Professor Who Was Suspended for Supposedly Telling Students to ‘Stomp on Jesus’ is Reinstated… Sort of

If you don’t remember Florida Atlantic University Professor Deandre Poole‘s name, you probably do remember what he became known for: The conservative Christian media claimed he forced his students to stomp on paper with the word “JESUS” written on it:

“JESUS” written on a piece of paper in big letters

After student Ryan Rotela, a Mormon, refused to do so, he was suspended. Or so the story went, anyway:

That’s when I picked up the paper from the floor and put it right back on the table… I said to the professor “With all due respect to your authority as a professor, I just do not believe what you told us to do was appropriate. I believe it was unprofessional and I was deeply offended by what you told me to do.”

… From that point on, I knew I had to do something about it, because I am not going to be sitting in a class having my religious rights desecrated.

Even Governor Rick Scott threw in his own two cents, calling the assignment “offensive” and “intolerant.”

There were two things worth noting about that story:

First, the purpose of the assignment was not to desecrate or demean Jesus. It was to show that symbols can be powerful. Most students wouldn’t want to stomp on the “word” Jesus, just like most students wouldn’t want to stomp on their religion’s holy book, just like most students wouldn’t want to step on a picture of their own mothers. Elucidating the fact that we’re so averse to doing things like that which don’t have any tangible effect on anyone or anything was the very purpose of the lesson!

Second, when Dr. Poole finally broke his silence, we learned that Rotela was lying about how things went down:

Poole said that, as best he could tell, only one student in the course had an objection [to the lesson]. That student — whom Poole did not name in the interview, but who has come forward in local news reports saying he was suspended for objecting to the exercise — refused to participate and then said repeatedly, Poole said, “How dare you disrespect someone’s religion?”

After class, the student came up to him, and made that statement again, this time hitting his balled fist into his other hand and saying that “he wanted to hit me.” While the student did not do so, Poole said he was alarmed and notified campus security and filed a report on the student.

Poole, a Sunday School teacher and devout Christian himself, couldn’t believe how he was being targeted by right-wing groups for simply doing his job.

There’s finally some good news to report on this issue: Dr. Poole has been reinstated by FAU… but he’s not back in the classroom just yet:

Poole will be returning to his position, in the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, at FAU next week, but will only be teaching online courses for the first two semesters of his return.

That’s Poole’s decision, by the way, to be online. He fears for his own safety and thought it’d be the best option.

He also won’t be teaching the class that involved the Jesus-stomping:

Poole also mentioned that he will not be teaching the Intercultural Communications (SPC 3710) course that he was teaching when the controversy sparked.

That’s a real blow for the students who understood the assignment and who knew Poole was trying to educate them, not attack a religious faith (that also happened to be his own…):

“I think students are very good at determining how serious and good a faculty member is,” [Interim Dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters] Heather Coltman said. “Many students that I spoke to told me he was the reason they would drive down to Davie to take one of his courses. He’s a dedicated teacher who connects well with students.”

If the school is supporting him, I don’t get why he can’t teach the same class again… but the good news is that the school didn’t cave to the irrational Religious Right. Poole still has his job.

Too bad some Christians still don’t get what the assignment was all about:

… Mark Boykin, pastor at a local church, called Poole’s reinstatement an insult.

“What’s next?” Boykin asked WPTV. “Spit on the cross, you get tenure?”

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Rain

    “How dare you disrespect someone’s religion?”

    Yeah, I think there is a religion that says to turn the other cheek. And also to submit to authority because the authorities were put there by God, or some kinda dumb crap like that or something.

  • ortcutt

    Students aren’t a professor’s playthings. If he wants to explain to students that symbols can be powerful, there are thousands of ways of doing so that don’t involve forced expression.

  • C Peterson

    If you recall the incident, it wasn’t force. Nobody was made to actually stomp on the paper. They were required to reflect on their response to the demand. This was a high quality lesson.

