Question for a Sunday

Some people, indeed a lot of people, believe that not just humans, but animals, possess souls, and so should not be eaten. Is it thus religiously insensitive for public secular institutions, like college cafeterias, to serve hamburgers? And should professors in those colleges be expected to alert students that, in their classes, they might sometimes bring up the subject of hamburgers, and show films portraying animals being eaten?

If you say no, one needn’t go out of one’s way to show any particular deference to religiously motivated vegetarians, adjusting your behavior and speech to suit their sensibilities, then why show religious deference to anyone at all? Shouldn’t all adults in a free and diverse society, regardless of their religion (or irreligion), expect exposure to people who think, speak, and act in ways that are contrary to them, and not desire any special protection from this exposure?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to Question for a Sunday

  1. Matt says:

    A good question, Santi. Although in my particular worldview, the answer is trivially obvious.
    There seems to be a sense among some people that they have the right to be never be offended.
    In a free and diverse (and, I would also say, secular) society, that right simply does not exist.

    • santitafarella says:

      Matt:

      I personally, as an adult, have never fully understood “taking offense.” It feels manipulative to me, as if you are in a family where some family members insist that you must never bring up certain subjects in their presence. It seems controlling—it is not adult behavior among equals, but a move designed to use a claim of negative emotion for getting your way.

      —Santi

  2. Gunlord says:

    Shouldn’t all adults in a free and diverse society, regardless of their religion (or irreligion), expect exposure to people who think, speak, and act in ways that are contrary to them, and not desire any special protection from this exposure?

    It depends, I would say.

    In my view, nobody has the right to prevent someone else from saying something merely because they find it “offensive,” for whatever reason. On the other hand, while such people may not deserve ‘special protection’ from exposure to contrary ideas, they do deserve the same protection as everyone else. Vegetarians (be they of the religious or secular varieties) do not have the right to take meat off the menu for everybody else, but they also have the right to not be forced to associate with meat-eating. Nobody would defend Hindus who went around stealing hamburgers away from people, but at the same time, I seriously doubt many people would defend me on the grounds of ‘free speech’ if I wandered into a Hindu temple and started throwing hamburgers at everybody in there.

  3. santitafarella says:

    Gunlord:

    What constitutes public space and expectation, then? I agree that entering another’s temple or private property and making a burger speech to Hindus violates the Hindus’ right to wall themselves off from the outside world and live as they please, but what about, say, a college classroom?

    What sort of advance notice is reasonable concerning topics discussed in a classroom (or images presented)?

    —Santi

  4. Gunlord says:

    Again, it depends on what kind of college. If attending a public institution, or a expressly secular private one, I would say religious folks have no reason to expect the other attendees of those institutions to ‘respect’ their beliefs and thus no reason to expect advance notice about classes on hamburgers or animal eating. If one attends someplace like, say, Baltimore Hebrew University or another institution either religious in basis or with deep historical ties to religion, I wouldn’t say it’s unreasonable for faculty to be at least a bit more circumspect about handing out (non-kosher) hamburgers or whatever.

  5. santitafarella says:

    Gunlord:

    But that’s basically the word at the public college I teach at: put it in the syllabus so the student who gets offended by content can’t say they weren’t duly warned.

    I never used to do such a thing, but in more recent years I’ve come to put something like this: “This class is for adults. During the course of the semester, I may use a swear word occasionally—as may other students—or show a film rated R, or a clip from a film rated R. Diverse opinions are welcomed, encouraged, and frequently reflected upon . . . etc.”

    —Santi

    • Gunlord says:

      I’d say you teach at a fairly reasonable public college 🙂 Heck, if I ever end up teaching somewhere I may end up putting a similar kind of lil’ disclaimer in my syllabus.

  6. santitafarella says:

    Gunlord:

    If you ever go into college teaching, a syllabus disclaimer is probably something to think about. I know a lot of professors—not just me—that do it. It keeps us from feeling the tug to teach to the lowest common (offense) denominator. And most typically, when a person claims “offense” to something going on in a class, it is AFTER they discover that they are struggling with the material and might not at least pull a “C”. In other words, it becomes a leverage for grade inflation and so, by putting it in the syllabus, it shuts off a route to grade appeal. As a rule, of course, most adults realize that they are taking an adult class, but the disclaimer catches that one out of every fifty students who is shocked—shocked!—by social and intellectual life’s contrarities and diversities.

    —Santi

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