Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Crazy religious guy in my class

So here's one for the books:

So I am teaching this course that involves religion, so I spend one class giving my one-hour condensed history of Western religion. I have given this talk to this class many many times before. I generally speak really fast and take a bunch of questions. I am fairly glib about the whole thing, and try not to take the subject too seriously. The class is philosophical, so I really do not want to spend more time than is absolutely necessary discussing the historical background. It is not all that relevant, but it does help a bit to orient the students, so that the Immigrant Hindu students are not totally lost with all this Old Testament/New Testament talk, or that the Christian students realize that for most of the world, Jesus is just another dead Jewish guy, or that my Jewish students realize that the Bible has origins that are are more complicated than they expected.

I try to cover the history of the Western religions from the early Israelites wandering the desert worshipping Ba'al, through the birth of Christianity, the genesis of Islam, the Sunni-Shi'i split, the Protestant Catholic split, the Reform conservative splits, the canonization of Jewish and Christian scripture, the writing of the Koran, the documentary hypothesis, and whatever else comes to mind that seems relevant at the time. I emphasize some of the key similarities between the three religions, as well as their main differences. I think I fairly disrespect all three religions just enough to keep people laughing, but not enough to offend anyone greatly.

This was until this semester. Apparently someone called my Chair to complain about my class. So I was getting all nervous. I hoped I hadn't offended anyone. Worse - I hoped I hadn't offended someone from one of those violent branches of some religion, and now I would have to wear a flak jacket to class. (My PhD advisor did that for a while.)

So I wait till my boss gets to meet with the offended student, so I can hear what the outcome is. I really couldn't think of anything I did that would have offended anyone badly enough to complain.

Before my last class my boss comes to me and tells me how lucky I was that the student dropped my class. Apparently this was an older then average student with a yarlmuka - a large black one. Somehow, and this I am getting second hand from my boss, I was not sufficiently sensitive to the Holocaust, or the Americans in Iraq or Afghanistan because I am one of those liberal college professors like all the others. (I honestly cannot recall anything I said about Iraq or Afghanistan, unless perhaps it was so totally in passing.) My boss tried to tell him that I had spent 20 years in Yeshiva and was from Brooklyn, like him, but apparently he was not all that interested. He was offended and could not really get past that. Apparently my sympathy for the American position in Iraq or Afghanistan did not come across. Apparently my liberalism was more than he ever saw in college in New York, and apparently he was unhappy learning about the history of his and other religions. And apparently, the fact that my grandmother spent WWII as a guest of Auschwitz did not come across either. I did not describe the plight of the Jews under the Christians, Moslems, or Nazis in sufficiently harsh terms.

My boss was pretty convinced that this was a person who is really not qualified to be in a philosophy class, though I suspect he feels bad for the next professor who draws this student.

(Mind you, this story is very funny is you know me. If not, I might sound like an insensitive jerk.)


Shosh said...

:) what's the name of that fallacy where you go in with a deeply held assumption and, lo and behold, you end up having your assumption confirmed because you're so biased to begin with? Poor guy. It's nice of you to be equally offensive to all three religions. Mazel tov on p*ssing off a dumb-ass so badly that he had to drop your class. It means you're doing a good job. If he only knew you could be headed to Iraq yourself one of these days.....

Erica said...

Wow -- People really need to learn how to pick their arguments!

bec said...

so, before i get to the end of your post, i'm HYSTERICAL laughing, thinking, "ha! if this guy KNEW you, it would knock his socks off."

and here's a good one....

you, a liberal????
it's easier to confuse an elephant with an orange peel.