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February 22, 2007 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Krazy... Katheists? We see plenty of stories about religion in schools crossing the line. For good reason -- it's pretty topical. This time, though, it's an atheist teacher who crosses the line.
posted by gurple (191 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not to imply that what this teacher is doing is anywhere near as egregious as the stuff in Secret Life of Gravy's post. But I was pretty surprised to find myself siding with the Christians on this one.
posted by gurple at 9:22 AM on February 22, 2007


That handout, which was not part of the textbook's materials, asked questions such as how evil could exist if God is good and all-powerful.

Junior Lanae Olsen, 17, said it all went too far.


How dare he make them grapple with logic!
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:23 AM on February 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


I want this comment in the fossil record, to prove to future generations that, despite the imminent (if not immanent) end-of-the-thread, mathowie and jessamyn really exist.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:26 AM on February 22, 2007


This time, though, it's an atheist teacher who crosses the line.

And he crossed what line, how, exactly?
posted by blucevalo at 9:27 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered why a teacher would touch the subject with a ten-foot pole in the first place, whether it be from the religious side or the non-religious side. Ain't gonna convince anyone of anything anyway, and you'll just get yourself in trouble.
posted by Bugbread at 9:29 AM on February 22, 2007


And he crossed what line, how, exactly?

The line -- of separation between church and state -- is, of course difficult to pin down. But a handout on the Problem of Good and Evil seems pretty off-base to me, for a high-school class on American Literature.
posted by gurple at 9:30 AM on February 22, 2007


LOLPEOPLEOFALLSTRIPESIANS.

That handout, which was not part of the textbook's materials, asked questions such as how evil could exist if God is good and all-powerful.

Whether this is offensive really depends on context. The import of this question could be "let us grapple together with logic and morality", or it could be "see how I vanquish your puny and inconsistent god" in different situations. It sounds like the teacher meant the former, and has for years.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:30 AM on February 22, 2007


That handout, which was not part of the textbook's materials, asked questions such as how evil could exist if God is good and all-powerful.

Junior Lanae Olsen, 17, said it all went too far.


Any Christian theologian worth their salt would love that challenge.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:31 AM on February 22, 2007


And he crossed what line, how, exactly?

The First Amendment. By trying to promote his personal views on religion.

It's not about who's right and who's wrong. The First Amendment says if you're a public school you don't go there. End of story.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:31 AM on February 22, 2007


But a handout on the Problem of Good and Evil seems pretty off-base to me, for a high-school class on American Literature.

. . .

. . .


I . . . am speechless.
posted by peep at 9:31 AM on February 22, 2007


Yeah, not seeing how he crossed the line here, either. I've got no problem with people teaching critical thinking in a literature class. That he chose to substitute the Genesis creation myth for that Native American creation myth makes the lesson more religion-neutral, not less so, I think.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:31 AM on February 22, 2007


LOLATHEISTS, amirite?
posted by Mayor West at 9:32 AM on February 22, 2007


bugbread: "I've always wondered why a teacher would touch the subject with a ten-foot pole in the first place, whether it be from the religious side or the non-religious side. Ain't gonna convince anyone of anything anyway, and you'll just get yourself in trouble."

Learning about other religions is something everyone should learn. You'd be surprised how many times, as a Jewish kid, people would assume I "didn't believe in god". These kids only got pissed off when he tried to shine the light of SCIENCE on their religion. Studying Iriquois mythology didn't ruffle their feathers at all.
posted by Plutor at 9:33 AM on February 22, 2007


The teacher's additions are more appropriate to a college-level philosophy course than a high school literature lesson, said Arlene Hulten, a school district spokeswoman.

This statement is what kills me. God forbid we challenge kids with higher level work! This is precisely why freshmen are so woefully underprepared for college.
posted by boubelium at 9:34 AM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


And he crossed what line, how, exactly?

The First Amendment. By trying to promote his personal views on religion.


I heard the words "under god" every fucking day that I went to school. So apparently the first amendment only protects religious types.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2007 [8 favorites]


It's not about who's right and who's wrong.

Oh, no, of course not. It never is.
posted by blucevalo at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2007


I don't see the part where he was promoting personal views on religion. The question listed in the article is one that Christian schools ask students all the time too.
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2007


Yet another "crazy atheists" post turns out to be a crazy religious nut job post.

Bonus: Thinking about religion deemed anti-religious.

niiiiice. Clearly gurple didn't have access to such education.
posted by ewkpates at 9:36 AM on February 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


It sounds like the teacher meant the former, and has for years.

Well, except for the juxtaposition of his telling the class the day before that he's an athiest. And the fact that this was an American lit class. Put those two things together and it at least seems plausible to conclude that he was trying to convince others of the rightness of his own views.

I'm an athiest (agnostic/soft athiest if you prefer), and I'm surprised to hear many defending this guy. You can teach the exact same logic lessons without resort to the religious element.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:37 AM on February 22, 2007


Where did he promote his personal values in this story again? I missed that.
posted by boo_radley at 9:37 AM on February 22, 2007


Yeah, what line? He asked a question, I'm not sure how that's infringing on anyone's belief, unless their belief is so weak that any question puts it into peril, in which case there's nothing to do for them.
posted by OmieWise at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2007


Here's the end of the teacher's handout on Evil:

SO, LOGICALLY, THERE ARE FIVE POSSIBLE ANSWERS TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL:
1. God is not perfectly good.
2. God is not all-powerful.
3. God is not all-knowing.
4. God does not exist.
5. This is a mystery, and it is a mistake even to ask the question.


In a philosophy course, sure. Sandwiched in between Iroquois mythology and The Crucible (which is about McCarthyism), it's pretty clear to me that he's going out of his way to focus on religion. The problem of Evil doesn't exist in the same way in the Iroquois material, because the Iroquois didn't have a single omniscient, omnipotent deity.
posted by gurple at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2007


Wait, what does this have to do with Krazy Kat?
posted by interrobang at 9:39 AM on February 22, 2007


I heard the words "under god" every fucking day that I went to school. So apparently the first amendment only protects religious types.

Well, to be fair the pledge has a pretty lengthy history of first amendment jurisprudence behind it. Including the fact that no student can be compelled to recite the pledge.

I would turn it around on you. If you found the pledge that offensive, you should find this equally offensive.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:41 AM on February 22, 2007


Plutor: True. And, apparently, there are comparative religion classes out there as well. I'm going to assume that anyone teaching comparative religion would get quite the training about what kinds of things can be said, and which can't. But for a non-religious studies teacher to broach the subject? I don't think it's immoral, or nefarious, or anything like that, but it seems tremendously foolhardy. I don't get why you'd venture to touch a subject like that without being hyperaware of exactly what is allowed and not allowed.

I guess what I'm saying is: learning about religion is important. If your school has a religious studies class, that's cool. If it doesn't, I guess the choice is to either leave the kids uneducated, or to take the dangerous task into your own hands. I'm just surprised that so many teachers decide to take the dangerous path.

Then again, we never hear about the folks who talk about religions without getting in trouble, so it may just be that I'm looking at the situation and seeing "all these teachers who put their hands in the hornet's nest", because I never notice all the other hundreds of teachers who are good bee-keepers and never get stung.
posted by Bugbread at 9:42 AM on February 22, 2007


LOGICALLY, THERE ARE FIVE POSSIBLE ANSWERS TO THE PROBLEM OF KRAZY KAT:

1. Krazy Kat is not perfectly Krazy.
2. Krazy Kat is not a kat.
3. Krazy Kat is misspelled.
4. Krazy Kat does not exist.
5. This is a mystery, and it is krazy to even to ask the question.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:43 AM on February 22, 2007 [9 favorites]


During my sophomore year of high school (in a somewhat rural Oregon town), our honors biology teacher began our segment on evolution by saying he would share his own beliefs after the semester was over (some students had asked what he thought about evolution, as it was well-known that he was involved in Young Life).

At the end of the semester, he said simply that he was a creationist. Reactions were varied but civil. "Why did you become a biology teacher if you're a creationist?"

Students ribbed each other and the teacher - from both sides. The religious kids poked fun at the idea that we descended from monkeys; the non-religious kids made fun of the idea that the earth is only 6000 years old. Stuff everyone's heard before. And it all stayed in the classroom.

You know what no one did? Whined like a little fucking bitch to their parents that their precious, fragile beliefs were being - GASP! - challenged.

I would not survive high school if I had to experience it in 2007.
posted by peep at 9:44 AM on February 22, 2007 [7 favorites]


In a philosophy course, sure.

He'd have been called on the carpet for going too far and for attacking the Christian faith whether he'd been teaching American literature, philosophy, or underwater basket-weaving.
posted by blucevalo at 9:46 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not clear to me what line you feel this teacher has crossed, or why you feel that the questions he asked are similar to telling students they're going to hell or to stay away from Muslims. Thought you're clearly editorializing in your fpp, I'll let someone else flag it. Next time, please post a more neutral fpp, and make your argument more fully in the comment section below.

a handout on the Problem of Good and Evil seems pretty off-base to me, for a high-school class on American Literature.

So you'd teach Moby Dick, or The Scarlet Letter, or the Puritans without addressing questions of God and evil? The American canon, especially the early stuff, is constantly preoccupied by this issue. Is it the teacher's job to intentionally shield his students from the main themes of American literature, simply to appease parents and students who object to thinking seriously about religion? I don't think so. Maybe the teacher's handout was unsophisticated (ALLCAPS is never a good sign...), but addressing questions of theodicy is entirely appropriate within the context of a course on American literature.
posted by washburn at 9:46 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


gurple: so you got answer 5 for question 1?
posted by boo_radley at 9:47 AM on February 22, 2007


In a philosophy course, sure. Sandwiched in between Iroquois mythology and The Crucible (which is about McCarthyism), it's pretty clear to me that he's going out of his way to focus on religion. The problem of Evil doesn't exist in the same way in the Iroquois material, because the Iroquois didn't have a single omniscient, omnipotent deity.

What? Where are you getting this? It's OK to require essays analyzing creation myths involving turtles, but a violation of First Amendment rights to focus the same lens on an equally implausible creation myth that students in the class happen to adhere to? Come on.

I look forward to Lanae Olsen's first experience in a philosophy course, in which she is compelled to not only entertain notions that she might not always be unequivocally correct, but (horrors!) also compelled to defend her own belief systems with a modicum of logical reasoning.

You know what no one did? Whined like a little fucking bitch to their parents that their precious, fragile beliefs were being - GASP! - challenged.

peep for the win.
posted by Mayor West at 9:49 AM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Public Schools are not the place to talk about this stuff--all of these incidents everywhere prove it---over and over and over...
posted by amberglow at 9:52 AM on February 22, 2007


The writeup makes it seem like the teacher was teaching a pretty balanced class, and that he is being hassled by the Krazy Kristians, but the actual "Problem of Evil" handout makes it pretty clear that he was pushing a viewpoint. Yeah, it's a viewpoint I agree with. Yeah, it makes a lot more sense to me than the viewpoint the Christians hold. But, still, "teaching about other religions" usually doesn't include "handing out readings that describe how a religion is illogical". Especially because it's not even a literature reading. It's just a MetaFilter like take-down of religious beliefs. I managed to study a pretty broad milleu of South Asian and East Asian religions in university, and the professor never once did a lecture on "Why the central teachings of Mahayana Buddhism just don't make any sense".

Now, if the prof had assigned readings of Mark Twain's "Extracts from Adam's Diary", he might have a bit more of a leg to stand on. It's a much more potent attack on Christianity, but it is, at least, American Lit.
posted by Bugbread at 9:52 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


... The teacher's additions are more appropriate to a college-level philosophy course than a high school literature lesson, said Arlene Hulten, a school district spokeswoman.

The lesson was lost, she said. ...


That's exactly right.
posted by amberglow at 9:53 AM on February 22, 2007


gurple: so you got answer 5 for question 1?

Yeah, but I cheated off dios.

I'm pretty fascinated by the posts in this thread.

I'd love to live in a world where we could teach kids in public school to question Genesis and confront them with challenges to their religious upbringing -- except that that would also mean living in a world where textbooks could come with a warning that "evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things".
posted by gurple at 9:53 AM on February 22, 2007


The only sin I see here is the teacher trying to teach outside of his little assigned curriculum and grade level. If we took a more holistic view of education, and actually looked at how literature, philosophy, history and science are all connected (this would, of course, require teachers to talk to faculty members outside their own departments), we wouldn't be having this problem.

And speaking of problems, I took an entire philosophy course in college on the Problem of Evil. More specifically, the Problem of Hell. Kvanvig was our textbook. And you know what? The professor was a Christian. Funny how that sort of thing works out.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:54 AM on February 22, 2007


McDonald said he's given the assignment this way since he first started teaching at the high school nearly seven years ago.

He didn't cross a line. The line moved.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:54 AM on February 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


I was of half a mind to defend the guy. Yes, The Crucible is about McCarthyism, but it's also about religious persecution, and theology is a very apt prism to gaze at the play through. However, that handout is pretty dumb. I can't say whether he transgressed The First Amendment or not, but he transgressed against logic (FYI: I'm an atheist).
posted by Kattullus at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2007


peep writes "I would not survive high school if I had to experience it in 2007."

Nah, you would. It's just luck of the draw. This guy taught the same lecture for years without complaint. You never know when you're going to draw the whiny class.
posted by Bugbread at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2007


This guy taught the same lecture for years without complaint. You never know when you're going to draw the whiny class.

I wonder how many times fundamentalist Christian educators in America have uttered that exact same sentence, throughout the last century or so.
posted by gurple at 9:57 AM on February 22, 2007


He didn't cross a line. The line moved.

The line hasn't moved--teachers on all sides are (and have been) intentionally crossing it all the time for various reasons, and are now being called out on it.
posted by amberglow at 9:57 AM on February 22, 2007


Faint of Butt writes "If we took a more holistic view of education, and actually looked at how literature, philosophy, history and science are all connected (this would, of course, require teachers to talk to faculty members outside their own departments), we wouldn't be having this problem."

Nah, we'd still have First Amendment issues. It's not like the First Amendment and holistic views of education, looking at interconnected fields, are somehow antithetical.
posted by Bugbread at 9:59 AM on February 22, 2007


amberglow writes "teachers on all sides are (and have been) intentionally crossing it all the time for various reasons, and are now being called out on it."

Actually, teachers on all sides are (and have been) intentionally crossing it all the time for various reasons, and are now being (and have been) called out on it.
posted by Bugbread at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2007


gurple: I didn't realize that the list you posted came from the teacher -- I missed the two linked PDFs originally. The second worksheet is pretty awful.
posted by boo_radley at 10:02 AM on February 22, 2007


Yes, there is a difference in discussing the problem of evil in an English lit class as opposed to a philosophy class, and that difference is focus.

