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May 10

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Student Refuses to Do Homework — Claims Religious Persecution

Grace Lewis - Keep of the Truth (tm)Once upon a time, Christians were fed to the lions. Even though that appears to have been political, Christians called it religious persecution. But it shows just how hollowed out Christianity has become that today, persecution is thought to be any instance when the entire society doesn’t accept Christian dogma as The Truth™. The best example of this is the constant complaint about, Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas. The problem Christians have with “Happy holidays!” is that it doesn’t single out Christianity as being true and special.

Well, on Thursday, the conservative world went crazy about a teenager who was being oppressed because a mean old teacher gave her Fs on essays that she was supposed to write that the teen thought required her to argue against Christianity. For example, Breitbart published, Professor Fails Student for Refusing to Conform to His Anti-Christian Bias. Fox News ran with, Student: Professor Gave Me Zeros for Refusing to Condemn Christianity. WorldNetDaily went with, Christian Girl Given Zeroes for Her Beliefs, with the subtitle, “No student should be subjected to such outrageous bias and outright hostility.” As it will likely not surprise you, this is not what is going on.

College students are used to telling teachers what they want to hear. They don’t go running to television stations to complain that they are expected to make an argument that goes against what they believe. In fact, it is part of the learning experience to be able to make arguments that go against what you believe. It is part of learning to think. Only a coward would be so fragile in her beliefs as to think that considering an opposing view would be an assault on her opinions. But as we know, modern American Christians are mostly extremely cowardly when it comes to their faiths.

What actually happened in this case was that the student, young Grace Lewis, decided that she didn’t have to write essays that dealt with events in the history of Christianity. She preferred to talk about the way Christianity is today. But the instructor, Lance Russum, was teaching an introduction to humanities course, not Sunday school. So when Lewis did not write her essays on the subjects assigned, he gave her zero credit. It wasn’t that he disagreed with her homespun Christian apologetics; it was that her homespun Christian apologetics had nothing to do with the assignment.

Here is one of the essay assignments:

  1. What is something Lady Julian is saying/doing that women should not be saying/doing at that time under the Christian mythos?
  2. From the article on the nuns, what makes their defiance of male dominance so important?
  3. Why did Christianity, and its male gods, want to silence these women?

Apparently, by the time of this assignment, Russum had experienced Lewis’ approach to such questions. So he added this note:

You are to only answer the above three questions. SECOND, and this is VERY important, I DO NOT want you to write about how wonderful you think Christianity is now because women can do A, B or C. History is history and facts are facts and your opinion on if it is better now or not is irrelevant for this discussion. This is a HISTORICAL discussion about the Middle Ages. If you really feel the need to express your opinion on how you think Christianity is now for women, you may email me, you may call my office or I would love for you to stop by for a nice cup of hot tea where we can talk about it, but it does not belong in this assignment. The pieces you are reading [are] from some of the greatest expressions of mythology by women ever, the question is to honor that voice in that moment of history.

In an unintentionally funny response, Lewis wrote, “In conclusion, the questions assigned are not open-minded questions.” Yes, that’s right: reading about a 14th century Christian thinker is designed to make people abandon their Christianity. This can only be true if one’s faith is childish and based upon Christians of all times being perfect. Ms Lewis is a silly young woman and should be treated as such. She certainly shouldn’t be paraded around on television like a star.

To me, the situation is very clear if we change the subject from Christianity to Islam or Hinduism. No Christian would see a problem with that because no Christian sees those religions as being reflective of the true will of God. This highlights the biggest problem with dogmatic religion: it claims to be a destination. Followers of all the Abrahamic religions aren’t searching for the truth. They think they’ve found it. And if that’s the case, then why is Grace Lewis even in school? There is nothing she needs to learn. The Bible told her so.

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  1. JMF

    I often disagreed with the assignment parameters my history teachers defined. I never thought to go to TV about it.

    This history teacher seems to be pushing a particular interpretation of history, which is not now the subject should be taught. The teacher also seems open to conversation outside the classroom, which is wonderful. Still, if you run into a student who hates your take, just give them a gentleman’s “B,” don’t get power-trippy about it. They don’t agree with you and never will, let that one go.

    It’a odd how history is taught in college. It’s really intense. I suppose because history teachers don’t provide much in the way of rich alumni, those teachers are really under pressure to publish crappy books and defend their interpretations of history to the death.