    That aside, I disagree. A college professor teaching an elective class is perfectly justified making somebody actually stomp on a symbol, and fail any student who refuses. A student who can’t do something that merely conflicts with his beliefs is in the wrong class. A smart professor can put a warning in the syllabus, and these defective students can simply skip registering completely.

  • ShoeUnited

    Refusing to stomp on it is the entire point of the lesson.
    It was to teach about the power of symbols.
    He didn’t devise this course for his own amusement.
    It is a well structured course that was there to teach something.
    Maybe if you would quit assuming things and learn how powerful symbols are, then you too could gain from the lesson offered here. The Pew study that showed atheists know more about religions than devout followers of evangelical christianity and catholics, also showed that something like 35% of Americans don’t know what the Koran is when the study was conducted at a time when a certain Floridian was championing to burn copies publicly in a mound.

    While you’re considering how A may be like B and how you missed the whole point of the class; I’ll be busy hanging up pictures with a crucifix.

  • Abram Larson

    The inability of some people (this Ryan kid, ortcutt) to get the point would be comical if not for the adverse consequences of their ignorance.

  • ortcutt

    You don’t think that there is social pressure to conform to a professor’s assignment. If your defense is that the course is an elective, then it should be in the course prospectus that the course will involve stepping on the word “Jesus”.

  • Cyrus Palmer

    If you aren’t mature enough for college assignments or lessons, don’t go to college!

  • ortcutt

    I have no doubt that it was there to teach something. I simply question whether forced expression or socially coerced expression is an appropriate pedagogical technique. I wouldn’t want a professor assigning me to declare “I love Jesus” as an exercise.

  • Matt D

    His lesson is quite powerful as your glib response demonstrates.

  • ortcutt

    I find the degree of groupthink among self-described “freethinkers” here to be fairly shocking. I didn’t know that forced expression had so many fans. This is why I don’t belong to any church or any atheist church.

  • ShoeUnited

    Depends on the context. The context of this lesson is that people hold the very name of Jesus as a religious symbol so much so that stomping/jumping on a piece of paper can cause them conflict, and from that we can understand how other people view their religious symbols. If you added Garcia to the paper so that it read Jesus Garcia, there would be more people less upset with the lesson. Because that is a name. It still uses the same word as the christian man-god, but now with a last name it is no longer sacred. From that we can learn a great deal about how nonconscious thought plays into both the roles of how some people treat symbols, and possibly delve into how symbols are ingrained in an individual. We may even some day be able to detach the symbol from the learned practice.

    The piece of paper with the 5 letters on it isn’t holy. It hasn’t been consecrated. It was something applied by a person to paper. The man-god who is the supreme being in that set of religions is supposedly even immune to such treatment (and depending on who you ask, simply writing the word on paper is akin to violating the commandment about graven images).

    So, if you can provide some context where “I love Jesus” would teach us a lesson about how people think, or anything else related to understanding or learning, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Until then, your analogy lacks merit.

  • ortcutt

    I seriously doubt that people objecting to this believe that the paper itself is holy. It’s the forced expression that they object to. Walking on a picture or a name is a symbolic expressive act. I’m opposed to forced expression and socially coerced expression. I oppose the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and I see no reason for this either.

  • James

    Please show me an actual atheist church.

    The groupthink you describe is called logic, when people apply logic without emotion or religious backing they have a tendency to coe to the same conclusion.

    When a group of mathematicians comes to the conclusion that 2+2=4 you don’t call that groupthink you call that valid scientific study.

  • James

    And by your comments it is clear you never went to college, college is not like high school, the social pressures mainly involve being yourself and being different from others, therefore NOT being part of the pack is the standard in college.

    You are a clear example of how a meaningless symbol can have such power.

  • ShoeUnited

    What you doubt doesn’t match data, people sub/non-consciously refuse to desecrate holy symbols that they find holy. I even gave a link -and a chiding remark alluding to it- that went in depth on the study (though it’s behind a paywall).

