You might have heard this story a couple months ago. A high school student had ripped up a Bible in English class as part of a project and was facing consequences from the administration as a result.
Maggie Ardiente has the full story in the new issue of The Humanist.
To set it up, Christopher Campbell was given an assignment where he had to take a Ralph Waldo Emerson aphorism and explain (with a visual aid) what it meant to him.
Chris picked this phrase:
“So far as a man thinks, he is free.”
On the day the project was due, Chris got up in front of the class and said the following:
What Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said, “So far as a man thinks, he is free,” was that our only freedom, what we call our “free will” is our ability to think. This particular saying is likened to me because I no longer rely on such things as faith and feeling as sources of knowledge.
We must all grow up and lose our faith in the Easter Bunny, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and eventually Jesus, because such things are fairy tales and while maybe appropriate for children, they cease to be rational when one reaches a certain age. Things like faith, mysticism, and feeling restrict one from productive, rational thought, and if we are not thinking, we are not free. Our only means of acquiring knowledge should be through rationale and logic.
Ayn Rand personifies her vision of man’s existence in her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. Rand says that the pursuit of our own happiness should be our goal in life and that morality does not come from others. The Bible says the poor man is rich for his kindness and humility toward mankind, and his rewards shall be great in the kingdom of heaven. Right. And I’m the King of England.
The Bible is not rational to me, so why would I want to waste my life studying it, trying to seek some “moral enlightenment” from its pages?
Now what I’m about to do next, some of your tiny little brains might not be able to comprehend, so viewer discretion is advised.
[Campbell then lifted a copy of the Bible in his hand as he spoke:]
This book has halted the intellectual advancement of humankind for centuries. But now I am free from its grasp, so I am free to do this.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became kindling. [At this point, Campbell starts to tear the pages.] This book is not holy. It was written by a bunch of old, smelly Mesopotamians with sand in their [expletive].
Now, will anyone come up here with me to testify, and kick Jesus out of your heart? [No response from the students.] Well, I guess I’m surrounded by a bunch of superstitious, simple-minded ignoramuses.
Three students clapped. One later told him, “You’re my hero.” Another remarked that Chris had a lot of balls to do what he did (presumably in a positive way).
He got a B on the project.
First, let’s get this out of the way: Insulting your peers for not thinking like you do is no way to win them over. And Chris’ immaturity shows when he resorts to insults and swears.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with what he did: ripping up the Bible.
But that seems to be what he got in trouble for:
Word quickly spread throughout Parker about the incident. Barbara Dougal, an assistant principal, brought him to her office later that day and told him several students had voiced concerns about his presentation, and that appropriate discipline needed to be taken.
He was taken to in-school suspension and then sent home. A meeting with his parents was scheduled. The assistant principal, a police officer assigned to the high school and a social services worker attended, Campbell says, and he was barraged with questions unrelated to the actual incident: What do you do when you get angry? Are there problems at home?
He wasn’t threatening to hurt Christians. He was just using the Bible as a symbol for stifling intellectual development. You can agree or disagree with that representation.
But some parents took it completely out of context:
… students did feel threatened–so threatened that one parent, Paul Jacobson, the father of Elle Jacobson, a student in Campbell’s English class, has withdrawn enrollment for both of his daughters from Parker, telling local NBC Channel 15, “This boy has done something that is unbalanced, violent in my opinion. He tore that Bible apart as an effigy for Christians. This was not some kind of a demonstration about free speech; this was in my opinion the words of a sociopath.”
You have to wonder if a similar punishment would’ve been given out if Chris used any other book.
Maggie writes this:
… it’s hard to believe school officials that the act of ripping the Bible had nothing to do with his punishment. Imagine a student tearing copies of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and calling evolutionists “simple-minded ignoramuses.” The student would receive no more than an afternoon of detention, if that…
Actually, I think detention would be too harsh a punishment. It’s the manner in which Chris spoke that the school should be talking about. It’s disrespectful (the swearing and insults, not the Bible-ripping).
Anyway, the Bible should not be “revered” any more than other books in a public school classroom. The student gave his interpretation of the Emerson aphorism. Another student could just as well have used the Bible to say it opens the door to intellectual curiosity, and there would be nothing wrong with that. (Though I’d love to see the support for that one.)
It’s a good lesson, especially in an English class, to learn to read or listen to someone who has a different opinion from you. Just because they disagree, it shouldn’t be perceived as a threat to your way of thinking.
Whether or not ripping the Bible was the right thing to do, Campbell had the freedom to do it. What better way to display the importance of Emerson’s words?
It did take guts for Chris to do what he did. And I hope he continues to stand up for himself in the aftermath.
It brings to mind another Emerson quotation:
A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.