Saturday, June 09, 2007

A critique

Drek, over at the blog site Total Drek, has posted a thoughtful critique of my post of two days ago, regarding university professors' attitudes toward evangelical Christians. I encourage you to read it, and I'd be interested in your thoughts.

12 comments:

Jay Livingston said...

The most problematic statement is the one Drek pointed out: "it doesn't matter how much professors act out their unfavorable believes toward evangelicals, for just having them constitutes prejudice. These attitudes based on race are called racism . . . "

If you're a Christian, then you disagree with core ideas of Islam. Does that mean that your are "prejudiced" against Moslems?

Prejudice means "prejudging." If my view of a student's religion affects how I grade his or her work, that's prejudice.

In a sociology course, I can see these attitudes coming to the fore only when the discussion turns from science to morals -- that is, when we start asking what should be done about poverty, homosexuality, race differences, inequality, crime, etc. But the professor should make it clear in such a discussion that there's a difference between these two approaches. Social science cannot tell you whether we should execute murderers. It can only tell you (or try to find out) whether executions have any impact on murder rates.

Knumb said...

Hmmm..

I have to distill his comments a bit just to follow them.

As I read it, Drek's writer is saying:

- We don't necessarily strongly hate Evangelical Christians, we may just dislike them.

- Just because we don't like Evangelical Christians, we may not act in an unprofessional manner toward them.

- I really liked an Evangelical Christian student once.

- Actually, I've had a lot and I tried really hard to treat them equally with other students.

- There are a lot of times you can say Jesus in a class. Like in a discussion of philosophy or religion.

- Evangelicals are comparable to students with behavioral problems.

- There are a lot of antagonstic Evangelical Christians, I'm surprised the number is so low.

- It's not necessarily good that there's such negative feelings about Evangelical Christians, but it's understandable.


Wow. Just wow.
/checks the beverage on his desk.
//Fresca. That doesn't 'splain what I think I just read.

Okay, I'm going to replace Evangelical Christians in my distillation of his arguments with other people groups and let's see how this pans out:


- We don't necessarily strongly hate African Americans, we may just dislike them.

- Just because we don't like Mexican Americans, we may not act in an unprofessional manner toward them.

- I really liked an Jewish student once.

- Actually, I've had a lot of Jewish students and I tried really hard to treat them equally with other students.

- There are a lot of times you can say Allah in a class. Like in a discussion of philosophy or religion.

- Athiests are comparable to students with behavioral problems.

- There are a lot of antagonistic lesbians, I'm surprised the number is so low.

- It's not necessarily good that there's such negative feelings about Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Gays, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, Mormons, left handed people, and Republicans, but it's understandable.


This guy teaches our young? Swell.

Brad Wright said...

Jay, you've hit upon the key issue here. It would be bizarre to expect all people to endorse, accept, or even be interested in any given ideology.

The problem, though, is that the survey asked about attitudes toward a group, i.e., people, not an ideology. (I believe the survey was conducted by a Jewish Research Group to study anti-semitism.) As such, it appears that half of faculty members *may* have prejudged, at least have a negative orientation toward, Evangelicals on the basis of their religious orientation.

Does this translate into outright discrimination? That's where the whole attitude-behavior issue gets involved. Still, with many groups, e.g., race and gender, we define negative attitudes toward the group as problematic in and of itself. This is the point I was making, and the one that Knumb makes even more clear in his comment to this pointing.

Brad Wright said...

John,

Your reframing the issue with other groups highlights what I see as the problem. You make this very clear with the statement:

"It's not necessarily good that there's such negative feelings about Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Gays, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, Mormons, left handed people, and Republicans, but it's understandable."

A faculty member making that statement with some of those groups would get them hauled in front of the Dean, but for other groups would be applauded.

This highlights a problematic inconsistency of the prevailing morality in academia.

S.S.Stone said...

Knumb! You have much to say these days! WOW, well said!

When Drek said:
".. I am a staunch atheist who would likely rate evangelicals quite low on the attitude thermometer." SAD,SAD,SAD My experience with people who are prejudiced is due, in the most part to ignorance and fear. I'd be very concerned about someone with this mindset teaching young developing minds.

He goes on to save himself-a revelation of sorts.

"Yet what you don't know is that one of my favorite past students was an evangelical Christian. When discussing .... I often found myself using biblical metaphors and analogies to help her understand and, in the process, likely convinced her that I, too, was evangelical."
When I read that remark, my first reaction was "ALLELUIA!" The Spirit is alive and well and working in mysterious ways!

SO, on a scale from 1 to 10
- 1 being "NOT TRYING AT ALL"

-10 "TRYING WITH EXCELLENCE"

I'll give Drek a 10 for: using biblical metaphors and analogies.

and a 5 for: "likely convinced her that I, too, was evangelical" (a little deceitful )

A 1 for : "would likely rate evangelicals quite low on the attitude thermometer." -bad attitude

I believe he works hard "tying" to remove his deep feelings but as I mentioned before it will show up in the classroom...no matter how much one tries to suppress it, it will exist/operate in the mind beneath or beyond consciousness. I'm going to keep praying for Mr.D. *smile*

A Canadian/Italian/Jewish Catholic girl!

Jay Livingston said...

Brad wrote: "the survey asked about attitudes toward a group, i.e., people, not an ideology. . . half of faculty members *may* have prejudged, at least have a negative orientation toward, Evangelicals on the basis of religious orientation."

