Why I Dropped My New Testament Class (And Then Signed Up on this Website)

So, I originally wanted to create an account on here to rant about this, because I don't have too many people to rant to. It involves me signing up for a class about the New Testament at a community college in the middle of the Bible Belt and the crappy things that happened afterward. This is copied from my Tumblr, where I originally posted it, and it's fairly long.

I suppose it was my fault for thinking I could learn about the New Testament from a historical point of view when the instructor is a preacher.

When I first signed up for the class, I realized that, especially around here, there was a 99.99% chance that the person teaching the class would not only be Christian, but a fairly devout one at that. However, I wanted an extra class, and this one fit so well. When my textbook came in, I was enthralled. I poured over it in my spare time and blabbed on and on about it to friends. I have loved learning about religion for a long time, and despite some expected bitterness with Christianity, my passion for learning shone through. I was sure that I could deal with whatever the class had to offer just to learn more about the history of Christianity and the making of the New Testament. It helps that the author of this book is Bart D. Ehrman, who is not a believer and has written several books about the New Testament popular among atheists (Jesus Interrupted, for example). He is also considered to be one of the best in his field, which must be why the department head chose this book.

Thus, I entered the class optimistic and ready to learn. I figured there may be comments here or there regarding the professor’s (and most likely my classmates’) views on Christianity, and maybe some protests over the book explaining the errors and contradictions in the New Testament and how/why they got there. After all, this is just a small town college. Last Wednesday, our first day of class, my thoughts were confirmed. I discovered the instructor is a preacher, and he mentioned several times how there were some parts of the book he didn’t quite agree with (did not explain further) and parts he didn’t think were necessary to go over (books that are not in the Protestant New Testament). Not the best, but I could easily read on that on my own, and maybe question why he disagrees with certain parts when we get to them. The rest of the class period was boring, just discussing the syllabus and treating each other with respect and whatnot. It felt like a waste of time, and I was eager for the real learning to begin.

And then there was today, our second class period. I’m sure I’ll remember more as I continue to dwell on today’s class, but I’m also sure I’ll forget even more. I believe the class started out with him discussing the book and how he necessarily wasn’t all that fond of it, but the department head chose it, so that’s what he has to use. He said he will ask his supervisor if maybe next time they can get a book about the New Testament written by a believer instead of a nonbeliever. [This is as much as I will be able to give a real time frame for, the rest will just be as I remember it.] He went on to say something about how it focused too much on the history and less on who Jesus was and what he taught. I was under the impression that history was a great portion of the point of this class, and was sure I saw it several times on the syllabus (also made mostly by department heads). He laughed saying, “I’m sure none of you are here to learn about the history anyway.” I piped up, saying I did. I explained I was vastly interested in religion, and I found the history of them to be fascinating, which is the sole reason I signed up for the course. My instructor did not look pleased. I can’t remember what he said right after that, but he went on to say things about books that were considered to be in the New Testament, and were not put in because they claimed to be written by people who were not at all able to write them (due to the times the paper was written). I asked “Isn’t that most of the New Testament?” Again: He was not pleased. He said something about Paul, and I gave him that, deciding I should have said the gospels, not the New Testament entirely, since Paul wrote quite a bit. His next lesson was having us read various verses in the New Testament that state it is the divine word of God, apparently to show what most Christians and those who wrote the New Testament believed. Entirely for academic purposes, I’m sure. Later, we got on the subject of how one of his students in a previous semester in his religions class stated he was an atheist (this was after some comment or other of mine), and my instructor told him he wasn’t. “Most atheists only think they’re atheists when they’re actually agnostics,” he said, smiling smugly. It took a lot to not explain to him that it’s generally accepted there are “agnostic atheists,” “gnostic atheists,” “agnostic theists,” and “gnostic theists,” not just “agnostics.” He also said that atheists who write about the Bible do so purely to infest minds with doubt and misinformation, to tear away a person’s belief, as parts of our textbook apparently did. I said no we do not, we just search for the truth and try to say what we see as factual. Shortly thereafter he was asking if we were Freshmen or Sophomores or what, and proceeded to explain that he thought he knew everything when he was a Freshman, but when you’re fifty (which I suppose he is?) you know a lot. Again looking at me kind of smugly. He also mildly insulted a student who told him that there were two main groups of Buddhists: Those who believed the Buddha was divine and those who don’t after a comment by the instructor saying that Buddhists in general think the Buddha is divine. (He also teaches a world religion class, and has for six years, and cited that as his knowledge of Buddhism. He only has degrees in Christianity, which he received from a Christian university, if I am not mistaken.) I believe after my comment about atheists searching for truths, he told me to look up atheists who turned Christian after studying the Bible. I said I had, and have also read numerous reports on Christians studying the Bible and turning atheists. He said that I was wrong; such things did not happen. I also made the mistake of saying “I’ve debated both sides,” when I meant to say (and quickly corrected myself and said) “I’ve read debates for both sides.” He was getting pretty annoyed by now and informed me that this was not a debate class, there would be no debating, and cut me off when I tried to explain that wasn’t what I meant. He said we shouldn’t argue with him since he’s the one teaching the class, we should be learning from him (which is valid, but not when I feel like I’m being insulted). Then he laughingly said to the class that he has control of the grades, so why would you try to upset your instructor? (or try to keep the instructor happy or some such) Yeah, by this time I doubt I’m not wrong for thinking he’s implying he’ll fail me if I argue with him at all. I tried to stay quiet after this. He proceeded to insult Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses (“most Christians don’t see them as actually being Christian”) and made repeated stabs at Catholics, especially when it came to the Apocrypha, to the point he said he doesn’t have a problem with Catholics (he just thinks they’re wrong) and a student asked if Catholics then weren’t true Christians (or some such) to which he replied he wasn’t going to be the one who judged him or any of us (looked at me), but that God would probably let it slide as long as they truly believed in him and such. Also, when discussing how he wouldn’t shove his religion down our throats, he talked about Pascal and how one of his favorite quotes by Pascal was saying that if you believe and are wrong, nothing bad happens, but if you disbelieve and are wrong, you go to hell. “But I’m not saying you need to believe what I do” (or something similar) wink wink nudge nudge being implied, I suppose.

