You Were Great, Professor. But You’re Still Going to Hell.

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Professor Warren Blumenfeld recently retired from Iowa State University. Here he reflects on how orthodoxy inhibited education.

This month, my dear mother passed away two days before her 89th birthday. I was fortunate to have had her in my life these many years, for she was not only my mother, but she was also my best friend. During the course of the past year, I also lost four close friends to cancer, which again reminded me that life is short and one must live each day as if it were one’s last.

Being now 66 years of age and not knowing how many years I have left, I have decided to retire from my faculty position at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa and return home to western Massachusetts in June where my heart lies. There I will take partial retirement by teaching adjunct in-person and on-line courses, and continue to write academic and personal articles.

Though I have enjoyed my position over the past 9 years at Iowa State University, I have also found teaching courses focusing on issues of social justice very challenging at this university.

Each semester I teach the course CI 406, “Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society,” in the School of Education. I base the course on a number of key concepts and assumptions, including how issues of power, privilege, and domination within the United States center on inequitable social divisions regarding race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, sex, gender identity, sexual identity, religion, nationality, linguistic background, physical and mental ability/disability, and age. I address how issues around social identities impact generally on life outcomes, and specifically on educational outcomes. Virtually all students registered for this course, which is mandatory for students registered in the Teacher Education program, are pre-service teachers.

Most students in my courses grew up in largely homogenous small rural communities where the vast majority comes from European-white and Christian (primarily Protestant) backgrounds and where most people look like themselves.

Of particular surprise to me were the writings of two female undergraduate students who, though they were in different courses during different years, seemed to come to the same conclusion. On a final course paper, one student wrote that, while she enjoyed the course, and she felt that both myself and my graduate assistant — who had come out to the class earlier as lesbian — were very knowledgeable and good professors with great senses of humor, nonetheless, she felt obliged to inform us that we are still going to Hell for being so-called “practicing homosexuals.” Another student two years later wrote on her course paper that homosexuality and transgenderism are sins in the same category as stealing and murder. This student not only reiterated that I will travel to Hell if I continued to act on my same-sex desires, but she went further in amplifying the first student’s proclamations by self-righteously insisting that I will not receive an invitation to enter Heaven if I do not accept Jesus as my personal savior since I am a Jew, regardless of my sexual behavior. Anyone who doubts this, she concluded, “Only death will tell!”

Over the years, I have attempted to analyze our campus environment, one that emboldens some students to notify their professor and graduate assistant that their final destination will be the depths of Hell.

One of the books I require is Joel Spring’s Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality, which explores history from multiple perspectives, and explodes some of the myths and misinformation that students may have learned throughout their educational experiences. Along with this book, I assign a “Critical Analysis” paper that requires students not to merely summarize but to critically reflect and analyze the information. I designate numerous pages in our course syllabus to detailing precisely what I am looking for in terms of “critical analysis,” including:

While our personal beliefs and experiences certainly influence our opinions in the classroom, students must use empirical and/or scholarly evidence to support and prove their points in all assignments. At our university, we value the research process and the type of discourse that arises when we combine our own opinions with the research and learning we have done. Opinions that do not have empirical and/or scholarly proof will not be accepted. Just because we believe something does not make it truth – instead find others who have researched and supported your beliefs. For example, your course books (or other empirically written books) serve as proof. A personal memoir or religious text would not

Along with readings in Spring’s book, I give students a two-part assignment to be completed by the following class session in two days: the first part asks students a question for critical contemplation, the second part includes a research exercise.

The question I pose: “Did Christopher Columbus discover what has come to be called ‘U.S.-America’? Why or why not?” I tell students that after they reflect on this question, they are to investigate articles communicating Native American Indian perspectives of Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day.

Entering the classroom one year on the next class session, students filled the room with frenetic energy. I asked them to divide into their smaller reading discussion groups (of 5-7), and asked each group to choose a recorder who was to report themes discussed. I wrote on the board discussion directions: 1. Discuss with group members how you had initially answered the question: “Did Christopher Columbus discover what has come to be called ‘U.S.-America’? Why or why not?” 2. Discuss what you learned from Native American Indian perspectives of Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day. What did you already know? What surprised you? What insights did you gain? What, if any, emotions came up for you? What question do you still have?