In a literature class, you're going to look at the problem to shed light on the works or intentions/motivations of authors under study. Not as a personal challenge, for the students to solve or reconcile with personal belief. That's the focus of the problem in a philosophy class, and those that sign up for them usually expect to have their beliefs challenged, and to have to defend them. (until, if their professor is any good, they come to believe very little, but consider possible a great range of things)
posted by dreamsign at 10:02 AM on February 22, 2007


boo_radley writes "I missed the two linked PDFs originally. The second worksheet is pretty awful."

That second worksheet was what changed my opinion on the subject. Just reading the article, it seemed pretty clear that the prof was in the right, and the students in the wrong. Reading the worksheet, the prof starts reminding me of the episode of South Park where Dawkins comes to the elementary school as a guest teacher.
posted by Bugbread at 10:04 AM on February 22, 2007


Sounds like exactly the sort of thing these students should be learning...in college.

High school is for building general knowledge and gaining exposure to a range of topics. There are, of course, critical thinking skills that high school students should be building, but tackling the problem of evil is a bit heavy for kids and can only end in grief.

There is a tremendous difference between learning about the problem of evil in the course of reading Melville in a literature class and having a handout like this challenge the students to provide their own response to the question of theodicy. The former presents the students with a literary and thematic problem they can engage in with some degree of distance. The latter subjects them to a potentially fundamental challenge to their worldview. Exactly what should be happening around age eighteen, but totally inappropriate for kids younger than that.

This guy should be reprimanded not for engaging in advocacy or traipsing on peoples' first amendment rights, but simply for being a bad teacher.
posted by felix betachat at 10:06 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


The line hasn't moved--teachers on all sides are (and have been) intentionally crossing it all the time for various reasons, and are now being called out on it.

The "are now being called out on it" - that's the line moving.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:06 AM on February 22, 2007


Once again the hammer of logic comes way to close to crushing the soft little skull of someone's sweet innocent cuddly puppy of relegious beliefs.

Here's the problem folks:

He said he was an atheist.

I don't know if anyone's noticed or not, but saying your anything but christian is taken by christians to be a judgement on their relegion. Say you're a jew? Christian's believe you've judged there relegion or are the very least somewhat misquided. That's what this whole thing is about. Christians understand the acceptance of any other belief system to be a denouncement of their own.

Have we all missed the vigorous massaging of the uberchristian persecution complex? War on Christmas anyone?

The underbelly of the "outrage" of these students and parents is the belief that the teacher can't possibly objectively discuss Christianity or any of it's structures, because he's not a Christian. There's a catch 22 there. Did you see it?

And to that I say, Has he or is he a currently a one legged man obsessed with revenge? Has he ever sailed up the Mississippi river on a homemade raft while calling his best pal "nigger"? Did he ever spend 10 years trying to get home?

The bible and everything in it cannot be treated as literature or fodder for critical discussion because to do so is to question the veracity and or ferocity of Christian's faith.

Now don't any of you dare persecute me by disagreeing.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 10:06 AM on February 22, 2007 [6 favorites]


I missed the two linked PDFs originally. The second worksheet is pretty awful.

Yeah, I realize now that I should have linked to that one directly. I think everything he did is pretty much aboveboard except that worksheet.
posted by gurple at 10:06 AM on February 22, 2007


When I was in high school, I had a genuinely provactive, beligerent atheist Biology teacher. In slackerish public high school in hippie-ish SE Portland, he didn't get a lot of friction about it one way or the other—he didn't trumpet his beliefs as a matter of course, or get nasty about religious beliefs without prompting.

But we had a significant spike in visible/activist Christian youth culture one year and things got contentious; he didn't bite his tongue as much as you might expect when a kid would present heated-but-unsubstantial talking points re: Creation, and it became an issue.

So they arranged a debate, and we had an hour-long session after school where we went back and forth on the compatibilities and conflicting traditions of Creation stories and natural science. It was fairly intense, but at the end everybody walked away seemingly more comfortable with the conflict and more familiar with the other side. It was pretty cool; nobody got in trouble, nobody got reprimanded.

This? This is just stupid.
posted by cortex at 10:08 AM on February 22, 2007


SO, LOGICALLY, THERE ARE FIVE POSSIBLE ANSWERS TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL:
1. God is not perfectly good.
2. God is not all-powerful.
3. God is not all-knowing.
4. God does not exist.
5. This is a mystery, and it is a mistake even to ask the question.


I'm not religious, but I hate people like this because they are idiots. "Logically"? Logically, you should never fall in love or feel sad. God is defined in the bible and everywhere else as all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere at once. God is therefore by definition not limited by logic or physics. That's the definition you work from. Note that the definition does not define God as good.

It should be obvious that God existing outside the bounds of logic is impossible to disprove within those bounds.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:10 AM on February 22, 2007 [7 favorites]


I guess I'm one of the people not seeing the problem. He's teaching an advanced elective class. The purpose of those classes is to try to take the students further than the normal classes would go.

As others have observed, the Problem of Evil is one of the themes often explored in American Lit. His conclusions section was a bit heavy handed, but really its about what Aquinas came up with (though Aquinas expanded on the mystery, and ascribed some fairly egotistical motives to his deity in the process).

So, someone lead me through this please. His curriculum calls for him to show his students an Iroquois myth and ask them to compare it with other creation myths. He goes further and asks them to compare it to Genesis. Compare here appears to be purely in a literary sense, as in "does it satisfy these literary points" kind of comparison.

Then, before reading a play about evil, he gives his students a handout on the Problem of Evil.

What line did he cross, and how? I mean, theologians, including Christian theologians, have discussed the Problem of Evil for around 2,000 years, so it isn't like discussing the philosophic point is anti-Christian by definition.

Here's the money quote "I just don't think it had a lot to do with the literature," Olsen said. "You can learn about religion but not in that way, by putting it down." That's right, by raising a point religious point that countless Christians have discussed essentially since there have been Christians, a point that is relevant to his next assignment, he's somehow putting religion down. And that's what the "OMG he crossed the line" people seem to be agreeing with, and that's what's puzzling me. What did he do that was wrong?

I mean, if he'd told his students "your religion is stupid and you should give it up" that'd definitely be wrong. If he'd told his students "all religions are stupid, there is no god, stop wasting your time" it'd be wrong. But he just invoked a *classic* Christian subject prior to reading a play all about that very issue. Why is that wrong?
posted by sotonohito at 10:11 AM on February 22, 2007


I am a little speechless, seeing so many people defending this guy.

Logically, there are five possible answers to the problem of evil.

Huh? Only five possible answers? The problem of evil can be figured out by choosing an answer from some multiple choice quiz?

Also, if most Mefites think Christian views shouldn't be shared inside a public school classroom, then neither should atheist views. It's one thing to talk about facts (to promote a general learning of the various religions), but to make a high school kid "choose" his opinion of good vs evil from a "logical" list of 5 options is just not ok.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:14 AM on February 22, 2007


Public Schools are not the place to talk about this stuff--all of these incidents everywhere prove it---over and over and over...

For real? Where are we supposed to talk about this, then? Only in places where it won't be "controversial"?

My public high school offered a class called "The Bible in History and Literature." It was an elective, and was co-taught by an English teacher and a History teacher. We read large chunks of both Testaments, in addition to lots of other non-Biblical stuff. Nobody cried, nobody claimed their faith was being trampled upon when we looked at the (two) Genesis creation stories. We talked about the question of how God can be good if there's evil in the world, etc. It was a great class, one of the few I still remember really well from high school, and it saddens me that good teaching about something as fundamental to our national and cultural history as Christianity is so difficult.

And as for the idea that topics like this shouldn't be discussed until college - well, bullshit.
posted by rtha at 10:14 AM on February 22, 2007


It's not like Christianity hasn't been dealing with the question since it's inception, you know. To wit:

‘Wherefore not without cause has one of your own followers asked, “If God is, whence come evil things? If He is not, whence come good? ”’ —Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy

‘That which was formerly set as an object of terror, that men might not sin, is now to be undergone if we would not sin. Thus, by the unutterable mercy of God, even the very punishment of wickedness has become the armor of virtue, and the penalty of the sinner becomes the reward of the righteous.‘ —Augustine's The City of God.

Plus a bunch more just from the Catholic Encyclopedia's summary of the topic, mentioning not just early Church thinkers but also later philosophers and theologians linked to the Christian tradition.

So, on the face of things, asking students to think about the punctum pruriens of the problem of evil is not denigratory. It is not even, in the context of a good literature course, irrelevant. I think a lot of people have this idea that a literature class is about reading stodgy books and then identifying plot elements. But the study of literature is really the study of ideas; it's just that we deal with ideas presented through the medium of narrative and poetry. So engaging ideas about the problem of evil are not ipso facto out-of-bounds.

That said, I have known atheists with some education and without some small bit of wisdom, who enjoy pointing out religion's faults to religious people. They cannot truly expect such attempts to sway anyone; still I cannot ascribe to them a total malice, but think them operating analogously to zealous proselytizing neighbors.

I can also appreciate that the context of an assignment can make an otherwise worthwhile discussion appear as a denigration.

If it's a legitimate discussion, there's no first amendment violation. You can talk about God and religion without proselytizing, without "establishing" them, although everyone involved has to be dedicated toward that goal.
"However, it was inappropriate for the teacher to share his personal beliefs, as it had a direct influence on the interpretation of the lesson."

This is the main point. Seemingly nothing was a real violation, but the admission of the teacher's theistic position (which differs, although not in the way most people mean it, from a religious conviction) made the scrutiny of ideas, normal and expected within a literary discussion, seem repressive.

On which point I finally lay blame on everybody. People in general distrust atheists and misattribute their motives. A small number of atheist agitators maintain that mistrust. And looney little non-events like this happen.
posted by adoarns at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


but to make a high school kid "choose" his opinion of good vs evil from a "logical" list of 5 options is just not ok.

What I'm still missing is how this teacher made these students do anything -- other than maybe attempt to use their brains and think.

Did he hold guns to their heads?
posted by blucevalo at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2007


He nailed them to a cross.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:19 AM on February 22, 2007


Urk.... I hate being wrong. His handout sucked massively, was written on around a 5th grade level, and was indeed, not at all acceptable.

Right after I posted this I noticed all the "I was on his side until I saw the handout" posts, so I went to the hassle of finding it and yeah, he was wrong. Not quite so egregiously wrong as some of the others, but wrong none the less.
posted by sotonohito at 10:19 AM on February 22, 2007


Then, before reading a play about evil, he gives his students a handout on the Problem of Evil.

What line did he cross, and how? I mean, theologians, including Christian theologians, have discussed the Problem of Evil for around 2,000 years, so it isn't like discussing the philosophic point is anti-Christian by definition.


Theologians and philosophic points (and his personal views)--that's the problem. He should have used the literary works he normally used to discuss it--it's not like there's any shortage of literature that deals with good and evil, no?


Also, if most Mefites think Christian views shouldn't be shared inside a public school classroom, then neither should atheist views.
Exactly. Neither a specific religion nor a specific viewpoint on religion is appropriate for public schools. The curriculum already is atheist--or should be.
posted by amberglow at 10:20 AM on February 22, 2007


What I'm still missing is how this teacher made these students do anything -- other than maybe attempt to use their brains and think.

Well, when you're given a handout in school you're usually required to answer the questions.

Not many kids are assertive enough to give the paper back unanswered if they don't agree with the limited multiple choice options.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:21 AM on February 22, 2007


to be fair to centuries of theologians, #5 should have been "God is incomprehensible to the human mind" or something along those lines.

This is certainly the sort of issue a classic theological education would have addressed, so to consider it "anti-religious" is just a sign of how far our educational standards have dropped. Religious people whose beliefs are based on flimsy curtains they dare not look behind really have no faith at all in the traditional sense. The modern understanding of faith seems to be a maintainence of factual belief despite all evidence to the contrary, which is just stupid. But the ancient and medieval scholars who speak of faith seem to be asserting that god (whatever god turns out to be) can withstand all scrutiny; that the point of faith is to try to understand, that we should not worry that we will 'drink truth dry' but instead trust that whatever It Is, is good in itself, etc.

While I wouldn't consider myself to have faith of really any sort, I sometimes think I have more faith than the average christian, because I meet many religious people who say they base their beliefs on the idea that if there were no god, life would be terrible, or something like that (I especially come across young college students who are thinking this way). This seems a terribly diminuitive kind of god; to me it is evident that whatever the world is, it is quite an incredible thing, so a god, or a source of the world, would clearly be something quite amazing. Investigation should not kill your god; if it does, then you hadn't found a real god yet. But if you really have faith that there is a god, then that will only spur you to look harder to try to understand it.

I'm not advocating for theism, by the way, but as a student of metaphysics I have to agree with hume & sartre that if we take atheism seriously, we have to accept the consequences that the universe is absurd -- which it well may be. In a certain sense perhaps we can't escape the incongruity; it's just either baldly absurd (something from nothing) or it's miraculous (made flesh by a first cause) which is maybe just a more reverential way of saying absurd.
posted by mdn at 10:21 AM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


(i guess it's really more agnostic, and does not deal with it at all.)
posted by amberglow at 10:21 AM on February 22, 2007


sotonohito writes "So, someone lead me through this please."

I'll try (but this is just my perspective, and I'm not claiming I'm definitely right about the subject).

sotonohito writes "His curriculum calls for him to show his students an Iroquois myth and ask them to compare it with other creation myths. He goes further and asks them to compare it to Genesis."

Groovy.

sotonohito writes "Then, before reading a play about evil, he gives his students a handout on the Problem of Evil."

And here is the problem. Not that he gives his students a handout on the Problem of Evil, but in the contents of it. Basically, it's just an attack on the tenets of Christianity. An attack I happen to agree with, but nonetheless an attack.

sotonohito writes "I mean, theologians, including Christian theologians, have discussed the Problem of Evil for around 2,000 years, so it isn't like discussing the philosophic point is anti-Christian by definition."

Exactly. If this prof had gone on to talk about the different thoughts of the theologians, and yet still gotten in trouble, well, I think there would be much less disagreement here. But in this case, basically, he's said "Christians think A, B, and C. However, logically, they must be wrong. The End." Which is where the conflict comes up.
posted by Bugbread at 10:23 AM on February 22, 2007


That's a bad argument, blucevalo. When you're a student (regardless of level) there's a certain expectation that when given a question and a list of potential answers, one of the potential answers will be right. It's a little... hopeful... to expect a high school junior to disrupt such an exercise.

