I Hope Every Class Makes You Uncomfortable

I Hope Every Class Makes You Uncomfortable January 13, 2016

I’ve been waiting for the start of classes to return to a post on another Patheos blog from some months ago. It was a response to a student who asked whether a particular class was going to challenge their faith and make them uncomfortable.

My answer to that question would be much shorter than the one provided by Whitney Cox in that post. Here it is:

I sincerely hope so.

Let me elaborate. No one is obligated to change their mind about a topic in one of my classes. But they are expected to show that they have understood if, when, and why the evidence and the weight of scholarship favors a view different than their own.

If, at the end of the class, your personal view is the same one you held at the start of the class, I hope that you will hold it as a conclusion, rather than an assumption. If you have never really considered alternatives to a viewpoint, then you can’t really say that you believe it, because you are accepting it on the basis of the authority of others, whether those authorities be parents, ministers, or anyone else.

If my classes don’t present you with new information, which challenges you to learn and grow, then what was the point of taking it? And if your understanding doesn’t grow and develop over time, isn’t it likely to be superficial?

And why would you want to cling to a viewpoint for the rest of your life that you are already afraid cannot withstand careful scrutiny? Isn’t it better to dare to investigate what you think you know and believe, and either find it confirmed, or change your mind, rather than to live the rest of your life in fear and anxiety?



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  • Cecil Bagpuss

    There may be some comfort in knowing that a miracle-working, virgin-born, Son of God did not live in Palestine 2000 years ago. This feeling of comfort may not be seriously threatened by the possibility that there was someone called Jesus living at the time – in the same way as there may be someone called David Smith living in present-day London. There is no harm in knowing that a David Smith is living in London – as long as it is just a David Smith and not the David Smith.

    • Pete Migdale

      Astonishing coincidence that you chose “David Smith”
      I have an old friend by the name of David Smith, worked with him, he took the photos at my wedding etc…..
      We lost contact after I moved interstate and many years passed. Do you think I can now find him now, even on Facebook? No way, Jose!
      There are so many David Smiths, in Australia alone, as to make the task of of isolating him, impossible. True story.
      Trying to track down Jesus/Joshua might be made easier if you had a surname to work with, might not be. It also might be easier if it was only 20 years ago, like my mate Dave, not 2000, like Josh, might not be.

      • Cecil Bagpuss

        Come on, Pete! That’s not coincidence; that’s clear evidence of the paranormal 🙂

        It seems that you are still confused about the question of “tracking down” Jesus. Jesus is the person who lies at the other end of a causal chain. He started the movement which passed on the stories which were recorded in the Gospels which were transmitted down the generations.

        If the movement wasn’t actually started by Jesus, then Jesus never existed. If the Jesus movement invented the figure on whom it was based, then Jesus never existed, even if the invented figure might bear some purely coincidental resemblance to an actual person who lived at the time.

        We often encounter confusion on this issue; so you see that the problem with atheist memes is a very real one.

        • Pete Migdale

          I am not surpised that you encounter confusion on this issue.
          “Jesus is the person who lies at the other end of a causal chain”
          Are you saying that the Jesus, believed in by most people who self identify as christains, is real or fictional?
          Your third paragraph certainly suggest good reasons that the Jesus of “Jesus movement” fame may never have existed.
          I am of the opinion that defining a christian as being
          “Someone who has the view, that in the middle east, a couple of thousand years ago, there was a chap called Josh, or something like that, who knocked up some furniture and did a bit of better than average preaching, which annoyed the establishment to the point where they literally crucified him” is a bit broad.

          PS. who is the “we” of which you speak?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            What does it mean to say that “Jesus” existed? That was the question I was addressing, since there is often confusion on the matter which must be resolved before one can even ask whether Jesus existed. The answer to the latter question is that Jesus did indeed exist – i.e., someone called Jesus did start the movement which continued in his name.

            The question of what it means to be a Christian is a different one. I think you have raised some genuine points on the matter. I don’t know how much you need to believe in order to qualify as a Christian. No doubt many Christians would have me consigned to the fires of hell for not believing nearly enough.

            I suspect you are probably happier when you are debating with fundamentalists; then you can really get your teeth into the discussion. You appear to feel some animosity towards Christianity.

            The “we” in question refers to those of us who debate mythicists on this blog.

          • Pete Migdale

            With all due respect Cecil, that was one of the most condescending drivel that has been addressed at me in many years. You do not have the right to do that without being called on it.
            It is your kind of arrogance that does generate, in me, animosity towards, unduly full of themselves, christains, if that helps explain it.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Pete, it seemed to me that you were somewhat disappointed when you discovered that James and I were not interested in defending the virgin birth. If that wasn’t the case, then I apologise. In any case, what would be wrong with wanting to get stuck into a debate with fundamentalists? You certainly seem to feel strongly about the subject.

          • Pete Migdale

            Then you were presumptuous in mistaking, for disappointment, my surprise at the highly unusual version of christianity to which you adhere to. Kind of like meeting Amish for the first time, but at the other end of the scale.
            It is a downright insulting to suggest that I am only fit to debate fundamentalist.
            You guys have been similarly condescending to both MIt and Roomba and others on the thread to which you are referring.
            Is this a way of avoiding the hard questions, by talking down to people, so they leave? This is not the behavior of those who wish for discourse. It is for those who wish to make themselves feel somehow superior, by being the Zen or Sufi version of christianty.
            It doesn’t work. It comes across as a schoolyard game.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I apologise for my presumption but I certainly wasn’t suggesting that you were only “fit” for debating fundamentalists. I am happy to discuss theological issues with you, as long as it is on the understanding that
            I may very well be wrong about my beliefs and that I hold them tentatively. That isn’t the case regarding my belief about the historical Jesus. I consider myself to be on firm ground when I criticise mythicism.

          • Pete Migdale

            Then we should continue to get along well. The only understanding that is needed of me, is that while I call a spade, a spade, I reserve the right to call it a friggin shovel when required (or for comedic effect).

  • Amen. As a student I don’t pay large amounts of money to be made happy, but to be challenged. If I wanted affirmation in my beliefs only, the internet would help me out. (and at the same time, if I just wanted random abuse for my beliefs, the internet is great too).

    I study to learn – and be intellectually challenged. So far, success.