What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

About

What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

"That Hideous Strength" Comes to school [Updated *thrice* below the fold]

In C.S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength the demon-worshiping villain Frost tells the novice Mark Studdock, as part of his initiation process, to trample a crucifix. Studdock, who is not a Christian of any kind, refuses, though he believes Frost may kill him for doing so.

The real world has, to some extent, caught up with fiction. A college teacher in a communications class told his students to write the word "Jesus" on a piece of paper and stomp on it. This was part of a prescribed exercise. Fox News, that bastion of Evil Right-Wing-ism, has helpfully obtained a copy of the assignment, which comes from a book called Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach (5th edition)

Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper,” the lesson reads. “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.

Because thought experiments just aren't enough. I suppose this is part of the "group activities" mania. It isn't enough to say, "If I told you to step on a crucifix, I assume several of you would object. That's quite understandable. Let's discuss the importance of symbols in culture." No, you actually have to play Professor Frost and tell the students to stomp on Jesus' name.

Mormon student Ryan Rotela refused. Presumably refusing was one of the expected outcomes of the exercise, so that isn't what he is in trouble for. What he's apparently in trouble for is having the gall to complain to the professor and the chairman that the assignment was inappropriate. He's been kicked out of the class. I don't know what this means about his grade. Is he just going to be given a "withdrawn passing" or what? And if he needs the class to graduate, then what? And why should he be kicked out, anyway? Are students not allowed to complain to the chairman about an assignment they consider inappropriate? Especially in this case, when it is hardly a stretch to consider the class activity very inappropriate indeed.

I'm afraid that one clue to the school's circling the wagons and defending the teacher, even punishing the student for complaining, may lie in the fact that the professor is black (see photo).

A number of wise acres are quite rightly pointing out that this would never have happened with the name "Mohammed," though the point about cultural symbols would be just the same, especially if there were really Muslim students in the class. But it's precisely because there might be Muslim students in the class that that assignment would never be given, interesting "communications" illustration though it would be.

If a teacher had decided that the exercise would be interesting to try with "Mohammed," I think we cay safely say that the school would not blandly have responded to complaints like this:

“As with any academic lesson, the exercise was meant to encourage students to view issues from many perspectives, in direct relation with the course objectives,” said Noemi Marin, the university’s director of the school of communication and multimedia studies.

“While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate,” Marin added.

When it comes to Islam, the Muslims have made good and sure that we understand quite viscerally "the importance of symbols in culture." As in "insult Prophet Mohammed, we threaten to kill you."

Not that I'm recommending Christian death threats. Not that I'm blaming Christians at all for this. What I am saying is that when it comes to Christianity the academics merely chatter about "the importance of symbols in culture" while quite willingly working actively to undermine and attack whatever remaining importance Christian symbols have in culture. One result is exercises like the one in this story. We're all just supposed to say that hey, it's just an exercise, it wasn't real. Which is in itself taking a rather significant substantive position concerning the (un)importance of Christian symbols.

Good on the Mormon for refusing. I hope Christians would have done the same.

I look for this kind of thing to increase. I'm glad there is some growing outrage about this incident, and it wouldn't hurt at all for the student to win a lawsuit against the school. The precedents in that regard are convoluted, though. (I won't go into them here in detail.) It's not clear that he would win if he did sue. The question, if the courts are consistent with all precedents to date, is whether the courts would regard this exercise as being more like making a student write a paper arguing, as an academic exercise, for a position he disagrees with or like making a student write and mail an actual letter to a Congressman lobbying for a policy he disagrees with. As far as I know, we have no explicit Jesus-stomping court precedents.

If you don't believe that persecution of some kind or other is coming for Christians in the United States, look long and hard at this example. The prof. didn't just make the exercise up. It was in a communications course textbook. It had made it past a gauntlet of editors. I think that qualifies it as mainstream. Yet it is justified, and punishing students who complain is justified, on the grounds of "dialogue" and "getting students to view things from different perspectives."

Welcome to the Brave New World, and pray and prepare yourselves and your children for more of the same.

Update: The university has kinda sorta apologized. Why do I say "kinda sorta"? Because a) the university appears to be lying when it insists that the professor "told all of the students in the class that they could choose whether or not to participate." The whole point of the exercise appears to be making students uncomfortable by not telling them that they can choose whether or not to participate. The exercise, as described by the textbook itself, says to "instruct" students to step on Jesus' name. It doesn't say, "Instruct students to step on the name, but only if they feel comfortable doing so." b) The university says that no student was punished. Really? Was Ryan Rotela not removed from the class without his consent? Why is that not a punishment? This looks like another lie. c) We don't yet have word from Ryan Rotela that he's been reinstated to the class with a personal apology to him, and the university cites privacy regulations that prevent them from saying that he's right now (again?) a student in good standing in the class, even though these privacy regulations evidently don't prevent them from implying (see b) that Rotela lied when he said he was suspended in the first place.

Update #2: According to this new story, Rotela has indeed been punished by the school, which directly falsifies the school's statement that "no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class." In other words, they did lie. Rotela is being charged with violating the student code of conduct, with the university apparently alleging that he was threatening or harassing in the manner of his complaint against the class assignment. (It would be amusing if it weren't serious for Rotela that the "code of conduct" he's alleged to have violated prohibits "intimidation, harassment, or coercion," which of course is precisely what this assignment involves against the students.) What standards of due process Rotela has are unclear. He is forbidden by the university's letter to contact any other students in the class. This would seem to hinder his defense and would never be allowed in actual criminal proceedings, since other students in the class are witnesses of the incident and must be available to the defense. But I suppose universities make these things up as they go along and don't consider themselves subject to such pettifogging rules of fairness. I would say it is unquestionable that the university is retaliating against Rotela for reporting the incident to the press and causing them embarrassment. It remains to be seen whether they will get away with this second-order retaliation.