The ascribed/achieved distinction may be relevant here. There's a difference between disliking ("having a negative orientation") toward people because of what they are -- ascribed statuses like race, gender, ethnicity-- and disliking them because of what they do.

Are pro-lifers prejudiced if they don't have warm feelings towards pro-choicers? Are environmentalists prejudiced if they dislike oil lobbyists? No, because you can decide whether or not to become an oil lobbyist. You can't decide whether to become black.

To what extent is religion an ascribed status? The answer isn't clear. The problem is also complicated because race and sex and other ascribed statuses do not necessarily involve ideas and actions. Religion involves ideas, and those ideas translate into actions like voting.

But for some people, religion is more a matter of group affiliation. It's the group they were born into, much like an ethnic group. People may call themselves Catholics and yet care nothing for the teachings of the Church. Some people identify themselves as "Jewish atheists" -- Jewish by group affiliation, atheist by theology. And some people identify themselves as "Jewish Catholics" (Hi, Sarah).

Is being an Evangelical like being a Jew? Or is it more like being a New Ager (i.e., a set of beliefs people are not born into but choose after some degree of reflection)?

Drek said...

Knumb: You're welcome to your opinion but, really, I don't think the cases are precisely parallel. If I had Jewish students, for example, constantly trying to quote the Torah in class I'd probably have a more negative opinion about them as well- they would be disrupting my class, which is not about the Torah in any way, shape, or form. That goes for any of the other groups you mentioned including lesbians, atheists, bisexuals, African Americans, and double-jointed Latvian circus performers. My job is to teach the course material to anyone who comes into my class. My job is not to tell them how to live their lives. To the extent that students engage in behavior that makes it difficult to do my job, I get annoyed.

S.S. Stone: I think my "deceit" is a little more of a moral gray area than you may be recognizing. My student understood the material better if I used biblical analogies in explaining and my job was to teach the material. So, under those circumstances, it seemed desirable to use biblical analogies. In my judgment, however, going out of my way to comment, "Oh, I'm not a Christian but..." would have been both inappropriate and detrimental to actually helping her understand.

What's the more ethical thing to do? Make a declaration that is potentially offensive and may impair her ability to learn the material, or remain silent about my own (irrelevant) religious views and teach my student?

And just for the record, I agree by and large with Brad's main point: evangelicals should not be discriminated against in the academy. I know that I have some negative feelings towards evangelicals, but what else can I do except work to prevent those feelings from impacting my work? Certainly it does no good to be anything other than honest. I do think that Brad's arguments went beyond what I consider reasonable but in desiring equal opportunity for all students, regardless of religion, race, sex, or sexuality, we're on the same page.

Knumb said...

Drek,

To be frank, I am less concerned at this point about the students' behavior in the classroom than yours.

One reason there are 3 professors in my immediate family and I am in corporate America is tihs: the culture of academia in the United States is Politically Correct in the worst way.

Knumb said...

Now that I think of it, 5 professors, if you count 2 on my wife's side.

Brad Wright said...

What an interesting and helpful discussion!

I'm particularly interested in your distinction between ascribed and achieved as applied to religion. This is tricky because the best predictor of being Christian is having Christian parents, but for others it is a choice. Even then, some Christians choose to adopted certain cultural values. Something that I'll be scratching my head over for awhile.

I suppose we could take it one step further and ask how should we treat those we don't like/ have negative attitudes. Christianity says you're supposed to treat them very, very well (i.e., love your enemy). But... that's varsity Christianity, and I spend my time on JV.

S.S.Stone said...

Drek: Honesty is the best policy, I admire you admitting:
"I know that I have some negative feelings ..., but what else can I do except work to prevent those feelings from impacting my work?"
That passage speaks volumes. Taking ownership for our weaknesses towards others and striving to improve in those areas for the betterment of all, is what we're all called to do on a daily basis not only at work but in our daily lives.

Jay:
"Italian/Jewish" : my ancestry
I call myself a Catholic but first I call myself a Christian.When I identified myself as "A Canadian/Italian/Jewish Catholic girl" is more for the sake of the discussion at hand...with a list like that I could be faced with quite a few prejudices.*smile*

Brad: I was born a RC. Mother was Jewish but converted when she married. We were "very" Catholic -There always seemed to be some member of the clergy at our dining room table . As a young girl I went to Sunday mass because it was what we did as a family, my duty to go.
Although my parents laid a firm Christian foundation, I'm not sure if I can accredit them for my present faith, but if "the best predictor of being Christian is having Christian parents" then I wouldn't argue with that. When they died I was very young and angry at God. I didn't want any religion, but the Spirit was working and at 18 my faith journey began...I was born Catholic, but it wasn't my choice. I wanted to be in control of myself, where my faith practice would lie...I went to talk to a Rabbi first wanting to learn more about Judaism--this discussion will be continued no doubt. It's late right now..see what happens when you come home and peak in on Bradley Wrights Weblog?*smile* It is wonderful discussion!!

Before I do go, must remark on the last part about taking it "one step further and ask how should we treat those we don't like/ have negative attitudes"
LOVE THEM , LOVE THEM, and love them some more...embrace them and hold them in the palm of your hand and lift up their hearts to God..I seriously mean that with all my heart.

Drek said...

Knumb,

Worry away! My teacher evaluations (anonymous from students) indicate that I am more respectful, more effective, and that students learn more in my class than average at my university (differences are statistically significant at the .05 level). So far... so good.

I'm curious what you mean, however, by "politically correct in the worst way." I actually dislike PC rather a lot, so I wonder to what extent we may agree.