Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

December 20, 2007

On the Religious Reaction to Dr. Corbett

Filed under: politics, religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 1:38 pm

Sometimes, I can’t but help sit back an laugh. Cheat Seeking Missiles (CSM) has a post on “Separation Of Church And State, Secularist Style.” Dr. Corbett is a teacher of AP European History at Capistrano Valley High School. The suit was filed on behalf of sophomore Chad Farnan with attorneys from Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

Some of Dr. Corbett’s quotes are available in the complaint. (h/t clark’s blog).

Here is one example:

How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach….[W]hen you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.

So, let’s go through some of the points brought up on Cheat Seeking Missiles.

First, I find it rather inarguable that religious conservatives want to control women’s reproductive capacity. Birth control pills have been openly condemned by the Vatican. In Pakistan, “the more conservative Islamic leaders have openly campaigned against the use of condoms or other birth control methods.” One can argue about the “pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen to have babies until your body collapses” characterization. I don’t have demographics, but from stories that conservatives tout, “9-child family shines as Christian example” and others I’ve come across, there seems to be a correlation between very large families (7+) and religiosity. I would love to see some more conclusive data though. But, there is evidence that there is some truth to what Dr. Corbett said, even if it was stated unflatteringly.

As for Sweden and the United States comparison, I don’t believe that the discrepancy can be accounted for by “excellent and transparent record keeping.” CSM doesn’t argue that United States is near the high in total crime rate per capita, but rather that the U.S. is #8 behind Finland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. The more relevant point was about violent crime. Unfortunately, NationMaster doesn’t seem able to directly tabulate non-violent and violent offenses, so let’s look at murder. The United States is 24th with .042802 per 1,000, Finland is .0289733 per 1,000, Denmark is .0106775 per 1,000 and the U.K. is .0140633 per 1,000. As for suicides, Sweden’s rate is .0200 per 1,000 for males and .0085 per 1,000 for females, the United States is just barely behind with .0193 per 1,000 for males and .0044 per 1,000 for females. In short, you are more than 2 times as likely to be murdered in the United States than you are to commit suicide in Sweden.

But how does CSM know that:

Godless Sweden’s rate is lower, but it has a higher per capita adult suicide rate than religious America. Corbett didn’t share that with his students.

Did CSM sit through every single class? Dr. Corbett larger point was this, which CSM didn’t address at all.

So we know what rehabilitation works and that punishment doesn’t, and yet we go on punishing. It really has a lot to do with these same culture wars we’re talking about. This whole Biblical notion: Sinners need to be punished. And so you get massively more Draconian punishment in the South where religion is much more central to society than you do anyplace else. And, of course, the Southerners get really upset, as what they see as lenient behavior in the North. You know, we’re going to solve this problem. Except, guess what? What part of the country has the highest murder rate? The South. What part of the country has the highest rape rate? The South. What part of the country has the highest… church attendance? The South. Oh, wait a minute. You mean there is not a correlation between these things? No, there isn’t. Um, in fact, there is an inverse correlation. In those places where people go to church the least, the crime was the most. And that’s not just Sweden and the United States. That’s Pennsylvania and Georgia. It’s not even true.”

Dr. Corbett’s point was the statement that “in those places where people go to church the least, the crime was the most” is not true. In fact, the data seems to suggest the opposite is actually true.

I’m not going to go through the Limbaugh issues. Limbaugh lies. Al Fraken has a book called “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” which documents some Limbaugh escapades quite well, as well as Media Matters.

I’m not going to go through the Viagra comment, I just found it funny. But as far as Dr. Corbett being a lousy teacher CSM notes that 33% flunked the College Boards Advanced Placement exam. I honestly don’t think someone at CSM has taken an AP exam. I have taken several, so I’ll explain a little bit. Students take AP courses in high school in a variety of subjects. However, it is really tough to impose a standard across the whole nation for these subjects. So, the College Board comes up with a standardized test on the subject that students pay for and take at the end of the year. For some tests, there are two versions. When I took AP Calculus, we covered a semester of college in a whole year in high school, aka a lot slower. Therefore, the test at the end was quite a bit easier. However, AP History and AP Chemistry were for a full year of college credit, so they were more difficult. To my knowledge, AP European History only comes in a whole year variety, which means the class is covering a whole year of material in a year in high school.