Update #3: According to this article, confirmed by the general tenor of a statement on Rotela's Facebook page ("FAU gave me everything I want! Victory!), Ryan Rotela has been reinstated in the course, though in a different professor's section. I'm sure he's only too happy not to have to keep taking the course from Deandre Poole. My remaining question is whether the school has dropped its absurd charges of "violating the academic code of conduct," mentioned in Update #2. I would assume from his statement that they "gave him everything he wants" that they did drop those charges, but it's not explicitly confirmed. Perhaps this means he won't sue. As Sage points out in the comments, the real lesson that will be carried away from this, however, is that students can be expected to be given a rough time (to have to retain legal counsel, etc.) if they stand up to outrageous classroom demands by leftist professors.

Comments (79)

Here at WWWW I often think of these lines about how few there are who oppose that hideous strength.

Ransom: "We are four men, some women, and a bear."
Merlin: "I saw the time when Logres was only myself and one man and two boys, and one of those was a churl."

As I read this entry, I wondered if the author of the text considered what St. Norbert (the patron of his institution) would have thought of such an exercise?

I was amused at some of the Amazon reviews of the textbook. The first I assume is tongue-in-cheek:

A Jesus stomping good time! I was looking for a book about stomping on Jesus, man this one really fit the bill. Sure, there are other books about stomping on Jesus, but this is really the authority on the matter. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more coverage of stomping on Buddha, considering that the title of this book is "Intercultural Communication" so it loses one star for that.

And then David Duke (chuckle) opines:

The book starts out strong with a table of contents, and is nicely organized into chapters with words - something that the author, given his writing skills, should be proud of. But from there, it veers into a venerable wasteland of random thoughts - akin to writing under the influence of bad LSD. In fact, it appears that the incoherent babbling that is being passed off as "writing" is really no more than "mushrooms gone mad".

The author, starting on page 1, quickly entangles himself in a mental knot that leads to endless "chapters" of psychedelic prose. What's with the perverse attraction to Marsha Brady, and why is Peter not even acknowledged? Passed off as "paragraphs", these written trips would be laughable - except for the fact that as Christians, we forgive the sinner. Much like Alice never complained about her lot in life.

Verbal codes, Nonverbal codes, secret codes, fire codes, code pink - how can anyone be expected to follow along? The book is filled with paranoid rants. It falls short of its intended objective: addressing the stress and communication friction of the Brady household. Save your money. Sam the Butcher wouldn't wrap meat with the pages from this book.

No incense for Caesar!

"Good on the Mormon for refusing. I hope Christians would have done the same."

I enjoyed reading this article (I love C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy) until I reached the statement above. While I appreciate the high-five for the Mormon student, may I ask - why do you think the Mormon student refused to stomp on the name Jesus? Perhaps because he reveres and worships Christ as a central part of his religion? Making a distinction between "Mormon" and "Christian" is unnecessary. Mormons believe Christ, believe in Christ, and accept Him as their Savior. Mormons are Christians.

I would amend the sentence above to read, "I hope *all* Christians would have done the same."

Sorry Heather, but Mormons worship *another* Jesus. The Jesus they worship is the spirit brother of Lucifer, which is not the *actual* Jesus.

You know what real Jesus I mean, right? The one that is the 2nd person of the Godhead, who died a penal substitutionary death for the sins of many, the one who now sits at the right hand of the Father?

Since Mormons don't confess the one, true God, they are not Christians.

Their gospel isn't the the one preached by the apostles, which means it is *another* or *different* gospel. Such things were eternally condemned by St. Paul.

That doesn't mean they are "bad people" in the eyes of men, but it does mean that they live condemned, like all those who do not trust in the real Jesus.

No, Heather, Mormons are not Christians. They do not have the Christian view of the nature of God, and they do not believe in the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ in the Christian sense. "Revering and worshiping Christ as a central part of one's religion" is insufficient for actual Christian theology. Indeed, at the outset the early leaders of Mormonism were quite clear that they were _not_ Christians but were offering a new alternative to Christianity. It is only more recently that for sociological reasons the official version has become, "Mormonism is a denomination of Christianity." I refuse to have this thread hijacked for discussing Mormon theology and history, but you need to do some research. I stand by the sentence as written.

Sigh. Okay, y'all, I've already had one thread run to 130+ comments on lots of topics that were only tangentially on-topic. Let's try not to do that here.

Let's try this question: Should the student sue?

Let's try another question: Would most Christian students refuse to do this?

Let's try a third question: How can pressure be put upon schools and textbook publishers not to include such *obviously* unprofessional so-called "exercises" in their class plans?

Mormons believe Christ, believe in Christ, and accept Him as their Savior. Mormons are Christians.

Only if you believe that "Accepting Christ as Savior" is all that's needed to be Christian.

That's not even a knock on Mormons. I mean, the Amish accept Christ as savior and separate themselves from Christians. There's more to Christians than that one broad comment that can be construed any number of ways-and Mormons are ample proof of that.

But this is a tangent that I doubt even crossed Lydia's mind.

Lydia, you can't say that Mormons are not Christians. You can say that Mormon theology is not Christian theology, but none of us knows for sure the extent to which God's grace may touch someone. Clearly, you don't want to say that in order to be Christian one must have a completely and accurate grasp of, and belief in, Nicene Christianity and Chalcedonian Christology. IF so, then not even J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig make it into heaven, since they deny that Christ had two wills, a view contra Chalcedon, and heretical too boot.

Please, Frank, I explicitly said that I do not wish this thread to be turned to that subject. "Theology" and "person" obviously come together in important ways, especially when theological commitments of Religion A are clearly in contradiction to the theological commitments of Religion B, and we are talking about persons who consider themselves to belong to one or the other. My statement was meant in the same sense in which I would say, "Muslims are not Christians" or "Hindus are not Christians" or "Hare Krishnas are not Christians," none of which statements are rendered false or impossible to know to be true by the "extent to which God's grace may touch someone." Take it as such, and let's please move on.

Does no one wish to discuss what your child would do in this situation? Or whether you've discussed it with them? Or whether the school's apology is sufficient? Or whether the school is lying about what happened? Or how common you (have reason to) believe such deliberately make-students-blaspheme-Christianity "exercises" are becoming?

I don't have children, but I would personally refuse.

