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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Christophobia on Campus, from a Christian Professor; Albinos in Tanzania, Victims of Traditional Belief Systems

I debated with myself which image would better illustrate this blog post.
Is this about a war on Christianity, or about academic snobbery and an attempt to appear cool on campus? 


Recently, I was reading and posting message in an internet environment with the word "Christian" in the title. It was my assumption that most others reading and posting in that environment were Christian.

Prof. X self-identified as a Christian. He identified Christians as evil oppressors. He cited postcolonial literature as proof. His prime example was Chinua Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart."

Prof. X insisted that one must criticize *only* Christians and Christianity. That other religions and people – Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists – are all "marginalized' and "oppressed" by Christians. Therefore, one must not criticize them.

Huh?

HUH?

I'm still shaking my head over that one.

I live on college campuses. I know the speech code. I know the pressures for career advancement through tenure-track jobs. I know that one must badmouth Christianity and America and Western Civilization in order to be cool and on the right career track. I know that other religions and cultures are protected by Political Correctness.

What surprised me was that these were professors who self-identified as Christian saying these things. In an internet environment also identified as Christian.

I wouldn't post someone else's messages here, so I won't post Professor X's posts. I will post my response. Here it is:

Campus speech codes regulate how we may speak, or write on the internet, about Christianity. We must denigrate Christianity, identify ourselves as oppressors, and never criticize other systems or mention their failings. We must do this if we wish to be part of the elite, even so minor an elite as "college professors."

In an internet post, Prof. X, Christian, criticized Christianity. Prof. X declined to mention the failings of any other system or belief. Prof. X identified non-Christians as victims and Christians as the victimizers. Prof. X is an associate professor, a position of some power. I suspect a cause and effect relationship between adopting accepted rhetorical strategies in public discussions of Christianity and other faiths and Prof. X occupying a position of power.

Prof. X mentioned Nigeria. Nigeria? Who is killing whom in Nigeria, and for what reason? Are Muslims not killing Christians? Biafrans characterized the genocide visited on them as Nigerian Muslims killing Nigerian Christians. Can we even mention that? No. We must talk of bad things Christians have done.

Postcolonial literature? How about VS Naipaul's scathing writings such as "Bend in the River," "Among the Believers," and "India A Wounded Civlization"? These books expose the failings of tribalism in Africa, fanaticism in Islam, and a lack of individuality in Hindu India. They were written by a Nobel-Prize-winning postcolonial writer. Naipual doesn't focus on Christians oppressing Africans, Muslims, and Indians. He talks about indigenous problems.

I lived and worked in Africa and Asia and I didn't encounter people currently being oppressed by Christians. I met Africans literally enslaved by other Africans. I met Muslims who had Christian African slaves. I encountered the living traces of the Muslim slave trade, which my current American students have never heard of, a slave trade that was larger than the Atlantic slave trade, which my students are reintroduced to every semester as if it were the only slave trade that ever existed.

In a small Nepali village, untouched by the outside world, including Christians, I saw the caste system at work. It was not pretty.

Naipaul's work, very much not romantic, and not Politically Correct, reflected the postcolonial reality I lived in. And Naipaul's work was as distant from what I heard about postcolonial landscapes in graduate school as it could get.

I think of another work: George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant." Orwell wrote, "I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it." Orwell wrote that about Burma. What did Orwell mean?

Non-Christian Non-Western postcolonial Burma has had one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. That regime was closely allied with non-Christian, non-Western China, one of the most oppressive powers in history. In 2008, during Cyclone Nargis, the Burmese government allowed over a hundred thousand of its own citizens to die even as aid ships – largely from those evil, Christian nations – stood offshore with fresh water. Under current speech codes, though, we must not speak of that, we must not speak of China making off with Burmese natural resources, only of the bad things the Christians did in Burma decades ago under colonialism.

I'm not arguing that this or that empire was better than this or that other empire. I'm saying that a form of discourse dominates in which it is de rigueur for people who wish to be among the elite to denigrate Christianity and to protect other systems. I'm not even saying that this rhetoric is reflected in how people who speak this way behave. It is not. My most PC friends have no black friends, for example. It really is just talk. But talk that establishes hierarchies.

Prof. X wrote,

"Criticizing or even attacking Christianity in the context of its power is categorically different from criticizing or attacking the religions (or philosophies) of the marginalized (foreigners, immigrants, minorities, etc.) in the context of their weakness."

"Marginalized" is an interesting word. It suggests that someone is marginalizing non-Christians. Who is doing this marginalizing, where, and how? Again, in the world I live in, non-Christians and non-Christian systems receive protected status, as previously mentioned. Christians must be criticized, as Prof. X demonstrated.

Prof. X is very sure in his post who has power – Christians – and who does not. Non-Christians. The real world does not reflect that easy paradigm. Literature classes shouldn't, either. 

***

I teach folklore. I encounter many who think of pre-Christian and non-Christian Paganism and other traditional systems as benign, tree-hugging, and life affirming.

I teach my students about the fun side of folklore, but the dark side, as well, like the traditional folk belief in Africa that the body parts of Albinos have magical powers. Albinos are often hacked to death in order to make use of their blood, hair, and limbs in efforts to gain wealth.

A Christian organization, Under the Same Sun, is trying to rescue Albinos from the horrors the traditional belief system condemns them to. I wonder if one could mention this in Prof. X's class on postcolonial literature and the evils of Christianity in Africa. My guess is that any student who did so would receive an F in the class.


An Albino child in Tanzania. Traditional magic beliefs identify her body as a resource for gaining wealth. Christians are trying to help. 

3 comments:

  1. I am flattered that you are discussing my comments here. For other readers, I am the unnamed professor referred to above. But I must confess that I find it bizarre to see my position so misrepresented.

    For instance, I simply did not put forth the central position you credit me with--and would not, I might add. I did not “insist that one must criticize *only* Christians and Christianity” or that “one must not criticize” other faiths. When I read your description of me doing so, my response was precisely what you wrote next: "Huh? HUH?" indeed.

    I’m sure that you and I have some pretty strong actual disagreements that might be explored productively. But if your rebuttal is not based on an accurate portrayal of what you are rebutting, you end up arguing with a boogeyman of your own invention.

    But most bizarre of all are your speculations about my grading practices. Did you mean that comment as a joke? If so, I guess it’s sort of funny (though not as funny as the photo of the pipe-smoking gentleman). If not, why so quick to assume?

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    Replies
    1. Prof. Corrigan, please feel free to present your position here accurately. You should know that this blog has almost no readers.

      I was mindful that very few people read this blog, and that you were not named in the blog entry, so I didn't track you down and ask you to proof what I'd posted. I acknowledge that what i posted was my impression of what I read of what you said.

      I also acknowledge that I may have misunderstood you.

      Again, please feel free to correct me, and I'd be happy to post your correction as part of the blog entry itself. With, alas, few readers.

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    2. Hello there Professor Corrigan and Dr.Goska, I would be very interested to read your angle on this Professor.

      I wanted to say two things in response to Danusha's blog above. First of all I would like to ask you - if you do feel Christians have oppressed people - how have we done so?

      Because, and allowing for the fact that we are all the fatally flawed children of Adam, we have "laid down" our swords, try to do good to all, even those that harm us, and are "no part" of the world. We have no powerful political allies and don't even vote.

      Secondly, I wanted to say that the Book of Revelation tells us that what is shortly going to happen is a sudden, fierce and successful attack on the world's religions. There will be growing animosity towards them.


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