Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Not acting Christian

Playing the jerk

In older literary works one sometimes encounters the expression “Christian gentleman.” This description had less to do with religion than with comportment. The so-called Christian gentleman was a model of courtesy and dignity, a man whose word was his bond. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Dickens contains the line, “This condition fulfilled, you will pledge me the honor of a Christian gentleman that the quarrel is forever at an end on your side.”

I fear my friend “Steve” has instead picked a quarrel with a “Christian gentleman,” although in this instance I mean the term strictly literally. This Christian is not particularly successful at comporting himself as one.

But I'll let Steve tell the story:
Brace yourself, Zee. We are having a flame war at AR. A colleague has taken offense at our oppression of Christianity. People are using "Reply to All" to argue about it in campus email, which is where it all started.
Steve is a former student of mine and is now a math teacher at American River College in Sacramento. ARC is famous (infamous?) for having had its student government taken over by a right-wing Christian cabal, now mercifully gone. To my chagrin, Steve's latest missive related to an incident involving a math colleague. Aren't we math teachers supposed to be rational people? Not always.
Our sister college in Folsom Lake just unveiled a new performing arts center. It looks nice. Everyone in the district got a message promoting the center's schedule of performances. Recently we got an email announcing an appearance by a touring group: "We are delighted to announce that the Tibetan Monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery, India will be honoring us with their presence at Folsom Lake College! Everyone is welcome to enjoy an evening of Tibetan multi-phonic chanting (often referred to as throat singing)."
This struck me as familiar because I had read Tuva or Bust!, an account of Richard Feynman's desire to visit the Soviet republic of Tuva. The famed physicist had wanted to experience the practice of Tuvan throat-singing in its actual place of origin, but was frustrated in his attempts by unresponsive government bureaucracies and cold war politics.

It sounded as if Folsom Lake College had accomplished quite a coup. A math professor at Sacramento City College hastened to disagree. Steve forwarded the message to me, which had gone out to everyone in the school district:
To: SCC-Everyone-on-Exchange, ARC-Everyone-on-Exchange, FLC-Everyone-on-Exchange, CRC-Everyone-on-Exchange
Subject: The Monks are coming to Folsom Lake College and HONOR??????????????????

I thought we were a non-denominational, non-religious school when they hired me, but once again it sounds that having Budishm monks is an honor, but any other religion,- specially the religion of most Americans, including American Founders of this Country (sorry you have to guess, because to some even the name seems to be an offense!) - do not have any rights and/or would imply that the school is violating separation of school and relion.

Sorry but I am getting sick of Yoga and Easter religions preferences over any other! It is just UNfair
Wow. It was written by a college professor, but it bears all of the stigmata of the nutcase teabagger: profligate punctuation, careless misspellings (“Budishm”?), and a sense of profound resentment and frustrated entitlement. I was astonished and dismayed, but I burst into laughter while reading the rest of Steve's forwarded messages and annotations. The “Christian gentleman” received a quick rebuke at Steve's hands:
Subject: The Monks are coming to Folsom Lake College and HONOR??????????????????

Thank you, XXXX, for this astonishingly immature outburst. If, for example, the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos were on tour with their program of Gregorian chant, Folsom Lake would be fortunate to book them into their new performing arts center. It wouldn't be a religious service (even though the songs might be religion based), it would be a performance. Similarly, the Gaden Shartse monks know multiphonic singing, which is a rare and challenging art form. Congratulations to our sister college for hosting them.

By the way, XXXX, adding 18 question marks to the subject line doesn't impress anyone. It just makes you look intemperate. Try to calm down and think twice before sending out any more silly messages to everyone in the district.
Steve reports that there was a lot of outraged reaction to the “Christian” diatribe, although it has now started to die off. In fact, most of the messages posted to the thread in recent days consist of people using “Reply to All” to tell people to stop using “Reply to All.” Even in education circles you can't help but run into a few silly folks now and then.

Hang in there, Steve! (Are you going to the throat-singing concert?)


The irate Christian who objected to the Buddhist chorus is probably unaware that he works in a building named in honor of the local state senator who appointed the California senate's first non-Christian chaplain—a Buddhist minister—back in 1975!


Dr24Hours said...

The sorts of mistakes - omitted letters, misplaced plurals - remind me of the sorts of emails I would send out when I used to do so drunk.

Obviously, I don't know this professor from a random passer-by, but my first suspicion, upon reading his missive, was to presume he was intoxicated during its composition.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Every so often we get one of those "Reply-All Mail Storms" at work. Ours usually start with people who don't understand (a) why they're on an alias/list proc and (b) how to get off it. So we get dozens, sometimes into three digits, of emails, beginning with "take me off this alias!" followed by the inevitable "Stop using reply all!" (sent to all instead of the offending sender).

Oh well, at least they all get copies of their own idiocy sent back to them.

Gene O'Pedia said...

What a great story, with two strong lessons about perceived notions of religion, and the insane use of "Reply to All" in e-mail.

It only shows, once again, that writers of soap operas, novels, or even operas, don't really need much imagination. They just need to pay attention and look around.

Now, why would a huge institution like a college even allow an individual to "Reply to All"? It's easy enough to limit such things in the mail server. Or maybe the college never imagined anyone being so brash.

Rob said...

Minor nit: Tibetan and Tuvan throat singing are not the same thing. Same technique, entirely different repertoire. And the Tibetan monks have been touring for a long time, I saw them at UCD in the late 80s or early 90s.