Some responses may be useful to brainstorm.
"This has no educational value." (A more detailed response along these lines would involve the marginal value compared to a thought experiment.)
"Asking me to desecrate religious symbols in class is a violation of the separation of church and state."
"I refuse to start a bad habit. This is the sort of little decision that (adds up/leads) to big decisions such as razing churches."

Is my imagination running away with me if I consider attempting to exorcise the teacher?

Does no one wish to discuss what your child would do in this situation?

Yes. Such an exercise should never have occurred and the school's response is typical fobbing off to limit damage while not impugning the social engineering that goes on there to the tune of thousands of parent's dollars a year. While I haven't discussed it with the children, (they are still on the young side) I'm going to read the Akallabêth to my oldest, which is a instructive tale about what happens when a society apostatizes.

How about this? "Professor, I'll stomp the scrap of paper inscribed with the Name above all names -- right after you stomp on your iPhone."

I must say, Erik's idea of exorcism is really attractive. Unfortunately, most of us aren't qualified exorcists. Shoot.

Paul, the worry is that he might call your bluff, but it's a very funny response.

Scott, I like that idea. Later she can actually read That Hideous Strength. But that's perhaps when she's fifteen or sixteen.

Yes, dear professor, let's have you pull your wife's name and picture up on you I-phone, and you stomp on it while I record it and send it to your wife.

Let's pull up your letter from the University granting you your position (or your tenure) and you stomp on it while I record it and send it to the dean.

Let's pull up the University's statement of principles, and especially the statement of "diversity and inclusion," and I will record your stomping on it and send it to the school's office of diversity.

These will all be EQUALLY INSTRUCTIVE to us students, as we witness these symbols of culture and you interacting.

Lydia's original approach seems to approve of the exercise as a thought expirement only. In THS, Mark's "initiation" to desecrate the cross was no mere thought expirement, neither was this.

Christians might demand the following on campus when discrimination and persecution like this occurs:

That the university provide a lecture series on Christian persecution around the world.

A "teach in" where members of the Christian community present information on why Jesus and his name are so important to Christians and non-Christians alike.

That the university's diversity offfice devise a long term plan to have Christian cultural, artistic and intellectual activities promoted throughout the institution.

etc....

I would do the same thing that the student did-in fact, I think I'd walk out of the class. And if I were punished for it, I'd send a letter to the editor of my local newspaper and try and drum up some attention

I'm glad this got national attention, which is probably why the university half-apologized. I wish I knew what's happened to Ryan Rotela. My bet is he's been reinstated in the class with a hasty partial apology to him, and now the school is spinning as hard as it can to pretend that none of this ever happened and to impugn his honesty and his account of the event. If they tell him he "can" go back to class (what a privilege!) they'll hope to avoid a lawsuit.

what your child would do in this situation?

My child, who is of course a mirror image of me, would not even have put the name of Jesus on the floor.

none of us knows for sure the extent to which God's grace may touch someone

This is true, Frank. God can save non-Christians ("And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold"), among whom I count Mormons. And Barack Obama.

Well, given that I had profs scream at me to shut up and throw books at my across the room, you can guess what I am teaching my kids to do. That said, I am seriously considering purchasing a firearm(s) and some remote real estate somewhere in the Sierra-Nevadas. We're doomed.

Let's pull up the University's statement of principles, and especially the statement of "diversity and inclusion," and I will record your stomping on it and send it to the school's office of diversity.

Capital suggestion.

Capital suggestion, Paul. You could substitute here indefinitely. I'm surprised no one has mentioned the letters "MLK." Then he would probably have been kicked out of the class for participating.

How odd. I didn't even read Scott's comment before posting mine.

Ha! Great minds and all that...

Oh, man, I know it's evil of me, but I love the idea. "Have students write the name 'Martin Luther King, Jr.' on a piece of paper. Then have them think about it for a minute, then put it on the floor and step on it. Discuss with them why they are unwilling to step on it..." etc.

Has anyone else encountered a "Make your students blaspheme" exercise like this, this blatant, in any other class?

I never have, and find it patently absurd. Heck, in my public speaking class the main text was simply a distillation of Aristotle's analysis of public speaking...

"How can pressure be put upon schools and textbook publishers not to include such *obviously* unprofessional so-called "exercises" in their class plans?"
Hopefully, we can try to raise standards amongst the professoriate. It might also be a good idea if there were more fellowships for traditionally inclined people interested in studying liberal arts fields. The ISI provides some, but they are only one organization...

Here's another idea:

"Professor, given that your purpose here is to induce students, as an exercise, to commit blasphemy against public orthodoxy, I recommend a rather more vigorous exercise: let us all proceed to the campus cafeteria, that we may watch you explore the mysteries of symbology and context by reciting a public loyalty oath to the Ku Klux Klan. After all, it's just an exercise."

It pains me to note, as a discerning spectator of the previous two threads, that Lydia told a commentator to "go to hell." What's more disturbing, she has yet to offer (at least publicly) an apology.

While Crude is perhaps equally in the wrong for having compelled Lydia to make such an uncharitable outburst, she clearly crossed the line in terms of appropriate Christian behavior. She ought to publicly state that she has made a private apology. As a Christian, speaking in a Christian forum, she must know this is right.

I'm not sure Lydia has any obligation to make a private apology public knowledge. It's arguable that she doesn't owe any private apology at all, but if she does, it's not obvious as a matter of basic Christian duty that she has to publish the fact.

Frankly, if you insist on knowing whether she has offered an apology that is not due to you personally, it is because you are a busy-body. It is enough to make your opinion known, that she owes Crude an apology. There is no need to demand to know whether she has done so in private, and to attempt to browbeat her into making public statements about it--it's none of your business, or mine.

And if you must do such an obnoxious and busybody-ish thing, Chris, whoever you may be, it should have occurred to you to do it in that thread where I uttered the Heinous Words. You know, we do have a "recent comments" spot at the side, and if it's important to you that I see your heartfelt call for an apology, I would have seen it.

For the record, I don't actually hope that that commentator spends his eternity separated from God. In fact, I wish for him the beatific vision. The phrase was merely a slightly more strongly worded way of saying, "Go pound sand." For the rest, stop threadjacking my post, or I will delete your comments.

