jesusHave you seen this story coming out of Boca Raton, FL?  Ryan Rotela, a junior at Florida Atlantic University, claims he was suspended over a class incident in which he refused to stomp on the word “Jesus”. What?

In a class discussing “Intercultural Communication”, an exercise led by Professor Poole involved the following social experiment:

“This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings. Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”

Student Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon refused to complete the exercise citing “If you were to stomp on the word ‘Jesus,’ it says that the word has no value.”

According to the student has been suspended from class with further action pending. There is some conflicting info as to where the University stands in regard to supporting the professor’s actions and or making a formal apology to the student. It appears the student may have been reprimanded for his comments to the professor after refusing to step on the paper – the story is still evolving.

I find this story interesting because I think the social experiment exercised was valid – humans do put a lot of emotion, blind faith and energy into symbols like the cross for example.  Analyzing our intimate emotions in situations like this allows us to better understand ourselves and especially our fears, inhibitions, wants and desires; as well as society that surrounds and influences us. Still, the Professor was wrong in making the student step on the paper scribed with Jesus. The premise of this exercise was to be mindful of your thoughts and energy when put in an uncompromising situation. The student should not have been forced or punished but instead it should have been an opportunity to discuss the student’s thoughts and emotions associated with the negative feelings that arose.

There is a caveat to this story. Studying at an independent University means we are expected to research and even question belief systems/theories whether they are scientific, philosophical or religious. How else are we to expand our minds and learn? Imagine trying to exercise this experiment in Iran using the name Mohammad? Freedom is a liberating thing! Higher learning requires an open mind and both the professor and student need to be open to discussing all dynamics – clearly this did not happen.  I recall taking a world religion class in college years ago – the teacher was a Catholic Priest but he kept his own beliefs silent and taught the class with a professional unbiased style that truly impressed me – that was a good Professor!

One final comment about the experiment gone bad in FL. This was an exercise in symbols and how an otherwise normal 5 letter word (or an idol) can carry so much fear, love, limitations and dogma. It has nothing to do with Jesus the man/myth or the religion unless the student projects that onto the situation. What we create in our minds is what the end product would be. I am able to detach my ego and emotions and see the experiment for what it is – an experiment – not a slap in the face to Christians but an exercise in blind reactions and emotions. Look how people react negatively to this story … I think the experiment worked and raises questions about how we attached ourselves to such things. The way the professor handled it all was the mistake.

If you read my blog on a regular basis then you know I am not a big proponent of organized religion or the ” Jesus factor”. I believe spirituality and the essence of god  is something we all have within; as well as the energy and spirit that most religions speak of. We are a part of a vast and Responsive Universe that connects and nurtures us with instinctual energy at the sub-atomic level – Still, I can see how this can be insulting to certain people…   ….Between you and me…..  I would rather stomp on a piece of paper scribed with BLIND FAITH, RACISM or IGNORANCE – huh… maybe all three on one piece of paper – three for the price of one!

John C. Bader

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