Stomp on Jesus

Sashay over Yahweh?

Okay, okay, I’m done.

A couple of weeks ago, during a class on inter-cultural communication at Florida Atlantic University, Professor Deandre Poole asked students to write the name “JESUS” on  a piece of paper, put it on the floor, and then step on it.

Deandre Poole, godless heathen

The goal, according to the text from which this lesson was taken, was to use the students’ (mostly) collective hesitation as an opportunity to begin discussion about how words and symbols have power over us.  It had been done before without incident, but this time was a little different.

[Ryan] Rotella, a deeply religious Mormon and junior at the university, told CBS12 that he was offended and refused to participate in the exercise.

“Anytime you stomp on something it shows that you believe that something has no value. So if you were to stomp on the word Jesus, it says that the word has no value,” said Rotella.

Rotella said he voiced his concerns to his teacher’s supervisor and later learned he was suspended from the class.

This article was from the 21st of March.  Shortly after the story broke, other outlets like Fox News picked it up.  They, of course, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interpret this entire incident as yet another step towards the criminalization of Christianity.  Cue the bunching of panties:

Paul Kengor, the executive director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, told Fox News he’s not surprised by the classroom lesson.

“These are the new secular disciples of ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ – empty buzzwords that make liberals and progressives feel good while they often refuse to tolerate and sometimes even assault traditional Christian and conservative beliefs,” Kengor said.

No one’s assaulting anything, Paul.  Do some reading.  Besides, I checked around … there are still no lions.

“It also reflects the rising confidence and aggression of the new secularists and atheists, especially at our sick and surreal modern universities,” he said.

Heh … keep this quote in mind for later.

The university did not explain why students were only instructed to write the name of Jesus – and not the name of Mohammed or another religious figure.

“Gee, I wonder if the instructor would dare do this with the name of Mohammed,” Kengor wondered.

I think the university didn’t explain why the exercise didn’t include the name of another religious figure, because it should be pretty obvious.  No one would have cared.  No other religion in this country is nearly as pervasive or as influential as Christianity.  The instructor could have done the lesson with Mohammad instead … but it wouldn’t have yielded the same result.  Alternatively, if Islam were dominant here, stepping on a piece of paper with the word “Jesus” on it wouldn’t mean anything.  It’s a matter of context.

But hey, who am I to argue with some hack’s chance at a little righteous indignation?  (I do have to point out, though, that Juan Williams of Fox News came to the defense of the instructor on this one.)

Well, after a couple of weeks of silence – on the orders of the university – Poole finally gave an interview where he tells his side of the story.  The whole bit about the lesson plan was pretty consistent with previous reports; again, it was a lesson on how powerful symbols can be.  That, in itself, should have been pretty non-controversial.

The suspension of the student?  According to Poole, it was not his refusal to participate in the exercise (which doesn’t make sense because it’s the hesitation beforehand that the lesson wishes to bring to students’ attention), but his aggressive reaction after the fact:

That student … refused to participate and then said repeatedly, Poole said, “How dare you disrespect someone’s religion?”

After class, the student came up to him, and made that statement again, this time hitting his balled fist into his other hand and saying that “he wanted to hit me.” While the student did not do so, Poole said he was alarmed and notified campus security and filed a report on the student.

That action, he said, not the student’s objection to the exercise, is why the student briefly faced disciplinary action.

Earlier, I highlighted part of Paul Kengor’s screed about the “confidence and aggression” of secularists and atheists, citing this latest incident as an example.  Well, here are some details about Poole:

In fact, he said, he has been connected to churches all of his life, has served as a Sunday school teacher, and understands the power of the word “Jesus” on a piece of paper because he cares deeply about Jesus.

“I am very religious,” he said. “I see how the name Jesus is symbolic. For people like myself, Jesus is my lord and savior. It’s how I identify myself as a Christian.”

One of the most pressing issues at this point is a result of the fact that he was forced to wait so long before giving his side of events.  After having the chance to stew for a couple of weeks, the student’s version of the story was assumed to be true, and given additional credibility by the university when it officially apologized and said it would not use the class lesson again.

During these last few weeks, he’s been put on administrative leave because of the volume of hate mail and death threats.  Because that’s totally the Christian thing to do when you see a story like this on the news.  I guess the people doing this figure that as long as they’re not rioting, trashing storefronts, and burning down villages, they still have the high ground over Muslims.  It’s all relative.

On top of the fan mail, his future at FAU is in jeopardy.  Since he was only on a one year contract to begin with, he can’t really be “fired”; however they can just choose not to renew it for the following year.  If they did that, it would send a pretty strong message that those who run the university are more afraid of “offending” a student than allowing a couple of class lessons that move some people a little outside of their comfort zones.

This entry was posted in Freedom from Religion, Religion and Public Life, Society Marches On and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Stomp on Jesus

  1. dam says:

    Great post! I have to say I saw that coming–a professor who’s atheist or agnostic wouldn’t dare to “stomp on Jesus.” Still, in a country that values free speech, we see that it is only valued as long as it doesn’t offend Christianity (any other belief system is OK, however).

    • I agree. If a non-believer conducted the exercise, the point of the entire lesson would have been lost in the noise generated by social conservatives as they rushed to their fainting couches with a collective case of the vapors. I’m glad Poole identifies as deeply religious since – as much as it pains me to say this – it gives him “credibility” for something like this.

      American society needs to realize that no religion should be immune from criticism. We’re getting there, but many people still have a blind spot when it comes to Christianity and Islam albeit for different reasons. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take another generation or so before we’re really going to see a change like that on a large scale.

      • dam says:

        Yes, I 150% agree with you (on all points)….We’re moving, attitudes are changing, but it’s a big machine and a slow process. As our kids grow and they have kids, we’ll be looking at a much less Christian nation, IMO.

  2. BeyondRedemption.... says:

    Stomping on the ”UNREAL” I always thought that was a good thing…

    • Philosophically and figuratively, yes … but in this case it thankfully wasn’t the goal. At this point in the “battle of belief” so to speak, there are occasionally more important issues than telling other people they’re wrong.

  3. Elyse says:

    I wish we could figure out the date when asking people to think, to go beyond themselves and their own ideas became sacrilegious.

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