Framed as such, though, you make a good argument for Ms. Olsen's complaint to be viewed in a spirit of courageous academic freedom. Well done.
posted by boo_radley at 10:23 AM on February 22, 2007


This is certainly the sort of issue a classic theological education would have addressed, so to consider it "anti-religious" is just a sign of how far our educational standards have dropped.

I think it's bloody fantastic that we don't give our kids a classical theological education.
posted by gurple at 10:23 AM on February 22, 2007


How about a classical basic Roman education: Reading, writing, oratory and reasoning?
posted by boo_radley at 10:29 AM on February 22, 2007


I think it's bloody fantastic that we don't give our kids a classical theological education.
posted by gurple at 1:23 PM EST on February 22


Judging by studies, we don't give them any other kind of education either. I think literature teachers who seek to argue the existence of evil on a purely logical basis are partly to blame for that.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:29 AM on February 22, 2007


Yeah God forbid any light get into the room and all over their rock-solid "faith." It might just disappear altogether under any real kind of scrutiny.

Fuck them. The teacher may be a knob, but screw everyone running around so manically and very publicly "offended.'

Proof yet again that AmeriChristianity serves better as a duvet or a crutch than it does any kind of meaningful philosphy. Really, just give me a checklist of rules not to break so that I know Im a good person and everything will be ok. That's all I really want.

Fuck 'em.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:29 AM on February 22, 2007


Yeah God forbid any light get into the room and all over their rock-solid "faith." It might just disappear altogether under any real kind of scrutiny.


I think you're missing the point.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:32 AM on February 22, 2007


Crossing the line, indeed. When free discourse and conversation can occur in the classroom, the terrorists will truly have won!
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:34 AM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


There needs to be distinction between atheists and "evangelical" atheists (anti-theists). Atheists simply have no religion, do not believe in it. Anti-theists, like their evangelical Christian counterparts, are convinced it their job, nay, their duty to dissuade others of their religious views, and accept their stance. Just as evangelical Christians believe anyone who doesn't agree is on the slippery slope to hell, anti-theists refuse to deal with or completely dismiss anyone with religion. Both sides are completely obnoxious, and go against their general set of beliefs (or non-beliefs, what have you).
posted by potch at 10:34 AM on February 22, 2007


rtha writes "For real? Where are we supposed to talk about this, then? Only in places where it won't be 'controversial'?"

Presumably, in places which don't have a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting the taking of a stance one way or the other. Controversy isn't the problem; anywhere you discuss religion, you'll have controversy. But pushing a religious viewpoint on captive kids in school just sucks. I'm an atheist, and I hope religion isn't pushed on my kid, and I'm equally happy if atheism isn't pushed either. I'm fine with discussing and instructing about different religions in school. I think an education would be remiss without it. But when it comes to arguing your own position and pointing out how others' positions are wrong, let that discussion be in a non-state sponsored, non-mandatory, plenty controversial arena.

adoarns writes "If it's a legitimate discussion, there's no first amendment violation."

I think this is the key point of controversy. I wasn't there, so I can only make my guesses based on the article and the two handouts. Based on the second handout, I have a very, very hard time believing that it was a legitimate discussion.
posted by Bugbread at 10:35 AM on February 22, 2007


And as for the idea that topics like this shouldn't be discussed until college - well, bullshit.

Um...okay. Care to explain why? Because I've taught tried to teach the problem of evil to first year college students and I can tell you that it's fucking hard. It takes students a long time and a lot of effort to be able to hold complex philosophical topics with so much emotive resonance at arms length long enough to deal with them dispassionately. There is a reason why philosophers have developed a set of analytical tools which help them to engage in these sorts of discussions with rigor and without rancor. Without some acquaintance with formal logic and a range of classic opinions, those sorts of discussions can easily devolve into a massive trainwreck.

I'll give this to you again, slowly, rtha: it is one thing to discuss theodicy as a theme in a work of literature. Nobody forces you to identify with Job and you can read the text and explore its tensions without feeling like you are personally compelled to provide an answer to a damningly difficult theological problem. To tackle the problem head on, philosophically, is something else altogether.

In my course a few years ago, things went terribly off the rails when a student of mine, a sort of hippy-chick freshman, lost her father halfway through the term. Immediately, questions of amorality in the cosmos took on, for this girl and a lot of other students in the class, an intensely personal cast. I felt myself in the position of feeding this poor girl an extremely bitter pill. In the end, in order to salvage the class, I had to switch to a very historicist frame of reference. It was no longer a class about big ideas (something I think I'm probably not qualified to teach about anyway), but about historical ideas. High school students, who lack a sense of proportionality and perspective that can only come with experience, not to mention a full toolbox of critical thinking skills, are like that girl all the time. To try to acquaint them, by pedagogical fiat, with the blind injustice of the cosmos is just plain stupid.
posted by felix betachat at 10:41 AM on February 22, 2007 [5 favorites]


Both sides are completely obnoxious, and go against their general set of beliefs (or non-beliefs, what have you).

I think this is an important point that the teacher forgot. Atheism of the "evangelical" variety as potch described it is an unprovable belief just like a belief in God. You can't prove God doesn't exist. You can't prove he does. This is why we have other words like "faith" and "belief" to describe these things.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:41 AM on February 22, 2007


I'm a Christian. And I'm offended.

By people bitching about this. I mean, it's out of place in an American literature class and looks and smells like a hatchet, but to understand American lit (or, for that matter, English lit), don't you need to have some basic understanding of Christianity in America and how writers and leaders have responded positively -- and negatively -- to it?

This lesson was ill-conceived, but I certainly think religion has its place in an American lit class as a discussion item. If you can't talk Chrisitianity, how can you discuss The Scarlet Letter? or Uncle Tom's Cabin? Or the Transcendentalists? Emily Dickinson?

(i guess it's really more agnostic, and does not deal with it at all.)

I tend to fall into this camp -- understand American religion by how it's influenced literature and history, but don't directly address it in class. The default setting for American religion is generic Deist (endowed by their Creator), but I think that that is such a meaningles concept that it's probably better to stick with a national agnosticism.

I always find it funny, though, when people dance around spewing and castigating about a group they oppose doing something they think is wrong, but when a member of their own tribe does something similar, it's clearly not anywhere near as bad and why do you even compare the two and besides we are at war with the other group.

Us > them 4-eva.
posted by dw at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2007


So he asked them how evil can exist in a world created by a loving and merciful God. Wow. Haven't people been asking that for a long time? Poor child, if she thought that thinking about this apparent incongruity damaged her Christian belief, that belief was never very strong.
posted by Mister_A at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2007


boo_radley writes "When you're a student (regardless of level) there's a certain expectation that when given a question and a list of potential answers, one of the potential answers will be right."

That hasn't been my experience in AP classes. In the hard sciences, true. On a test, true. But in a classroom discussion, any time when there are a series of answers and none seem correct, we pretty much all realized that it was intentional, as a springboard for discussion. Not saying that this justifies this particular crappy handout, but don't give AP classes such short shrift.

Senor Cardgage writes "Fuck them. The teacher may be a knob, but screw everyone running around so manically and very publicly 'offended.""

I'm interested in the way that, when a Christian pushes a viewpoint in a school, and kids get offended, the Christian is bad, but when an atheist pushes a viewpoint in a school, and kids get offended, the Christians are bad.

Senor Cardgage writes "Really, just give me a checklist of rules not to break so that I know Im a good person and everything will be ok."

Start with the Amendments, they're good and relatively easy to remember. You might want to skip some of them, though, like the eighteenth. That doesn't make you a good person, it just makes you less likely to wear a lampshade on your head.
posted by Bugbread at 10:43 AM on February 22, 2007


Many people seem to be misreading the story.
McDonald used the textbook's worksheet. On it, students were to give examples of how the Iroquois tale reflects four functions of myth - to instill awe, explain the world, support customs and guide people.
But he adapted the form, and had the class do the same for the biblical account of creation in Genesis. He provided a paraphrase of the story.
After they completed that assignment, he gave them another handout, titled "The Problem With Evil."
That handout, which was not part of the textbook's materials, asked questions such as how evil could exist if God is good and all-powerful.
Junior Lanae Olsen, 17, said it all went too far.
The assignment was offensive to her Christian beliefs, and came one day after McDonald told the class he was atheist.
Olsen was objecting to the assignment, which was an examination of Iroquois and Christian myths re: the four functions of mythology: to instill awe, explain the world, support customs, and guide people. Not the handout.

Nutshell: the publisher of the book well understood that religious people dislike examining their own beliefs. Thus the book publisher chose Iroquois mythology, which has few if any true believers today. The teacher de-blandified the lesson by pointing the microscope back at Christian beliefs. If the teacher had chosen any other religion's mythology - Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, any mythos at all except Christianity - the student would not have objected. The student is objecting, not that the teacher is evangelizing atheism (he isn't), but that he's making her look at her own beliefs critically.
posted by jellicle at 10:46 AM on February 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


dw writes "This lesson was ill-conceived, but I certainly think religion has its place in an American lit class as a discussion item. If you can't talk Chrisitianity, how can you discuss The Scarlet Letter? or Uncle Tom's Cabin? Or the Transcendentalists? Emily Dickinson? "

It's starting to feel like we're running in circles, and everyone is missing eachother.

The positions here, as I see them, are generally:

Camp 1) "Teaching of religion is not inherently bad. Pushing a religion, or atheism, is bad."
Camp 2) "I disagree! This lesson was bad, but teaching religion is not inherently bad!"

It seems like folks from these two camps are vociferously disagreeing with eachother here in this thread, despite the fact that they're saying the exact same goddamn thing, but only reading half of what the other side writes.
posted by Bugbread at 10:48 AM on February 22, 2007


people dance around spewing and castigating about a group they oppose doing something they think is wrong, but when a member of their own tribe does something similar, it's clearly not anywhere near as bad and why do you even compare the two and besides we are at war with the other group.

dw has described the thread perfectly. I really doubt that most of the people on this thread supporting this guy would do the same for a Christian handing out pamphlets with similarly spurious "logic." This isn't evolution, where there's actual science involved and therefore an actual right and wrong position -- this is just a silly handout with a definite point of view that just doesn't belong in a public school classroom. It's the bitter pill we take to keep the Christians out, people.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:50 AM on February 22, 2007


God is therefore by definition not limited by logic or physics.

God is nonsense.

Super. Glad we cleared that up.
posted by LordSludge at 10:51 AM on February 22, 2007


Start with the Amendments, they're good and relatively easy to remember. You might want to skip some of them, though, like the eighteenth. That doesn't make you a good person, it just makes you less likely to wear a lampshade on your head.

Sorry, my tone didnt translate properly in the text.
It was meant to be snarky with regard to what religion is about for alot of these people.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:51 AM on February 22, 2007


So many of these problems arise because there's no place for philosophy in standard American education. Neither a science class nor an English literature class is an appropriate place to engage philosophical questions, directly, in any great detail.
posted by treepour at 10:55 AM on February 22, 2007


So, Why couldn't the kids say "5. This is a mystery, and it is a mistake even to ask the question."?

Isn't that the correct answer according to their 2000 year old goat herders almanac?
posted by Megafly at 10:56 AM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Senor Cardgage writes "Sorry, my tone didnt translate properly in the text.
"It was meant to be snarky with regard to what religion is about for alot of these people."


No, it communicated fine. Perhaps my tone didn't translate properly: the position that I, and many other people here, from what I can tell, are taking is that the problem with this class was not that it tackled big questions of religion. Instead, it was that it pushed the teacher's own views. So when you asked snarkily "just tell me what rules I should follow", my snarky response was, basically "the first Amendment, which tells you not to push your religious views in a state-sponsored setting."

But, seriously, boy howdy do people like to switch their position on things based on whether their team is at bat or on defense.
posted by Bugbread at 10:57 AM on February 22, 2007


"2000 year old goat herders almanac?"

BWAHAHAAHHAAH!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:57 AM on February 22, 2007


I'd just like to point out that, if the teacher was trying to make Christians look bad (and I don't think he was), he succeeded admirably, and got his students to do it for him. I mean, if your beliefs are so fragile they can't survive critical thinking, doesn't that make you kind of an idiot for believing them in the first place?
posted by cerebus19 at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2007


It seems like folks from these two camps are vociferously disagreeing with eachother here in this thread, despite the fact that they're saying the exact same goddamn thing, but only reading half of what the other side writes.

That's because you're eliding the fundamental question of who defines what this religion is and how it should be taught. Some Christians want Jesus pushed in schools. Some moralists want a Christian-flavored Deist god pushed. Atheists want it taught that $deity == myth.

The argument isn't over what he did. The argument is about what's between what he did. You're right that we're all going right past each other, but you invoke ReligionFilter on here, everything written in the margins is in play.

(I promise that the ReligionFilter drinking game will go up tomorrow. I promise.)
posted by dw at 10:59 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jellicle, I would tend to agree with your general idea, but it's difficult to conclude from just the article (which wasn't that well-written) the facts that you assume in evidence.

Even though the article repeatedly uses the word "assignment," it's never made clear that the student objected just to the first handout (which was a modification of the textbook assignment), or just to the second handout (which was completely McDonald's supplementation). If anything, my sense was that she objected to the whole exercise, i.e., both handouts.

That seems supported by the following text in the article's sidebar: "Here are two parts of a class assignment on creation myths that stirred controversy in a Lake Stevens High School teacher's American literature class."
posted by blucevalo at 11:00 AM on February 22, 2007


Megafly writes "Why couldn't the kids say '5. This is a mystery, and it is a mistake even to ask the question.'?"

Well, first, from a "logic" standpoint, absolutely no attempt has been made to provide the logical foundation for "and it is a mistake even to ask the question". That's just pulled out of the ether, for some reason. Which is fine in some places, but a single sheet of paper that is all focussed on "logic" should avoid pulling conclusions out of thin air.

Second, the answer may be something else entirely. Best option would be to have "6) Other (please write your response at right):________________________________________"

That still wouldn't excuse the agenda pushing that fills the top 2/3 of the page, but at least it gives an option for discussion instead of internet-style "I bow to your superior logic!" multiple-choice questions.
posted by Bugbread at 11:00 AM on February 22, 2007


No bugbread, we agree more than you think. Im just not entirely sure yet that he was forcing his viewpoint here.
Im still of the mind that these people take anything relating to their religion that isnt dogmatically supportive of it to be an offensive threat.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:00 AM on February 22, 2007


God is therefore by definition not limited by logic or physics.

The problem is then, that everything is up for grabs.

Humanity would be in a double bind situation, which isn't very nice.

God could throw you to hell, say it's heaven, and convince you to believe it.
posted by vertriebskonzept at 11:01 AM on February 22, 2007


dw writes "The argument isn't over what he did. The argument is about what's between what he did. You're right that we're all going right past each other, but you invoke ReligionFilter on here, everything written in the margins is in play."