    You aren’t being made to jump on it. You are told to. When you refuse, that’s when the learning begins. The name Jesus was taken over Mohammed or Vishnu because Christians make up the large majority of the nation. So that guarantees at least one dissenter.

    The person(s) who doesn’t walk on it in this lesson is the one everyone can learn from. They are then able to express how and why (the important part!) so that others can learn the power of symbolism, and so that they can themselves reflect on their reasons and learn how to associate what gives them discomfort -and the reasons- with that of other symbols.

    Your refusal to jump on it is in this lesson, and I can’t stress that enough, ENCOURAGED. Not jumping on the paper is the whole point.

    You are missing the forest from the trees.

  • Edmond

    Why should there be a problem with putting the bottom of one’s shoe onto a sheet of paper with some graphite scrawled on it? The “real” Jesus won’t actually feel the shoe. This kind of uptightedness is exactly what the lesson was supposed to demonstrate, that simply a SYMBOL of something we cherish can make us overlook the fact that our ACTUAL cherished item is nowhere in sight. What if the lesson had been to step on a sheet with the words “Hot Burning Lava” written on it? Does THAT have to be outlined in the course prospectus? With only a little objectivity, the student would have easily seen the purpose of the lesson, AND seen how nonsensical it was to refuse.

  • Fred

    Some people are not in school to learn. Instead they just want their ticket punched thinking they wont need to know anything. Whats sad is they are mostly right.

  • WallofSleep

    What you’re failing to understand is that this was not a forced expression, and refusing or objecting was all part of the lesson.

  • WallofSleep

    “That’s Poole’s decision, by the way, to be online. He fears for his own safety and thought it’d be the best option.”

    I wonder what he must be thinking now about the brotherly love of his fellow christians.

  • Artor

    What forced expression? Nobody was forced to do anything at all in this case.

  • C Peterson

    So what if there is social pressure? That may be part of the lesson. This isn’t a mandatory class, nor is it part of a mandatory education. If a student can’t handle an assignment like this, he probably shouldn’t be in college at all. They always need people to clean the alligators out of the canals down there, minimal education required. He can name one of them Jesus, and feed it crackers.

  • Artor

    You keep using that phrase, “forced expression.” I have no idea what it is supposed to refer to, as nobody was forced to do anything. If you have to make shit up to prove your point, then you don’t have a point.

  • C Peterson

    If I were in a class where such a lesson made sense, I’d be willing to walk around campus saying I loved Jesus (I don’t), that I’m gay (I’m not), or collecting signatures to repeal women’s right to vote. Any of those might be quite uncomfortable, which might be the point.

    If I couldn’t do what the class required of me, I’d do the honorable thing and drop the class. I wouldn’t blame the teacher.

  • ortcutt

    In the context of a classroom, a Professor asking students to do so is equivalent to forced expression. Neither Poole nor anyone else disputes that that happened. If he had suggested that students were free to not do so without being evaluated negatively, then it would be a better situation.

  • ortcutt

    What happens when someone doesn’t refuse because of social pressure or not wanting to be graded negatively? I don’t see why that is better.

  • ShoeUnited

    You still don’t get it.

    Telling the students that they can refuse defeats the purpose of the lesson.

    Also, it’s an object lesson. You don’t get graded for it. It isn’t a test. You don’t get graded on how well you read quietly to yourself either.

    If the person doesn’t want to but does anyway, then that isn’t the person we are looking for. The lesson wants the people who absolutely refuse to the teacher’s face. You can still have a discussion about how it made people uncomfortable, but it doesn’t demonstrate the power that the symbol holds like outright refusal.

    So they have to refuse blindly. “Damn the consequences” is why this lesson exists. It’s what this lesson teaches about symbols. That even a symbol can override all other judgement is part of the whole.

  • Jasper

    What forced expression? Do you even have a clue what the issue was, or what the lesson was attempting to teach?

