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  • Kim Davis, Beliefs, and Truth

    • Posted on Sep 13, 2015
    Here's this morning's Waterloo Courier column.  Kim Davis continues to be a hero to Mike Huckabee and his ilk, but to the rest of us she's a scofflaw who deserves both firing and oblivion.  
    Not everything we believe is true.  Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.  
    True believers remain convinced that their beliefs are not beliefs at all, but Truths.  
    Absolute, unchangeable Truths, usually with the authority of a supernatural being behind them.   

     Kim Davis, the jailed Kentucky county clerk, asserts her belief that her Christian God supports only heterosexual marriage.  For her, that’s not merely a belief but the Truth.  Thus same-sex marriages are not really marriages, but sinful violations of God’s law. 

    Therefore people who don’t share her belief in fact violate her Truth.   
    Once someone is convinced that they have the Truth, they can’t be convinced that their “Truth” is actually a belief that not everyone shares.  

    Truths are not open to question.  Beliefs are. 
    Ms. Davis has plenty of fans and followers.  Fellow Christians who agree that her Apostolic Pentecostal belief is Truth, not neurons firing in their direction. 
    Why did she (or any true believer) shift from belief to Truth? I can only speculate, but many beliefs begin as central tenants of a community of believers.   In her case, the Apostolic Pentecostal sect that Ms. Davis joined in 2013 believes as a sect that certain passages of the Bible are absolute Truths. 

     Once she joined, accepting the group’s beliefs became mandatory.  One cannot join a community of believers unless you profess their beliefs. 

     That’s how many beliefs become Truths, in my experience—joining and identifying with a group’s set of beliefs.  We all do it one way or another, though not necessarily to find eternal Truth.    

     Ideally, none of us should accept beliefs as Truths, no matter how much we need to belong.  That’s what critical thinking means, and students are supposed to learn the process in high school and college.   We’re individuals, after all, and don’t have to convert group beliefs into personal truths without investigating and choosing.        

     Had Ms. Davis investigated the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality, she might have found that the Bible also condemns adultery, divorce, tattoos, pork, certain haircuts, etc. with the same God-given certainty.  As a three-time divorcee, she has already violated God’s written law, and Biblically shouldn’t have been granted church sanction for her second or third marriages. 

     I don’t want to judge Kim Davis harshly for being a hypocrite.  Who among us isn’t? 

     However, I do want to roundly judge and condemn her for not understanding that her Truth is a merely a belief.  No one is compelled to share it.   

     As a government employee, she’s constitutionally forbidden to impose her
    religious beliefs.  

     Ms. Davis tried to get around it by not issuing any marriage licenses for either traditional or same-sex couples, but that simply closed down one of her duties altogether.  Unacceptable.  

    Hence she rightly received a contempt of court citation and jail for refusing to follow the court’s order to issue marriage licenses to everyone.  

     So is this a case of civil disobedience, following in the honored tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, among others?  Going to jail for following one’s conscience?  

    Technically, it was an act of civil disobedience in that she refused to obey a law because of a personal belief.  But she did so as a government employee breaking her oath of office.  Hence it was insubordination as much as civil disobedience. 
    Moreover, Thoreau, et. al. broke laws to broaden rights and correct injustices in their societies.  In contrast, Davis broke the law in order to limit citizens’ rights and continue injustices against a minority—a major difference that cannot be overlooked.   

    Hence, the loss of her job seems both right and just, as does jail time for noncompliance.    
    Meanwhile, let’s remind ourselves that government officials who think they have the Truth can be dangerous.   


    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Religiosity
    • Personalities
    • Conservatives/Liberals
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • Good Teaching Might Involve Offending?

    • Posted on Aug 30, 2015
    This morning's Courier column--offending as a teaching tool?  Worth pondering. 

     Now that the school year is off and running, we need to talk about a strange phenomenon sweeping through America’s universities:  “protecting” students from being offended.   

     Seems that faculty everywhere are feeling pressure to not offend their students, lest they get called on the carpet for causing classroom traumas.   

     “Better Watch What You Say” shouts the cover of Atlantic Monthly’s September issue—subtitled “How the new political correctness is ruining education.”

     It’s a knotty issue, since some students in fact do suffer from post-traumatic stress, and certain words and action can “trigger” terrible reactions, ranging from clinical depression to suicide.  

     That’s a hard reality for a few unfortunate students.  Very few, in my 40-year professorial career.  However, I did discover during those years that  (1) being offended can be a powerful and motivating beginning to learning, and (2) offensiveness is co-created; it occurs as an interaction, not just a reaction. 

     “Offended” means being upset or otherwise roiled up by someone’s speech, actions, or images they present.     

    I occasionally assigned materials in my film classes that upset some students, in particular films such as “A Clockwork Orange” and “Blue Velvet.”  I did not assign them because they were offensive, however.  

     Both films are now decades old (‘71 and ‘86, respectively) and both offer startling images and stories which indeed still offend some viewers.  Both are cinematic landmarks and received major awards, including five Oscar nominations between them.  

     In other words, both films deserve serious attention.  Because of UNI’s “Sexually Explicit Materials Policy,” I was required to print a disclaimer in my syllabus that the films might be offensive; therefore students were not required to view it.

    However, they were required to know whatever knowledge the material presented, including ideas generated during classroom discussions.   

     Incidentally, this requirement made me feel mistrusted and demeaned.   
    One student asked me to offer alternative materials, and I did not because both films are unique.  That’s why I chose them.  

     So those students missed out, by choice, and completely without consequences unless a specific section of a test covered those films.  I would have preferred they dropped the class, but that was not an option.   

     I despised UNI's policy because it undermined what I was trying to teach. 
    Students who chose to miss those films lost a valuable opportunity to discuss and ponder critical issues, including sexual harassment, sociopathology, the struggle with personal responsibility, the role of the state in rehabilitating hard-core criminals, and more, including understanding unusual cinematic elements.  

    I’m presuming those opt-out students were not victims of post-traumatic stress, since they never mentioned it or offered a doctor’s excuse.   

     I think they just preferred to avoid uncomfortable issues.  They probably shouldn’t have gone to college.  

     The students who did attend—the vast majority—were shocked, but their shock led to more engagement with important questions, and some of the best discussions of the semester.

     So, when a book or film or image is deemed “offensive,” what’s going on?
    Is there something intrinsically objectionable about it, so that you can say it “is” offensive?  Or possibly only YOU were offended, implying that others might not be?  

     I think it’s the latter; nothing contains the quality of offensiveness.  That occurs as a reaction from you to the material.    

     Consider what was racy and objectionable on TV, say, sixty years ago, and what we watch now.  Viewers from the fifties would be amazed that we view and discuss subjects that were taboo in the media, from homosexuality to adultery to graphic violence, nudity, free-range sex, you name it.   

     What would have been offensive to many then barely registers now.  That’s a fact of history and life, and shows how offensiveness gets co-created.  

    The current misguided attempt to protect students might give some students what they want.  

     But it ignores what they need.  

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Censorship
    • Education
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