Ok. That makes sense. But, if that's the case, I wish we'd kinda stop pretending that this is about this case, and instead just switch to the usual "Christians are idiots" "Atheists are idiots" MeFi thread. If we'd done that at the start, I wouldn't have gotten sucked in.
posted by Bugbread at 11:04 AM on February 22, 2007


I think it's impossible to deduce just from the article and the accompanying handouts any of the following:

(a) that the student objected to the whole assignment or just parts of it;

(b) whether the teacher was pushing any particular agenda, or just trying to encourage discussion;

(c) that the teacher made any effort to ground the exercise in a context that would have made the students who might object to it feel less threatened -- particularly a day after he had informed them that he was an atheist.

You would have had to be a fly on the wall in the classroom to make real conclusions about any of the above, and that's really what's so frustrating about this whole episode (and others like it).
posted by blucevalo at 11:06 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


God could throw you to hell, say it's heaven, and convince you to believe it.

Yeah. Instead he's thrown us in MetaFilter, said it's "weblog as conversation", and convinced us to believe it.
posted by felix betachat at 11:06 AM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Where is Turtles All The Way Down?
posted by caddis at 11:08 AM on February 22, 2007


There is no conversation.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:08 AM on February 22, 2007


God is therefore by definition not limited by logic or physics.

God is nonsense.

Super. Glad we cleared that up.
posted by LordSludge at 1:51 PM EST on February 22


Well, God, poetry, art, music, love, justice, etc.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:11 AM on February 22, 2007


Senor Cardgage writes "Im just not entirely sure yet that he was forcing his viewpoint here."

I'm not entirely sure that he was, either. Really, it depends on how he used that second reading. The reading itself sucks, but I've had readings in lit classes of stuff that sucks, where the point was to discuss how and why it sucked. So I'm just suspectin' he was forcing his viewpoint, assuming a straight reading of the second sheet. If it was a deconstructionist approach or the like, I'll take back what I've said in a country minute.

(Wait, isn't a "country minute" really slow? Ok "a city second").

Senor Cardgage writes "Im still of the mind that these people take anything relating to their religion that isnt dogmatically supportive of it to be an offensive threat."

Well, I'm of the mind that "these people" try to force their views down others' throats. "These people", in this case, refers to "proselytizing religious folks" and "proselytizing atheists". This is in contrast to "those people", which refers to "non-proselytizing religious folks" and "non-proselytizing atheists".

I was raised in Texas. Lotsa Christians, mostly normal folks, a few crazies. Very few atheists. I had a pretty good impression of atheists until the internet. That's when I realized that us atheists are often just as crazy dicks as a lot of the Christians. We just have less power, so it doesn't stick out as much.
posted by Bugbread at 11:11 AM on February 22, 2007


GODSHIT: IT'S WHAT'S UNDER GOD
posted by quonsar at 11:13 AM on February 22, 2007


...One nation, GODSHIT, indivisible...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:14 AM on February 22, 2007


blucevalo writes "You would have had to be a fly on the wall in the classroom to make real conclusions about any of the above, and that's really what's so frustrating about this whole episode (and others like it)."

You got it.

I should probably kinda rescind most of what I said. Or, rather, prepend it with "If it is the case that he was pushing his viewpoint".

So:

If he was pushing his viewpoint, that sucks, and he shouldn't have done it. The Christians were right to complain.
If he wasn't pushing his viewpoint, that doesn't suck. The Christians were wrong to complain.
posted by Bugbread at 11:14 AM on February 22, 2007


Let's say this guy is a "militant athiest." He's going about it completely the wrong way. Don't get people to question their religious beliefs. That just gets a reactionary response and hardens their resolve. Instead, teach them logic. Formal logic. At the very least, this list of logical fallacies could be taught in a single class period. Later on, once they have internalized logical thinking, they will start to question their religious beliefs on their own. They might not recant their beliefs, but at least they will be ready to discuss them intelligently.

Maybe it's not germane to an English class, but not really teaching logic in schools is a glaring omission, and is probably more to blame for the sorry state of our public discourse than anybody (quite naturally) adopting the beliefs of their parents.
posted by SBMike at 11:17 AM on February 22, 2007


Now, whether or not this belongs in a public classroom, (which is a complicated issue, certainly...) because the assignment was pretty biased...
What worries me is the possibility that these kids have never thought about this problem before. I didn't wait until my junior-level college philosophy class to wonder why God let babies get cancer. Is this the first time the students have been faced with this question in life? It had to come in the form of a classroom assignment? Maybe some of them have struggled with this, but I doubt they'd be the ones complaining about the assingment.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:17 AM on February 22, 2007


Ok. That makes sense. But, if that's the case, I wish we'd kinda stop pretending that this is about this case, and instead just switch to the usual "Christians are idiots" "Atheists are idiots" MeFi thread. If we'd done that at the start, I wouldn't have gotten sucked in.

Dude, it's ReligionFilter. DUH.

It's taken me a few rounds to realize it's just nothing but evangelical Christians jamming their foots deep into their mouths and evangelical atheists wishing they could have a Nyarubuye.

Us > them 4-eva. Sound + fury = nothing.

To paraphrase the great 20th century American philosopher Linus Van Pelt, avoid any MeFi thread mentioning religion, politics, or the Great Pumpkin.
posted by dw at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2007


avoid any MeFi thread mentioning religion, politics, or the Great Pumpkin.

You forgot circumcision.
posted by felix betachat at 11:19 AM on February 22, 2007


avoid any MeFi thread mentioning religion, politics, or the Great Pumpkin

There is no Gourd.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


If he was pushing his viewpoint, that sucks, and he shouldn't have done it. The Christians were right to complain.

I agree, if that's what he was doing, which is difficult, if not impossible, to judge.

I still think that the school's reaction after the student and her parents complained was typical overkill.
posted by blucevalo at 11:22 AM on February 22, 2007


Give me a break. The whole scandal with this teacher started when one of the kids wanted to know why he didn't say "one nation under God" every morning before class, and he's the one to blame for bringing religion into the classroom? It's not as if this guy wore his atheism on his sleeve and waved it around at the kids. He was asked about it, was foolish enough to answer honestly, and now he's paid the price.

Really, that's the main issue, here. Judging by what I know of American high schools, if a Jehovah's Witness teacher had skipped the pledge, told the kids the reason why, and then passed out that same flyer, there'd have been no complaint and no problem. As has been pointed out, the handout in question is far from attacking Christianity -- this is a well-argued and central concept in Christian theology (and in American Lit in general, and in The Crucible in particular). That handout, even written as it is, with the "but wait!" and "5 possible answers to the Problem of Evil" and such, wouldn't be all that out of place in Christian school, so I don't see how it was "putting [Christianity] down". This teacher's mistake was admitting to being an atheist in public school.

I think it's bloody fantastic that we don't give our kids a classical theological education.

Yeah, good call. It's always a terrible idea to learn anything about the source of many of the basic assumptions of your society.

This attitude is the exact reason why a relatively weak handout on a central debate in Western theology can be considered "an attack" or "over the line". We have this bizarre idea that learning about religion and asking questions about it either forces you to be religious or forces you not to be religious... but only when it comes to Christ, not Zeus or Odin or the Egyptian gods or the Iroquois religion. Thus, kids learn plenty about what ancient people used to believe, but little or nothing about what the people of today believe. Really, our kids could probably use a good, critical high-school course in Christian theology, and I say that as a rabid, frothing, deeply anti-Christian atheist. You cannot expect to understand Western culture and civilization without discussing things like the Problem of Good and Evil, because even if the Problem of Good and Evil is actually a steaming pile of mythological bullshit, it has deeply informed the choices we've made as a society.

And as for the idea that high-school kids just aren't ready to deal with even as much as a crappy xeroxed worksheet about one of the central concepts of their entire culture... Only in America!
posted by vorfeed at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bugbread believe me, normally Im very live and let live, however these last 5 years or so have made me want to join Sam Harris' camp alot more.

You cant tell me with a straight face that this country (and the large part of the world that bears its footprint) wouldnt be in the shitty place that its in right now if it werent for the president's shared "faith" with these very kind of people.
This has a very harrowing and measurable Real World Impact.
So as far as Im concerned it's all on the table.
Once people's tribal superstitious nonsense starts having that kind of an impact, I dont have to smile politely and bite my tongue about their ridiculousness anymore. I dont care to hear how most Xtians arent like that, because they condone that shit with their silence.

If their faith is so damn strong than there should be no problem testing it. Of course, the cruel answer noone likes to think about is that deep down in their heart-o-hearts, even the most devout knows that at the end of the day they are probably full of shit. They just prefer to never think too hard on that.

That's the real problem here. Religion is just fine when its a self-help course with singing and picnics, its just all that messy business about philosphy, the Meaning of Life, good/evil and the whole damn thing that makes most of these people excuse themselves and scurry out of the room. Geniune self-reflection is hard and all, dontchaknow?

I say again, fuck 'em.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2007


"From a constitutional perspective, schools can't teach the truth or falsity of religious belief, and atheism would fall in that parameter," said Alan Brownstein, a constitutional law expert at the University of California at Davis' School of Law.

Funny how atheism falls into the realm of 'belief' and 'religion' when it suits the purpose of some people...
posted by triolus at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2007


I'm an atheist.

I read the first PDF (Iroquois/Genesis) and thought it could be insulting to Iroqouis or Christians.

I read the second PDF (God/Evil) and felt it was basically a polemic against God. Actual advocation of his personal beliefs in a classroom.

As a parent of school children, I don't that it was appropriate for a public school class.

Private school or college, have at it.

Just as I would not want my daughters being given an assignment on "The logic behind accepting Christ as your Savior", I do not think Christian children should face "Is God all-powerful?" in a public school.
posted by Argyle at 11:31 AM on February 22, 2007


Senor Cardgage: This may be of some help to you.
posted by boo_radley at 11:42 AM on February 22, 2007


Just as I would not want my daughters being given an assignment on "The logic behind accepting Christ as your Savior", I do not think Christian children should face "Is God all-powerful?" in a public school.

If what he did (and all he did) was shove that second handout in their faces, with no other discussion, preliminaries, or endings, then I agree 100%.

It's not at all clear that that's what happened, based on just looking at the handouts by themselves.

Some pretty significant American literature deals with the question "Is God all-powerful?" I think of a novel like Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter as an example off the top of my head. Another one: Raymond Carver's short story "A Small Good Thing."

Should those items never be assigned reading in a public high school American lit class because they deal with the question of God being all-powerful?
posted by blucevalo at 11:43 AM on February 22, 2007


I wonder how all the people here who don't see this as a problem would feel about a biology teacher taking it upon himself to teach both evolution and creationism, you know, to provide balance?

This is only a problem because it is a public high school and he is in effect promoting ideas about religion, and in so doing acts as an arm of the state. High school students are perfectly capable of grasping these philosophical issues. It is the state sponsored forum into which they are injected that causes the problem.
posted by caddis at 11:45 AM on February 22, 2007


I know this story is a little like a Rorschach test, in that people seem to see what they want in it. So my thoughts can and should be interpreted in that way.

I frankly see the only problem as the over-sensitivity of Lanae ([/snark] what kind of name is that?) Olsen. Neither the assignments nor the revelation that the teacher was an atheist seem to be pushing a religious viewpoint. Unless, of course, you argue that sincerely asking questions is pushing a viewpoint. The worksheet was (IMO) a pretty good synopsis of the problems great Christian philosophers have wrestled with and that to some extent informed literature like the Scarlet Letter and the Crucible (and a host of others). If the actions of the teacher are construed as pushing or even teaching (in the Sunday School sense) a religious viewpoint, then there can never be any way in which religion can be discussed meaningfully without pushing a religous viewpoint.

When I compare what this teacher did to the actions of the teachers who have been accused of pushing Christianity, the difference seems to me to be night and day. It's not that I see this teacher pushing his atheism just a little and the other pushing Christianity a whole lot, I actually see the former pushing not atheism but critical analysis and the others as proselytizing directly for a religious stance.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:46 AM on February 22, 2007


Junior Lanae Olsen, 17, said it all went too far.

When Lanae Olsen finds this thread, as she no doubt will (probably sooner than later), hopefully she'll read through it.

I would just like to say this:

Lanae, this may sound condescending, but the quote attributed to you doesn't sound so good. The attitude that many will read into a statement like that is that you blindly accept anything that authority figures tell you, and that you have trouble dealing with questioning things you take for granted. (A lot of us have the same problem.)

This is a good time for you to consider changing that. If someone directly attacks your beliefs or what you hold to be true, that's one thing, and it's just rude.

Gently pointing out that there might be some inconsistencies or problematic issues with that which you take for granted isn't rude, it's what people do-- they interact, they question, they debate. It certainly isn't going "too far".

There are plenty of people that are religious that intensely and rigorously scrutinize and question their beliefs, and it's all good; many come out on the other side stronger, their belief system having stood the test and their faith increased by orders of magnitude. (one only needs to look at theologians like Aquinas and Anselm to see examples of this)

The attitude of blind acceptance isn't healthy for anyone, and at the risk of being hyperbolic, it's what allows things like unjustified wars, war crimes, mass slaughter and five dollar lattés to take place.

I just wanted to say that.
posted by exlotuseater at 12:02 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'll give this to you again, slowly, rtha:

Thanks, Felix, for the condescension. Made my day.

If we're going to ask high school students to read works that directly confront the existence of evil in the world, and God's role (or lack thereof) in it - works like the Diary of Anne Frank, which was required reading when I was in 8th grade, for cryin out loud - then we'd better at least start giving them the tools to talk about it in an academic way, at the very least. I think the teacher in this case went about this in a pretty clumsy fashion, and his motives may be less than pure, but nobody I knew waited until they got to college to start asking why bad things happen to good people.

Of course discussions like this can turn into trainwrecks (even with college-age students, as you discovered), but I don't think one needs a Ph.D in philosophy or theology to have beneficial discussions - arguments, even - about evil and good and god(s). In my imperfectly remembered experience of high school, no one had to force us to identify with Job; we were much more willing to identify with Job/Anne/etc than we were to look at those characters dispassionately - in fact, it was easier for us to do so, since we hadn't yet gathered a larger historical/literary framework to work from. Teens are bored to death by iambic pentameter, but love to talk about how Romeo and Juliet feel. I was very fortunate to have had (mostly) good teachers, who kept these discussions on a fairly even keel, and who managed to give us the beginings of critical thinking skills.