  • Artor

    That’s bullshit. You have clearly never been to college. While grade school focuses a lot on the authority of the teachers, college is intended to foster independent thinking among the students. The entire purpose of the exercise was to provoke a reaction, and get the students to think about that reaction. Stomping on the paper was never required or forced at any point. Telling the students ahead of time that they were free to decline is unnecessary, because as adults, they should know that already, and also it undermines the point of the exercise.

    This is really simple stuff. I’m actually a little surprised it has to be taught in college; I would think a high school civics class would cover stuff like this. The fact that you can’t get it through your head speaks very, very poorly for your cognitive abilities. But if you want to show everyone how dim you are, please keep talking.

  • Rain

    I wouldn’t want a professor forcing me to stomp on this. It’s worth 3 million dollars. Even though it looks like it has been stomped on a few times already, I would still be very upset.

  • Artor

    What happens? They step on a piece of paper and feel foolish. Then hopefully, they think about why they felt that way, and learn about how symbols have power. Duh.

  • Artor

    Not quite. Whether they refuse or not, if they think about their internal reaction to the idea of stepping on it, the lesson is taught. Getting in the teacher’s face proves the point, but probably not to the person getting up in arms.

  • Artor

    And then we would have the ignorant hordes frothing at the mouth over the syllabus too. That’ll make everything better. Great idea. Not.

  • WallofSleep

    Edit:: I apologize for that. Low blood sugar got the better of me. Again, sorry.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Forced expression…He might be referring to the church lady running around, telling people not to use the word “idiot” because it is ableist language. I also find the whole concept of atheist church to be terrifying because there is something creepy about a captive audience on a Sunday morning. If you are part of a captive audience on a Sunday morning, it means your Saturday night was about as much fun as crawling up a hog’s ass and having a ham sandwich.

  • TheG

    You may have a point. It would be similar to the coercion faced by a student to pray or engage in a religious pledge. They could refuse to say “Under God”, but they might be shunned. If only there was a precedent in place to say coercion shouldn’t exist in a classroom… Maybe there is a religious group in the country who would come to the aid of a student being forced to do something against their belief?

  • ShoeUnited

    Well, what I meant to say was it strengthens the point when the students don’t realize they can dissent. But the lesson is to have people refuse. The degree to which they refuse galvanizes the point, but refusal is a key in the lesson. But doing it blindly is the part that shows the aspect that the symbols have the power to overcome even social stigma and herd mentality. That a person will even sacrifice themselves -in this case chances of ostracism or disapproval by the instructor- to protect the symbol. Which was part of the experiments conducted.

  • Roger Rabbitleg

    if ther is indeed social pressure to conform and a person under pressure buys into it, I would offer that his faith is likely challenged

  • Helix Luco

    there. was. no. forced. expression. nobody stomped anything. if you’re going to get yourself worked up about this then you’d might as well pay attention.

  • catneko

    “With all due respect to your authority as a professor, I just
    do not believe what you told us to do was appropriate. I believe it was
    unprofessional and I was deeply offended by what you told me to do.”

    If Ryan wrote this down, and submitted it as his assignment, I expect he would have received an A. He actually makes a good point about authority vs. personal values. He clearly understands the power of symbols firsthand. Instead, he completely missed the point of the exercise and threatened to punch the guy. I expect he got suspended for being combative and potentially dangerous, rather than this overblown media version of the story.

    The class was called Intercultrual Communication. It appears to me that if Ryan had learned to communicate (without threats of violence), he would have been able to contribute to the class discussion. And that’s really too bad. It would of taught the professor to be more careful, and Ryan to engage in healthy conversation. Sigh.