Following twenty-minutes of lively student discussion in small groups, I facilitated a large classroom discussion. Many students expressed anger over the ways that teachers and textbooks portrayed Christopher Columbus during their early schooling. These students felt that they somehow “had been lied to” in the “white washing” of the history commonly taught in schools. They felt appalled and horrified by the treatment of indigenous peoples by Columbus and his crew, by the killings, enslavement, thievery of natural resources, all which set the stage for the large-scale genocide, forced Christian conversion, deculturalization, land and animal desecration, and appropriation.

One student, a geology major, responded by answering a question with questions: “How could Columbus have discovered what would later be called ‘America’ when Indians have lived on this land for an estimated 33,000 to 35,000 years after coming over the Bering Isthmus during a glacial age when the sea level dropped? How can one ‘discover’ people who have been here so long? Actually, Indians discovered Columbus on their land!”

A number of students nodded their heads in silent agreement. Other students articulated the love they have for their Christian faiths, but expressed shock and some disbelief over the murder and forced Christian conversions perpetrated by European explorers, missionaries, and settlers. At this point, I asked students to interrogate the concept of “European settlers.” “If this was Indian land (‘first nation peoples’), how accurate, then, is the term “European settlers”? Some students showed confusion on their faces by this question. For others, their eyes opened widely and they sported a wide grin. “Yeah,” said one student. “Say I own a house, and someone knocks on the door, walks in, pushes me outside, and claims: ‘I like your house, and I am now settling here. You be on your way. Good bye!’ And he slams the door in my face.” Others pondered this student’s comments.

At the close of class that day, as students left the room, one student remained behind to talk with me, with obvious rage on her face. “I thought this was supposed to be a multicultural class! You and the geology student have disrespected my culture,” she declared accusingly. “My culture teaches me that God created the universe approximately 6,000 – 7,000 years ago. So, I ask you, how could Indians have lived here for thousands and thousands of years before God created the universe? Also, since Christians are called to bring God’s message to all the nations of the world and to spread the word of Jesus Christ, I take offense with the claim that Europeans forcibly converted anyone!”

I thanked her for raising issues that she was certainly not alone in believing. I asked her if I could raise her concerns, while not referring to her by name, at our next class session, and that I would like to open it up for class discussion. She agreed.

I raised the student’s concerns over our prior class discussion, and asked students to discuss this in their small groups. I also asked students to write in their course journals their thoughts and feelings around the issues raised. Students were very respectful of differing viewpoints both in their small groups and in the larger group discussion.

Some students provided scientific evidence for the approximate age of the universe, others discussed their religious teaching. Some discussed the theological imperative to spread the word of Jesus Christ, others talked about their frustrations and resentments when others attempt to convert them to Christianity in any of its denominations.

I brought up the notion of “culture clash,” in this instance the opposing beliefs, from some perspectives, that sharing the word of Jesus is an act of bestowing a great gift on the “unbeliever,” while for others, rather than experiencing this as a gift, some perceive this as an imposition, an annoyance, a provocation, or worse, a form of oppression.

While a slight majority of students expressed that the United States had been founded on the notion of a separation of religion and government, a number of other students (approximately one-sixth of the entire class), however, asserted that we are now and that we were always meant to be “a Christian nation,” and that the notion of religious pluralism runs contrary to their religious teachings. One student articulated this view best:

[A]s a Christian I am called to not be tolerant. I am not called to be violent, but am called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). When I look through all of the information I have been given in my life…I come to the conclusion that America was founded as a Christian nation….Separation of church and state was created to keep the state out of changing the church, not to keep the church out of the state (Undergraduate Pre-service Teacher Education Student).

This student referred to his interpretation of Christian scripture, which commands him to spread the word of Jesus:

Matthew 28:16-20:
(16) Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. (17) When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
(18) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (from the King James Bible).

Students also wrote about the warnings from their pastors and national Christian leaders regarding the dangers to their faith in attending secular educational institutions. One student referred to Brannon S. Howse, president and founder of the Worldview Weekend Foundation, which I investigated further and found:

“Where do most Christian students get their perspective on history and sociology or learn about the question of origins? The frightening reality is that most take in the steady diet of Secular Humanism served up in our public schools. And in college, it only gets worse. Worldview Weekend speaker Kerby Anderson puts it this way: “When a student enrolls in Philosophy 101, it could just as easily be called Atheism 101. A class in Sociology 101, should really be called Postmodernism 101. A class on Religion 101, is really a class that should be called Religious Pluralism 101. And a class in Biology 101, would more accurately be called Evolution 101. It’s little wonder that more than three out of four young people from Christian homes deny their faith before graduating from college. Parents must prepare their children to counter the lies of Secular Humanism, the New Age Movement, and bizarre forms of mysticism finding their way into our churches.”