And now I’m running late for class, but I think I’ve covered exactly why I ran to the office to drop his class as soon as soon as class ended. I’m sure I’ll learn much more during my own study than I ever would from him.

This was this past Monday. Tomorrow, I think I'm going to call who I think his department head is. My school sucks at really informing you who is who and such, and only has phone numbers (I'm slowly getting over social anxiety, so e-mail is always preferable). My boyfriend has suggested talking to the ACLU if my school doesn't do anything. Especially since it's not just me who thinks he was being a complete jerk, but another student in the class who is pretty religious.

Oh, not sure I mentioned it in the wall of text, but our textbook was written by Bart D. Ehrman, which is why I am so in love with it.

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Comment by Jason Fleming on January 31, 2012 at 9:20pm

Wow. As I read that, I couldn't help imagining the scene from "Waterboy" where the class is being taught by Colonel Sanders.

It sounds like he is pushing off Sunday school under the guise of higher learning. He didn't want to teach about Christianity. He wanted to teach Christianity. If this is a community college, they are surely receiving public funds and violating the law. Though it sounds like it is coming from the instructor who is abusing his power. I would take this up with administrators and if no action is taken, then call the ACLU.

(I hereby pledge to never again make another Adam Sandler Movie reference on Atheist Nexus, so help me science)

Comment by Earther on January 30, 2012 at 10:47am

Jackie, I am 41 and so i might be too old to fully understand why atheist continue to find religion fascinating and interesting but i do respect your quest for knowledge.  I think the best way for me to understand what you are seeing is that learning about history teaches us about our world.  The only thing though is that religion is not myth to people it is a belief.  You are not going to find a lot of opportunities to have religion taught as mythology with historical accounts.  There are not a lot of people in the communities who are policing professors and colleges either to have an impartial and fair (or correctly informed) view of teaching information (especially religion).  I am guessing that a political class would give you the same amount of partial biases to sort as you are there learning.  You may see it as injustice, unfair and distracting but it is something that we all seem to learn as we proceed through life.  Belief or nonbelief is a factor that will always become an obsticle, a challenge, or even an aid.  If you are building a house with another person and you are convinced that a roof is something you must have and the other person is convinced you should not have a roof, how do you compromise?????  You have a conscious objection to the language of those who do not believe in what you believe so therefore your brain has to sort through what is useful and what is a distraction.  I know that for myself if I wanted to know more about religious history I would have to do a lot of reading on my own or search out experts on the subject who i know would not give me personal biases but be more objectional to the information.  It is hard to place ourselve in a virtual picture of "me" in the true environment of where I live with those who are our allies and those who are not.  The ACLU and FFRF are two groups who I associate with civil rights and separation of church and state.  The fight to keep church out of public school will never be lost nor won but it will most definately always be a fight.

Comment by matthew greenberg on January 30, 2012 at 9:02am

i went to a Christian University (La Salle) which is run by The Christian Brothers, a sect of Catholocism.  i was an Atheist when i entered, but the Christian nature of the school didn't bother me then (it would now, for sure).  my freshmen year i had a course in religion which was taught by one of these Brothers.  all the tests were essays - all of which i failed.  before my final i went to see the 'professor' to find out what i could do to pass the class, since i had never failed a subject before in my life.  he told me that the final exam was multiple choice, and that i would need a 96% to pass the course.  so i had every opportunity to earn a D!   off course, i got a 98% on the final and never had to take another religion class again.  but i ask you - how is it that i could get a near perfect score on the multiple choice final yet fail all of the essays?  what was really going on there?  my last name, perhaps? 

Comment by Matt VDB on January 30, 2012 at 2:10am

Bah, that really sucks.

As someone who's also interested in the history of Christianity (and history in general), I remember being really impressed at the way the Catholic priest of my school handled the matter. He obviously stated some qualifications about what he believed up front, but then went on to be quite candid about the date the gospels were written, the Q hypothesis, multiple-source theory and many other topics.

I guess a lot depends on how intellectually honest this preacher actually is. That's basically why we need a seperation of Church and state that ensures that intellectual honesty of this kind is enforced rather than left to depend on the particular preacher.

Comment by Teagraves on January 29, 2012 at 10:03pm

Yeeeaaahhhh, a preacher teaching a class that's supposed to be about history of religion pretty much sounds like bad news to me xD Annoying and condescending sounding person

This is one of the reasons I chose not to apply for the new college in town that my mom suggested to me, because we found out it was a Christian school and I didn't really want to know what sort of things I might have to hear if I went there :P



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