  • Mario Strada

    I love when people ignore the facts but feel free to form their opinion anyway, not only on the topic but about those that, having followed the story and read all the of the backstory, have arrived at a different conclusion.
    This professor was simply applying a lesson out of a program he did not design. He had done it before and apparently many students refused to “stomp on Jesus”. Even the act of refusing to do so was a valuable lesson for those students.
    So it’s inherently false that the bad professor forced anyone to stomp. Rather we are looking at someone without a clue, but possibly a plan, that decided to make this a big deal, became unruly and promised violence and then got punished for his unruliness. Not because he refused to stomp on “Jesus”.
    How being informed of the fact is “Group think” is beyond me, but after all many were outraged when this first came out and the facts were sketchy. These are people unable to say a simple thing like “I overreacted”. I don’t know if you are part of that group or not, but I find the conservative/religious outrage the only “groupthink” in this story.

  • smrnda

    It doesn’t appear that anyone was forced to stomp on the paper, and coercion, either by professors or other students just isn’t really much of a factor in college. Students at elite universities walk out on respected professors’ talks in the middle of lectures. Students openly protest deadlines, test grades. At least that’s been my experience.

  • smrnda

    If you’re that stupid, you don’t belong in college. Part of higher education is *not* being a mindless drone.

  • Michael W Busch

    This wasn’t “forced expression”. Please go and read Jessica Bluemke’s earlier post, as linked above. Here’s the description of the lesson from the teacher’s guide (emphasis added):

    This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings. Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.

    The students are being asked to do something, not compelled to do so. And they are not penalized for refusing to do so.

    In fact, that refusal is the point of the exercise: to provoke a particular response, to illustrate the importance of symbols.

  • Michael W Busch

    A college professor teaching an elective class is perfectly justified making somebody actually stomp on a symbol, and fail any student who refuses. A student who can’t do something that merely conflicts with his beliefs is in the wrong class. A smart professor can put a warning in the syllabus, and these defective students can simply skip registering completely.

    Without qualifiers, that would be over-reaching. Students who wouldn’t stomp on a symbol unless they had a reason to do so aren’t “defective” – they’re normal (as this exercise illustrates).

    There is no point to having someone actually stomp on a symbol for no reason – but there is a point to making the suggestion and having the students observe their own reactions.

    Academic freedom doesn’t equal being able to have your students do whatever you want, so the professor would need to be able to explain the reason for having the students stomp on the symbol (to the other faculty at the school if no one else).

  • David Mock

    I’ve been saying this for so fucking long. My parents try to explain that desecrating the flag is wrong. I said why. If the intention wasn’t to hurt any idea then you’re just desecrating material. They accused my of being too literal. I explained that’s because I live in a literal world.

  • C Peterson

    I made two points. The first was a statement of fact, that nobody was forced to do anything in this exercise. The second was a statement of opinion, that a college professor has a good deal of discretion in what he can make his students do, and had this professor actually required his students to follow through, I think he would have been well inside his rights.

    And I do consider the student involved to be a defective human being. An idiot certainly, and as a Mormon, probably mentally ill, as well.

  • Michael W Busch

    Your statement of fact was correct. My point was that your opinion requires an caveat. A professor can’t require students to do something that doesn’t have a reason for it that is related to the class.

    I also note you have abruptly switched from a hypothetical student being forced to stomp on a symbol to the real student in this case. And cut out the gratuitous ableism. Religion is not equal to mental illness.

  • Geoff Boulton

    Any educator worth his salt is well aware that first-hand experience is much, much more effective than simply telling somebody how something works. It’s why most subjects have practical lessons. Particularly with regard to a subject like this, the lesson would be pretty pointless without students feeling the emotional involvement. The outrage you claim to feel is exactly the point being demonstrated.

  • wombat

    Religion may be a delusion, but it is not a mental illness. It involves choice, and mental illness does not. It also has a cure (deconversion) and mental illness does not. I really don’t like religious people being lumped in with people like me, who are fighting hard to be as normal as possible with a mind that won’t cooperate.

