In high school, I wanted a high GPA. At first, like everyone else, it was because I wanted to get into a good college. Very quickly, that reason changed… College became a secondary goal. I just wanted a high GPA so I could be ranked higher than my classmates.
At some point during my freshman year, I realized I could manipulate the system to inflate my class ranking.
At my high school, getting an A in “regular” classes earned you a 4.0. Getting an A in an honors or Advanced Placement class earned you a 5.0. Getting an A+ (usually 98% or higher), B+, etc. earned you an additional 0.3.
So after my first year of high school, I dropped band (a “regular” class) — I didn’t care for it much at the time, so it wasn’t a huge loss for me. I requested an “academic gym waiver” so I could take an additional honors/AP class instead of gym (another “regular’ class that was lowering my GPA). If I was ever at the cusp of getting an A+ in a class, I asked the teacher if there was anything I could do to get that last point or two — something that might not have been offered to the other students. And a couple times, I did get that +.
Other kids in my class knew how to play the system, too. Academic gym waivers were all over the place. One friend took an Honors Accounting class instead of an AP class in order to earn an easy A+. It made a difference. The difference in GPAs between the top kids in my class was miniscule.
At some point during my senior year, I realized how crazy this was. The cheating among the smarter kids in my class was rampant. Everyone was playing the game at any cost. We were all accepted into college. It made no real difference anymore whether we got an A or B… except we had all come this far, so we kept pushing ourselves until the GPAs were locked in at the end of first semester that final year.
In a class of over 700 students, I finished in the top 10. I was satisfied.
Why do I say all this (besides to point out how anal I was as a high-schooler)?
Sometimes, you just play the game even if you don’t really care for it. You do things that you wouldn’t otherwise do because there’s some goal you feel you have to reach.
At least, that’s the rationalization I’ve been using when I hear Barack Obama speak about religion.
Deep down, and for no real rational reason, I don’t think he’s all that religious. But he knows he has to put on the facade of Christian faith if he wants to become president.
When he responds to faith-based questions, some might say he’s trying to find a middle ground — his answers appeal to both the deeply religious and the extremely non-religious.
I don’t think he’s just trying to find a middle ground.
When I listen to him, I hear something different.
He says what he must to get elected (i.e. pandering to the religious) and then — sometimes in the same sentence — he lets his rational side kick in.
Take an excerpt from his recent conversation at the Compassion Forum:
CAMPBELL BROWN: Senator, if one of your daughters asked you — and maybe they already have — “Daddy, did God really create the world in six days?” What would you say?
BARACK OBAMA: You know, I’m trying to remember if we had this conversation.
OBAMA: You know, what I’ve said to them is that I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it. It may not be 24-hour days. And that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t. And, you know, that, I think, is a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I am a part.
You know, my belief is, is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live, that that is — that is essentially true. That is fundamentally true.
Now whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible, that, you know, I don’t presume to know.
BROWN: Let’s go to…
OBAMA: But let me just make one last point on this. I do believe in evolution. I don’t think that is incompatible with Christian faith. Just as I don’t think science generally is incompatible with Christian faith.
And I think that this is something that, you know, we get bogged down in. There are those who suggest that if you have a scientific bent of mind, then somehow you should reject religion. And I fundamentally disagree with that.
In fact, the more I learn about the world, the more I know about science, the more I’m amazed about the mystery of this planet and this universe. And it strengthens my faith as opposed to weakens it.
It’s hard for me to imagine that a Harvard-educated lawyer as intelligent as Obama grapples at all with the “six days” issue. God didn’t create the universe in six days, whether they’re literal or metaphorical days. Obama knows that. He has to know that. He adds in the bit about evolution like someone who chugs down water to get a nasty taste out of his mouth.
And then, every so often, I feel like he says what’s really on his mind when he’s not thinking about how to pander:
[I]t’s not surprising then [that the people in small towns] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
He’s apologized about that, but (I think) only because he had to.
Imagine if he really did feel that way? Doesn’t he speak the truth? When people get upset or depressed, they do turn to God. Not all people, but a hell of a lot of them.
At so many of the churches I visited, people talked about how God “saved” them only when they were at their lowest points. I even wrote in my book: “was being down, or lonely, or desperate a prerequisite to finding God?”
There’s nothing “elitist” in his remarks. It’s just that the atheist side of him accidentally spoke up.
In several months time, Obama may still speak about faith and use religious rhetoric, but I’m hopeful that when he becomes president, he won’t play into the hands of the Religious Right. He will uphold the Separation of Church and State. He won’t have to answer any of these idiotic questions about evolution and Creation in a way that downplays his own intelligence.
When I entered college, my classes were much less rigorous than the ones I took in high school. Yes, I had harder material, but I also had more time to study. As long as my grades were decent, GPA didn’t matter. I had a mix of As and Bs and an occasional C… and I hardly flinched. I could relax because no one cared anymore. I didn’t have to put up the pretense of playing the game and I could concentrate on things that really mattered.
I hope I can say the same for President Obama.