Wow, it is so great to be back at the Hogshead—I always love your reading comments about my posts; they’re not only insightful but they get me thinking about what to write next.
Which is exactly what happened last week when Red Rocker wrote:
“Enough listening to us, Professor D. We’re eager to listen to you share some topic and themes – and hopefully reactions.
“What are the highlights of your course? What is the stuff that makes the kids look up from their cellphones or iPads or (worst case scenario) Gameboys, and actually listen and think? When they put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard), what insights stream from their brains? What surprises them? What delights them? What makes them go ‘Whoa, I never thought of that!'”
So, Red Rocker, today’s post is for you! First off, let me say that I have been blessed with students who overall do not tune me out to their computers or iphones….though I did catch one student texting in the first row and a few others surfing the web. Three thoughts go through my head when this happens:
1. Come on folks, this class is so fun! You can tell the facebook friend you haven’t seen in ten years that you like their new Farmville truck later, and breaking news about Charlie Sheen will have even more ludicrousness to it by the time we’re done, so really, really, what could be more important than our class?
2. Oh wait…they think I don’t notice. They actually think I don’t notice. Even though I can see the cell phones in their hands under the desk and their fingers typing, even though I see their eyes sneakily moving left to right across a laptop screen, they really believe I’m paying attention to something other than, well, them.
3. Should I tell them their secret is out, read that metaphorical note-passed-between-friends to the class? Or should I pull them aside quietly during the break? Or just let it go (my default to date)?
Always a struggle. I’ve thought of banning laptops for this reason, telling students I will record the course if notes are that important to them. Like I said, this is a very small number of students, but nonetheless, Red Rocker, this post is for you, so, in the spirit of honesty (and venting), I just had to share.
But continuing on to the question of what surprises and delights students most: I would say that students are most surprised by is the fact that there is not just one cookie cutter for Christian thought. They’re surprised by the variety of thinkers and priorities among Christian theologians and how that plays out in the series.
Let me give an example: Last week in class, we talked about salvation in the Harry Potter series, and I asked them whether anything like Christian salvation exists in the books. Of course, the first piece of information they need to answer that question is a definition of salvation. Anticipating this, I assigned an article that outlined several different understandings of Christian salvation. One of them, called the Christus Victor model, states that Jesus saved humans from evil by dying on the cross, engaging in a cosmic battle with the devil in hell post-death, and then rising in triumph after defeating the devil. This salvation model makes sense because it’s rooted in the idea that the problem for Christians is the existence of evil. From a different perspective, they also read about Anselm’s theory of atonement, which says the problem is that because humans sinned against God, they owe God a debt so large that only someone who is God is capable of paying it. Unfortunately, God can’t pay a debt to Godself, so a human has to do it. Hence, it’s convenient that Jesus is both God and man. When he dies on the cross, Jesus can offer the human side up as payment because he is also fully God and therefore capable of paying the debt. In this construction, the problem is the debt to God brought about by human disobedience and sin and the answer is a way to pay the debt.
Different problems, you see, need different answers.
When we apply this to the series, we see that salvation also takes many forms. Harry, for instance, might be seen as procuring salvation by paying a debt through death that only he is uniquely capable of because he alone is a Horcrux. In contrast, Dumbledore or Neville might be seen as characters who participate in salvation by fighting against evil. I think that in this way, we see that salvation can take many forms because many different ailments plague us. This both reflects our diversity and our reality. But unlike in Christian thought, in Harry’s world, many people participate in that salvation (not just one), which makes the whole community responsible for it. How empowering is that? It seems to say that if we all work together under the power of love, then we too can accomplish something transformative on our world.
Wow, I’ve written a lot here, so I think it’s probably a good place to stop. But don’t worry, Red Rocker, as Arnold says, “I’ll be back!”