Tests are graded on a 1-5 scale, 3 or high means the College Board recommends the student get credit for the course. So, people who “flunked” got a 1 or 2. So, a few things CSM says about the test are incorrect. First, it is not the “state’s Advanced Placement exam.” It is the College Board’s, a national organization. Secondly, using the 2006 statistics for California, 200,850 tests received a 3 or higher out of 352,059, which is to say the state has a 57% passing rate or (43% failing rate if you are a glass half-empty person). Dr. Corbett beats the state average quite significantly. According to the national report, approximately 69% get a 3 or higher in AP European History which Dr. Corbett is quite in line with also. Under either measure, Dr. Corbett hardly qualifies as a lousy teacher.

The simple fact of the matter is one cannot teach history without touching on religion. You try explaining the logic behind the children’s crusade without mentioning religion. Religion is an important part of European history. Secondly, I don’t see a real problem bringing some personal views into the classroom. Young adults need to be able to deal with differing points of view. Learning needs to be organic, and students should be challenged to think. In that regard, I think Dr. Corbett was doing a good job. Where one crosses the line is proselytizing or lying. I haven’t seen evidence that Corbett has done either. People can argue with how Corbett characterized his statements, but not their basic rectitude. If Dr. Corbett actually demonstrated religious bigotry, or intolerance towards religion, that would be one thing. Arguing by pointing out some facts that don’t agree with a certain viewpoint and drawing conclusions from the available evidence is what open inquiry and education is all about.



  1. Cheat-Seeking Missiles here.

    I’m a Christian, apparently unlike you, and I don’t know anyone with seven or eight kids. Mormons yes, but among my peers, most have two or three kids, and none of us have any desire to control our wives’ reproduction; we discuss decisions like these together, pray together about it, and are of one accord.

    On the crime rate, you can’t compare the crime rates of sheltered, largely homogeneous societies to ours; far too many variables for apples to apples.

    As for not punishing, take a look at what’s happened to Denmark since they decided to stop punishing the crime of drug possession and use. Or when San Francisco stopped punishing street people for the old crime of vagrancy. Sections of the cities have become wretched as a result. If you’re not for punishing sins, tell me, what is the rehabilitation for rapists, murderers, child molesters and lynchers? Group therapy?

    The whole AP thing came after my time. Thank you for the explanation, which was quite well explained.

    I’m fine with teaching history and religion, but that is NOT what this teacher does. He teaches history and ridicules religion, which is not an accurate presentation of the role of religion in American history. It would be much better for the students we trust to him if they were taught the role of history in our nation with neutrality from the teacher, so the students can discuss it freely, without intimidation or shaming, and intelligently reach their own conclusions.

    I would be just as uncomfortable with an on-fire evangelical teacher shaming non-believing students with rants about fire, brimstone, their sinning ways and Jesus as the One Way. If I can see that such behavior would be wrong, why can’t you see that Corbett’s behavior is just as wrong?

    Comment by Laer — December 22, 2007 @ 7:46 am

  2. Hi Cheat-Seeking Missiles. For your point about controlling your wives’ reproductive capacity. Your argument is one by example. So, the question is the example representative? Even if true, it doesn’t contradict my observation about religiosity and very large families. There are fundamentalists that take Genesis 1:28 – “be fruitful and multiply” very literally. It isn’t just Mormons, it can be devout Catholics or other fundamentalists as well. However, I feel the issues are getting a tad conflated at this point. Without demographic data, I’m afraid we aren’t going to settle it because for everyone of your friends I could provide a news story. What would dissuade me from my view is 1) demographic data or 2) five stories where there was a very large family (7+) and they were atheists or demonstrably moderate.

    For the point of reproductive capacity, there are two forms of control: mental and physical. One addresses the societal role of women and their indoctrinated expectation of life. The other is about access to modern means of controlling reproductive capacity.

    For the first point, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a statement on the family in 1998 saying that wives should “submit graciously” to their husbands.

    This statement was endorsed by Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee, who is polling respectably among Republicans and particularly evangelicals, so I don‘t consider him too fringe.

    I’m happy that you and your wife are of one accord on the issue of the number of children that you want to have in your family. But, understand, I don’t agree with this patronizing view of women that the SBC expresses. And if you read “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” by Bart D. Ehrman, you find this view is quite intentional although it is surprising how it got that way.

    For the second issue, access to contraception, I am extraordinarily sympathetic to some aspects of the pro-life movement. I see life beginning, well, as an organic process. A fertilized egg that is ejected, no big deal. It happens all the time naturally. Infanticide is definitely wrong. I want to keep abortions to a minimum, but they are better than the alternative which is an uncared for child on a societal basis. How one prevents abortions is by abstinence and contraception. I would be more in favor of the general argument for abstinence only education if it worked out the way conservatives say it would. However, studies of the programs’ effectiveness show the opposite.

