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I've been observing a couple online classes recently as I prepare for a new job. One of them is an intro English class, and of them is on cultural diversity. As it turns out, the English prof is married to an atheist, and the sociologist teaching the other course is an atheist herself. And yet, I find myself rather disappointed in both of them. Both courses recently took up the topic of religion, and both of them failed to use the opportunity to put a human face on the topic of skepticism.

In the English course, one of the stories being read was about an old woman at the end of her life, who (according to the English prof since I didn't read the story myself) was not much of a believer but who tried to give the perception to others that she was a believer. She went through the motions of religion because it reflected well on herself, not because she thought about it much otherwise, or lived according to the creed. At the end of her life, though, her attitude apparently changed. In order to get the students to think about the woman from this perspective, she invoked the old "no atheists in foxholes" line. When I called her on it, she apologized for offending anyone, but didn't see the problem. Though this is when I found out her husband was an atheist, and I thought she really should have known better. Surely there is a less troublesome way to get her point across?

Any shrewd person has figured out from the title of this blog a few things. 1) I'm not really in a foxhole (i.e. I'm not in the military), thus the "metaphorical" bit. 2) I can't stand that phrase. Every time an atheist dies in the press, the question always comes up about whether or not they "came to Christ" or some other bullshit. 3) I do feel a bit under siege in this culture and intend to fight back. Given these things, using the phrase "no atheists in foxholes" in any way that promotes a connection between non-belivers and their becoming believers as they approach death is very likely to offend me. I've had the term spit in my face, and I don't have a thing to do with the military. (I do find military believers use the phrase a lot, though, and I'm related to a few.)

The other class is about cultural diversity, and one of the big things in the news lately are all us damn atheists. Surely, a fantastic opportunity for getting students to think about race and gays and religion from the other side. The race and immigration and even gay marriage debates weren't too bad. There is quite a lot of misinformation out there. But last week the prof gave the debate about religion over the "I Believe" license plate in South Carolina to a student to moderate. The prof does not like to intervene in the student moderated debates at all, and neither does she give them any instruction as to what is expected of them (like presenting the other side if everyone is agreeing). Every single person in the class took the side of "what's the big deal" and there was no rebuttal. The prof felt that addressing this week's topic when she had addressed other week's wouldn't be fair to the student moderator (whom she acknowledges didn't do his job), and could make them ignore the other messages of racial, ethnic and sexual orientation tolerance. So now, atheists are to be sacrificed on behalf of tolerance? She's an atheist, and yet she is allowing this opportunity to educate slip away. There must be a way to work in Separation of Church and State somewhere. It's okay to support other religions like Muslims, but the "I Believe" plate is a direct attack against non-belivers, not other theists. If she knew that her class was likely to be entirely made up of theists, why give that topic to the student to moderate? Should the outcome not have been obvious? And her unwillingness to address the matter, even just by asking the question herself in an announcement and letting them think about it rather than discuss it would be okay. But no, she's just letting it go that everyone seems to think it's okay and the controversy is manufactured by a few malcontents.

I think part of what aggravates me about both of these incidents is that there was an opportunity here to educate, and the opprtunity was lost. These are people who should no better, for whom the question of toleration of atheists affects them more or less directly, and still, they are unwilling to stand up for themselves. And in effect, they made the situation worse by reinforcing stereotypes.

I'm deeply disappointed.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jul. 20th, 2008 11:39 pm (UTC)
i believe license plate
see it on Youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-An8jzBWNI


G rated
inafoxhole
Jul. 21st, 2008 06:05 am (UTC)
Re: i believe license plate
If it was anyone other than Jesus, images of someone being tortured on a cross would not be considered "G-rated"! :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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