This website also includes quotes from David Wheaton, a Worldview Weekend Speaker and author of the book, Surviving the University of Destruction:

“…I was now living full-time in the midst of a world diametrically opposed to the one I had grown up in — there would be no returning home to Mommy and Daddy every night. I would soon find out that an excellent upbringing coupled with academic and athletic success was no match for the maelstrom called college. The waters were baited, the sharks were circling…spiritual shipwreck loomed.”

Students, faculty, and staff at our university, in addition to members from our surrounding communities, have founded and maintained quite a number of campus and community-based Christian student organizations, some to promote their version of their faith and to help insulate students from the so-called “secular humanist indoctrination” of public secular universities. One such organization on our campus and many others throughout the nation include local chapters of the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI). A few years ago, student leaders with their community advisors set up display tables in my building in the School of Education promoting their organization in their attempts to recruit pre-service and in-service teachers, school staff, and school administrators to serve as “Missional Teachers”:

Missional Teachers are established by the work of Jesus Christ. They are “sent out” into the mission field of education, connected with the body of Christ to serve His purposes in all things (CEAI brochure, emphasis in original).

The goal of the organization is to bring the word of Jesus and reintroduce Christian prayer into the schools, not merely parochial schools but within public education as well. Among the services the organization provides are a subscription to their magazine Teachers of Vision, free Bibles for the public school classroom, and most tellingly, professional liability insurance:

Being a Christian educator has difficult barriers. Fears of saying something “illegal” often rule in the mind of Christian teachers. Many don’t know what their freedoms are (CEAI brochure, emphasis in original).

In this regard, the organization also provides “Access to advice, consultation, support.”

The Christian Educators Association International takes quite literally the undergraduate pre-service teacher whom I quoted previously in his underlying assumption that “Separation of church and state was created to keep the state out of changing the church, not to keep the church out of the state.”

Anti-Intellectualism Has No Place in Our Schools

While I genuinely respect individuals’ religious understandings, during my service at Iowa State University I have been saddened and deeply concerned that some of my students have used their religious teachings as defensive shields against inquiry, creating an aura of anti-intellectualism “protecting” them from information that may contradict or challenge their beliefs. While I find this particularly troubling when I perceive it in any person, in a pre-service and then in-service teacher whose job it is to impart a life-long love of learning, the consequences can be disastrous.

Throughout the semester, I continually looked around my classrooms, and I asked myself this question:

If I had a child, would I want my child to be taught by this student, or that student? Happily, on numerous occasions, I answered with an unconditional and enthusiastic “yes, most definitely.” Too often, unfortunately, I was emphatic: “never, under any circumstances,” which sometimes turned me pessimistic about the future of U.S. education.

–Photo: velkr0/Flickr

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About Warren Blumenfeld

Warren J. Blumenfeld, College of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Comments

  1. Terry Thompson says:

    Dear Warren J. Blumenfeld, thank you for your article. It just reinforces the problem with homosexuality. According to Christianity you are going to hell as the two former students said in their academic papers. Tolerance, of anyone’s beliefs, etc., begins with you. More and more intolerance is shown towards people who disagree with your lifestyle. Homosexuality as you may know is an act (among other things like a perverted sense of love), chosen by you to entertain. Unfortunately you and all gays continue to force-feed culture with your homosexuality. When was the last time you saw someone overact being straight? You don’t. Being intolerant of my beliefs is problematic just as someone who doesn’t agree with your unnatural sodomizing lifestyle. You can play off your unnatural living by all the papers you write but it doesn’t hide the fact that being gay and having gay sex violates the natural order of life. Let me know when you have verifiable proof that homosexuality is genetic and I will retract my statements. Sincerely, Terry

    • Warren J. Blumenfeld says:

      Without getting caught in the “nature v. nurture” debate, for the jury is still out (no pun intended) on this question, let us presume for the sake of argument that sexuality and gender identity and expression are choices. If this is the case, LGBT people should be accorded their rights and protections from discrimination as are those who choose their religious (or non-religious) affiliation and expression. Religion is, in fact, a choice as emphasized in a Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life (2009) study, which found that 44% of U.S.-Americans change religious affiliation at least once during their lives. The First Amendment guarantees constitutional protections on the basis of religious affiliation and expression. On the other side of the coin, if sexuality and gender identity and expression are genetically predetermined, LGBT people should be accorded rights and protections from discrimination as are racial minorities legally protected. In the final analysis, however, these are issues of human rights and human dignity, not questions of science. Coretta Scott King (2000) emphasizes this point: “…I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination.”

