of the Bible is divinely inspired in the way that we want it to be (by this, I mean that I think God uses human error in a sort of opposite object lesson, especially in the Old Testament), I don’t believe there will be a rapture or an “end times” theology in general (which most academics don’t believe either, but could severely hamper my ability to ever be employed by an evangelical church in Texas), I reject substance dualism, I think philosophy is a requirement to sound theology, I think the natural sciences can improve some key theological quandaries, I don’t think your church needs another renovation, I think that a pretty significant amount of Reformed Theology is wrong, I don’t think the sole purpose of Christ’s mission on the cross was to absorb God’s wrath for mankind, I think we should open our arms to relationships with all cultures, and I think Catholics are our brothers in Christ. Man, I could go on and on.

Then, on the other hand, at the secular university, well, I’m an evangelical Christian. The deck’s pretty stacked against me at that job interview. Let’s be honest, they’re becoming less and less tolerant of Christian belief by the minute. You’re actually more at ease being a Communist than a Christian at many secular schools. Either place I go, I’m going to write about this stuff. So, my name on that job application just went from Mason to Malik. “We’ll be in touch . . . ”. Ugh.

Now, all of my above statements and doubts do not automatically bar me from entering a role at a Christian or secular university, but they sure don’t help. And they certainly hurt your hopes of gaining tenure. That’s why, from this point forward, I’m writing like a madman because I’m pretty sure that’s my most realistic hope of actually paying off any tuition debt.

Now back to the element of addiction. In the program that God first used to help me get clean, they give you key tags for the increments of time you spend without relapsing, but we post-junkies learn to be wary of who sees those key tags. Anyone in long-term recovery knows this. They also know that not everyone is like that; some show an authentic interest. That’s why I keep mine on me (which I’m proud to say makes one of my pockets extremely uncomfortable), because when I’m out and about, sometimes people see them and ask what they mean and I have an opportunity to tell them what Christ did for me and what He is willing to do for them too. I can tell them how they can be reconciled to their true Father: a new, better way (drug addict or not).

But when I’m in the professor’s office just hanging out (yeah, I’m that guy), those key tags stay in now because I learned not to pull them out. You know how many professors have been that authentic question-asker? Two. One . . . and two. And these were at secular universities, mind you. Even though I can talk Anselm to Nietzsche, quantum mechanics to philosophy of mind, once they see those key tags, something usually changes. I suddenly go from an almost colleague to Cheech Marin.

This means that at any moment, my testimony, which is the living demonstration to both myself and the world of the precious reunion God made possible via the work of Christ, becomes a type of respect-stopper. Maybe even a liability.

Yet on secular campuses, studies show the opposite is true. Kansas State University Sociologist Dr. Christy Moran-Craft describes a massive 2003 study by the University of California, Los Angeles’s 2003–2004 Higher Education Research Institute faculty survey that involved a sample of 40,679 college and university faculty at 511 campuses. She found that “ highly spiritual faculty are much more likely than their less spiritual colleagues to score high on the following qualities: focus on students’ personal development, civic-minded values, diversity advocacy, student-centered pedagogy, civic-minded practice, and positive outlook on work and life.” [1]


Looks like I would be less of a liability, after all.

When I’m being interviewed for a position at a secular university, the interviewer will probably be like , “Oh, crap, he probably affirms all that Christian dogma.. NEEEXXT!” They could but it would be quite unscientific, indeed.

Then, when I’m being interviewed for a position at a Christian institution, I will affirm all the necessary Christian dogma. Bodily Resurrection of Christ? Check. Substitutionary Atonement? Check. Trinity? Check. Grace by Faith? Check. Return of Christ? Check. Exclusivity of Christ? Check. But all that other stuff? No check. Oh yeah, and I used to be a meth addict.

But are either good reasons to reject a qualified applicant? This fire and brimstone attitude that we bring into understandable differences in non-salvation related doctrinal issues prevents us from adhering to St. Paul’s advice in 2 Timothy 2:23 when he writes, “Do not have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” Our disagreements are not over the issues St. Paul tells us to rebuke in verse 2:18. They are not “wanderings from the truth.”


How about rejecting an applicant for being a recovering addict? They should check out the effectiveness of collegiate recovery programs on college campuses, both religious and secular. In a summary of these recovery programs by the Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Journal of Education, psychologist Dr. Holly Karakos explains the work of Texas Tech’s Dr. Kitty Harris, revealing, “Harris and colleagues review how these programs have evolved to meet the unique needs of emerging adults in recovery, describing the specific ways that they help support sobriety on college campuses. Thompson then furthers this work on recovery programs in college by discussing servant leadership and the ways it is particularly well suited for use in Collegiate Recovery Communities, highlighting the focus on service, humility, and community. Thompson illustrates this connection by reviewing previous research on servant leadership and explaining the ways these findings can be used to support college students in recovery.”[2]


Who better to relate students in recovery than a professor in longstanding recovery, especially one in the humanities?


Maybe you’re thinking, “Mason, just don’t tell them” and let me be frank, that makes me angrier than anything. I’m not going to stand up in the interview and say, “Dr. Whoever, my name is Mason, and I’m an addict”, but I’m not going to hide it, nor hide my confidence in Christ. Similarly, when a student says, “Professor Kelso, this doctrine doesn’t make any sense”, I’m not going to hide the idea that it doesn’t because the school wanted me sign a piece of paper.

But I think there’s hope. Actually, I’m hopeful. I got Jesus, homeboy! Still, it’s frustrating. I feel like Jesus in Luke 9:58 when He said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (yeah, I know that’s out of context, but, chill out, it’s relevant to me).

And who knows, maybe by the time you can call me “Dr. Kelso” the Christian universities will be so alt-right and the secular ones so Social Justice Warrior’d out that I don’t even go into teaching. Maybe I’ll work another job and just write a few books in the hopes of one actually selling. You know, throw a few pots of spaghetti at the wall and hope some of it sticks.

Maybe I could William Lane Craig my way to the top (politely cold-cocking infidels until there’s a mound of unconscious atheists). Eventually, someone will be like, “Give this man a job!”. Of course, this is my preferred option. Just kidding, atheists (but not really, Christians).

Or it could be I’m altogether wrong in my concern. Maybe this can even work to my advantage. The only one that knows is the one who guides us all if we let Him. So I’m going to let Him. He’s led me out of deserts before.

[1] Craft, Christy Moran , Foubert, John D. and Lane, Jessica Jelkin(2011) ‘Integrating Religious and Professional Identities: Christian Faculty at Public Institutions of Higher Education’, Religion & Education, 38: 2, 92 —110. Web.

[2]Andrew J. Finch & Holly L. Karakos (2014) Substance Abuse Recovery and Schooling: The Role of Recovery High Schools and Collegiate Recovery Communities, Peabody Journal of Education, 89:2, 159-164. Web.


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