But otherwise, yeah, YAPC (yet another Persecuted Christian). What a chump.

Kathie said...

Until a few years ago, the religious right complained that one of the things they found wrong with liberals was that they (we) were wusses, obsessed with victimology.

Times have changed. Sarah Palin snaps back whenever anyone says anything unkind about her or her litter -- even making the wake of a recent assassination attempt on a Congresswoman and the murder of six innocent bystanders all about the wronging of Mama Grizzly!

And now we have Steve's colleague whining about this concert. Apparently XXXXXX is unaware that concert promoters love to use gushing language like "We are honored to present" gratuitously, so it needs to be taken with the figurative grain of salt any time one encounters it. (I find Tuva throat-singing excruciating to the ear).

FInally, if XXXXXX is always so illiterate, why is s/he teaching at any level, let alone at a college?

Tualha said...

Wow. I look at this writing and I think, this guy actually earned a graduate degree? Hell, he earned a baccalaureate? I hope he manages to write more coherently when he's not overcome by Christian Supremacist rage^W^W^W^W^W* being "intemperate”. Or perhaps, as AnyEdge suggests, drunk.

* I wish Blogger would let you use the <s> tag :(

Rhoadan said...

It occurs to me that you might find this the phrase "persecuted hegemon" coined, by all people, a self-identified evangelical Christian appropriate.

Faegan Harti said...

I miss the days when my work place allowed “Send All” and “Reply All.” It was so entertaining, especially considering some of the worst offenders were the higher-ups.

Regarding the writing skills of the object of persecution (an educator, no less), I am regularly bemused (and sometimes shocked) at the horrible writing skills demonstrated by my childrens’ teachers and school administrators. I allow some slack for spelling, since some folks just have a hard time with that, but the grammar and usage offenses are really tough to forgive. How can anyone who is incapable of keeping subject and verb in agreement be trusted to teach language skills to young, impressionable minds? They makes me fearedful of the directions hour fuchure generation are taking.

Disturbingly Openminded said...

My family has run into the phrase "good Christian folk" several times. The speakers seemed to suggest that the phrase applied to people who are publicly well-behaved (especially the children), considerate of others, mannerly, respectful of property and propriety. Since we -- especially our children -- were behaving this way, we were complimented: "I can tell that you are good Christian folk." This came from a B&B owner in the Alabama portion of Pennsylvania, someone renting us a cabin near Acadia Nat. Park, and a fellow camper in SW Virginia.

My family is comprised of 3 Jews and an atheist so I disabused -- politely, of course! -- the speakers of their misconceptions.

Two aspects of this fascinate me. First, that such behavior is thought to be associated particularly with christians. Second, that contra-behavior is assumed to be the province of non-christians. And third (okay, three aspects fascinate me), that people in business with the general public think such observations are appropriate.

But I admit, it is fun to watch their internal struggles when I toss off a nonchalant "Oh, we're not christian." (So strident of me, eh?)

John Armstrong said...

That's mighty white of you, Disturbingly.

(standard quote/use disclaimers apply)

Jeff Eyges said...

@Disturbingly Openminded: so I disabused -- politely, of course! -- the speakers of their misconceptions

I wouldn't even know how to do that any more. I'd assume that if someone is still making a statement like that today, s/he is unreachable. At this point, I'd just smile and say, "Thank you."

The amazing (well, not really) thing is that they're always going on about how oppressed Christians are in Muslim countries, but there's no oppression or discrimination here, nosiree!

I used to manage a Tibetan Buddhist center, and I've met the Gaden Shartse monks (the ones who were on tour about seven years ago; they rotate). Tibetans are generally very easy-going; it's a cultural trait. I have serious issues with Tibetan Buddhism, but, given a choice between hanging out with Tibetan monks or your typical evangelical - I guess I really don't need to finish that sentence.

Re: the professor's spelling, grammar and lucidity - that's the state of American education today. This is the reason the Europeans are, rightfully, laughing at us.

Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

"To my chagrin, Steve's latest missive related to an incident involving a math colleague. Aren't we math teachers supposed to be rational people? Not always."

Sorry, but no. I won't bring up the lounging lizard of the Discovery Institute, but it seems that mathematicians are especially prone to seeing beauty in their art as evidence of Higher Intelligences. They (we?) lack the grounding in the physical world that the physicists and biologists have. I seem to recall the chemists are pretty bad into creationism as well, so I'm twice accursed, myself.

Jeff Eyges said...

I won't bring up the lounging lizard of the Discovery Institute

The thing about Berlinski is that he was overheard at one of these "debates" telling someone he does it for the money - and, I think, for the same reason the rest of the handful of Jews (Klinghoffer, Medved, Stein, etc.) who are mixed up with these creationist organizations do it - to be a big fish in a little pond.

Sister on the Spectrum said...

I don't comment much, but well, this is damn depressing. I was considering going to ARC next year to work on my ailing math and science skills. Sigh. I still might, because the location is good for me, but... professor XXXXX sounds like he wouldn't be a very good fit.

Zeno said...

Professor XXXXX is not at ARC. He is at SCC.

Sister on the Spectrum said...

Oh! Thanks, Zeno. I misread. Blame the lack of coffee... or perhaps just the lack of reading comprehension...

Margaret said...

...I am getting sick of Yoga and Easter religions preferences...

What a hilarious typo! Someone needs to tell the Xian Gentleman that the Easter religions are Xian.