So, should we expect high school students to tackle questions like these as if they were trained philosophers? Hardly. But avoiding all discussion about it, in the midst of reading texts that talk about these things head-on, is stupid.
posted by rtha at 12:16 PM on February 22, 2007


dw writes "evangelical atheists wishing they could have a Nyarubuye."

What's a "Nyarubuye"? I checked on Wikipedia, but the incredibly short stub just says it's a district in Rwanda.

vorfeed writes "The whole scandal with this teacher started when one of the kids wanted to know why he didn't say 'one nation under God' every morning before class"

Nope. Reread the article. (Unless you mean in the global sense of "it all started", in which case I'd say it all started when he took his first education class in uni, or when his parents fell in love, or when the Earth's mantle cooled).

vorfeed writes "Judging by what I know of American high schools, if a Jehovah's Witness teacher had skipped the pledge, told the kids the reason why, and then passed out that same flyer, there'd have been no complaint and no problem."

Nope. Heck, even the parent post here links to an article where people complain about a religious guy pushing his ideas. You don't even have to trawl the archives, gurple linked to it up top.

vorfeed writes "We have this bizarre idea that learning about religion and asking questions about it either forces you to be religious or forces you not to be religious... but only when it comes to Christ, not Zeus or Odin or the Egyptian gods or the Iroquois religion."

Funny, I never remember any handouts about Why the Believers of Zeus Were Wrong, Logical Flaws in Norse Mythology, Why the Sons of Ra Made No Sense, or What's Up with These Illogical Iroquois.

But I apologize if you're one of those faith-based folks who don't like for the reality stuff to get in the way of your opinions about "what you know of American high school kids".

Senor Cardgage writes "I dont care to hear how most Xtians arent like that, because they condone that shit with their silence. "

True, but the same goes for atheists here on MeFi. I could choose to assume that most atheists are total dicks, because the outspoken ones on MeFi are, and the others condone their shit with their silence. But when I start doing that, I get the whole "everyone's a dick, or condones that shit with their silence" thing (except for self-linking. We're pretty good at not condoning that with our silence).

I'm always suspicious when the central divider seems to be "these guys are dicks, because they have power", because I see too many times when that group gets ousted, to be replaced by other folks who are also dicks but didn't stand out as much because they didn't have power. And then when they get power, people seem all surprised that they were dicks.

As such, I'd prefer to curb everyone's dickness, not just that of the people I disagree with, or the people in power. I'd rather nobody proselytize in schools, not just people I disagree with or people in governmental power.

triolus writes "
'From a constitutional perspective, schools can't teach the truth or falsity of religious belief, and atheism would fall in that parameter,' said Alan Brownstein, a constitutional law expert at the University of California at Davis" School of Law.
"Funny how atheism falls into the realm of "belief" and "religion" when it suits the purpose of some people..."


Er, no atheism falls into the realm of "teach the...falsity of religious belief". Go back and reread what he said, it doesn't say what your jerking knee assumed it did.

Mental Wimp writes "If the actions of the teacher are construed as pushing or even teaching (in the Sunday School sense) a religious viewpoint, then there can never be any way in which religion can be discussed meaningfully without pushing a religous viewpoint."

Nah, it can be done. I had a college prof who did it with various sects of Buddhism. He explained basic beliefs, then pointed out contradictions, then pointed out how other Buddhists approached those problems, their conclusions, other sects which resulted from it, etc. He didn't just say "Here are the beliefs of Buddhism. Here are some contradictions. Therefore, Buddhism is incorrect."

Maybe this guy did, and maybe this guy didn't. Again, we're pretty much assuming what he did or didn't do. If the actions of the teacher were "using the questions as a springboard to discuss how theologians answered those questions, and that was construed as pushing, then there can never be any way in which religion can be discussed meaningfully without pushing a religous viewpoint". If the actions of the teacher were "using the questions to point out why Christianity is bunk, and that was construed as pushing, then there probably is a way in which religion can be discussed meaningfully without pushing a religous viewpoint, and he just didn't follow that way". Since we don't actually know what he did, we can't come to any conclusions about whether religion can be discussed meaningfully without pushing a religous viewpoint.
posted by Bugbread at 12:19 PM on February 22, 2007


exlotuseater: huh? you need more than 5 paragraphs to give advice to a kid based on the 5 words you read she she said?

Sounds to me like more people need to stop assuming what other people feel or think from just tiny pieces of information.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 12:20 PM on February 22, 2007


bugbread

I see support for the first scenario in the news report; I see little support for the second, although it seems to be the assumption of most of the "anti" posters here on this thread.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:23 PM on February 22, 2007


(D'oh!! "Nah, it can be done", followed by "we can't come to any conclusions"! Bad logic, bugbread, bad! bad! I should probably have said "I suspect it can be done, but we can't come to any definitive conclusions based just on the evidence here, because it's incomplete")
posted by Bugbread at 12:24 PM on February 22, 2007


Mental Wimp writes "I see support for the first scenario in the news report; I see little support for the second"

From my reading, the article supports the first scenario, while the second handout supports the second. Which is why I think it's really too up in the air to make a call either way. I'd have to know what he did with the second handout.
posted by Bugbread at 12:25 PM on February 22, 2007


Since when is the bible American literature? Clearly, he should have been deconstructing the Book of Mormon instead, because I'm sure we can all agree that LOLMORMONS&UNDERWEAR.

And there is no way that "Logically" those are the only five responses to the problem of Good and Evil. If that's all he can come up with, he shold be even attempting to teach Philosophy.
posted by Sparx at 12:26 PM on February 22, 2007


exlotuseater: huh? you need more than 5 paragraphs to give advice to a kid based on the 5 words you read she she said?

Sounds to me like more people need to stop assuming what other people feel or think from just tiny pieces of information.


CrazyLemonade:

Yes. And thanks so much for the advice, I'll take it under consideration.
posted by exlotuseater at 12:30 PM on February 22, 2007


*shouldn't* be...such sholddy typing.
posted by Sparx at 12:34 PM on February 22, 2007


From my reading, the article supports the first scenario, while the second handout supports the second.

the problem with the second handout is that it states the problem in a way that only allows the 5 answers at the end

SO, LOGICALLY, THERE ARE FIVE POSSIBLE ANSWERS TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL:
1. God is not perfectly good.
2. God is not all-powerful.
3. God is not all-knowing.
4. God does not exist.
5. This is a mystery, and it is a mistake even to ask the question.


6. God allows us to choose our experiences, or the potential for our experiences, before we start living, for our own spiritual growth.

that's an answer that's fairly prevalent in a lot of new age thought

7. Evil is generated by karma from previous lives.
8. Good, evil and the world we live in are illusionary.
9. God does not perceive things as good or evil, but our minds do.
10. What may be good and evil to us may be due to our lack of knowledge of all consequences.

it's my opinion that he let his atheism, and more specifically, his (and our society's) fixation on traditional christianity, cause him to state this problem too narrowly, creating a false dilemma out of a much more complex question

he crossed another line ... he attempted to teach something that he hadn't thought through effectively himself, causing him to miss some alternate viewpoints
posted by pyramid termite at 12:44 PM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


bugbread

What in the second handout supports the second scenario? I just see a series of assertions and observations, followed by a list of possible explanations for them, one of which is a principle holding of Christian (as well as other monotheistic) belief. Does it appear to you that it is not offered as a viable option? Does this just mean that you're not a monotheist, rather than that the list is arguing against Christianity?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:48 PM on February 22, 2007


I see support for the first scenario in the news report; I see little support for the second, although it seems to be the assumption of most of the "anti" posters here on this thread.

I see next to no support for either position given the facts at hand.

The evidence is a single article, two PDFs of class handouts, and a bunch of hearsay.

Give me more evidence, I'll change my mind. Till then, I say I don't know enough to judge. I started out thinking that the teacher's actions were probably not problematic based on the evidence that I saw. I shouldn't have leapt to that conclusion.
posted by blucevalo at 12:56 PM on February 22, 2007


pyramid termite

In opposition to the assignment, your numbers 6-10 seem to be addressing something other than the monotheistic concept of God: all good, all powerful, all knowing, infinite. While those concepts are certainly appealing, they really don't address the philosophical question as posed. They are essentially the same as number 4. They do address the larger general question at the top of the sheet, however, by appealing to religions that don't have a monotheistic flava.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:58 PM on February 22, 2007


What's a "Nyarubuye"? I checked on Wikipedia, but the incredibly short stub just says it's a district in Rwanda.

Try this.

I'm pushing it as a Godwin for the 21st century.
posted by dw at 1:00 PM on February 22, 2007


pyramid termite:

I actually find myself adhering to #11: that the world was fashioned imperfect by a perfect God who has placed us here to complete the work of creation.
posted by felix betachat at 1:01 PM on February 22, 2007


12. God is not confined by logic, so hot snow falls up xyxlpic circular cubes Knight Rider.
posted by LordSludge at 1:03 PM on February 22, 2007


pyramid termite:

6 is 2, 7 is 1 and/or 2, 8 would be 5, were 5 written better, and 9 and 10 are 1.
posted by pompomtom at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2007


In opposition to the assignment, your numbers 6-10 seem to be addressing something other than the monotheistic concept of God: all good, all powerful, all knowing, infinite.

how are they logically inconsistent with that concept? ... just because some of these concepts have been associated with eastern religions doesn't mean that they can't be fitted into a monotheistic framework ... there are many modern branches of monotheists who have done so

and 10 is actually something i've heard traditional christians say

pompomtom - you are oversimplifying these arguments grossly

felix betachat - you're right, i thought of that one and then forgot it as i was writing
posted by pyramid termite at 1:12 PM on February 22, 2007


I took this exact class back in '89, and we had a section on the Bible as literature. We'd read a chapter and discuss. No-one had a problem with it, at least not out loud, and when it was over it was over and we all moved on. The teacher had been teaching the same curriculum for years and may still, for all I know. The one difference being that I don't recall my teacher ever mentioning his personal faith. I think that was the big misstep of the teacher in the posted link - not asking the students to think, but bringing his belief to the table. Of course, I also don't think this would have mattered ten or fifteen years ago.
posted by lekvar at 1:20 PM on February 22, 2007


Mental Wimp writes "What in the second handout supports the second scenario? I just see a series of assertions and observations, followed by a list of possible explanations for them, one of which is a principle holding of Christian (as well as other monotheistic) belief."

The framing, basically. It's set up in the classic Slashdot / MeFi rhetorical approach where you argue two positions, but make the arguments for one position as weak as possible, and the counters as strong as possible, so that one position looks hopelessly stupid. There's a name for the rhetorical device, but I can't remember it. It's not a straw man, because the arguments are valid, but they're framed in a way that makes the position seem not just complex but stupid. In the end, it comes down as "Group A believes X, Y, Z, but look how wrong they are!!" The exact same material could be handled (and has been handled) with much more equanimity.

Mental Wimp writes "Does it appear to you that it is not offered as a viable option?"

Yes. It provides good logical reasons for why 1 through 4 may be true (all of which are counters against conventional Christian philosophy) and then just kinda slaps number 5 (half of which hasn't even been addressed) on there like it's some non-important choice, when (apparently) there has been quite a bit of thought put into it.

It's like making a sheet called "The Problem of Blacks in America" that starts with the statement that blacks are equally as good as whites, then goes step by step through "BUT!!", explaining how blacks have more divorce, more children out of wedlock, more crime, etc., and then ending it with the choices:

1) Blacks are less intelligent than whites.
2) Blacks are less morally good than whites.
3) Blacks are less able to control their animal urges than whites.
4) Blacks are less civil than whites.
5) There is some other reason for these statistics, and it is a mistake to even ask the question.

Well, first, that "it is a mistake to even ask the question" is just a blind assertion unsupported anywhere, and, second, while anyone could (just like in this case) point out: "This is all true, though! Civil rights activists and black leaders have fought with this issue for years! How can you talk about the position of blacks in America without addressing this? And you could always come up with conclusion 5, which is fair", that doesn't affect at all that pretty much anyone seeing it would recognize it as an attack on blacks. Just because what it says is true, and it leaves a semi-viable answer in #5, doesn't mitigate the fact that the framing makes it come across as an attack.

Again, not saying this is the same situation, but it's just an example of how you can have a list of true statements, which are important to an issue, and which people who have pondered the issue have struggled with, and which leaves a semi-acceptable answer as a possibility, and still have a pretty clear agenda.

Plus, as has been pointed out, there are far more possible answers than the 5 listed, and it certainly doesn't come across as coincidental that, after an entire page of arguments against Christianity, and 4 possible conclusions that oppose the views of Christianity, the only remaining argument is "don't ask", when there are many other possible answers. Not saying you need to put every possible counterargument in, but only presenting the weakest counterargument is an old and shameful rhetorical trick.

The question, though, again, and one which nobody here has an answer to, is how he used these materials. He might have presented it as a list of common counterarguments against Christianity, and then asked the students if there were any other possible answers that weren't on the list; that is, getting the students to come up with possible arguments that reconcile the contradictions. He could have presented it as clear evidence why Christianity is stupid. We don't know, we weren't there, his own explanations are unreliable because he's too close to the issue, and the complaining students' explanations are equally unreliable, because they're too close to the issue. So we just don't have enough evidence to tell for sure. But if I had to make a guess based just on the material evidence (which, thankfully, I don't; I'm just a guy on the internet, not his boss), I'm more inclined to see this as an example of a guy with the right ideas about religion (I agree with him) doing the wrong thing (pushing your viewpoint is great, but not in a government school which falls under the aegis of the First Amendment).
posted by Bugbread at 1:41 PM on February 22, 2007


God answered the question of evil in the book of Job.

Basically, by saying He's God and we are not. He does not owe us an explanation on the subject.

THAT should have been on the worksheet.
posted by konolia at 1:44 PM on February 22, 2007


lekvar writes "Of course, I also don't think this would have mattered ten or fifteen years ago."

I dunno. There always seem to have been isolated incidents like this here and there: somebody getting in trouble for pushing Christianity, or for pushing against Christianity, for teaching evolution, or teaching creationism. The big difference is that fifteen years ago, I only heard about either the really, really big cases that reached the national news, or small cases that happened in my city. Now, with the internet, I can hear about small cases that happen anywhere across the country.
posted by Bugbread at 1:45 PM on February 22, 2007


konolia writes "Basically, by saying He's God and we are not. He does not owe us an explanation on the subject."

Actually, the question wasn't whether God owes us an explanation or not. It's about what explanation might be possible. Two different issues. Now, if what you meant was "it's too complex for humans to reason out, and God neither owes us an explanation nor will he do it voluntarily, so no amount of thought can reconcile it", well, that fits the discussion here, but you probably should have said that instead of the non-sequitor about whether God has to give us the answer or not.
posted by Bugbread at 1:49 PM on February 22, 2007


God owes me $150 for that one time I fronted him in Philly.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:57 PM on February 22, 2007


"Basically, by saying He's God and we are not. He does not owe us an explanation on the subject."