    • Christopher says:

      Terry, as a very conservative Christian myself, I think your response to Warren is so ridiculous it almost doesn’t need to be countered. I want to make it clear to everyone, though, that your attitude and the attitude of the students Warren discusses is un-Christian and un-Biblical. Jesus calls us as Christians to love our neighbors and to live as He lived. Homosexuality wasn’t socially constructed in the first century as it is today in the US but we can see “What Would Jesus Do” by looking at how He treated those Jewish society at the time looked down on and treated perhaps even more badly than mainstream or some Christian cultures treat the LGBTQ community. Jesus went out of His way to go through Samaria so that He would be able to talk to the Samaritan woman and He purposely included the Samaritan in His parable of the Good Samaritan because He knew that His Jewish audience would not instinctively want to consider any Samaritan a neighbor. He showed love to the socially outcast and oppressed, whether their status was because of something they had done (like tax collectors, prostitutes and even scribes and pharisees that visited Him – like Nicodemus – or invited Him to their house) or because of something they couldn’t help (like lepers, Samaritans or the hemorrhaging woman).

      Terry, I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it at this. We, as Christians, have not been called to judge the world; we have not been called to convict the world and to tell them about their sins. That is the Holy Spirit’s job and their own consciences’ jobs. We are the Body of Christ and Christ did not come into the world to condemn it, “but the the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17) We are to call others to Christ not by condemning them to Hell but by showing them Christ’s love, because Christ’s love is so much better than just saving us from Hell.

      “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. He that loves not knows not God for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

      Terry, I’ve given you very Biblical reasons why your attitude is un-Christian. My invitation to you is to take off your blinders, your conformity to the hate of this world, and be transformed by the renewing of your mind in what Christianity is really about.

      • wellokaythen says:

        An “un-Christian” or “un-Biblical” argument is not automatically, objectively inaccurate. Being un-Christian or non-Christian is not the same as anti-Christian. Just because someone makes an un-Christian argument doesn’t mean that person is discriminating against Christians.

        (And, just for the sake of argument, this is assuming there is only one form of Christianity and only one valid interpretation of The Bible, assuming there is only one bible in the first place.)

        To be fair to the professor’s critics, what he’s dealt with is not restricted to rural, predominantly white Midwestern areas. You’ll find plenty of poor critical thinking skills and adherence to dogma in blue state cities on either coast. I have students blinded by what is essentially a faith-based dogmatic approach from all across the political spectrum. Fundamentalist Christian students are not alone in refusing to question their cherished assumptions about society and the universe.

        Also, it’s hysterically ironic that modern evangelicals put themselves in the position of defending a staunch Catholic like Columbus. I’ve known evangelicals who don’t even consider Catholics to be Christians…..

        • Christopher says:

          I agree with you on just about everything you’ve said. I was addressing *Terry’s* attacks as un-Christian because he seems to be claiming to be a Christian. When addressing someone who doesn’t claim to have that in common with me, it, of course, doesn’t make any sense to argue something like, “hey, you’re not being very Christian, person who never claimed to be a Christian in the first place!” When addressing someone who claims to be a Christian but is making Christians look bad by acting in a certain way that also happens to be un-Christian, it makes a whole lot of sense to say, “hey, fellow Christian, you’re not acting like a Christian.”

          • wellokaythen says:

            Sorry, I got a little confused. Sometimes my axe-grinding gets in the way of my listening closely…. : – )

    • wellokaythen says:

      I don’t understand how anything that happens can actually violate nature. Anything that humans do is something that nature (or God) allows to happen, so I fail to see how anything could actually be “unnatural.” Gay sex uses real-life biological material. What could be more natural than biological materials?

      If God is omnipotent and everything goes according to His plan, thenthe existence of homosexuality must be according to his plan. If humans do things that God doesn’t want, then God is not omnipotent. So, something has to give.

    • Actually, Terry, it’s not a gene, but it is genetic.

      A person’s sexual preference is triggered by epigenetic marks, passed down from the opposite sex parent (Father to Daughter, Mother to Son). They are temporary genetic switches in a fetus’ DNA that exist in the womb and shortly after birth. It’s an added layer of information that holds to our DNA while in development.