What is it? Is this story not interesting enough to generate conversation in itself, that people feel they must needs discuss Mormonism, etc., and everything else but the topic of the post itself?

Maybe people have just become inured to how screwed up the academy is. That is sad, because it is still amongst What's Wrong With the World.

I'll chip in a bit more. As a college student right now I'm worried that a lot of the reductios you're proposing won't actually work in practice-even the MLK one. Just so long as it's proposed as, "Hey, it's just an exercise-we didn't REALLY mean for anybody to step on it." The Muhammad reductio might work though.

I've discussed things with some smarter liberals who were criticizing the Church, and when I mentioned Islam they were perfectly prepared to go off on that too, to their credit. It depends a lot on how intellectually honest you are and how much you've really thought about things.

Anyway, this whole "stomping on Jesus" thing is bad for the simple fact that they're asking us to do it, whether they expect us to say yes or not. You want to talk about the diminishing importance of symbols in culture, well, their you go.

I've discussed things with some smarter liberals who were criticizing the Church, and when I mentioned Islam they were perfectly prepared to go off on that too, to their credit.

Just to be clear, where they against the exercise altogether, or were they cool with it as long as it was equal-opportunity?

P.S.

You want to talk about the diminishing importance of symbols in culture, well, their you go.

Really? It would seem that the Name of Jesus was chosen precisely because it is the only remaining barrier in the West to secular utopian fantasies. If the teacher asked the to stomp on a flag of the Branch Davidians, the students would have just been confused.

MarcAnthony, is your guess that they actually would step on the name of MLK, go out in public and say the loyalty oath to the KKK, step on a picture of their wife, and so forth? That your liberal friends would actually do all of these things? It's interesting that you think they might balk at doing it with Mohammad. Is that because they would be afraid of a) getting in trouble, b) being "bad liberals" for offending Muslims or c) getting killed? Or all of the above? And which ones would they admit?

I myself doubt that a good liberal would stomp on the name of MLK or even a picture of his wife, unless he already hated his wife for some reason.

But one thing I want to note here is that the students didn't get to make up exercises for the teacher anyway. The book sounds like a disaster. The funniest comment in this thread may be Scott W.'s quotation from the Amazon reviews. If they're accurate, they show the book to be a piece of utter postmodern trash, for which even I, a non-environmentalist, feel sad to think that trees were chopped down to print. :-) If there's one thing postmodernists are good at, in defiance of all their nonsense about "overturning hierarchies," it's using power to torment people. That's obviously what this was about: The professor using his power to make specifically Christian students uncomfortable. The students have no opportunity to pick his taboos to challenge him with. He's in power, not they.

If you're right that it's just that liberals don't acknowledge any importance to symbols in culture at all and would stomp on anything, then it's worth asking them why they think other people would be uncomfortable. After all, the whole point of the exercise is supposed to be that some people will refuse and that this will provide a conversation starter. This must mean that some of the Christians (or Mormons) will think that some symbols still do have meaning.

But I think that this is trying to have it both ways. If some liberal _defends_ this exercise on the grounds that it's "just a symbol" and hence that the students shouldn't be offended, and tries to bite the bullet and say that he himself (the liberal) would stomp on anything you care to name, then doesn't that remove the whole "bite" of the exercise? A liberal who makes that response seems to be assuming one and only one answer to the question, "Do symbols have meaning?" He is then using that answer to argue that the exercise was not unprofessional. Yet the author of the exercise himself seems to think that the exercise has point *precisely because* symbols do still have meaning in a culture and therefore some people will be uncomfortable or will even refuse. If this were not the case, there would be no possibility for the exercise to generate interesting discussion.

Lydia,

I think that Mormons...Just Kidding :-)

In all seriousness, given my last post and my call to arms, I really liked this response from "tm":

Christians might demand the following on campus when discrimination and persecution like this occurs:

That the university provide a lecture series on Christian persecution around the world.

A "teach in" where members of the Christian community present information on why Jesus and his name are so important to Christians and non-Christians alike.

That the university's diversity offfice devise a long term plan to have Christian cultural, artistic and intellectual activities promoted throughout the institution.

etc....

Once again, the idea of going on the offensive (even if in this case it is a reaction to another liberal outrage) appeals to me greatly. And while I hate the whole push for diversity throughout the educational/corporate worlds, the idea of forcing these folks to suddenly have to confront the reality of Christian "diversity" does have a sort of perverse appeal.

I would have said, "Symbol? I don't see any symbol. At the name of Jesus even demons tremble. No mere symbol has that kind of power over angels. The name of Jesus has power. It is, in fact, in some mysterious way, directly connected to the man-who-is-God. Correctly speaking, it is a sacramental, which makes it a religious object, but symbol? I don't see this thing called, 'symbol,' of which you speak. Perhap, one ought to learn some theology before engaging in matters of which they have no knowledge. I take it you seriously thought the name of Jesus was a symbol? Even a beginning seminary student would not make such a mstake. So, if you can show me a mere symbol, then, we may proceed. Otherwise, I cannot perform the assignment as asked. If you have any questions, I would be happy to dialogue about that."

Also, the Mormon may not be a Christian, but he gave a Christian witness. No one can perform the works of Christ and be against him. So, if he did not respond as such, even if he were not Christian, may one not think that the very stones would have cried out? [Sorry for the Mormon comment, Lydia. I pass by so seldom, these days and this incident of blaspheming really makes me angry].

The Chicken

That's okay, Chicken, always glad to have you. Your comment raises some fascinating issues. For example, since demons can't be exorcised by the name of a man's wife, I suppose one could argue that his wife's name _is_ "only" a symbol. Yet he shouldn't get up and stomp on his wife's name, either.

This would be a great time to bring back up one of my old posts, which always generates interesting conversation: "Are there any mere symbols?"

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/04/reprise_are_there_any_mere_sym.html

In general, I think the "you wouldn't do it to X" retort is a mistake because the ideology that these folks are pushing is that nothing should be sacred. When PZ Myers desecrated a consecrated host, he also included pages from the Koran and The Origin of Species to make that point. Now, it might be said that he didn't include a picture of his kid, but it still seems to be a fruitless exercise of finding what the person in question considers sacred.