Man, that's the most retarded reading of Job I've ever heard. Is that what you fundies really think? Gotta catch your read of the Song of Songs, K. Let me guess: it's about modesty and self-restraint, right?

Your Olympian "God-beyond-understanding" speaks his own praise to a man. He impeaches himself ethically in chapter 1 by playing games with the life of a righteous man. And he is forced, by Job's persistent goodness and his honesty in the face of his friends' critiques, to speak to a man. Think about it: he who spread out the sky, strong and molten like glass, is obliged to justify himself to a human being.

Job is possibly the most powerfully ironic text ever written, in any language, at any time. If you don't struggle with it, then you don't really know your Bible. All that Christian Booksellers ClifsNotes bullshit really isn't going to cut it.
posted by felix betachat at 1:58 PM on February 22, 2007


vorfeed writes "The whole scandal with this teacher started when one of the kids wanted to know why he didn't say 'one nation under God' every morning before class"
Nope. Reread the article.


"The assignment was offensive to her Christian beliefs, and came one day after McDonald told the class he was atheist." [...] "McDonald said he only shared his beliefs after a student asked him about his faith. The boy had noticed that McDonald skips "under God" when reciting the pledge of allegiance."

Nope! Still sounds to me as if this started when the kid asked about faith. How could the girl complain that he was pushing a personal anti-Christian viewpoint if she didn't know he wasn't Christian?

Funny, I never remember any handouts about Why the Believers of Zeus Were Wrong, Logical Flaws in Norse Mythology, Why the Sons of Ra Made No Sense, or What's Up with These Illogical Iroquois.

This is because these beliefs are taught as myth, so the question of What's Up With Those Illogical Iroquois is already implicit. And again, the handout is NOT about "why Christians are wrong" -- it's about "how can God be omnipotent, omniscient, and Good". The former is nothing but an insult, but the latter is an integral question of Christian philosophy. I don't get how you can frame this as "What's Up With Those Crazy Christians And How Wrong They Are?" when this is, both historically and philosophically, an important question amongst Christians, who do not view it as an insult. And on preview, I've seen Christians ask this question in much the same way, with much the same but-wait! framing. Part of the point of the question itself is to shake people up a bit, so that they notice their implicit assumptions about God.

But I apologize if you're one of those faith-based folks who don't like for the reality stuff to get in the way of your opinions about "what you know of American high school kids".

I went to American high school. I was made to stand up during the Pledge (including Under God) every day, and watched several kids get literally dragged bodily from the classroom by the teacher when they refused. I was told that if I brought a certain book about religion to school again, I would fail the (math) class, even while other kids had Bibles or the Book of Mormon on their desks, and even though I pointed that out in my defense. Wearing anti-Christian t-shirts got me into trouble; the Christian t-shirts of other classmates were a-OK. And my mother is a high-school teacher right now, and still runs into examples of this sort of thing frequently, even among the administration.

In short, I know from personal experience that Christian expression and the expression of other belief systems are not always treated equally in public schools in America. I never said that Christians don't get in trouble for pushing their beliefs in school -- they do, all the time. What I said is that a Christian would probably not have gotten into trouble for mentioning his religion one day (as in "Well, Johnny, it's because I am a Witness and we don't believe in saying the Pledge") and then handing out this paper the next, and I stand by that. The paper, absent the public knowledge of the teacher's atheism, is just not that big a deal... as is obvious from the fact that the teacher passed it out for seven years without complaint.

But go ahead, tell me again that I don't know anything about high school, and that it's actually just as safe for an atheist to discuss his lack of faith as it is for a Witness or other Christian to discuss their faith. And, of course, that's why we have somebody making a public complaint complete with newspaper writeup just ONE DAY after the teacher dared to mention his atheism -- because it's totally harmless!
posted by vorfeed at 2:01 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


So... somebody explain this to me.

Analyzing Iroquois beliefs: Okay.

Analyzing Christian beliefs: EVIL!!!!!!

...this is what I got out of this article.

Mind you, I'm not sure why they're doing either in a literature class.
posted by Target Practice at 2:06 PM on February 22, 2007


God answered the question of evil in the book of Job.

no, actually, he didn't

Basically, by saying He's God and we are not.

but that's not an answer his creation is ever going to be satisfied with ... which, being the creator, he knows

He does not owe us an explanation on the subject.

and then proceeds to sacrifice his son for us instead of an explanation

come on, konolia, not only is this a rather shallow reading of the book of job, it's not even a decent representation of the evangelical viewpoint

THAT should have been on the worksheet.

not in a public school, at least not as the "right" answer
posted by pyramid termite at 2:09 PM on February 22, 2007


Basically, by saying He's God and we are not.

Well yeah. I mean, YHWH = "I AM."

He does not owe us an explanation on the subject.

Which Book of Job are YOU reading?

it's not even a decent representation of the evangelical viewpoint

Yes, thank you.

CS Lewis is spinning in his grave.
posted by dw at 2:41 PM on February 22, 2007


vorfeed writes "This is because these beliefs are taught as myth, so the question of What's Up With Those Illogical Iroquois is already implicit."

Ok, good point. That's a fair comeback.

vorfeed writes "And again, the handout is NOT about 'why Christians are wrong' -- it's about 'how can God be omnipotent, omniscient, and Good'."

And it's conclusions are "pretty much no matter how you look at it, he can't be. But the Christians think he is. Hence..."

vorfeed writes "I don't get how you can frame this as 'What's Up With Those Crazy Christians And How Wrong They Are?' when this is, both historically and philosophically, an important question amongst Christians, who do not view it as an insult."

It's the framing. The expository style. Not the question itself. Not the counterarguments. The way one answer that Christians have historically and philosophically come up with is presented as barely a footnote, flippant at that, and no other answers that they've come up with being presented.

vorfeed writes "I went to American high school."

So did I. Forced standing for pledge of allegiance. No forced saying of it (yeah, that always struck me as weird. Junior High was the same thing. "You have to stand, but you don't have to say anything if you don't want to"). History teacher explaining to everyone why he never said the pledge of allegiance, and never sang the national anthem. If a teacher had started in on "Evolution is a myth", or "Here's why JHVH-1 is the true god" or the like, he'd have been trounced. This was 13 years ago. In Texas. At a non-magnet, non-private, run-of-the-mill school.

So, I take back what I said about you ignoring reality, faith-basing, etc. What I should have said is "From what you know of American high school, this problem wouldn't have happened with a Jehovah's Witness. From what I know of American high school, it would have. There's a lot of variety in American high schools, apparently". I apologize.

vorfeed writes "What I said is that a Christian would probably not have gotten into trouble for mentioning his religion one day (as in 'Well, Johnny, it's because I am a Witness and we don't believe in saying the Pledge') and then handing out this paper the next, and I stand by that."

I agree, but that's because the paper is critical of Christianity. If a Christian teacher in my high school handed out a paper critical of Christianity, there would be no uproar. If an atheist teacher in my high school handed out a paper critical of atheism, there would be no uproar. If a Christian teacher in my high school handed out a paper critical of atheism, there would have been an uproar. If an atheist teacher in my high school handed out a paper critical of Christianity, there would have been an uproar. And if someone whose beliefs were completely unknown had handed out either, there would have been an uproar.

Actually, on review, I guess that means I 50% agree with you about whether him saying he was an atheist was the start of the problem. In my experience, handout #2, if not followed up, would've gotten a teacher in trouble if they were an admitted atheist, or an unknown. It would have been kosher if they were an admitted Christian. So if he hadn't said he was an atheist, he'd still have been in trouble, but if he'd lied and said he was Christian, he would've been off the hook. Ditto for the inverse situation, with a Christian or undeclared teacher handing out materials critical of atheism.

vorfeed writes "But go ahead, tell me again that I don't know anything about high school, and that it's actually just as safe for an atheist to discuss his lack of faith as it is for a Witness or other Christian to discuss their faith."

Well, I won't say you don't know about high school, but I will say it's just as safe for an atheist to discuss his lack of faith as it is for a Witness or other Christian to discuss their faith, depending on the high school.

Target Practice writes "So... somebody explain this to me.

"Analyzing Iroquois beliefs: Okay.

"Analyzing Christian beliefs: EVIL!!!!!!

"...this is what I got out of this article."


Reread the thread, various explanations, both for and against, are in some of the comments.
posted by Bugbread at 3:08 PM on February 22, 2007


God answered the question of evil in the book of Job.

Basically, by saying He's God and we are not. He does not owe us an explanation on the subject.

THAT should have been on the worksheet.


That's just worksheet answer #1.
posted by washburn at 3:27 PM on February 22, 2007


bugbread
Yes. It provides good logical reasons for why 1 through 4 may be true (all of which are counters against conventional Christian philosophy) and then just kinda slaps number 5 (half of which hasn't even been addressed) on there like it's some non-important choice, when (apparently) there has been quite a bit of thought put into it.


Well, it seems to me that options 6-10 aren't really "logical" answers to the question posed (by the way, not about traditional Christian philosophy, but specifically about Judeo-Christian theology of a supreme being), at least in the sense that 1-4 are. They're sort of orthogonal to the original framing of the question, giving alternative definitions of god. In that sense, they are stronger ways of saying number, 4, viz., YOUR god doesn't exist, but perhaps one of these others will fit the bill. Another way of looking at some of them is that they are saying "Yes, it is a mystery, but here is one speculation." But this doesn't seem to be the question you're addressing. You are trying to define a god that avoids the questions posed in worksheet. And, as I said before, it is a laudable and fine goal. And certainly fair game in the discussion about what god is. I'm not sure how it shows that the teacher was trying to refute Judeo-Christian monotheism, as opposed to elucidating the nature of belief vs. logical reasoning.

pyramid termite

To summarize my reaction to each:

6. God allows us to choose our experiences, or the potential for our experiences, before we start living, for our own spiritual growth.
If it is before we start "living" (whatever that connotes), then it is unknowable by our "living" selves = "mystery" to me = 5.

7. Evil is generated by karma from previous lives.
See above.

8. Good, evil and the world we live in are illusionary.
= "mystery" = 5.
9. God does not perceive things as good or evil, but our minds do.
= 1. God is not good, the way it is defined in the question.

10. What may be good and evil to us may be due to our lack of knowledge of all consequences. = "mystery"
= 5.

Again, maybe Rorschach test, but I don't think these go signifcantly beyond the options presented in any philosophical sense.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:41 PM on February 22, 2007


I agree, but that's because the paper is critical of Christianity.

It looks instead to be critical (in the sense of attempting -- however poorly -- critical thought) about religions like Christianity that worship a single, omnipotent, benign deity.
posted by papakwanz at 3:43 PM on February 22, 2007


Mental Wimp writes "Well, it seems to me that options 6-10 aren't really 'logical' answers to the question posed"

Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to imply that answers 6 through 10 were the other options I was talking about. I guess I meant more along the lines of a bit of an overview with the theories that Aquinas, et al, came up with, or, more importantly, the reasoning. After all, most of the page is explanations of the contradictions, but none of the page is an explanation of the attempts at resolution. Which, again, isn't a bad thing if used in the context of stepping stone to discuss possible resolutions, or an introduction to reading some primary source material written by someone trying to reconcile the contradictions, or the like (though they don't really fall under the aegis of Amer Lit, though neither does most of the lecture, from what I can tell).

papakwanz writes "It looks instead to be critical (in the sense of attempting -- however poorly -- critical thought) about religions like Christianity that worship a single, omnipotent, benign deity."

Yeah, sorry, I was massively shorthanding. Even the paper itself says it addresses Judaism and other modern monotheistic religions. And you could substitute most of my instances of "Christian" above with any other monotheistic, omnipotent, benign deity religions. Sorry if the shorthanding obscured or twisted what I was trying to say.
posted by Bugbread at 3:54 PM on February 22, 2007


You are trying to define a god that avoids the questions posed in worksheet.

i'd rather say that the questions posed in the worksheet avoid the concepts of god that some people actually believe

here's the thing ... let's say that i'm a student in a high school classroom who has just given you 6-10, not as a mental exercise, but because i belong to a new ageish christian denomination that actually believes some of these answers

in return, you, a teacher, am telling me that my beliefs don't answer the question, are just "5 - it's all a mystery , and IT'S A MISTAKE TO ASK" ... (but if your religion comes up with alternate answers that answer these questions, why would it be a mistake to ask?)

in short, this worksheet is forcing the student to choose between mainline christian thought and "don't ask, don't tell"

it's a false dilemma, because there ARE other views and if he's going to do a worksheet exercise on this question, he needs to either include those views, or better yet, leave it as an open ended question for the students to work through ... (not to mention that to a hindu, or a buddhist, this whole worksheet comes off as western-centric)

he did cross a line here ... and he probably doesn't even realize all the consequences of that
posted by pyramid termite at 4:00 PM on February 22, 2007


pyramid termite

Yes, the teacher doesn't address the full spectrum of religious thought, which, you must admit, would be a dauntingly broad and complex way to get at the Judeo-Christian theological underpinnings of the concepts of good and evil. That might take at least a semester. However, it seems to me that the point of the exercise was to apply critical thinking to at least one fairly widely accepted and strongly professed version of religion, i.e., the omnipotent, omniscient, monotheistic one. If you say it is unfair to characterize one choice as "it's all a mystery and a mistake to ask", then you must feel a majority of Christians of my acquantance are unfairly characterizing their own religion. And you may be right, but I don't think they are intending to criticize themselves. I think that they believe the critical faculty is not to be applied to belief; that such application will ultimately be frustrated, because we can "never know the mind of God," to put it into their terms.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:11 PM on February 22, 2007


pyramid termite writes "(not to mention that to a hindu, or a buddhist, this whole worksheet comes off as western-centric)"

Er, well, yes. It's about monotheistic, omnipotent, benevolent god religions. It's not about religion in general. If you discuss Madame Bovary, the whole thing will come off as Euro-centric. If you discuss American Literature, the whole thing will come off as Ameri-centric. That doesn't mean that there's a problem with them; any discussion about Thing A will come off as Thing A centric, and the only way to avoid that is to discuss nothing ever.
posted by Bugbread at 4:15 PM on February 22, 2007


the latter is an integral question of Christian philosophy.

