One of the reasons I love teaching is the constant opportunity to conduct sociological experiments for my own amusement.
I teach two classes right now, one being a freshman-level survey of medieval history and literature. It’s hard enough trying to cram 1000 years into one semester, but the thing about history I keep telling my students is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Each event affects and is affected by something else—so I end up working with closer to 1600 years’ worth of information in order to give the Middle Ages some context. It’s quite a balancing act.
In any case, the first lecture of the term I have is the Rise of Christianity. It’s a good exercise for me to teach my own faith without my faith being externally part of it (it’s internally part of everything I do, I kind of can’t help that). I want my students to understand the major players and concepts of an ideology that basically ruled civilization for a thousand years (more, depending on where you are); to know where it started so they can better analyze where it wandered off.
They had their first test this past week, and my teaching partner and I allow them to have some input on the short answer ID section we have. The possibilities are any place, event, or person they find important; it’s always interesting to see what names stick for them. Herman the German is a perennial favorite, as are Richard the Lionheart and the bubonic plague. But this time, one Guy tossed into the mix of suggestions was Jesus.
“No way,” I said to my colleague as we were making the short list. “I see where this will go, and I am totally uninterested in their theological diatribes.” “You’re probably right,” he said, and because I apparently can’t handle being right, I said, “Unless….”
“What?” “Unless we make it very clear that we just want the historical facts of the cornerstones of Christianity. Just like the other IDs. Actually, that’d be really interesting.”
So we put Jesus on the test as an option, and 19 out of 24 students chose Him as one of their IDs. And boy, was I right about interesting—I won’t put the whole of any of their actual answers, as they are my current students, but I got everything from the “fairy tale” of the Resurrection to the Jesus who seems to have been born a Jew and become something else later to the carpenter who fought (peacefully, of course) for Christianity. He traveled to Rome, started different Christian sects, became the son of God by rising from the dead, was “born through an Emaculate conception,” split Rome in two, praised God in a pagan society, was “prosecuted” by the Roman Empire, and had a stint as a fisherman.
There were four or five students who got the identification spot-on and, thankfully, no one tried to convince me of the merit or idiocy of Christianity, but the breadth of answers was amazing.
It surprises me every week how similar and how totally different my two classes are; for the other group, the topic this past week was the humanity of Jesus and the medieval attachment to His ability to feel pain. I asked my students at the end to consider how they relate to Jesus and who He is to them.
It’s fascinating to have inadvertently asked a variation on the same question to my university students. When you’re not allowed to rely on your Sunday school rote recitation or your opinions of Christians as a reflection of their Savior, who is Jesus? Why was He important? What did He do?
Make sure your name is on your response when you hand it in, Reader.
And Jesus went out with His disciples into the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He asked His disciples, saying unto them, “Who do men say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say Elijah, and others, one of the prophets.” And He said unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?” And Peter answered and said unto Him, “Thou art the Christ.” And He charged them that they should tell no man of Him. (Mark 8:27-30, TMB)