Thursday, December 04, 2014

the slog

Today, I did something to my class of advanced-level listening/discussion students—something I'd been threatening to do for a couple weeks: I gave them a taste of an American-style academic lecture. (Cue women screaming bloody murder.) I'm sure that several of them were bored to tears by it, especially since the topic, one near and dear to my heart but not to anyone else's, was religious diversity. I can also imagine that part of the boredom stemmed from the reversion to a teacher-centered manner of conducting the class. To be honest, I myself wasn't too happy about this state of affairs, but since my course's title is Advanced Academic Listening and Discussion, I thought it was high time to give my students a true taste of American-style academe. And what better way to do that than to discourse on a topic I know well? Hence religious diversity.

I started the session by asking the students to draw, on a piece of paper, a visual metaphor representing, in their view, the relationships among the great religions. I didn't ask the kids to explain their drawings to me; that would have taken too long. Instead, I asked them to get in groups and tell each other about what they had drawn. This part of the class was entertaining while it lasted; after the students had had their fun, it was time to do the real heavy lifting.

We moved into an exploration of John Hick's threefold typology of religious attitudes: exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. I drew my own metaphorical illustrations on the board to make concrete how each attitude might look, and even provided a handout (click on the following image to see it full-size):

We talked a bit about "marketing" religion (which sounds crass, of course; Christians might prefer to call it "missionizing" or "proselytizing"), and one of my more astute students asked, "Does anyone seriously think the hard-sell approach works?" Almost all of my students proclaimed themselves annoyed by pushy people trying to get them to come to their church, or to attend a religiously themed club/event, or to read one or more pamphlets. In answer to my student's question, I talked about how, in a place like Namdaemun Market, the hard sell does indeed seem to produce results: obnoxious sellers like lose a thousand potential customers, but if their yelling and gesticulating nets a couple dozen curious people, they've accomplished something. Perhaps hard-selling Christian proselytizers are in the same boat, relying on low response rates to represent a solid day's work.

During my spiel, I saw that one of my students had fallen asleep. She was one of the ones who had been struggling to keep up in class, so it was clear she didn't understand much, if anything, of what I was saying. As Stephen Krashen notes, if you're not receiving comprehensible input, you tend not to be motivated to follow the flow of an exchange. I called out to my little sleepyhead; at almost the same moment, another student tapped her on the shoulder to wake her up. Later on, after class, she said she hadn't gotten much sleep, which may or may not be true. I suspect she'd have fallen asleep even if she'd had a good night's rest. Another student was sick, and I worried that she was going to fall asleep as well, but she somehow managed to tough it out. Other students seemed more awake and engaged; several had questions or volunteered insights.

I saw that time was short, so I marched us fairly quickly through the advantages and disadvantages of each attitude, then promised my students that we'd engage in une discussion approfondie next week. I think a lot of my kids were relieved to leave class today. It was a pretty heavy, fairly esoteric topic, done in a language not their own. One student hung back and told me that, when he had lived in America, people talked openly about religion, but here in Korea, it was hard to have a rational discussion about it. I floated the idea that maybe it was because Koreans were passionate people; what I really wanted to talk about, though, was the notion that Dr. Hodges likes to talk about now and then on his blog: Korea's general lack of a culture of discussion. But class was over at that point, and there was little use in making my student linger more than he already had, so I let him go on his way.

Today was one of the most substantive days, content-wise, for my advanced kids, but I really wish I could have taught the material in a more student-centered fashion. That said, the students received a pretty strong dose of what it would be like to attend a lecture on a difficult subject in a States-based institution of higher learning. It was quite a slog for many of them, but I have faith that they can handle the ideas.



John from Daejeon said...

I can't make out the small text in your handout, but judging by the titles you left out the biggest thing to hit religion ever--the rise of student "freethinkers" who are able to overcome the brainwashing of the utter hokum and monumental wastes of time and money that are so-called instruments of peace and love leading to an everlasting virgin-filled paradises.

Kevin Kim said...


re: small, hard-to-read text

RIght-click on the thumbnail and select "Open Image in New Tab." You can see the full-size image that way.

re: hokum

I don't think your critique addresses all religions, most of which don't advertise virgin-filled paradises (that's pretty much the domain of Islam).

But as for the larger issue you're getting at: does religion often sell humanity a bill of goods? I'd agree that it does, although I'd respectfully submit that that's not the end of the story for religion. Would eliminating all religion solve humanity's problems and make humanity into a better, less miserable species? I'm doubtful on that score. I think that many, if not most, of the problems attributed to religion actually predate religion or somehow underscore it: problems like envy, lying, betrayal, theft, oppression, murder, and genocide can all occur quite without the help of religion. All you need to sow those evil seeds are institutions and authority structures. Human moral frailty does the rest.

John from Daejeon said...

Kevin, you are right that the evil that humans do predates religion/cults (except Christianity back in the good old Garden of Eden and the first two sons) which is why religions were started way back when. But in the hopes of scaring people into acting decently with notions of a fiery, never-ending, hell, or not making it to paradise, they had to come up with some pretty fracked up b.s. to do so with. It's especially enlightening to see just how the holy priests/religious leaders that knew religions were/are just hokum were benefiting the most as they made a lot of money off of their uneducated followers as well while living lives of luxury in comparison to the peons and slaves that are supposed to inherit the Earth.

Personally, I was unlucky enough to spend 18 years (including over 1 year of my waking life) in service to this b.s. that still rules over the lives of too, too many. Of course, religions aren't all totally bad and some do help give some a sense of community in a world full of uncertainty, but how can anyone in their right minds take of with the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church or just toss their money (and lives) away by putting their faith in the hands of religious leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs, Shoko Asahara, Fred Phelps, Yahweh Ben Yahweh, Jung Myung Seok, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Marshall Applewhite, several Catholic popes, and countless others through the ages?

It's just a shame that most people won't admit that they were brainwashed by all these nonsensical religions thanks to their family members, but these same people can then look down in disgust on the sorcery and cannibalism that led to kuru in the Fore tribes of Eastern Highlands and lowlands Provinces of Papua New Guinea and blame it on the fact that Jesus Christ and Muhammad had yet to make their appearances there when they just as easily could have been born into a Fore tribe. But all this is just part of the Cosmic joke that is life here on this little blue spinning orb or ours where human sacrifice (of nonbelievers and non-converters) is still occurring daily in the name of a holey (yes, full of holes) religion (Islam).

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"[T]he evil that humans do predates religion/cults."

Then, let's do lots of evil till all religion/cults are eaten up!

Jeffery Hodges

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John from Daejeon said...

Another is life's long list of Cosmic jokes is why can't I be as eloquent (or brilliant) as this Professor is in his video: Richard Dawkins: Faith School Menace.