  • Tom

    I don’t think that statement warrants an A. It justifies nothing and it explains nothing, it’s just a bald assertion. WHY isn’t it appropriate? WHY is it unprofessional and offensive?

    That the student is obviously swayed by the power of symbols, and the blurring of the lines between the symbol of a thing and the thing itself, doesn’t mean he understands it; if he did, I’d wager he’d be considerably less likely to succumb to it.

  • Tom

    One could say that intent plays a part when symbols are involved. Someone who casually burns a flag as part of a political demonstration is definitely being disrespectful; indeed, that is their intent. Someone who takes down a flag and casually tosses it in the incinerator because it’s worn out or not needed any more is not, at least as far as I’m concerned, and yet there are those who would respond with equal outrage to both.

  • Tom

    The fact that it was a classroom exercise makes all the difference. It’s not like that other exercise when students were asked to profess something they disagreed with in public, where they might be believed as sincere and damage their reputations; as a supervised classroom exercise, where everyone present understands the situation, the fact that it’s part of a lesson, a kind of practical-hypothetical exercise, and not exactly *real*, should be readily apparent to everyone present, as should be the fact that the student is saying or doing something for the purpose of instruction and investigation, not to personally express themselves. Ironically, the exercise itself was basically a symbolic expression, not a real one!

  • Tom

    You could get a damn good lesson out of that too – why should that inert, practically useless scrap of tattered card, of all things, be worth enough money to support a fellow for bloody years?

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Oh good lord yes. I have a professor friend whose students are so bizarrely privileged that I don’t want to believe the stories about them are true, even though I’ve seen proof. One of them wrote papers that looked like extended pieces of casual texting, and when he didn’t pass the class, went to the Dean’s office and made an ass of himself until he somehow got the school to change his grade without the teacher’s approval. His entire argument was “It will mess up my ten-year plan if I don’t pass.”

    This guy wants to be a teacher.

  • Donalbain

    Does ANYONE believe that he actually said that? It sounds like the sort of thing you might WISH you said, after a few goes through in your head, not something people actually say in real life.

  • ortcutt

    I never disputed its effectiveness. I disputed its appropriateness given the forced expression. If corporal punishment for poor test marks were paedagogically effective, that would be no reason to do so.

  • eric

    I said the same thing to my math teacher: ‘how dare you force my expression! What is this, a class that has written assignments or something?’ [/snark]

  • Gus Snarp

    Man, if all you had to do to get tenure was spit on a cross, that would be awesome. Somehow I don’t think Pastor Boykin has any idea what tenure actually is.

  • Geoff Boulton

    According to biblical teaching corporal punishment would be the preferred method, but that isn’t the point. The point was that the outrage you claim to feel is exactly the thing that was being demonstrated. As for appropriateness, given that it resulted in exactly the response that was required for the lesson it was wholly appropriate. Nobody was held against their will and nobody was forced to stamp on the name Jesus.

  • C Peterson

    Delusion is a symptom of mental illness.

    Not everyone who is religious is mentally ill, of course. Many are simply ignorant, or stupid. But many religions, and this includes Mormonism, use powerful cult programming techniques on their members, and the result of that is recognized as resulting in mental damage, which requires professional treatment.

    Hard to say what’s going on in this case. The student is clearly stupid, demonstrating an inability to understand a simple lesson. He’s Mormon, so there’s a higher than usual chance he’s been subjected to damaging programming. His threatening behavior suggests anger management issues. And his attempt to blame the professor for his own failings reveal very poor ethical development.

    As I noted previously, certainly a defective person.

  • C Peterson

    I didn’t suggest a professor couldn’t do something without reason. What I said was that in this case, I’d consider him justified in failing a student to actually refused to follow through. As we’ve learned, this particular lesson plan did not require that. But a similar lesson could, and I’d see no problem with that at all.