More and more, I think we are getting to the point where traditional Christians and the secular world are talking past each other. It's almost as if we don't share the most basic beliefs necessary to have a meaningful conversation. I believe the day is coming where our the most effective retort will be that of the martyr/confessor.

CJ wrote: 'In general, I think the "you wouldn't do it to X" retort is a mistake because the ideology that these folks are pushing is that nothing should be sacred.'

If we're talking about leftist academia and not the new atheists specifically, then I think that you're wrong here. If you put a KKK outfit on a statue of MLK, burn Obama in effigy, slap a Hitler moustache on posters of Gandhi, and post drawings of a lecherous Mohammed chasing little girls, do you suppose that the response on the typical college campus would be "ho hum"? Hell no.

Lydia,

MarcAnthony, is your guess that they actually would step on the name of MLK, go out in public and say the loyalty oath to the KKK, step on a picture of their wife, and so forth? That your liberal friends would actually do all of these things? It's interesting that you think they might balk at doing it with Mohammad. Is that because they would be afraid of a) getting in trouble, b) being "bad liberals" for offending Muslims or c) getting killed? Or all of the above? And which ones would they admit?

Stomp on the picture of MLK, no (and true, I think they would be offended if it were their wife). Be offended if they were ASKED to step on the picture of MLK, and then after refusing had the assignment explained to them? I could see that exercise as a possibility. I wouldn't even like that either, but I could see a college doing it.

As for the picture of Muhammad, well, I'll tell you what a friend said after the Benghazi incident and the lie got out that it was caused by some dumb anti-Islam video or something. He linked to the article and said, "See, when you know that this could cause trouble and our soldiers are in danger, why would you do that? Show some common sense." So yeah, a fear thing. That's why we see a musical called "Book of Mormon" and not "Book of Quran".

Just to be clear, where they against the exercise altogether, or were they cool with it as long as it was equal-opportunity?

I'll go back and set the context a bit. This conversation was awhile ago, and it took place during a discussion in Virtual High School (so all online). I forget the exact context, but somehow something came up that made a girl say something along the lines of the Church (Catholic) being sexist towards women.

Well, naturally I was offended and brought up the Blessed Virgin Mary. What followed was a long, heated discussion where I did bring up "Well, would you criticize Islam?" and the response was, "Absolutely I would, the way they treat women is horrible." So there you go. There's clearly more going on here though.

MarcAnthony,

Saying that they would publically desecrate Islamic figures and actually doing it in public as part of a course are two different things. Look what happens when someone burns a Quran, rips it up and such. Look what happened to the gal who proffered, Everyone Draw Mohammed Day, on facebook. She is now in hiding in government protection. A university would change its policy so fast if this were a Quran or a picture of Mohammed it would make their little liberal heads spin off. When the President of the US personally contacts a pastor in Florida not to do such a thing, what do you think would happen if a University allowed this kind of thing? its a bluff.

What if the professor had asked college students to write the name "Obama" on a slip of paper, throw the paper on the ground, and stomp on it?

Saying that they would publically desecrate Islamic figures and actually doing it in public as part of a course are two different things.

Well, this person never claimed they would do that. This conversation took place before the incident discussed.

...Everyone Draw Mohammed Day, on facebook.

The drawing should be a rendition of Al Pacino in Scarface. Everyone knows Mohammed was an epileptic mobster; he just managed to con enough people into believing his seizures were holy visions.

Perry Robinson: "That said, I am seriously considering purchasing a firearm(s) and some remote real estate somewhere in the Sierra-Nevadas. We're doomed."

Sorry Perry, but only folks who embrace the Filioque are allowed access to remote real estate in the Sierra-Nevadas.

(Just joshing!!)

I've heard that Jesus is Islam's second-most-revered prophet; so I suppose there may be a Moslem response.

Remember the atheist evolutionist professor from some Minnesota university who publicly desecrated a Roman Catholic Communion wafer?

What if some college student took a enlarged photo of Obama, threw it down, and either urinated on it or defecated on it? And then submitted it to his college professor for fulfillment of an assignment.

If it's just a symbol, no big deal. Right?

Remember the atheist evolutionist professor from some Minnesota university who publicly desecrated a Roman Catholic Communion wafer?

This is the incident I referred to earlier. He included pages from the Koran and Darwin's Origin of Species specifically counter the "bet you wouldn't do it to . . ." objection.

J.W. is right that there are symbols that would be sacrosanct to the average leftist (as opposed to New Atheists with agendas) but if you tried to draw a comparison between this exercise and defacing a statue of MLK, the response would likely be "but MLK fought for equality! Religion is just a bigoted fairy tale blah blah blah." Look at the excuses for the Russian punk band that disrupted services in a cathedral. There will always be some excuse available to them but not us, nor will they be willing to empathize.

The 'assignment' seems banal. Jesus written on a piece of paper? That isn't really much of a symbol for anyone to get that worked up about. If it were a crucifix or a Bible then we'd have something, but maybe they were trying to avoid having anyone actually be sacrilegious.

Also, what is the point? To illustrate that other cultures have symbols or reverences of their own? My response is "duh". I mean, these are college kids so presumably they have some awareness that not everyone in the world is an American Christian. Maybe it's just a goofy 'first day' sort of thing to set the tone of the class, and the actual meat of "intercultural communications" comes later.

Jesus written on a piece of paper? That isn't really much of a symbol for anyone to get that worked up about.

Would you have complied with the experiment?

but maybe they were trying to avoid having anyone actually be sacrilegious.

Nah, the book author clearly just wanted something that could be done quickly and that every student in the class could be instantly pressured to do, followed by patronizing discussion for those who refused to do it. Some classes have a hundred students in them. You're not going to bring in boxes of a hundred crucifixes and pass them out! But they all have a pencil and a piece of paper.

As for banality, I certainly hope that, if you're a Christian, you would refuse to do it, even though it isn't a very vivid or attractive symbol.

Speaking of things that could be done quickly, I saw a simple suggestion elsewhere:

Write "WOMEN" on the paper and ask who'd stomp on that.

Rather more convenient than the university diversity code.

