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Latest update: September 24, 2000

The Slippery Slope of Challenge When Loving Would Do

On Saturday, September 17, 2000, Tina Juen forwarded the following e-mail:

Tina called it "Something to make you go, hmmmmmmmm....................."
"This is a true story of something that happened just a few years ago at USC.

"There was a professor of philosophy there who was a deeply committed atheist. His primary goal for one required class was to spend the entire semester attempting to prove that God couldn't exist.

"His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. For twenty years, he had taught this class and no one had ever had the courage to go against him.

"Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever really gone against him because of his reputation. At the end of every semester on the last day, he would say to his class of 300 students,

"If there is anyone here who still believes in Jesus, stand up!"

"In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. They knew what he was going to do next. He would say, "Because anyone who believes in God is a fool. If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that He is God, and yet He can't do it."

"And every year, he would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom and it would shatter into a hundred pieces. All of the students would do nothing but stop and stare. Most of the students thought that God couldn't exist. Certainly, a number of Christians had slipped through, but for 20 years, they had been too afraid to stand up.

"Well, a few years ago there was a freshman who happened to enroll. He was a Christian, and had heard the stories about his professor. He was required to take the class for his major, and he was afraid. But for three months that semester, he prayed every morning that he would have the courage to stand up no matter what the professor said, or what the class thought.

"Nothing they said could ever shatter his faith...he hoped. Finally, the day came. The professor said, " If there is anyone here who still believes in God, stand up!"

"The professor and the class of 300 people looked at him, shocked, as he stood up at the back of the classroom. The professor shouted, "You FOOL!!! If God existed, he would keep this piece of chalk from breaking when it hit the ground!"

"He proceeded to drop the chalk, but as he did, it slipped out of his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleat of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As it hit the ground, it simply rolled away unbroken.

"The professor's jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man, and then ran out of the lecture hall.The young man who had stood, proceeded to walk to the front of the room and shared his faith in Jesus for the next half hour.

"300 students stayed and listened as he told of God's love for them and of His power through Jesus.

"You have 2 choices

  1. "Delete this and never look at it again.
  2. "Pass this along to your Christian and non-Christian friends, giving them encouragement we all need every day.

    " When you choose option 2, you have chosen to STAND UP."

On Sunday, September 17, 2000, jeanne responded:

Now, Tina, you have studied with me for three semesters. No fair, just dropping a "hmmm . . . ." on me, and leaving it for me to analyze. But it is a scary task for academic discussion because it mixes theory and belief. We need to sort out which is belief, ways to avoid adversarialism, and ways to transform adversarial discourse.

How can we go about the analysis?

  1. Consider what the issue is.
    "to prove that God couldn't exist" But that assumes that this is objective knowledge susceptible to rational proof. To the extent this is a belief, a spiritual matter, not a cognitive one, such rational proof is not only impossible, but irrelevant. Morality, aesthetics, belief are all mixed together here with scientific knowledge.
  2. Who were the protagonists?
    A professor of philosophy and his students.
  3. Now, let's turn to Fellman and his paradigm on adversarialism and mutuality.
    Was this an adversarial engagement or an example of mutuality?
    Adversarial, yes?
  4. What was adversarial about the engagement?
    • Elite knowledge with an assumption that that empowers the elite one to make decisions for the others, that he who wins is somehow right. The professor had and used elite knowledge to best his opponents, his own students. An unequal match. Why does the professor need to win against opponents not adequately trained in the skills he claims?
    • Contest is about winning; not about understanding the other.
    • The professor needs to win, and leaves when bested. Only one winner. Only one right answer. That is adversarial. The student's daring to challenge leads not to listening to understand, but to the Professor's leaving to nurse his wounds. Almost like a jousting battle in the middle ages.
    • He who wins claims the podium, and enjoys center stage; not interaction in good faith listening, but a podium. That is adversarial.
  5. Consider what the Professor accepted as "proof."
    An event, the dropping of the traditional chalk, with an interference in the chalk's path that caused it not to break. That is often the kind of event that is referred to as "a call," a "miracle." But as Sartre once pointed out, the event must be interpreted by those who are present. Those present were trained over an entire semester by the Professor to expect the chalk to break. That training had to have influenced the interpretation of the chalk's not breaking.
  6. Consider the simplistic, ritualized measure the Professor used for proving himself right. That Professor wasn't a trained researcher, and he hadn't had our course in statistics, or he would have questioned more effectively the validity of his measure.

    Now, Tina. Turn this into a simple, well-thought-out paragraph on your "hmmm . . ."

    And then, add a paragraph on how Fellman might suggest we go about handling the Professor's concern that God may not exist in ways that might promote peace instead of adversarialism.

    You might want to consider also what this story tells us about the academy and Fellman's paradigm of adversarialism and mutuality, and adversarial compulsion and mutuality compulsion, for that matter.

    love and peace, jeanne