On the way to campus, I did a mental inventory of the problems I was likely to encounter in class (so okay, I was feeling pessimistic). This is the lecture I always hate giving, and this semester would be more annoying than most, since I have a number of very immature students this time around. We're finishing up Judaism in my Comparative Religions class and getting ready to move on to early Christianity, and that means I always get asked, "why don't Jews believe that Jesus was the messiah?"
My least favorite student came into class 1/2 hr. late, which is actually early for her. True to form, she sat in the back of the class chit-chatting, and for the second or third time in two weeks, her cell phone rang. I swear, next time it happens, I'm going to march back there & confiscate it - but this time the guy next to her took it away from her and turned it off. Then something struck her as funny and she began laughing like a loon. She pays very little attention in class (the little amount of time she's in attendance), and her grades reflect this (she earned 27% on her most recent exam).
But when another student asked why Jews don't believe that Jesus is the messiah, she suddenly sat up to attention.
After class, she asked to speak with me, and blurted out, "I just don't understand why Jews don't believe what it says in the Bible!"
"Oh, but they do!" was my response. She looked at me in amazement, and another student began to laugh and said, "I think, Professor, that she means the The New Testament."
"Ah, I see. Well, that's easy: Jews don't consider The New Testament to be scripture. Do you believe the Quran to be scripture?"
She looked shocked. "No, of course not! It was written by Mohammed, and he was evil!" Hm. Okay, I see I'll have my work cut out for me when we get to Islam - as will the guest speaker who is lined up to come to class. "But that's different. I mean, New Testament is truth. Why don't they see that?"
"Not according to Jews, it isn't. Not according to Buddhists, or Jains, or Hindus, or Taoists, or any religion other than Christians. I'm not trying to make you doubt your religion or change it, but you need to understand that non-Christians aren't deliberately, perversely DIS-believing Christianity. Rather, they are believing what they see is the truth. This whole course is dedicated to understanding what adherents of each of these religions, including Christians, believe."
She stared at me for a moment. Then she got this faraway look in her eye & said, "Okay, I guess I see that all religions think they are right, and maybe they are sort of right - NO! WAIT a minute! Mine is the only one that is right! But maybe they all think they are right . . . ."
No, Rachel, I wanted to say. All the other religions KNOW that Christians are right. But it's a huge, worldwide conspiracy: we pretend we don't know Christians are right because we know it drives Christians nuts when people don't believe them.
Of course, I couldn't say that, so instead I just smiled and said, "Yes, that's right, they truly believe in their own religions just as you believe in yours. See you Thursday" and left, trying not to shake my head too obviously.
I don't think she got it. For her, the world is made up of black and white, right and wrong, her view and everyone else's. Some days I just don't know why I even try.