Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Stomping on Jesus: Bigotry in Public Education I

Over the past months, a series of incidents has brought to my attention how American Public Education often poisons young minds against Christianity. 

A week or so ago, one such incident came to light from Florida Atlantic University. A professor, Deandre Poole, teaching Intercultural Communications, told his students to write out the name of Jesus on a piece of paper, then trample on that paper. A Mormon refused, complained about the exercise to the teacher's supervisor, and was put out of the class.

If only the student had been Presbyterian!

Apparently Poole found the following consciousness-raising exercise in a teaching manual:

This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings . . . Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment . . . After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper . . . Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.

It is hard to decide what to feel more concerned about here: the blasphemy, the abuse of power, or the sheer stupidity. 

Let's begin with the stupidity. 

Stomp on Jesus, and then the most profound lesson you can come up with, is "Discuss the importance of symbols in culture?"  Not, "Now you will burn in hell, you heretic?"  Or "Give up your cursed Catholic faith, stooge of our imperial masters?" 

How insipid the imagination of our persecutors has become.  How cheaply they expect us to sell our souls. 

But Jesus was a person before he became a symbol.  He is not loved because he is a symbol, he is a symbol because he is loved.   Read the gospels, and we meet a man, not an abstraction.  Jesus taught people to forgive their enemies, healed the sick, stood up for people on the margins of society, and then was stomped on and killed because "You being a man, make yourself out to be God," or some such charge. 

Many commentators have asked why the instructor didn't tell his students to write the name "Mohammed" on the paper, or perhaps "Martin Luther King," and what the reaction would have been if he had.  But of course, the first case is unlike the second, because Mohammed did the stomping, he was not stomped on.  And stomping on King -- wow, I am trying to think what fires that would bring down on one's head.  People would rightly recognize, "King has already been stomped on, and that's one reason he is loved.  Why would we want to take the side of those who did the stomping?"

Having lived in Nagasaki, Japan, I am more reminded of the ceremony by which Japanese in that city (where Christianity had been concentrated from the 17th Century) were once required to trample on the fumie, an icon of Mary or some other artifact of Christianity. If they didn't, they might be boiled in a hot springs or crucified.  This student was only suspended: I guess he should count himself lucky.

One is also reminded of the acts of desecration Mark Studdock is asked to carry out as part of his "objectivity training," in C. S. Lewis' novel That Hideous Strength, and the rationale behind those acts of sacrilege. Studdock objects, as an atheist, to being asked to trample on a crucifix:

"What is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn't it just as subjective to spit on a thing like
this as to worship it?"
To which the villain, Professor Frost, responds:

"That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries . . . An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a question for a priori discussion We find it in practice that it cannot be dispensed with."

Dr. Frost, as it turns out, is being "run" by evil spirits called Macrobes, who want to destroy Studdock's (and all of our) humanity.

And so, on a smaller scale, without knowing what they are about, it seems do some educators.  Because at the risk of exagerrating, to varying degrees, the name of Jesus is being stomped on in classrooms around America. 

I will give a few more examples later in the series.    
While one might praise Dr. Poole for his honesty, doing overtly what schools often do in effect, he did not understand his own actions as well as Dr. Frost.  Jesus is stomped on not because he is an "arbitrary" symbol of Western civilization.  Jesus is rather the symbol of those aspects of western civilization that he and many of his colleagues seek to destroy.  Poole was not "speaking truth to power" in the context of public education: he was toadying up to power, to (one might say) "that hideous strength." 
It also dawned on Studdock that Jesus was non-arbitrary for two other reasons:
(1) He belonged to the good, "the sweet and the straight" as opposed to the "sour and the crooked." 
(2) Yet the cross, he realized, was a picture of "what the crooked did to the straight."

My goal in this series is not to deride the Public Education system in general. Having served as a substitute teacher in many schools, I find most teachers to be dedicated, hard-working, and skilful. Some of them, of course, are Christians, and most of those who are not, are I think conscientious and try to be fair.

Neither is my goal to promote paranoia or a persecution complex on the part of Christians. We are not, after all, boiled in hot springs these days, or sent to the Gulag. Both Christians and Secular Humanists have had, at various times in our respective pasts, abused our power, stood on the side of the crooked against the straight. It is important to acknowledge our own institutional and personal sins, and not act holier-than-thou.

But I have come more and more to the conclusion, based not just on such public incidents, but also on my own experience with public education, that the Christian faith, and the true influence of Jesus on the world, is at present often trampled on in the public education system. Furthermore, due to prejudice against Christianity, our children are often told untruths about history in particular. They are not taught the true story of how Christianity helped create western civilization and modern freedoms. On the contrary, they are often subject to systematic cover-up of that role, over-the-top attacks on the Church, which is almost invariably depicted as evil, often alongside pro-Islamic half-truths and spin.  (The History Alive textbook used in our school district, and others, is an especially flagrant example of that.)

The purpose of this series is to begin to expose how this is sometimes done, and to some small degree, set the record straight.     

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