A PhD student who holds an MA, MDiv, and a ThM and teaches World Religions at a non-religious university somewhere in the States recently made the following comments about Latter-day Saints on an internet message board:
As part of the Final Exam in World Religions I have all the students answer two short essay questions at the very end. 1. What did you enjoy most about the class? 2. What lesson did you learn that made, or will make, the greatest impact on your life?
One of my student wrote in answer to the second question:
Going to visit the Mormons taught me that there are many counterfeits out there to beware of and they all sound very good to try and draw you in or change your own philosophy. Trust in your faith and don’t be trusting of that in the world that has been derived from man alone.
Please note that all my students are required to visit two religions outside their comfort zone, and it is purely up to them where they go. They write a five-page paper on the experiences, and then get up in class and briefly discuss their findings. It is one aspect of the class that the students repeatedly tell me how much they appreciate and enjoy.
The student’s comments above are priceless. Why? Because she made the visit to the local Mormon meeting house on her own, long before we ever discussed Mormonism as a religion in class. In her words the Mormon church is (1) a counterfeit, and (2) a worldly religion derived from man alone. I couldn’t agree more.
The neat thing about teaching World Religions is not the pay, the long hours of preparation and study, but the lives that are changed for the better when I read comments like those above. They “get it” in a postmodern world of relativism, narcissism, and nihilism, all of which Mormonism espouses at different levels of thought. And because they “get it,” they won’t end up in a cult like Mormonism. Thank God for that!!
The emphasis is in the original. My original thought was that this instructor must have made his biases known in the classroom, since the student was obviously confident her answer would not be considered inappropriate. It was later made clear that such was the case, and that the instructor feels that since he makes his religious affiliation and convictions known at the beginning of the class every year, there’s nothing inappropriate about it. The instructor states he even staged a mock trial to investigate whether or not Mormonism was Christian. He pitted the only Latter-day Saint in the classroom against the others. You can imagine how this went over, given the manner in which Mormonism would have been presented in class as opposed to the manner in which “Christianity” would be described:
Btw, the jury came back with a unanimous decision that Mormonism was not an accurate representation of Christianity, and that after I placed the only Mormon in the class on the side attempting to prove that it was. Unfortunately, after the trial was over, the Mormon quit coming to class (not that she had a stellar attendance record anyway), and she’ll end up failing, sorry to say.
This story has boggled my mind for a couple weeks now. I’ve attended religion classes at two different secular universities and I’ve never seen anything even remotely comparable to this. For those who teach World Religion, have you come across this kind of behavior before, and if so, is it generally tolerated? Would you allow an instructor to explicitly and vehemently denigrate any religion in a World Religion class?