Wednesday 22 August 2012

Whether You Call Yourself Christian, or You're a Militant Christian, Christian Supremacist, or Christian Extremist, You Should Take a Long Hard Look at This.

This morning on the Subversive Archaeologist's news ticker I spotted this article on The Academic, Charles Negy (University of Central Florida) was compelled to write an email to his students emphasizing something he was attempting to teach in a psychology class he was leading. I copy it here, verbatim, because I believe that it represents a fundamental anthropological insight--which abhors ethnocentrism--and because I believe the further that this gets on the intertubes, the better.
Charles Negy, Professor, Says Students Showed 'Religious Arrogance And Bigotry'
Hello, Cross-Cultural students, I am writing to express my views on how some of you have conducted yourself in this university course you are taking with me. It is not uncommon for some-to-many American students, who typically, are first-generation college students, to not fully understand, and maybe not even appreciate the purpose of a university. Some students erroneously believe a university is just an extension of high school, where students are spoon-fed “soft” topics and dilemmas to confront, regurgitate the “right” answers on exams (right answers as deemed by the instructor or a textbook), and then move on to the next course.Not only is this not the purpose of a university (although it may feel like it is in some of your other courses), it clearly is not the purpose of my upper-division course on Cross-Cultural Psychology. The purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to struggle intellectually with some of life's most difficult topics that may not have one right answer, and try to come to some conclusion about what may be “the better answer” (It typically is not the case that all views are equally valid; some views are more defensible than others). Another purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to engage in open discussion in order to critically examine beliefs, behaviors, and customs. Finally, another purpose of a university education is to help students who typically are not accustomed to thinking independently or applying a critical analysis to views or beliefs, to start learning how to do so. We are not in class to learn “facts” and simply regurgitate the facts in a mindless way to items on a test. Critical thinking is a skill that develops over time. Independent thinking does not occur overnight. Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.” One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.Last class meeting and for 15 minutes today, we addressed “religious bigotry.” Several points are worth contemplating:Religion and culture go “hand in hand.” For some cultures, they are so intertwined that it is difficult to know with certainty if a specific belief or custom is “cultural” or “religious” in origin. The student in class tonight who proclaimed that my class was supposed to be about different cultures (and not religion) lacks an understanding about what constitutes “culture.” (of course, I think her real agenda was to stop my comments about religion).Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I'm directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).The male student who stood up in class and directed the rest of the class to “not participate” by not responding to my challenge, represented the worst of education. For starters, the idea that a person—student or instructor—would instruct other students on how to behave, is pretty arrogant and grossly disrespects the rights of other students who can and want to think for themselves and decide for themselves whether they want to engage in the exchange of ideas or not. Moreover, this “let's just put our fingers in our ears so we will not hear what we disagree with” is appallingly childish and exemplifies “anti-intellectualism.” The purpose of a university is to engage in dialogue, debate, and exchange ideas in order to try and come to some meaningful conclusion about an issue at hand. Not to shut ourselves off from ideas we find threatening.Universities hold a special place in society where scholarly-minded folks can come together and discuss controversial, polemic, and often uncomfortable topics. Universities, including UCF, have special policies in place to protect our (both professors’ and students’) freedom to express ourselves. Neither students nor professors have a right to censor speech that makes us uncomfortable. We're adults. We're at a university. There is no topic that is “off-limits” for us to address in class, if even only remotely related to the course topic. I hope you will digest this message, and just as important, will take it to heart as it may apply to you.Charles Negy
It occurs to me that those students for whom this email was intended ought to be attending Liberty University, or Oral Roberts. They'd feel and be more at home at either. And, it would leave space in the classroom for people who're genuinely interested in a liberal education. There's a reason they're called the Liberal Arts!
     As for the title. I make no apologies for the broad brush approach. I say this because it's my feeling that the bigotry alluded to in Negy's email is the very essence of Christianity, and is deeply rooted in the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam. 
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 
Kinda sums it up nicely. Don't you think? 
'Scuse me. Tourette's moment coming.

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  1. I read this and can only shake my head in wonder, what a strange world you guys live in over there. As a fellow Westerner such a glimpse into the USA is like viewing a strange and alien culture. I pity those students who wish to actually gain something from their university years.

  2. I also wonder what sort of Christians you have over there. There is nothing in the New Testament especially in what is reported of Jesus's words and actions that supports bigotry and anti-intellectualism. Jesus famously spoke to the poor and the tax collectors and Women and odd groups like the Samaritins, he also defied most of the OT "rules" and effectively abolished them.

    True he said the only way to heaven is through belief in Him/God but he didn't say you had to use violence to get there.

    There was a discussion in the Name of the Rose about whether Jesus laughed. I think the narrator is told that it was felt unlikely that Jesus laughed because, as he was omnipotent, he would know how much evil would be done in his name.

  3. You decry religious bigotry and anti-intellectualism. You then state that you have no problem tarring all Christians with the same brush. You support your point by pulling out *one* verse of the Old Testament as a "gotcha" to toss out two millennia of Christian theology. No irony here.

  4. Dear Joseph,
    I'd ask you to forgive me if my words have injured you, but you might think me a little too ironic. And I'm sorry if my condemnation of Christian doctrine upsets you. You're quite correct in interpreting my words as being a form of bigotry--the only groups I'm prejudiced against are those who are themselves prejudiced by virtue of their adherence to theocratic cosmologies. And lest you think I've singled out Christianity, keep in mind that Christianity is not the only example of a theocratic and hegemonic religion. I'm not bothered by Christian ethics--I can readily accept much of Jesus's philosophy, whether or not the teachings of the New Testament are true. There's much in Christian philosophy that a non-Christian can embrace [kudos to IanS for reminding us of that]. However, I can't condone or embrace the insularity of what you have correctly labelled Christian theology, which is, after all, that against which I've railed--not, necessarily, its individual adherents, like yourself. Like it or not, exclusion is the very essence of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the Nicene Creed. Without even mentioning the doctrinal treatment of women, or of non-Christians over the course of the last two millennia, exclusion is the cornerstone of Christian theology. The Nicene Creed, in and of itself, demonstrates the exclusivity of the faith, which, in the fourth century C.E., excluded its own members if they didn't toe the Nicene line: "But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church."
    I don't think I could have said it better myself.

  5. The term "theology" is an oxymoron isn't it? :-)


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