Which does not at all belong in the public schools of a very very diverse country with no state religion. No religious philosophy does. The fact that there are now comparative religion courses and fake "bible as literature" classes in public schools is itself wrong and unfair--unless both monotheistic and pantheistic religions and their various offshoots are all given equal time and all treated with the same scrutiny--which never ever ever happens. Besides the usual lack of time for even basic subjects, and requirements of state curriculum boards and fed regulations, there's no place nor time for it.
Ethics and moral issues and conflicts come up in literature and science classes as well as all of history and social studies--that's all kids need. College is where it should be taught as an elective, and people of all faiths have established religious afterschool programs outside of schools to teach their children as they wish if they desire.
posted by amberglow at 4:17 PM on February 22, 2007


Mental Wimp writes "If you say it is unfair to characterize one choice as 'it's all a mystery and a mistake to ask', then you must feel a majority of Christians of my acquantance are unfairly characterizing their own religion."

It's not so much that I think it's unfair to characterize that one choice that way, but to characterize it as the only choice is unfair, and to slip in the "it's a mistake to ask" (which Christians might think, I dunno) as a purported "only remaining logical conclusion" without giving the logic behind it is extremely poor rhetorical form and seems a bit underhanded.
posted by Bugbread at 4:20 PM on February 22, 2007


amberglow writes "The fact that there are now comparative religion courses and fake 'bible as literature' classes in public schools is itself wrong and unfair--unless both monotheistic and pantheistic religions and their various offshoots are all given equal time and all treated with the same scrutiny--which never ever ever happens."

Is that true, though? Don't comparative religion classes ever discuss Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, et al et cetera with equal time and scrutiny? (Note: I don't know; this isn't a shady way of saying "you're wrong". But I haven't really heard any evidence either way)
posted by Bugbread at 4:22 PM on February 22, 2007


Random note: There seem to be two types of religious threads at Mefi: Those that start out, get bad, then get worse, and those that start out, then get bad, and then get better. If they were all the former, I'd never touch one with a ten foot pole, but this one is turning out to be the latter. Damn this thread taking a turn for the better! It's just setting me up for future disappointment!
posted by Bugbread at 4:24 PM on February 22, 2007


However, it seems to me that the point of the exercise was to apply critical thinking to at least one fairly widely accepted and strongly professed version of religion, i.e., the omnipotent, omniscient, monotheistic one.

but the point i'm making is, he doesn't even do an adequate job of covering omnipotent, omniscient, monotheistic religion and it's implications ... there are monotheistic denominations that believe in concepts like karma and past lives

and, yes, it just might take a semester ... in which case, he's not doing his students any favors by trying to cover it in a day

Er, well, yes. It's about monotheistic, omnipotent, benevolent god religions. It's not about religion in general.

which why it's inappropriate for a public classroom ... a hindu or buddhist in that class is going to feel excluded

If you discuss Madame Bovary, the whole thing will come off as Euro-centric. If you discuss American Literature, the whole thing will come off as Ameri-centric.

except that our founding fathers didn't pass a constitutional amendment separating literature and state ... (judging from the average political speech, they probably thought they didn't have to)

amberglow makes good points here
posted by pyramid termite at 4:31 PM on February 22, 2007


The fact that there are now comparative religion courses and fake "bible as literature" classes in public schools is itself wrong and unfair--unless both monotheistic and pantheistic religions and their various offshoots are all given equal time and all treated with the same scrutiny--which never ever ever happens.

When I was a junior in high school, we did an entire quarter of comparative religions with the three big Western religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. All got equal time. All were compared. Oh, and in the Buckle of the Bible Belt that was Tulsa, a town so religious the Unitarian church has 3000 members.

So, hey, just disproved your absolutism. Thanks, Mrs. Moffitt!

BTW, you're featured prominently in the drinking game. There's an entire section on you.
posted by dw at 4:38 PM on February 22, 2007


Random note: There seem to be two types of religious threads at Mefi: Those that start out, get bad, then get worse, and those that start out, then get bad, and then get better. If they were all the former, I'd never touch one with a ten foot pole, but this one is turning out to be the latter. Damn this thread taking a turn for the better! It's just setting me up for future disappointment!

There's a threshold number you have to pass, I think, before you get to the interesting discussions, and it varies from thread to thread, and sometimes it's never reached. But at some point the people willing to debate an issue exceeds the people who want to bile spew, and at that point the thread becomes interesting. It's just a question of whether you're willing to wade through the knee-jerk hatchet-grinding from both sides long enough to get to the good part. In some cases, like the Ted Haggard thread, you have to get through 500 before you're there. Here... what, about 70? 60?

But once the machete-wielders and fist-shakers have their say and move on to rip up some single-link YouTubeFilter, it does get interesting. It's just taken me a long time to learn that, sadly.
posted by dw at 4:40 PM on February 22, 2007


pyramid termite

Well, the semester thing was intended to be a comedic understatement, as I think the full exploration of comparative religions across the world might take a lifetime or more. Guess I gotta work on my timing.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:44 PM on February 22, 2007


When I was a junior in high school, we did an entire quarter of comparative religions with the three big Western religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. All got equal time. All were compared. Oh, and in the Buckle of the Bible Belt that was Tulsa, a town so religious the Unitarian church has 3000 members.

That's rare in actuality. Most are not equal time at all, whether due to teacher intention, training or lack of, or the school board being packed with the religious right, etc. And "Bible as literature" classes without equivalent "Koran as literature", and all others, etc are inherently unfair and reinforce that Christianity takes precedence (or Judeo-Christianity) over others. There are also big fights over which Bible gets to be used in the classes, with each sect wanting their own version used over others.

These FAQs from the First Amendment Center state how it should be done ideally.
posted by amberglow at 4:50 PM on February 22, 2007


and there are links at the bottom here about various states and how they deal with it all (most don't meet the ideal)

a school board in Michigan, for instance, decided the "Bible As Literature and History" class,... was too close to religion and too far from history, The Saginaw News reported.
"It appears to be more like the Bible 'as' history and literature," he said. "It goes beyond talking about religion and becomes faith-based."
Murphy also said the class was not academically rigorous enough and said current classes in English, art and history, already included studies on how the Bible affects American society. ...

posted by amberglow at 4:55 PM on February 22, 2007


This is the group mentioned in the Michigan thing, and they're all over the country -- National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools
posted by amberglow at 5:01 PM on February 22, 2007


If there is a god, it doesn't want us to be willfully ignorant and not talk about the "big things."

But there isn't. See ya in the void!
posted by bardic at 5:06 PM on February 22, 2007


I would encourage everybody to give the Nizkor fallacies website a cursory glance (or re-glance, since most people here have probably already seen it before, myself included).

What strikes me about this thread is that some people are offended that what passes as traditional Christianity in America is being subjected to Logic (with the capital "L" denoting its place in Western thought) and found wanting.

There is a tacit admission in some of these comments, I think, that "well of course Christianity can't stand up to logic. We've got to protect the right that these kids have to believe in illogical things."

The implication being that teaching and promoting Logic is virtually the same as teaching and promoting atheism. An interesting implication to be sure.

I've found it true in my own life, however. Look again at the Nizkor page:

Fallacies 3 through 17 are basic staples of modern Christian evangelism. Mixed in with a hearty helping of 24 (Evolution is false, therefore God exists!) plus 38, 39 and 41 -- it makes one wonder...

If I were the teacher, I would have given a different assignment. On a sheet (or several) of paper, write down your most cherished and fervently held beliefs. Religious, political or otherwise. Then, construct an argument in favor of each without using any of the fallacies listed here.

If the kids (or anyone else) can't do it, is it really my fault? Logic's fault?
posted by Avenger at 5:13 PM on February 22, 2007


"well of course Christianity can't stand up to logic. We've got to protect the right that these kids have to believe in illogical things."

no ... "we've got to protect the first amendment rights these kids have" is the argument

On a sheet (or several) of paper, write down your most cherished and fervently held beliefs.

i believe i like strawberry ice cream

i believe i hate strawberry ice cream

i believe i want to get married

i believe i don't want to get married

i believe i want children

i believe i don't want children

i believe there is a god

i don't believe there is a god

If the kids (or anyone else) can't do it, is it really my fault? Logic's fault?

it's that damn subjectivity ... no matter where you look, there it is
posted by pyramid termite at 6:27 PM on February 22, 2007


If you believe in the First Amendment then you believe it when the action supports your view on religion and you believe it when the action conflicts with your view on religion. What I am seeing here is a lot of people who don't like religion incredulous that this could be wrong. Why not show up the cracks in religion in the public schools? Gee, now you know how the pro religion crowd feels. Why not teach the loving word of god in the public schools? Of course, religion should neither be exalted nor denigrated in the public schools.
posted by caddis at 6:30 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite : "which why it's inappropriate for a public classroom ... a hindu or buddhist in that class is going to feel excluded"

Then, by that token, is a novel whose protagonist a woman verboten, because the men will feel excluded? A novel about poor people, because the rich will feel excluded? He discussed polytheistic Iroquois mythology, and then discussed monotheistic benevolent etc. mythology.

pyramid termite : "except that our founding fathers didn't pass a constitutional amendment separating literature and state"

That's the part I'm agreeing. You can't establish a religion. And, by corrolary, you can't disestablish a religion. You can't work in a public school and put forth an agenda for either side, which is the issue here. But prohibiting establishment or disestablishment of religion shouldn't make discussion of religion itself verboten. What this guy did may well have been wrong, but it wasn't because he didn't try to shoot down all religions equally.

Avenger : "What strikes me about this thread is that some people are offended that what passes as traditional Christianity in America is being subjected to Logic (with the capital 'L' denoting its place in Western thought) and found wanting."

Who? I haven't found many people taking that position. Most of us taking the "prof is wrong" position are offended at the First Amendment implications, not the "he subjected the Bible to logic!!" part.

Avenger : "If I were the teacher, I would have given a different assignment. On a sheet (or several) of paper, write down your most cherished and fervently held beliefs. Religious, political or otherwise. Then, construct an argument in favor of each without using any of the fallacies listed here.

"If the kids (or anyone else) can't do it, is it really my fault? Logic's fault?"


Now, see, that would be a goddamn sweet assignment. That's helping kids use logic, possibly getting them to rethink their religion, and yet not broaching the First Amendment. Nice.
posted by Bugbread at 7:38 PM on February 22, 2007


It's the framing. The expository style. Not the question itself. Not the counterarguments. The way one answer that Christians have historically and philosophically come up with is presented as barely a footnote, flippant at that, and no other answers that they've come up with being presented.

I'm not sure I agree with you about the framing of the last option -- I don't think it was meant to be flippant at all. In fact, it looks to me to be a deliberate attempt to frame the question in a manner we all remember from school:
Unappealing Answer A
Unappealing Answer B
Unappealing Answer C
Unappealing Answer D
(drum roll...) NONE OF THE ABOVE!

To me, the teacher is clearly aiming to get the majority of kids to put down option 5, and then discuss it as a class. Option 5 is a-OK with Christianity, so I don't get how it's a put-down. If anything, the "insult" probably comes as much from this guy's clumsy writing as from any intent...
posted by vorfeed at 7:49 PM on February 22, 2007


Silly.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:45 PM on February 22, 2007


Then, by that token, is a novel whose protagonist a woman verboten, because the men will feel excluded?

and this relates to 1st amendment issues, how?

What this guy did may well have been wrong, but it wasn't because he didn't try to shoot down all religions equally.

except that by focusing on what is basically a theological issue that doesn't apply in all religions, he is in fact attempting to disestablish a particular religion, while totally ignoring others

an open ended question such as, "what do you think the meaning of good and evil is, and how do people explain that issue philosophically or religiously?" would be legitimate because it doesn't exclude any possible point of view

he's obligated to make sure that his students are not made uncomfortable because of their religious beliefs ... and if he can't find a way to start a discussion on the subject without doing so, then he needs not to start one

(i would hold university classrooms where the students are over 18 to a less strict standard than that ... and private schools can pretty much do as they like)
posted by pyramid termite at 4:57 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite writes "and this relates to 1st amendment issues, how?"

It doesn't. You're bringing up the non-First Amendment issue of "you can't talk about subject A because it might not apply to some students". I'm saying that's silly. Nothing to do with the First Amendment.

pyramid termite writes "except that by focusing on what is basically a theological issue that doesn't apply in all religions, he is in fact attempting to disestablish a particular religion, while totally ignoring others"

Yes. The problem is the first part: he's (apparently) trying to disestablish a particular religion. That's a First Amendment problem. "He's not trying to disestablish other religions, and that's bad because the folks who believe in the other religions might feel left out" is not.

It's like "OJ Simpson murdered his wife (ex-wife? I don't remember). That is a problem, because murder is illegal and immoral, and also because he didn't kill his neighbors."

I think the problem is that you find what he did to be a violation of the First Amendment. I agree. You also think it's problematic that other students wouldn't think his actions applied to their own religious problems. I disagree. You seem to be (and I may be reading you wrong) taking my disagreement with the second part to be a disagreement with both of your positions. That's not the case. We agree on the former.
posted by Bugbread at 6:30 AM on February 23, 2007


can i just speak up (it's taken me this long to get through this great discussion) about earlier comments saying how God is outside logic and we can't hold him to logic much like Love, poetry, music, etc etc. ?

This stuff drives me crazy (PB, I'm talkin to ya!)!!! It's a poor defense for God. why? Cause we CAN logically talk about poetry and love and music. We do all the time. But those using this argument think they can just move religious thinking outside reason and that saves it. If God exists, and created us to have reason (something possibly separating us from most animals...except apparently female chimps!), then why wouldnt he allow himself to be part of that wonderful gift?

And to quote a great philosopher:

"To see the disingenuous hypocrisy of religious people who embrace NOMA, imagine that forensic archeologists, by some unlikely set of circumstances, discovered DNA evidence demonstrating that Jesus was born of a virgin mother and had no father. If NOMA enthusiasts were sincere, they should dismiss the archeologists' DNA out of hand: "Irrelevant. Scientific evidence has no bearing on theological questions. Wrong magisterium." Does anyone seriously imagine that they would say anything remotely like that? You can bet your boots that not just the fundamentalists but every professor of theology and every bishop in the land would trumpet the archeological evidence to the skies."

So stop with that argument please. It's false, poor thinking, and doesn't do any service to the possibility of a God. In fact, it only makes you look idiotic. Hypocritical. If there is a God, you embarass him.
posted by Dantien at 1:26 PM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Dantien, I think it's a weak argument as well, but keep in mind that there are situations where normal logic breaks down. For example, when you start talking about the Big Bang (I'm talking "when you start talking with physicists", not "when you start talking with random religious people"), there are folks (Stephen Hawking, if memory serves me) who basically say that time does not exist (there is no entropy, and the arrow of time is increase of entropy). But, then, logically, the Big Bang could never happen, because to go from "infinitely small point of massive amount of matter" to "rapidly expanding blob of matter" requires progress through time, which has been posited as not existing.

