Posted on Aug 27, 2012
Charles Negy, a psychology professor at the University of Central Florida, thinks he knows bigotry when he sees it. The blistering email he wrote on it to some 500 students has now gone viral. One key paragraph uses the word “bigot” no less than eight times (the whole is quoted in the UCF student newspaper):
Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
This happened on familiar turf: I studied psychology at the University of Central Florida. I never had a class with Charles Negy, though now I wish I had. I wish I’d been in his lecture session when this happened. I would have liked to be witness to this demonstration of bigotry.
Bigots never question their prejudices, he says. They’re convinced their beliefs are correct, and they never question their bigotry. Have you questioned your bigotry lately? No? Then you fit one of Negy’s descriptions of a bigot. I’ll bet he hasn’t questioned his bigotry, either.
I hope you’ll pardon me for being a bit rough on the prof, but I would wager he even thinks his beliefs are correct, just like a bigot (as he sees bigots). He sure sounds like he thinks he’s right, as he fulminates against “the tyranny of the masses” and excoriates Christians for arguing in favor of their beliefs. It was “religious arrogance” of them, he says, to suppose that what they believe might be true. I say it was religious arrogance on his part to scold Christians for holding that it’s true. It “seems to have not even occurred” to him “how such bigotry is perceived and experienced” by Christians who have to sit and endure the tyranny of the dominant party—which in this case is Negy himself, as the professor.
The UCF newspaper’s report says the Christian(s) who spoke up in this lecture were carrying on a “rant.” If so, I don’t condone that. I wish I’d been there to know what really happened, but I wasn’t. We can all read Negy’s email, though, which contains not a hint of a complaint concerning interruptions or disruptiveness. It was all about “openly proclaim[ing] that Christianity is the most valid religion.” That was the real offense.
Negy spoke to Inside Higher Ed about the incident:
Negy is standing by his e-mail, and said that he reacted the same way as he would have if a group of students stood up in class and said that their race was superior to other races. “Can you imagine that happening in a classroom? I cannot. But somehow it is O.K. to say that your religion is better than other religions,” he said. “We have not matured when it comes to religious bigotry.”
Translation: just as one ethnicity is no better than another, so no one set of ideas about ultimate reality is better than another. Mature persons know this is true. They see that it’s the one idea concerning ultimate reality that’s better than all the others, and that no one fully grows up until he or she puts all the other ideas in subjection under it. (Sure, it’s completely self-contradictory, but he’s the prof so he can pronounce on what’s mature and what isn’t.)
His talk with Inside Higher Ed wasn’t the first time he brought up maturity. In the email he had written, “We’re adults. We’re at a university.” Clearly he wants us to bear in mind we’re grown-ups and we should act that way, even as he plays daddy, scaring off the little Christian bullies to make it safe for other religions’ adherents to play in his yard. Is that how to treat people as adults?
Generally speaking, Muslims think Islam is true. Buddhists, and Hindus think their religions are true, or at least more so than other religions. In my experience, believers in other religions are generally adult enough to expect Christians to think our religion is true. Why wouldn’t they? But Negy’s further comments in that context are especially interesting:
Neither students nor professors have a right to censor speech that makes us uncomfortable. We’re adults. We’re at a university. There is no topic that is “off-limits” for us to address in class, if even only remotely related to the course topic. I hope you will digest this message, and just as important, will take it to heart as it may apply to you.
Okay, that’s a little confusing, but I’ll explain it for you. Why were the Christians wrong to speak about their beliefs when no topic is off limits? Because they thought their beliefs were true. Never think your own beliefs are true: you might offend Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus—who by the way got the email, too. They got the professor’s clear message that they, too, ought not think their beliefs are true. Thank you, Professor Negy, for making sure no one offends me and my religion by telling me it’s not true. But did you notice you just did that yourself?
Here’s the sum of it all. Negy takes advantage of his dominant role as professor to rail against those who take advantage of their dominant role. He instructs students that it’s a much better idea to recognize there are no better ideas. He insists that all topics are open for discussion, even as he tells the Christians how rotten they are for bringing up a topic for discussion. He is über-sensitive to other religious believers’ offense as he treats them like children requiring his protection, and as he calls their beliefs false.
All of this confusion and self-contradiction is plain as day in his email, but he’s oblivious to it. It’s bound to be hard for him to see it. He represents not only himself as the dominant person in the classroom, but a tyrannical ethic of so-called “tolerance” that dominates the whole university system—particularly social psychology—and which is blind to its own intolerance. It’s not just about Negy, but a whole culture.
Bigots never question their own bigotry.
P.S. William McGuinness wrote at Huffington Post,
Dr. Charles Negy, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida, had to email an extra, elementary lesson to his students — one so basic and of such societal value that it was posted on Reddit.
Negy’s paternalism was apparently contagious. But I too am but a grasshopper, for until now I had never known what signifies a lesson as being basic and of great societal value: being posted on Reddit. I have much to learn.
(Hat Tip to Joseph Knippenberg.)