    1. Frank Moraes

      I think I’m more keen on the professor. The teacher isn’t there to try to see things your way; you are there to see things her way. You don’t need to accept what the teacher thinks, but you need to engage with it. The student in this case was saying, “My mind is closed and that is that.” That’s not acceptable. If the student had turned in no paper, she would have received no credit. If the teacher had requested a book report on Don Quixote and got a book report on Twisted, she should still get no credit. What this student showed is that she didn’t engage with the material. What’s more, she didn’t seem to engage with any material at all. As in the case above, “Well, I could read Don Quixote, but I’ve already read Twisted, so I’ll just write about that.”

      There would be no controversy if this was just a student who didn’t want to do the work. But because it can be framed as “religious liberty” it becomes a big deal. What about the student who refuses to answer questions about evolution because they attack Christianity? I don’t see this as being any different.

      And this teacher did give this closed-minded child an A for the course. So what is she bitching about?

      1. JMF

        The kid got an A? WTF?

        Naturally I have zero respect for any idiot who goes screaming to Fox about “persecution.” I don’t know why I typed what I did. I guess it’s because I’ve had serious battles with history professors before. But I always ended up with the “B” or better once I did.

        I’m rather negative about history teaching in college. I got my little piece of paper in both history and political science; in my experience, history was taught politically and political science was taught historically. Political science teachers are training future representatives for oil companies and such. They need to know what’s happening. It’s completely acceptable in political science courses to mention historical facts which affect politics in countries today. I could cite references that completely went against what the prof was teaching and their response was usually “good info, thanks.”

        Whereas history is taught very politically. The profs are teaching a useless discipline (from the point of view of college administrators.) History grads aren’t valuable in the corporate world. So history profs usually have a specific take on past events they’ve gotten publication for (and it’s really usually boring.) That’s what defines them. They get goofy about protecting their political interpretation of history.

        None of this has anything to do with the wackadoodle who screamed “persecution!” to TV. Sorry I said stupid stuff about that.

        1. Frank Moraes

          I don’t think you said stupid things. But I also don’t think it is bad for any teacher to show her biases. This is the difference between grammar school history and college history. It is a battle of perspectives. What isn’t acceptable is for a teacher to give out lower grades because a student argues against what she believes. But in most cases that I’ve seen, that isn’t what happens. It is usually like this case where the student doesn’t deal with the subject seriously. I know if I were teaching a political philosophy class, I could very easily give an A to a libertarian. But I’m also certain that most of the libertarian arguments I would get would be sub-mental.

          I think the young lady got an A because she is smart and did well on all the assignments that didn’t get in the way of her primitive Christianity. And that makes the story all the more tragic.

  2. Lori

    #3 in there “Why did Christianity, and its male gods, want to silence these women?” seems to make Christianity out to be polytheistic. What if the student had made a well-researched case against Christianity ever having had a plurality of (lower case g) gods? Would that pass muster?

    1. Frank Moraes

      I loved that part of the question. Judaism is clearly a religion that is moving from polytheism to monotheism as we see clearly in the Ten Commandments. “No gods before me”? In Christianity, there has always been a problem with Jesus. Some of the early (now heretical) forms of Christianity dealt with these issues. But I find the canonical form a mess. Then you have the Catholic Church’s long history of taking local gods and turning them into saints. But most of all, most modern American Christians are most distinctly not monotheists. They are duotheists: believing in Yahweh and Satan — but not the Pan-like prosecutor of the Old Testament. The truth is, I can’t talk to most Christians for very long before they start spouting heresies that would have gotten them burned a thousand years ago.

      The young lady in the course is clearly smart. But I’ll bet she’s a walking heresy mine. No serious Christian should have any problem with questions like these. She clearly thinks that she has a better notion of what Christianity is than those in the 13th century. So she should be eager to uncover what was wrong with their thinking then. I’m afraid I’m much more harsh in my judgement of her than other are. I will only give her this: she is young. But if she is allowed to get away with her closed-minded attitude, she will be just as ignorant and heretical in her old age.

    2. JMF

      Exactly! WTF were saints? (And, of course, male saints like Augustine/Aquinas were celebrated for their theological convolutions, while female saints were always only celebrated for martyrdom; taking one for the team!)

      1. Frank Moraes

        Yes, and the assignment is a perfect example. Julian of Norwich was a great Christian thinker. But she ain’t a saint!

  1. Anniversary Post: Revelations of Divine Love | Frankly Curious

    […] a couple of days ago, I wrote, Student Refuses to Do Homework — Claims Religious Persecution. In it, one of the essay questions the young Christian refused to engage with had to do with Julian […]

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