Would I do it in the class? Probably, though I might hesitate in the expected manner, if for no other reason than that I'm reflexively suspicious of attempts at "deconstruction". Would I do it were the class composed of everyone here, who would clearly take it as both an affront and a signal of "not a serious christian"? No. Being a somewhat normal person, I see no reason to intentionally offend people.

But a piece of paper with "Jesus" written on it clearly has no importance in and of itself, such that Christians must never step on it. Imagine if someone wrote Jesus all over the sidewalk...would you refuse to walk on it? Of course not; that would be silly.

Matt, I'm guessing you don't consider yourself a Christian?

Just a guess, based on your comments.

As for the hypothetical, "What would you do if someone wrote Jesus all over the sidewalk?" That betrays quite a shallow understanding of the nature of symbolism and human action. Obviously stepping on something accidentally because there is no good way to avoid it is a very different thing from deliberately writing the word on a piece of paper, putting it on the floor, and stepping on it as part of a class exercise. If you want to appeal to common sense, _that's_ common sense. Still, I would recommend that people not write "Jesus" all over the sidewalk to the extent that those wanting to get somewhere can't avoid stepping on it.

It would be strange for someone who is not a Christian to be concerned about giving off the signal that they were "not a serious christian". But to be honest, it doesn't really matter, because Jesus as a cultural symbol should function similarly for both Christians and non-Christians, assuming there is anything left of a common culture in this country.

Of course there are ways to get down the street without using the sidewalk were it rendered unusable for some reason, so the parallel still stands. You are tacitly admitting that you would indeed walk on the sidewalk were "Jesus" written there. It's not a symbol of anything, it's just a word. Now, if there were a professor of inter-cultural studies encouraging you to walk on that sidewalk, then things might be different, which at the risk of getting all deconstructionisty myself might tell us something about the real symbols in play.

I'm sorry, but you're being extremely shallow. Of course a word is a symbol. It's absurd to say "It's not a symbol, it's just a word." Words are symbols of things or we couldn't understand one another. If "bird" weren't understood to mean that thing with wings, language couldn't function.

Stepping on a word can be a symbolic act or an accident. Of course it's quite obvious that it isn't an accident when you were the one who wrote it on a piece of paper and put it down on the floor. Honestly, I think you're just carping, here.

Of course I mean that the word "Jesus" is not per se a sacred symbol, such that a Christian must treat it with reverence. The word "Jesus" doesn't represent Jesus the religious figure, and stepping on the word doesn't signify stepping on Jesus the second person of the Trinity. That's my view anyway, and honestly the opposite view seems quasi-Islamic to me.

It's not an accident when you see Jesus written on the sidewalk and walk on it. We would do it anyway, because we all agree that the act isn't significant. What is significant, to some, is the act of cooperating with probably-leftist professors and their probably-leftist curricula aimed--we suspect--at deconstructing, or maybe just debasing, Christianity. The counterculture gets all countercultural, and so we're supposed to get counter-countercultural in response.

I keep coming back to this in my head:

The annoying thing about the exercise in question is that it presupposes, as leftist texts and theorists always do, that Christianity is still the principal source of taboo in our society and that the name of Jesus is the most effective example of a cultural symbol for use in this assignment. As all the examples that have been stated in this thread show, the really important signs in our culture include things like "Martin Luther King, Jr.," "Mohammed," etc. Inasmuch as there is anything to be gained from such an assignment--which I seriously doubt, given the extremely poor quality of instruction that prevails in politically motivated classes like this one--it won't be gained by jumping on Jesus' name, yet again, for the ten thousandth time, all these years since liberals demolished any taboo that might be said to uphold Christian culture.

But liberalism, and revolutions in general, thrive on the illusion that the fight has barely begun, that the powers of reaction are manning the barricades, that there remains "much work to do," that the true revolution has yet to begin, that the whole project is still in its embryonic stage, that it is constantly in danger of being washed away by the Borg-like power of The Right, etc. In reality, assignments like this one serve only to reinforce a victory already thoroughly won. If the professor were really interested in having a discussion about this assignment and what it says about the power of cultural symbols, he might have started with the observation that only one student objected, when as recently as two generations ago he would have provoked a very different reaction indeed. He might also have observed that even those students uncomfortable with the assignment went through with it anyway (with one exception), indicating what happens to the power of symbols that have been systematically delegitimized.

My guess is that, in the end, the school eventually will be forced to call quit on their continued persecution of this particular student. FIRE and such entities probably will get involved, the continuing media discovery process will be a slow-motion train-wreck for the administration, and they'll back down while never admitting fault nor copping to the obvious facts that they have been lying to the public at every turn (as these universities always, always do when caught). More to the point, you can bet that this tactical defeat will be spun by the academic set as some kind of grand victory for the Forces of Intolerance, when of course all that will have happened is that another message will have been sent to students at that school about the consequences of talking back to a leftist professor.

Of course I mean that the word "Jesus" is not per se a sacred symbol, such that a Christian must treat it with reverence.

Speak for yourself. Until very recently it was common practice to raise one's hat when speaking the Lord's name. Your insouciance about the sacredness of the name of the Savior is a very recent and unfortunate consequence of the decay of the Christian consensus, not a universal artifact of Christian culture as such.

So, Matt, is there anything you _wouldn't_ do in such an exercise? A professor tells everyone to bring a printed picture of their "significant other" to class next time (say, you're married, and you bring a picture of your wife), passes out bowls of mud and tells everyone to smear their fingers with mud and smear the picture? You would do that? It's just a picture, right? What about taking your wedding ring and throwing it in the mud?

And I can make up some weird circumstance where someone puts pictures of your wife all over the sidewalk and then try to use this to argue that "it's just a picture," but if you have any sense at all you know a couple of things: 1) It's pretty stupid and tacky to cover an entire sidewalk with either a person's picture _or_ the name of Jesus anyway. 2) Deliberately smearing mud with your fingers on a picture of your wife as a pure exercise is a much bigger deal than quirking your eyebrows and walking on pictures that have inexplicably been placed by some strange person where the normal carrying out of your normal life causes you to step on them. (And then trying to figure out what the heck happened and getting the sidewalk put back to normal.)

