Ryan Rotella, a junior at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) said that his professor, Dr. Deandre Poole, of his Intercultural Communications class, asked students in the class to write the word “Jesus” on a piece of paper, fold the paper, and step on it. By the time FOX News and Commentary got to the story, “asked” had become “directed,” “step” had become “stomp,” and the “Stomp on Jesus” firestorm was manufactured. FAU reacted by apologizing to those who were offended, immediately placing Poole on administrative leave, and banning him from FAU’s campuses.
Poole was using an exercise from an instructor’s guide to a popular textbook, Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, written by Jim Neuliep, a professor of communication and media studies at St. Norbert College, in Wisconsin. The instructor’s guide describes the exercise:
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.Poole, under orders from FAU not to discuss the case, did say that he never told anyone to “stomp on Jesus,” but asked his students to step on the piece of paper. Poole said that one student approached him after class and said, “How dare you disrespect someone’s religion?” while hitting his balled fist into his other hand. Poole claims the student said the “he wanted to hit me,” but didn’t. Poole reported the incident to campus security and filed a report.
Poole, a former Sunday-school teacher, identifies himself as “very religious” and says that Jesus “is my lord and savior.” Poole has received hate mail and death threats, including one threatening Poole, an African-American, with hanging. Poole is on a one-year teaching contract with FAU, and although FAU may not fire him, the non-renewal of his contract will send the same message.
Not one to miss out on an opportunity to pander, Governor Rick Scott called the assignment “intolerant to Christians.”
Christians have learned well from their Islamic brothers. Any slight to their faith, real or imagined, is to be met with the full wrath of the faithful. As Poole’s situation demonstrates, no slight is too insignificant, or too illogical. Like Islam, the only way Christianity can get the respect they think they deserve is through threats and intimidation. Like Islam, it appears that Christianity has given up any hope of achieving respect through persuasive argument.
~ Academic Freedom Sacrificed To Religious Intimidation by David Drumm ~
For me, this news item highlights a key difference between a deity-based religion versus a philosophic religion or a philosophy. The former treats symbols as sacred, while the latter does not. For the former, even a symbol of the symbol -- like a word written on a piece of paper -- is holy, while the latter recognizes symbols for what they are -- symbols.
To underscore this difference, think of the Zen Buddhist koan, "If you meet the Buddha, kill him." Can you imagine a Christian saying this about the savior (If you meet Jesus, kill him) or a Muslim saying this about the prophet (If you meet Mohammed, kill him)? Want to talk about blasphemy! You would be denounced by the faithful until the cows come home.
Think about the first line of the Tao Te Ching.
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
Can you imagine a devout Christian standing up to declare, "The God we worship is not the eternal God"? Such a person would be tossed out of the flock so fast it would make your head spin!
People of a religious ilk -- particularly those of the Abrahamic religions -- have never come to grips with the notion that they treat the finger pointing at the moon as the moon itself. The finger -- the symbol of the deity -- has become just as important, if not more so, than that which they ostensibly worship!
This whole situation would be downright comical...if not for the societal implications it engenders.