In response to the film God’s Not Dead, Cassidy remembers the time that her professor, and the Dean of her college who held a Master’s in Divinity, was going to examine the book of Job from a literary and historical perspective, rather than an ideologically theological one. As an unusually conservative 18 year old Christian she thought this an appalling approach. So she did extensive research, prayed really hard, and stepped into the Colosseum to stand up for her faith:
Using the notes I had studiously taken, I delivered a passionate monologue about how one could not just take the Book of Job separately from the Bible because it was all divinely-inspired to work together seamlessly, and talking about it separately was like talking only about one chapter from a really long book out of context. I talked about how details from Job improved our understanding of other books and illuminated other stories entirely all through the Bible. Basically, I demonstrated just how good humans are at spotting correlations and patterns even where none actually exist. A chemical rush went through my entire body as I spoke, which I took to mean that Jesus was speaking through me. People’d been telling me for years that I had a unique skill to say just the right thing sometimes, and that day I was on fire.
And to my astonishment, the professor let me do it. He let me talk. Sometimes he’d inject some gently-humorous comment, sometimes he’d spar with me a little, but he let me talk for a good ten minutes. I don’t know why. Perhaps he thought I was adding something to the discussion; perhaps he was tired; perhaps he was letting me hang myself.
When I was finished, he did one of those things that super-educated but gentle-hearted people do when confronted with rampant ignorance and desperate belief: with two sentences, he more or less negated everything I had said. He agreed totally with what I was saying, but still saw the material as worth examining as literature in its own right. He didn’t disagree at all, but still wanted to do this, even knowing what I’d just said was part of the belief system of a great many Christians (he did not say “all Christians” or imply it was universal, which I did not miss noticing). Was I okay with that?
I really didn’t have much of a choice, so I summoned as gracious a smile as I could and nodded. “Good,” he said and continued his lecture. I sat down, feeling strangely deflated and depleted. He talked briefly about types and shadows for the students who had no idea what’d just happened, and then continued with the lecture.
I wasn’t sure what effect I’d had, but it was the first time I’d ever stood up to an authority figure regarding my faith–and it would not be the last. Afterward, a few students I didn’t know came over to tell me how much they’d admired what I’d done; none actually materialized into converts, and many seemed a bit annoyed that I’d shanghaied the class to basically preach, though nobody actually said anything negative to me at all.
Ironically, the next week we got told we’d be studying the story of the Tower of Babel, and when the professor announced the change to the syllabus (yes, it hadn’t been on there originally), he specifically looked through the crowd for me and asked if that was acceptable, with that same soft reserved smile he’d given me that fateful day.One thing was crystal clear:
He wasn’t afraid of me at all.
Nothing I said really fazed him.
Jesus had not actually convicted him at all.
How had this happened?!? I was in shock. He was a Christian, right? He’d gone to seminary. Why was he not agreeing with me? Why was he persisting in this disastrous course?
But he wanted an answer, so I smiled and said of course that was fine, because I’d made my point and didn’t need to make it again, though internally I was seething at this display of disrespect toward the Bible. I couldn’t understand how an educated person could surgically extract one story from it like it was no big deal, without considering it in full context.
In retrospect, I think he respected that I’d made my case not just with emotions or the standard fundie talking points, but with fairly solid theological sources. I think he understood right away that I’d spent a lot of time preparing for what I’d said.
Like any real and decent professor, he wanted to teach me how to think, and letting me make as good a case as I humanly could was part of that process. I was probably not the only student riled up about how he was teaching the Book of Job, and probably I was saying stuff he suspected many students were thinking. I suspect now that he got at least one episode like this every semester, and he was just relieved it’d happened so early in the syllabus. Letting me get all those objections into the air allowed him to address them definitively.
See, that is how real professors handle overly-zealous students. They don’t bat them down; they don’t insult them; they don’t treat them like dirt for disagreeing.
Read more of her story here and follow her writings regularly at Roll to Disbelieve. Her review of God’s Not Dead is here. For contrast with Cassidy’s student’s eye view on how these kinds of exchanges go, you can also read my professor’s perspective in my in-depth analysis of the ins and outs of God’s Not Dead‘s treatment of philosophy and its case for God. The other day I also talked about my own days feeling persecuted and standing up to teachers for my faith in high school.
Your Classroom Experiences?