Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to being labelled “anti-Christian” by a student.
When I began teaching religious studies at a “secular, public university” in Mississippi 11 years ago, I knew there would be days like this.
I have been labeled “anti-Christian” by a student in public social media who has never asked me about my personal belief system—she has accused me of “defaming His name,” has lamented that I can’t know God because I don’t know her God and has pronounced that I “do not have to believe in Him [because] He is still here.”
For years—longer than some of my students have even been alive—I contemplated “what” the Divine is and wondered at how many beautiful (and sometimes awful) ways different peoples and different cultures relate to their understanding of “It,” which could be nature, god, goddess or just family Itself.
I have never found the need to—or benefit in—judging, belittling or pejoratively labeling others’ religious identities (unless they are socially unjust and destructive to others).
So, as I stand in front of all my students—50 minutes three times a week—I will not react in anger or disrespect at the accusatory eye-rolling, the crossed arms or the heavy sighs.
I will remember that, as an educator, it is not my job to proclaim my own religious belief as “truth” or “divine,” no matter how badly such students want me to parrot what they’ve been told by the “strong, intelligent teachers” from their religious private school.
It is my job to prompt students to consider other cultural systems as well as their own beliefs more deeply and to engage the diverse theologies, practices, loves, hates and even the comedic that permeate so magnificently all religious traditions.
In summary, I should like to respond in my own “open letter” that I am not anti-Christian. I am anti-intolerant bigots, who lay exclusive claim to truth, clothing their own arrogance in religious piety and then cry martyrdom when they don’t like what they hear from others.
Thus, I am “pro”– education.
Associate Professor of Religion