A few days ago, a class at Florida Atlantic University was instructed to write the name “Jesus” on a piece of paper, then place it on the floor and step on it. One student in the class, a devout Mormon, refused. The class exercise was intended—so the explanation goes—to foster critical thinking, and question politically correctness. There seem to be conflicting accounts over whether the entire class was required to follow through with the exercise, and what consequences the student was to face afterward. The school has since engaged in damage control, distancing themselves from the professor.
On Fox News, Juan Williams defended the exercise, citing free speech as the reason why the exercise should not be removed from the curriculum. But this raises another question: there are plenty of names that could have been written on those pieces of paper. Perhaps another religious figure, like Allah or Muhammad? Or a political figure, like President Obama? Or maybe some other important social figure, like Martin Luther King, Jr.? Many other choices are far more polarizing than the name of Christ, so why choose the name of Jesus for the exercise?
Another question we might ask is whether the instructor could have chosen to make the point a different way. He could have had all the students write a list of names on one piece of paper. He could have had individuals write the names of one person they considered to be a figure representing what’s right with the world on one side, and another whom they consider to be a source of conflict and difficulty on the other. Or why not try to discuss cultural symbols in a different manner, such as one that avoids conflict altogether?
Some might argue that criticizing Jesus, the church, or Christianity in general represents the ultimate taboo. So if the exercise is really about understanding the power of symbols, then Christianity seems like it would provide the most tempting targets. But let’s look at our society for a moment. Which name is used as a swear word? Jesus, in a wealth of permutations. God’s name runs a close second. And this is just what you can find by tuning in to nearly any channel on the television. You can find far worse with only a little more effort. Given our society’s infatuation with disrespecting all things sacred, it seems that his name has been stepped upon enough already.