Again, not saying this in defence of JudeoChristian ideas of God, but there do exist big concepts where conventional logical approaches break down, or become extremely slippery and counterinstinctual.
posted by Bugbread at 1:47 PM on February 23, 2007


Bugbread, i get where you are coming from, but our inability to reconcile physics theories does not mean logic fails. it means we arent understanding reality yet. That's all.

Reason, if we are to be honest about it, applies to everything. Our inability to apply it accurately isn't a fault of reason but a fault of our understanding. It's like saying "we dont know how life began, so obviously God created it" instead of accepting we haven't solved the problem yet.

Much love to ya nonetheless.
posted by Dantien at 1:52 PM on February 23, 2007


Cause we CAN logically talk about poetry and love and music. We do all the time.

then why do people disagree with each other so much about them?

Reason, if we are to be honest about it, applies to everything.

to the man who has a hammer, everything looks like a nail

Our inability to apply it accurately isn't a fault of reason but a fault of our understanding.

but if we're unable to apply it, it is not applicable ... if i'm unable to comb my hair with a hammer, it's not the hammer's fault ... or a fault of my understanding if i put the hammer down and use a comb
posted by pyramid termite at 2:16 PM on February 23, 2007


Dantien writes "our inability to reconcile physics theories does not mean logic fails. it means we arent understanding reality yet. That's all. "

No, but it means that our conventional uses of logic fail. Which, as I understand it, is one of the positions that Christians take in reconciling the whole evil problem. Some do the "Don't know, don't care, don't have to care". Some do the "impossible to know or understand". Some do the "the question is in a realm where conventional logic fails to apply".

Lots of that in Eastern religions, too. Conventional (Western, here) logic says there is either "is" or "is not". Some Eastern philosophies hold that there are actually four logical possibilities about anything: "is", "is not", "both is and is not", and "neither is, nor is not". So they come to logical conclusions, using their logical framework, that are not capable of being reached using duality-based logic. And, of course, if you try to understand that logic using duality-based logic, it makes no sense. If you only believe in duality-based logic, that makes the conclusions illogical. If you believe in non-duality-based logic, the conclusions logically follow, and the reason dualists call it illogical is that they're working with a flawed logical framework.
posted by Bugbread at 2:24 PM on February 23, 2007


pyramid termite writes "then why do people disagree with each other so much about them?"

From my experience, the problem isn't the logic applied when discussing love/art/whathaveyou, but:
1) People using different definitions for the same words. People meaning different things by "good", "bad", "beautiful", "ugly", "valuable", etc.
2) People, even when they agree on the terms, using different a priori assumptions (Person A and B both agree on what the word "good" means, but Person A assumes that "good" applies to Jackson Pollock's works, Person B assumes "good" doesn't apply to it).
3) People using the same word to mean two different things unconsciously, and switching which meaning they're using midstream.
4) People just plain making logical mistakes. MeFites use logic all the time in discussing all kinds of subjects, but this place is just rife with logical fallacies and mistakes. (My arguments too).

None of that is said as some sort of parallel to religious discussion, just a tangent. After all, people disagree on everything, even stuff that everyone agrees is based on logic. People disagree about computer programming, which is basically a big chunk of logic writ hard, because of different assumptions about what results are preferable to others, or the value of things like "elegance" in code, or usability, or the value of supporting legacy drivers, or the like.
posted by Bugbread at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2007


I got a great email from a teacher following this thread. He gave me permission to post some of it (emphasis is mine) : ... I am a high school english teacher and I teach a unit very similar to the one referenced in the FPP. I'm confused as to why you feel that it is not a public school teacher's right (or moreover, their responsibility) to teach the logic of religious faith. Isn't it
the responsibility of those we entrust with the education of our young people to teach critical thinking, tolerance, and understanding of students own viewpoints?
Granted, the teacher's presentation of the material may have been a bit heavy-handed, and he very well could have preambled his discussion (as I often do) with the correct claim that the smartest and most intelligent theists grapple with these questions, and further, that the Puritans in Salem would obviously have done so as well. But don't students have a need to know basics of religious thought, grappled with by all faiths? The problem of evil has been surmounted by numerous theists quite successfully. I have my students read Liebniz on this topic, for example.
... it leads to assumptions that anything that challenges students' preconceived notions about their world is better left untaught until some arbitrary age where litigation and toe-stomping is less of an issue.
....


He brings up really good points, but i think it still goes back to whether or not public high schools are the place for this. Rigorous thought and examination and comparison are (or at least should be) taught in every subject--it's part of learning.
posted by amberglow at 3:17 PM on February 23, 2007


and this, from a response: ... I don't
teach a discussion of faith. I teach a discussion of proofs for the existence or nonexistence of god as part of a writing and rhetoric class's focus on Enlightenment thinkers. My students are advanced, and I make clear from the get that I'm not interested in matters of faith. I also make very clear that intelligent theists and atheists alike have very good reasons for what they believe.

So, it's not so much about faith as it is about logic, about rhetoric, and moreover, about learning to divorce your personal views from the logic of the question at hand. My students love it, and find that they side with the philosophers (as we all do) who back up their own views most effectively. I'm not interested in changing anyone's mind. I'm interested in helping to educate people. And yes, that does mean making Americans--Americans who can think about religion without feeling forced to make it into a divisive issue. (No small task in today's clime.)

For what it's worth, I teach the Bible as Literature alongside the
Koran and some major Hindu texts. But I teach them strictly as stories that mean something to a great number of people, like the "myth" of Paul Revere's ride, the myth of American exceptionalism, or the myth of Christopher Columbus as a hero. These stories aren't "real," but they are very meaningful.They define us. If we stop teaching issues surrounding our identities, especially those issues that make some of us uncomfortable, than we've stopped teaching students to think. Then we've lost as educators and as a society as a whole. ...

posted by amberglow at 3:21 PM on February 23, 2007


I’d like to interject that logic is in fact a human construct. (sorta seconding bugbread here) I don’t know why so many people summon logic when they delve into ontology (in terms of ‘what exists’ and properties, etc.). But the argument (re: God) here (in the thread) is whether God can be empirically known and whether that experience is the final arbiter of knowledge or not. So using logic as a term is a bit out of bounds.
Logic is a form of non-empirical knowledge independent from experience. Therefore “God” and “Logic” are in the same classification of knowledge - often from the first principles in any argument of this kind.
Indeed, there are some very logical ‘proofs’ of God (Gödel comes to mind) which fall down because they’re not empirically provable. Of course, Kurt Godel would fail this guy’s course, because it’s limited to multiple choice and can’t use modal logic. But in terms of “logic” - Godel asserts that necessarily a God-like individual exists. One can argue that Godel’s axioms are not sufficiently self-evident to warrant calling the whole thing a proof, but the logic itself is flawless.
But of course that doesn’t mean it’s experientially repeatable knowledge.
And indeed, similarly, this guy’s axioms are definitely not self-evident. Not all proofs of the existence of God are predicated on “good” as a necessary property to God’s existence - and indeed, the very term “good” is debatable as it pertains to God.
And I don’t really see that option on this here multiple choice quiz.
Exploration of an idea demands the teacher be at least somewhat educated on all points beyond his or her personal inclination.
I think ontology is a bit deep for high school students. It wouldn’t hurt, I think, to expose them to the argument. But the way it’s presented here is more of a “Fuck what you think” sort of thing rather than an analysis of the material at hand.

Indeed, in any analysis of Huck Finn, one doesn’t bludgeon students with the fact that slavery is wrong and evil and therefore the United States is an unlawful state predicated on forced labor, etc. etc. etc. - it’s merely a large factor in the story, part of the (albeit man-made) environment and the reader derives meaning from the choices of the characters and how they interact with that - to them, unchangable - environment. So too, God is a big factor in many creation myths. The fact that God might too be a human construct is similarly irrelevent to the story and deriving meaning from it.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:52 PM on February 23, 2007


amberglow writes "He brings up really good points, but i think it still goes back to whether or not public high schools are the place for this."

And it's also based on reading people as saying "is not a public school teacher's right (or moreover, their responsibility) to teach the logic of religious faith", which I'm seeing very few people as saying. That's probably why he's so confused about why we're saying it: he's trying to understand why people are saying something which very very few people are actually saying.

amberglow writes "Granted, the teacher's presentation of the material may have been a bit heavy-handed, and he very well could have preambled his discussion (as I often do) with the correct claim that the smartest and most intelligent theists grapple with these questions, and further, that the Puritans in Salem would obviously have done so as well."

See, he is seeing the argument being made here, but then ignoring it and getting confused about an argument that either doesn't exist in this thread, or is a pretty minor part of this thread.

Smedleyman writes "And indeed, similarly, this guy’s axioms are definitely not self-evident. Not all proofs of the existence of God are predicated on “good” as a necessary property to God’s existence"

True, but, to be fair, his paper isn't about God's existence, but the logical consistency of evil existing in those religious systems that assume a benevolent, omnipotent God. It's like a paper discussing the failure of Asians to become President of the USA: There are Asians that have become prime ministers and presidents of other countries, but that doesn't invalidate the paper on American presidents, it's a different topic.

Now, the second point you bring up, "the very term “good” is debatable as it pertains to God", does indeed relate directly, and is yet another of the things that should have been in the paper, and whose absence makes it come off as a diatribe against benevolent omnipotent monotheistic religions, instead of an actual analysis of the problem of evil.
posted by Bugbread at 4:03 PM on February 23, 2007


The fact that God might too be a human construct is similarly irrelevent to the story and deriving meaning from it.
That's my first principle in all of this (outside of church/state/school/govt and rights and freedoms issues, etc)--but i would say that it's not irrelevant by any means-- it's because of the absolute unacceptability of stating or even assuming or positing that which is one of the real problems in our society and in teaching anything related to religion, esp in public schools.

bug, i don't think it's minor -- it's more big picture and maybe scientific or more objective than we are. (religion as important/inlfuential philosophy/belief system, and as important in terms of learning to examine and assess and compare, etc, especially because it touches all our lives in one way or another here.)
posted by amberglow at 4:28 PM on February 23, 2007


also bug, we teach and learn about the logic and process of many things in public schools (almost everything, actually)---government, laws, punishment, rights, etc, -- beyond basics like math or sentence structure/grammar or cause-and-effect or scientific process.
posted by amberglow at 4:34 PM on February 23, 2007


"the logic of _____" is the key, i think, to his statements and where he's coming from. It is a teacher's responsibility to teach "the logic of ____"--especially when it comes to ideas/concepts/structures.
posted by amberglow at 4:36 PM on February 23, 2007


amberglow : "bug, i don't think it's minor -- it's more big picture and maybe scientific or more objective than we are."

I'm not saying it's minor, just that it's a minority opinion in this thread. However, on reread, I realize that when he says "you" he means the singular "you" = "amberglow". When I first read it, for some reason I parsed it as plural "you" = "Y'all MeFites in the thread".
posted by Bugbread at 8:35 PM on February 23, 2007


"True, but, to be fair, his paper isn't about God's existence, but the logical consistency of evil existing in those religious systems that assume a benevolent, omnipotent God."

Minor point, but I think contextually he's out of bounds. It's a real oversimplification (and indeed a logical absurdity) to assert that in Judaism and Christianity God is assumed to be good, and further assert that God is omnipotent yet bound by human definitions of "good" and "evil."
Not to mention ignoring Boetheus, Nietzsche, etc. etc.
(and the "But wait!"'s are pretty irritating)
Granted he could be asserting by use of the term "modern" that certain sects believe such simple things, but that's a big strawman hanging there. Not to mention the worst case scenario in terms of ideas.

I would argue that the only reason one attacks such idiotic ideas as, say, creationism, is because of the aggression with which the idea is pushed.
It's silly to even dignify the topic by addressing it seriously within a scientific sphere.
Here however, he seems to have cherry picked among the most simple concepts to attack (in terms of the problem of evil).
(Indeed, given Judaism -say - asserts that God intervened in key specific moments in history and God demonstrates special care for the Jewish people -why doesn't he attack the existence of the state of Israel as illegitimate?)

So I agree with what you said (as I quoted) I just don't think that's what he's doing. He doesn't really delve into theodicy, just the one side (But wait!)
Seems to me he's using the discussion of evil as a stalking horse to assert the non-existence of God.

"because of the absolute unacceptability of stating or even assuming or positing that which is one of the real problems in our society and in teaching anything related to religion, esp in public schools"

I don't believe kids that age are prepared for that nuanced an argument. But I don't have hard evidence to back that up, just anecdotal.
Beyond that - were this a social studies class, perhaps that topic would be appropriate - that is - the belief in God as a factor in society.
I don't believe God should be anywhere near a science lab - for the very reasons I've stated. There's no empirical way to prove what is essentially in many ways an aggregate of ideals or concepts.
But since those concepts are often derived from experience, or stated as such, there's no way to dismiss them either.
But since they're not universally observable - it's "faith."

Regarding faith - I could, for example, base my life around a work of complete fiction: "One Flew Over the Coocoo's Nest", for example - and there would be no practical difference between my right to determine my actions derived from a work of complete fiction and someone else's right to act according to the Bible as long as both are within the bounds of the law and don't tread on other folk's right to base their thing solely on universally repeatable experiences.
So the flip side of the problem is that attempting to limit the sphere of thought based on the superiority of empirical reasoning is ultimately tyranny. You would have to limit the freedom of speech at some point (not to mention religion, but you've argued the dominion religion has within society not legally curtailing it - and within that argument I'd have to agree).

I'd have to agree though that the lack of discourse in society on that topic at hand is a problem. I would argue though that developing a curriculum addressing religion/God as a construct would have to be done in a class outside of traditional spheres.
What subject would hold such a class? You could do it in social studies perhaps, history, but tackling ontology seems a bit above what I got out of high school. If there was a philosophy class, it could be done there.
Beyond that it becomes a practical problem. As I've said, I fully agree that many foolish religious ideas are aggressively pushed. The real trick is not to push back (because you wind up equally foolish - one can't reason with a fool) but to eliminate the foolish arguments from what is seriously discussed so as not to dignify them with any consideration while preserving the give and take of real communication of ideas.

What old Aunt Biddie might think God is and what God does and what she says to the school board isn't worth consideration in the classroom. What Ockham or Leibniz, Descartes, and Anselm have to say, might be. (And of course in contrast, Kant, Hume, et.al)

on a tangent - I've always wondered why, when one defines God as omnipresent - one considers "evil" a problem - indeed God then suffers with you, as well as is the cause of the suffering and the suffering itself.
(In Zen - the enlightened man is one with causation).

Meh, oneness with causation is irrelevent as well.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:38 PM on February 23, 2007




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