  • Randay

    What exactly is “intent”? Outside(maybe)of real criminal acts such as murder, “intent” is just a form of thought. Furthermore, what is wrong with being disrespectful? Burning a flag with “intent” is just free speech. Maybe you have to pay for the flag you burned. Do I intend to offend someone? Sometimes yes. Do I intend to be disrespectful? Sometimes yes. No one has the right to expect respect nor to be not offended. People also have the right to be outraged as long as they don’t express that with agression. I’m outraged everytime I see a church, mosque, or temple.

  • EuropeanCommunist

    I can’t shake the feeling the actual quote was more in line with:
    “With all due respect, you’re an idiot who should burn in hell!”

  • Free

    So a person who claims to have been born again or have always had a proclivity to worship God from as far back as they can remember are delusional? Their experience is a delusion and should require professional treatment to treat their delusion? Even when their experience can be validated by many others who share their delusion? This sounds a lot like the homosexual paradox.

  • C Peterson

    It isn’t certain they are delusional. Extreme ignorance, low intelligence, or any number of mental illnesses that can interfere with reasoning are possibilities, as well.

  • Tom

    I think you may have slightly misunderstood what I was saying, since you’ve basically just agreed with me but in what looks like the tone of a counterargument :-)

    “Intent” as in the person burning the flag at a protest intends the act to represent to others his lack of respect for that country or its policies or whatever, whereas the other guy just intends to take out the trash and probably doesn’t want or expect to make any kind of statement or piss anyone off by doing so, and may indeed think very highly of whatever that flag is commonly held to represent.

    What I’m trying to get at is that the respectfulness, or lack thereof, that is commonly attributed to an act actually refers to the attitude of the person doing it, not any inherent quality of the act itself, and it is dangerous to start thinking otherwise. The exact same act can be respectful or disrespectful depending on the state of mind of the person doing it. If I try to do something in a respectful way, to show that I respect something, and I get it wrong or it is misunderstood and the object of my action perceives it as disrespectful, the act can then be said to be offensive but cannot actually be said to have been disrespectful.

    Where it gets problematic is when people start treating “offensive” and “disrespectful” as synonyms. It’s also tricky when cultures establish actions and rituals that are commonly assumed to be inherently respectful or disrespectful, and then are confounded by people who, for one reason or another, do not actually disrespect anything but do not properly follow those rules, or people who do not in fact respect something but may then carry out the actions to give the false impression that they do. Consider what happens to perfectly patriotic people who don’t say the pledge of allegiance, or the ongoing notpology epidemic.

    I never actually said anything was inherently wrong with being disrespectful. There’s plenty of stuff in the world that I don’t respect one bit, and deservedly so.

  • wombat

    Delusions may be a symptom of mental illness, but they are not sufficient on their own to diagnose one, especially if they are widely socially accepted delusions. And while religious programming may cause some mental illnesses, that still does not justify you using ‘probably mentally ill’ as a slur. You don’t know the boy, and you sure as hell aren’t his psychiatrist.
    Using mental illness as an insult adds to the stigma of mental illness, and it’s really not ok.

  • C Peterson

    I consider all religious people to be mentally ill. It’s only a question of whether it happens to be a form currently recognized clinically. It’s no more a slur than observing someone has a cold.

  • wombat

    Mentally ill people do not have a choice. Religious people do. Tarring the mentally ill with the same brush as the religious is wrong, and it’s cruel.

  • Randay

    Sorry that I misunderstood. I now get it. The part about not saying the pledge applies to me. At a baseball game or even at the race track of all things, I don’t stand up for the music. It can get me some insults, but I don’t see the point of mixing patriotic/nationialistic expressions with simple sporting events which are not political. I do stand as respect when someone receives an award or a medal.

  • Randay

    I would have liked to see a little different experiment by the teacher. He could have put down two pieces of paper, one with Jesus written on it and the other with Muhammed written on it and told the students to step on one or the other. The result is probably predictable, but it would have made the point. Though there is the danger that a Muslim student might be made to stand out, as would an atheist like me who stepped on both.