See, you're exactly the sort of person, Matt, for whom I wrote that old post on "Are there any mere symbols?" We use symbols to stand for important things. And therefore how we treat those symbols says something about our respect for those important things. Extreme and insouciant nominalism in this regard is simply untenable.

Matt:

Of course I mean that the word "Jesus" is not per se a sacred symbol, such that a Christian must treat it with reverence.

To the contrary, Sage:

Speak for yourself. Until very recently it was common practice to raise one's hat when speaking the Lord's name.

In confirmation and taking it a step further, St. Paul:

That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth:

That's bowing at Jesus' name, not at Jesus himself.

Matt, nothing is "inherently" a sacred symbol before historical and particular circumstances come to bear. Once you do in fact have those particulars, some things are and must be symbolic of other things. God could have pre-arranged all of the entire languages of the Earth so that the name of His Son should instead come out sounding like "Robert", so in that sense the word "Jesus" was not per se necessary as the name for the God-man. But once God arranged all of history so that His Son's name was Jesus, then YES, that name is a sacred symbol in its own right - when used with reference to Jesus of Nazareth. But as with all use of a word in human language, the semantic content of the word qua symbol depends on the situation: Jews for some time after Jesus was born probably continued to use Jesus (and its cognate Joshua?) for naming kids without pointing to any sacred referent, and so the mere accident of using the same name didn't mean they were using the term in reference to Jesus of Nazareth. For all I know, Hindu has a word which sounds like "jesus" but has no bearing on Jesus of Nazareth, and use of that word would not be using a sacred symbol. If you took a Maori of 200 years ago, taught him English but no religious material at all, told him to write the word "jesus" on a piece of paper and step on it, HIS use of the word would not be qua symbol of Jesus of Nazareth, so it would not be sacred. The fact that words as symbols are complex, multi-layered, does not imply that none of those layers have sacred implications. That's just silly.

I've heard that Jesus is Islam's second-most-revered prophet; so I suppose there may be a Moslem response.

Yeah, that's going to happen, Steve P. As far as I can tell, Muslim claims to believe Jesus was a prophet is pretty much complete window dressing, a sham at best. In practice, the same is true of Jews and the "people of the Book", ie of the book of divine revelation. For, if the Old Testament and New Testament are "of" divine revelation, then there is no possible way that God could permit them to be damaged / distorted / degenerate to the point of being negated by Mohammed. (Same argument holds for Mormons, and generally for everyone who tries to "improve upon" the existing Bible for some new revelation that "corrects" it.) If divine revelation could become degenerate and need correcting, then it isn't divine, or there is no reason to grant the new one any more acceptance than the old - a self-defeating theory.

The fact of the matter is that Christianity, taking over from Judaism, is a _deeply_ anti-nominalist religion. By that I mean that Judaism always understood that names and words are extremely important. The Jewish notion of the Name of God is, to put it mildly, a big deal. That is why when Paul says that everyone will bow at the name of Jesus, he is in multiple ways saying that Jesus is God.

Nor does this apply only to strictly sacred names. "Watch your words" applies across the board. There is a great scene in a novel called _All Hallows Eve_ by Charles Williams where an annoying woman asks a railroad porter whether this is the train for such-and-such a place. She asks even though the destination of the train is written right there. The porter respectfully answers, "Yes, lady." Williams goes into a Williams-esque panegyric on the eternal, Platonic importance of the porter's utterance of that forbearing reply. Both Williams and Lewis are very good at teaching us that our words mean more than we consciously fully realize in all sorts of contexts and that therefore we shouldn't be flippant about something being "just a word."

To go back to That Hideous Strength, when Mark Studdock refuses to trample the crucifix, he says to Frost, "It's all bloody nonsense, and I'm damned if I do any such thing." It goes without saying that Lewis means us to understand that Mark speaks more truly than he knows--he's damned if he does any such thing. Even though, indeed, precisely because, it's all bloody nonsense.

Remember when John Lennon made his fateful reference to Jesus back in the day?
It seemed as though the whole nation rose up against the Beatles for that one remark.
My how much we've changed as a nation since then!

If the good professor conducted the exercise using MLK Jr. and Cesar Chavez (preferably near the official holy days honoring them) as well as Mohammed, then he could at least claim to be an equal opportunity offender, but people like that demonstrate that they're terribly bourgeois themselves by selecting only safe targets when they epater les bourgeois.

Hey, Perseus, he got it straight out of the textbook. :-) I gather the textbook author wasn't bothered with being equal opportunity.

I'll say right here that it would be unprofessional for a professor to do this with _any_ symbol that is actually going to "do the trick" of causing the students discomfort. It is really a form of entirely inappropriate psychological experimentation, which the students haven't consented to: Have an authority figure pressure them to do something they think is sacrilege and see what they do, then discuss it.

For the student to reply back with a parallel request to make a point is, of course, a different matter, because that would be really just a thought experiment. The student has no power to "instruct" the professor to do it. It's just, "What if I asked you to do x, professor, what would _you_ do?"

Matt wrote: 'Also, what is the point? To illustrate that other cultures have symbols or reverences of their own? My response is "duh".'

The point is to lower the students' regard for a particular symbol. I thought that that much was evident.

It's easy to explain the importance of symbols without resorting to asking people to stomp on them. Once when I was working abroad someone asked me what was so important about the American flag. (I had been standing there, admiring one that some folks had found in storage and kindly put up for me.) She said, "It's just a piece of cloth." I said (in part) that she might mind if I were to tear apart a photograph of her family, even if I were to replace it with a fresh copy. It wouldn't do for me to say simply, "It's just a piece of paper." She said that she understood. Needless to say, getting my point across didn't require actually shredding a family photo.

So, really, all you need is a thought experiment. The only reason that you'd go and have people physically stomping on a particular symbol is to lower their regard for that symbol, since other purposes could be served just as well through verbal explanations.

"The fact of the matter is that Christianity, taking over from Judaism, is a _deeply_ anti-nominalist religion. By that I mean that Judaism always understood that names and words are extremely important."

See Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences, W. Berry's Standing by Words, and almost anything by Marion Montgomery for more on this fact, and how deeply corrupting nominalism is.