      Genes are the instruction book, but the epi-marks direct how those genes are expressed. They’re actually made to protect the fetus from too much natural variation. When testosterone gets too high, they click on for girls to prevent her from becoming too masculinized, and the same goes for boys. So as a side effect of protecting the baby girl/boy, sexual orientation may be affected.

      Source: Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 87, No. 4, December 2012

      You can read the entire thing here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668167

      So no, orientation is not a choice. Because people listened in biology class instead of talking about whether or not their professor was going to hell, they were able to prove it.

  2. Booster Blake says:

    Thank you Professor. It was an enjoyable read over lunch and an interesting view into today’s college classrooms. I’m struck by the notion that when I was in such classes 20 years ago, I believe the ignorance was less pronounced (I use the term “ignorance” in its original form, that is the intentional act of ignoring learning). I prefer to think that we are seeing more of such anti-intellectualism because information is so much more prevalent today than 20 years ago. The last bastions of ignorance are rallying and raising their voices as they see their doom approaching. Of course ignorance will remain in the future but as we grow more and more connected, it becomes more difficult to sustain a false idea. Then I remember to listen to the birds and forget all about such controversies.

    • I think it’s because we don’t teach critical thinking skills to youth, we reserve that for university – when it’s already too late.

      You have to question every assumption and never believe something in blind faith.

      Jewish faith is predicated on being able to discus, critic and put into question religious dogma. Some churches have questioned the necessity of circumcision, something considered central to their rituals.

      It seems the only way to do that with Christian faith is to split the church, or do “cafeteria christianity” (very popular nowadays).

      • wellokaythen says:

        Historically, picking and choosing what parts of a religion to follow and which to ignore has been a fundamental part of the history of all of the major religions, including Christianity. Perhaps in the last half century or so there’s been a greater acceptance of a ‘cafeteria-style,’ but it’s always been there. In the Protestant Reformation almost 500 years ago, there was a whole lot of shopping around. Same thing for all of American history since the colonial period, Christians in America have changed churches, invented new ones, and mixed and matched.

        As for “splitting the church,” there have been periods of relative unity, but never more than large-scale regional unity – Catholics vs. Orthodox, Catholics vs. Protestants, hell, even Midwestern Lutherans are split into warring factions. The unity of Christianity (“all Christians believe ____”) may be one of the greatest myths of Christianity.

        And, as a historian this is what bothers me the most about the students who told the instructor he was going to hell. Those students usually have an incredibly poor understanding of the history of their own religio or the history of the Bible, and an incredibly limited understanding of any of the philosophical defenses or underpinnings of Christianity. They could defend their religion so much more persuasively and realistically if they just expanded their horizons a little. Read Aquinas and Descartes and Pascal and C.S. Lewis, for heaven’s sake. Learn about the influence of Greco-Roman philosophy on St. Paul.

        They act like one cannot be rational, educated, erudite AND still be a believer. Sad representatives of their own religion.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    I would make a distinction between 1) how students express their beliefs privately or outside classroom assignments and 2) how they express their beliefs on assignments for a course.

    Telling an instructor via class evaluations that he’s going to hell is, regrettably or not, not grounds for any sort of disciplinary action. (Then again, I don’t take such statements as an insult anyway. I think hell would have far more interesting people in it than heaven, and like she said, we won’t know until we die, right?) People are entitled to all sorts of bizarre beliefs. Some of my students are convinced that Hurricane Katrina was Mother Nature’s anger at SUV drivers. On some level as an educator one has to allow idiotic ideas to present themselves. Idiots must be allowed to reveal themselves.

    (For example, I would hope that the multicultural class would also challenge a very widespread progressive/liberal assumption about how Edenic the indigenous communities were before Europeans arrive, and not simply substitute a new, environmentalist version of the “noble savage” stereotype. I hope one stereotype is not merely replaced by another one, which is what has happened quite a bit with the reputation of Columbus, whose image has swung like a pendulum. I am not so sure that the article is complaining about orthodoxy as much as complaining about the wrong kind of orthodoxy.)

    However, if a particular statement of belief fails to address the assignment properly, then that is something that ought to have an impact on the grade, no matter where the ineffective language is coming from. A failure in critical thinking or objectivity is a failure, assuming the assignment clearly calls for that.

    I do see a danger of too much subjectivity when the assignment calls for students to engage in self-reflection. If you’re basically asking people to write down what they think and feel about a particular topic, then you can’t expect them to be fully rational, and you can’t expect them to simply come to all the same conclusions that you want them to. Sometimes the “personal reflection” pedagogy simply reinforces students’ preconceived notions. It can even give them even greater license to cling to their prejudices even more tightly.