So, Matt, is there anything you _wouldn't_ do in such an exercise?

Of course. That a scrap of paper with Jesus written on it isn't sacred doesn't imply that nothing is sacred. The comparison with trampling a crucifix just doesn't fly for this reason. Then again, some species of Protestants wouldn't mind trampling a crucifix, and some might even consider it a sacred duty.

You don't have to be a 'nominalist' to think that a scrap of paper with Jesus written on it isn't some kind of important object demanding reverence. This is why the sidewalk parallel still stands, and has yet to be answered. If the name of Jesus is sacred in this sense, then it is sacred regardless of the context in which a given person encounters it. Someone brought up the American flag, which is a perfect example. If an American flag were laid in the sidewalk, most people would step around it. They would not do this with the word Jesus.

As far as I can tell, the point has been conceded. The issue here is with cooperating with leftist professors of whom it is assumed are trying to purposely deconstruct or give offense, not with the act of walking on the word Jesus. I think this is clearly a judgement call, with one possible response being refusal to comply.

But another possible response is to just roll your eyes and get on with it. And for those younger generations who are weary of constant culture war and perpetual outrage, this might start to look like an attractive option. I suggest not running them out of the "real Christian" camp quite so readily.

Matt, you clearly do not grok symbolic acts or speech acts. The fact that you wouldn't deliberately smear your wife's picture with mud as a "work of art" or a "class exercise" doesn't mean that you would, or should, refuse to drive your car if you were late to an appointment and a bunch of flyers with your wife's picture on them had accidentally gotten blown all over the driveway and you didn't have time to pick them up. It would be stupid carping of me to say, "See, if you say you'd drive your car, the point has been conceded. Your wife's picture isn't a sacred object, and it isn't wrong to get it muddy. So it's a judgement call whether it would be okay just to roll your eyes and get on with smearing mud on it deliberately."

You have this incredibly rigid notion that x either is or isn't a "sacred object" which it is intrinsically wrong to step on under all circumstances rather than understanding that in the one case you are _saying_ something about the object designated by the picture or written word and in the other case you are not. Of course context makes a difference to whether an act is a speech act or a symbolic act or not. If someone literally painted American flags *all over the sidewalk* so that the only way to use the sidewalk would be to walk on a painted picture of the American flag, I imagine most of us would do it in order to go about our normal lives, understanding that doing so is not a speech act. But I, for one, would also try to get in touch with whoever is in charge of the sidewalk and ask them to change it. I would figure they thought they were being patriotic but that I want to hold up a different set of standards and that sometimes attempts to be patriotic end up backfiring into insufficiently respectful treatment of the flag. But I wouldn't give up using the sidewalk. Because walking on a sidewalk you normally use that has, without your consent, been entirely painted over with flags, is not a speech act about the flag or about America.

And, no, this isn't just about "leftist professors." It would also be creepy if you sat alone in your room or if you sat surrounded only by people putting no pressure on you one way or another, deliberately wrote the name JESUS in large letters on a piece of paper, put it on the floor, and stomped on it. Or if you smeared mud on your wife's picture or jumped up and down on an American flag under the same circumstances. Willing, spontaneous speech acts that represent deliberate denigration of symbols of important and good things are also...bad.

Active learning is all the rage in pedagogy so I presume that the textbook author and the professor thought that it would be wonderful to encourage students to participate in a transgressive act (just like Andres Serrano even if they only receive class credit instead of tax dollar$ from the NEA) in order to make a fairly obvious point about symbols. But, of course, only certain transgressive acts are tolerated. Any act that violates the university's code of student conduct (as interpreted by those in authority) is strictly verboten. What would a Foucauldian analysis say about the power game being played at that institution? (I agree that it's inappropriate psychological experimentation, but I confess that I do think about administering inappropriate shock therapy on my errant students).

No Lydia, you are the one who is rigid about these things, trying to lay down rules about who should do what when. You can scoff at judgement calls, but they are precisely the opposite of rigid. I find it funny that you still can't grasp the sidewalk example...not sure how else to explain it. In general, you are distorting and extrapolating quite heavily from what I'm saying. Now I apparently don't "grok" symbolic acts, because I disagree with you on the importance of one particular symbolic act. Further discussion in this vein is probably pointless--I suspect you've decided what "side" you're on and that is that.

But, now that we are all sufficiently outraged, what is anyone supposed to do?

Matt, if you admit that it's a symbolic act, that it really is an act of speech, that should settle the matter right there. Because if one is engaging in a deliberate act of speech by deliberately writing Jesus' name, putting it on the floor, and stepping on it, I shouldn't need to tell you what that act of speech says.

More specifically, Matt (and I'm afraid this really is wasting my time), your entire argument has turned around _not_ recognizing that the students in the story were asked to do something that _is_ a meaningful, deliberate, symbolic act. Rather, you have made up a situation in which one would _not_ be doing anything deliberate and symbolic, you have made a poor analogy, and you have then merely argued that, since it isn't intrinsically wrong under all circumstances to step on something that happens to have the name of Jesus written on it, it would be acceptable to "get on with it" in the scenario in the story. You have then argued that the only relevant point was not acceding to the demands of leftist professors, which completely ignores the problem with engaging in such a *deliberate speech act* voluntarily.

So, yes, I stand by my statement that you do not understand speech acts, because you insistently analogize things that aren't speech acts with things that are. In fact, your whole argument crucially depends on doing so. See, in contrast, my examples of non-speech-acts concerning someone's covering an entire sidewalk with flag paintings and concerning blown-about flyers with your wife's picture in the driveway.

The Jewish notion of the Name of God is, to put it mildly, a big deal.

I don't anticipate Christians taking their veneration of the word Jesus to that extreme. This doesn't mean they should stomp on it, but they also aren't going to restrict its use to priests in the temple or bury documents with the name in Christian cemeteries.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YHWH#Judaism

I don't understand the relevance of sidewalk analogy either. The exercise was conducted under the assumption that many students would hesitate precisely because they would regard stepping on the name of Jesus in that context to be a derogatory speech act (of course, there would no doubt about the meaning of such an act in an Arab country).

Post a comment


Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.