    This is especially a danger when, as I surmise from the article, student outrage appears to be encouraged in some cases. It’s unfair and impossible to target very specific forms of outrage for some students and refuse to recognize other forms. This appears to grant privilege to some forms of targeted anger but not others, which tends to stoke the flames even higher.

  4. I was judging a schools debating competition recently. There was one student who was totally unable to argue a point that he didn’t already believe. That point was that all file-sharing should be legalised. The student was also very religious.

    I think it is because he realises that if he learns ideas that might cause him to question his faith, then he will lose support from his family and community. So he chooses to not engage with controversial ideas at all.

    It is very sad, and I hope that he will be one of the 3 in 4 who loses their fundamentalist faith at college, and learns to open his mind.

  5. Thanks for sharing this article.

    I graduated with honors out of a Sociology program, and I get the feeling you know exactly why I don’t usually tell people that later in life. The last time I discussed conflict theory over a drink I almost got punched out.

    I still enjoy the discipline and occasionally reread my textbooks, but it’s become something of a closet fantasy for me. I’ve pretty well given up on intelligent discussion outside of the college classroom, and even when I WAS in class there were people who would get in shouting matches or condemn me to hell or carebear land or whatever it is these days because I followed the classroom rules for critical analysis.

  6. Valter Viglietti says:

    Thank you Warren, very interesting article.
    I agree with you that the issues you mentioned are sad and potentially dangerous – especially when they are about teachers.

    I have one simple explanation for all the ignorant, dumb and closed-minded stances that religious people often have: a good chunk of religious teachings/beliefs are simply BS (i.e. the universe has been created just thousands of years ago; my God is the only true one; my mission is to convert everybody else; anybody not conforming to my religion is going to hell; etc.). Each of such beliefs, when seen from outside, are utterly absurd.
    Yet, if I’m a believer and I begin to question my beliefs, they will soon crumble like a house of cards. Like an avalanche, a questioned religious belief will fall and slide down with the next, revealing their absurdity and lack of foundations overall.

    Since nobody (but the bravest and strongest) is willing to destroy his own worldview (a frightening experience indeed), very few believers are willing to question their own beliefs; on the contrary, they will blindly refuse any attempt about it, making an enemy of anybody trying to do so.

    Ironically enough, if your beliefs are true, you will enjoy questioning them: because you know they are true and solid. OTOH, the more your beliefs are false, the more you’ll feel the need to protect and shield them from inquiry, making them an untouchable dogma.

    • Mostly_123 says:

      Hard, simple truths, but well spoken there Valter.

      I think most people equate ‘faith’ with ‘zeal’ (and pride) – but faith is all about having the courage to face doubt, to live with doubt, and to reconcile (or, perhaps not) with it; not the absence of doubt. Just once I’d like to see an evangelist who interprets the world with a well-developed sense of ambiguity… (“Y’know, to be honest, I’m not sure what the Bible is telling us here…”)

  7. Great article. I especially agree with this: “I have been saddened and deeply concerned that some of my students have used their religious teachings as defensive shields against inquiry, creating an aura of anti-intellectualism “protecting” them from information that may contradict or challenge their beliefs. While I find this particularly troubling when I perceive it in any person, in a pre-service and then in-service teacher whose job it is to impart a life-long love of learning, the consequences can be disastrous.”

    I recently resigned from my teaching position at a rural high school in the Bible Belt, where I taught alongside the type of teacher you describe. The biology teachers only taught evolution because they were forced to. Many teachers played Christian music while their students were working on projects. “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” pins were prevalent during December. I didn’t dare express my freethinking beliefs. I felt squelched in what I could teach. If any mention of God or religion was made during class, I avoided it at all costs for fear I would give myself away as a non-believer, and the witch hunt would begin.

    Right before I made my decision to resign, I had an incident where I didn’t keep my mouth closed. A female student mentioned her plans for celebrating Easter, and then said, “It’s so sad, the way Easter has been stolen from the Christians.” I innocently said something about how the goddess Eastre was a Pagan goddess of spring and fertility. I said a bit about the eggs and the rabbit (you know, EDUCATING the students), and then the bell rang. The following Monday, a girl needed to talk to me in the hall. As it happens, my informative bit on Easter offended her AND her family. I told her that if she researched it, she would find it to be true. She said, “I don’t need to research it. I don’t know what those pagans are that you talked about, and I don’t WANT to know. And how DARE you suggest that anything came before JESUS!!!” I put on my best teacher act, praising her for being so brave as to approach me with something like that, and apologizing for offending her. I lived the rest of the week in fear. She has the sort of family who, mere weeks later, complained to the superintendent about their precious daughter being forced to read Fahrenheit 451 in English II, because it had the words “God damn” in it.

    That clinched it for me. I resigned the following week. I was sick of living in fear of saying the wrong thing and having an entire community, including the majority of my fellow teachers, scream for my head on a platter.

    • Mostly_123 says:

      Barbara, stay strong-

      All I can say is: ‘God damn it, but your story makes me feel sad!’ 

      How can one compete with the vanity of orthodoxy? Is faith so weak & petulant these days that it feels threatened by everything and everyone that doesn’t completely coincide with its narrowest interpretations? Our we that vain and cowardly? When did strict ‘literalism’ and only literalism become the only way to interpret the bible? I, of course, can’t know the mind of God, but I believe much of what you speak of is more rooted in the aesthetics that THEY themselves want and like, rather than ethics, and having a true understanding of what God really wants (and what happened to the courage and wisdom it takes to admit we simply can’t always know what God wants to begin with?) Faith accepts -indeed- demands challenges and intellectual honesty. Otherwise, it’s not faith at all; it’s just blind conformity and self-gratifying zealotry: There’s no spirituality there, no mystery and no redemption. There’s no glory to God in calling someone a heretic; only vainglory to one’s ego who enjoys feigning the righteousness & authority of God to stroke their own pride in their convictions, reified by religion. Sorry to go on and on… I think I read all that in a fortune cookie once. 

      In short, teachers are awesome; so, if you’re a good one- thanks! And don’t give up: The world needs good teachers now more than ever (there’s always Canada too- most of the Bible belt thinks Canada’s already gone to Hell…)       

  8. On a final course paper, one student wrote that, while she enjoyed the course, and she felt that both myself and my graduate assistant — who had come out to the class earlier as lesbian — were very knowledgeable and good professors with great senses of humor, nonetheless, she felt obliged to inform us that we are still going to Hell for being so-called “practicing homosexuals.” Another student two years later wrote on her course paper that homosexuality and transgenderism are sins in the same category as stealing and murder. This student not only reiterated that I will travel to Hell if I continued to act on my same-sex desires, but she went further in amplifying the first student’s proclamations by self-righteously insisting that I will not receive an invitation to enter Heaven if I do not accept Jesus as my personal savior since I am a Jew, regardless of my sexual behavior. Anyone who doubts this, she concluded, “Only death will tell!”

    I wonder if these students are fornicators, or drunkards, or verbal bullies, or greedy, etc?
    As I suspect these students were Paulists(followers of St Paul’s teachings in the new testament, which do seem to differ from the teachings of Jesus).

    9. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Be not deceived: Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

    10. nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the Kingdom of God.
    1 Corinthians 6. 21st Century King James Version (KJ21)
    http://www.Biblegateway.Com/passage/?Search=1%20Corinthians%206&version=KJ21

    If Paulist doctrine is correct, will be fun to see the shock of horror on their faces when those students are burning in Hell with me lolol

    • wellokaythen says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for citing the *version* of the Bible you’re quoting. It’s one of my pet peeves when people give chapter and verse without saying which version they’re quoting, as if every verse is exactly the same in all versions. If my Bible-quoting students would just do that one little academic thing, their scriptural diatribes would be so much more bearable.

  9. Hi Warren

    I sincerely hope you life from now will be more pleasant.

    But how about Leif Erikson?
    In Norway we learn in school that Leif Erikson ( a Viking) “discovered” America.

    Seen from abroad life in the US sure looks difficult.

    • Leif discovered america for the north-european people, 500 years before Columbus (he went to Newfoundland if I remember right?). I’m not sure if it was the primary goal or a fluke.

      Columbus discovered america for the south-european people, while not even trying to do that anyways. It was a fluke.

      It would be the equivalent of us “discovering” a inhabited planet, we would, from the point of view of humanity.

  10. Hi
    Can you anderstand where all the hatred comes from against gay,lesbians and trans people among some Christians ?
    Why are they so obsessed with sexuality? I wonder but have no idea.
    Who do they feel threatened by other persons love?

    The diacon in my local church told me that the Roman Empier died because of homosexuality.
    What is underneath all this?

    • Iben: Actually, when same-sex sexuality was accepted in ancient Rome, the empire was in full flower. It was only later, when same-sex sexuality was prohibited that the empire began to decline. Actually, there was no cause and effect relationship between the rise and fall of the Roman Empire with same-sex relations. You might want to see my extensive PowerPoints on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history at:
      http://www.public.iastate.edu/~wblumen
      then click onto: “AnLGBTQHistoryOne” and “AnLGBTQHistoryTwo.”

      • Hi

        Thank you!
        I browsed through one and learned a lot,and also feel shocked.

        I also have heard that the origin of the word “gay” originally comes from ” GOOD AS YOU”.
        Another day I will look at all your teachings,
        Oman is also a country with special culture,like this you show on the power point. A Norewgian anteopolgist Unni Wikan did fiieldwork in Oman, but it was in the seventies. I do not know the name
        of her book from that time.

        As far as know there is no hell in the Jewish religion .

        Take care of your yourself and move to a place on earth where and your love are treated with respect and dignity . Enjoy your senior years.

      • wellokaythen says:

        A scholar named Boswell (forgot his first name) has uncovered evidence that even the Catholic Church in Western Europe in the Middle Ages had ceremonies for same-sex unions. It was not precisely ‘same-sex marriage,’ but it the Church celebrated and sanctified those unions. Institutionalized homophobia is generally much more recent than most people think, NOT a universal Christian tradition for the past 2000 years.

      • wellokaythen says:

        The great historian Edward Gibbon actually blamed the rise of Christianity, among other factors, for the collapse of the western Roman Empire….

  11. wellokaythen says:

    Blowback from the simple-minded is really draining, but it’s not the end of the world. If we teachers avoid all possibility of offending other people, then we are probably not doing our jobs. At the risk of sounding “uppity,” I’m reminded of a great (paraphrased) quote from Voltaire:

    “It’s hard to free people from the chains they worship.”

  12. Brandi Merrick says:

    Warren,

    I just want to say thank you for being one of a very small number of professors in the college of education at ISU that I felt like I actually learned something from. I loved your class and this article was a very interesting read… Though your closing comments sadden me, as they do you. I am currently teaching at a rather atypical and ethnically diverse high school in Iowa and I like to think that I have taken your teachings to heart and am attempting to (whether subtly or not so much so I don’t know) pass them on to students in the most tolerant and accepting way possible.

    I wish you all the best during your much deserved retirement and I hope your dogs are well :) thank you again for everything!!

    Brandi

  13. I’ve read this article twice and am still not sure what it’s saying. If I’m not misunderstood, it’s the author fears for the future of U.S. education because of right-wing Christian-abusing groups and how students interpret them? If that is the claim, then it is an interesting idea, but as a wise man once wrote, “personal memoirs and religious texts do not [count as proof].” It its current form, this article is merely a memoir of anecdotes.

  14. Clark Ford says:

    Thank-you Warren for writing about your teaching experiences at ISU. I have had similar experiences teaching a course on world hunger. To explore world hunger, we touch on issues in a variety of areas including economics, agriculture, geography, history, anthropology, religion, and ethics. For some students, the course is culturally challenging, and the cognitive dissonance they experience must be intense. For others, however, it has been their favorite course. When I read your discussion question about Columbus it reminded me of a darkly humorous video that I made protesting the Genocide of Native Americans: Manifest Destiny https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtt_Sx-RvFg

  15. Great video Clark!

  16. Yes, Clark excellent video. I noticed that it was recorded here in Ames, Iowa. Coincidence?

  17. Brilliant. I loved this article. I share the fears. I am also really heartened by the level of discourse in the comments. Wow! Smart, articulate and respectful. This article goes in the strong PLUS column for my day. And Warren – when you get back to western MA and are safely embedded inside the ‘tofu curtain,’ I’d be psyched to have you come and present for a men’s group.

    • Warren J. Blumenfeld says:

      Hi Boysen. Thank you so much for your kind words. I would love to come to your group when I move to western Massachusetts. I will be moving to Northampton somewhere around June 1. I look forward to meeting you. Best, Warren

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  1. [...] workshop at Brown University came to mind recently when I saw a very far-left Facebook friend link to this article by a professor named Warren Blumenfeld who had just retired from a position as a pro….  The article contains the professor’s reflections and gives voice to both his lamentations [...]

  2. […] that though they enjoyed me as their professor, they nonetheless felt obliged to inform me that I will be spending eternity in Hell if I do not stop being a “practicing homosexual” and if I do not accept Jesus as my “personal […]

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