    As for your point of “sheltered, largely homogeneous societies,” I agree with you making comparisons is difficult. Just like history, one will never be faced with the exact same scenario. However, one can still pick out some themes. But, I do agree with conservatives on this one. The core problem is cultural (guns don’t kill people, people kill people possibly using guns). If you are saying a diverse culture can’t be tolerant. I completely disagree with you. There are a few things that make American culture violent: lack of empathy, narcissism, assumption of sanction, to name a few.

    The punishment complex feeds into sanction and empathy aspects to it. It breaks the world down into criminals/sinners and the rest of us. When in reality, no one wallows in the fact they are a monster, even if they do mean things. The point isn’t to excuse the perpetrator and turn them into the victim, but rather transform the perpetrator into someone who can properly empathize with their victims.

    However, an important aspect to that is understanding our roles a punishers. By punishing those to death, are we creating a dehumanizing environment that produced the perpetrator in the first place?

    A part of me wants to reserve the right of capital punishment for truly gross offenses, like the murderers of James Byrd Jr. However, given the number of capital punishment cases that have been overturned due to new genetic evidence, it is apparent that the jury system is fallible. The statistics on capital punishment are also rather horrifying. Just hope you never stand accused of murdering a white woman. So, given the obvious caveats, I can’t share Marilyn vos Savant’s view on the matter. However, I am anti-capital punishment.

    However, the larger question is that let’s say there is some aspect of human behavior that we don’t like, let’s say animal cruelty. Let’s say the penalty is 2 years in prison. Does raising the punishment to 5 years mean that there will be less animal cruelty? 10? 25? Life? Death-penalty? Given the nation’s experience with mandatory sentencing, the answer is no. The reason is that when people commit acts like animal cruelty, their brain isn’t going through a cost-benefit analysis. The problem is they aren’t recognizing the fundamental immorality of their actions. No amount of punishment will rectify that situation, in fact severe punishment for minor offenses tends to undermine notions of justice. In short, severe punishment seems to be a poor deterrent for immoral behavior.

    I wouldn’t go as far as Sweden. But, we do need to start moving away from the notion that the way we solve the crime problem is by more stringent punishments.

    I’m sorry, but you’ll have to be more explicit about what has happened to Denmark since they decided to stop criminalizing drug possession and use.

    Their GDP seems to be doing fine. The economic overview is fairly glowing. I don’t see any vast meltdown. What’s the problem?

    As for San Francisco, I happen to live near there currently. I visit semi-frequently. In fact, I’ve lived in lots of places. I say the South-side of Chicago is worse by any metric besides possibly earthquakes.

    For why I can’t just accept Corbett’s behavior as wrong is because I try to hold both sides to the same standard. A common teaching technique in history is to draw parallels between what one reads about in the past to experiences in a student’s background to help them understand why people behaved the way they did under the circumstances they were under. Religion is an important aspect of European history. But, one natural question might be after the fall of the Roman republic and Greek democracy, why did it take so long for another representative government arise in Europe? We are talking about hundreds of years here. Unfortunately for fans of Christianity, its role in the whole affair is none too flattering, such as the church’s role in the divine right of kings and practices such as selling of indulgences. We don’t have exact context for all of Corbett’s quotes, but that does appear to be what he is doing Joseph II and why his reforms failed.

    For perspective, here is a dirty little secret about historical statements concerning religion in the overlapping magisteria. If you disregard the gospels of the Bible, which has some semi-contradictory accounts of Jesus’ life and are incestuously based on one another, the case for an actual historical Jesus is very weak. There were multiple historians in the region and they made no particular note of him.

    So, in general, I do feel how we teach history is already too deferential to Jesus and Christianity. We clearly are not applying the same historical standard to biblical accounts as we do to other sources of information. I think you’ll find this basic deference to be a running theme in this discussion. For some reason, not giving that deference is considered offensive by fundamentalists. However, giving such a status to any particular view is an antithesis to enlightenment ideals, and contradicts particularly with what the goals of education should be in an open democracy.

    Students should be able to make up their own minds, but from a level playing field. Not one stacked to coddle any one’s particular pet beliefs and certainly not in the face of contradictory evidence. Would we make the same concessions for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Scientology, or the Church of the SubGenius? Justice is about applying the same standard. I am still not seeing how that it has been violated in this case. Where has Dr. Corbett said something that he had no evidence for and derided students if they questioned it?

    Comment by codesmithy — December 22, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

  3. Rather than delve into all you’ve very thoughtfully written, which I just can’t do because we have company coming over in a couple hours and there’s lots to do, let me just suggest that you read up on Josephus, a Roman historian, who did mention Jesus. Nothing has ever been found in the historical record that contradicts the story of Christ as presented in the Gospels, and the fantastic growth and spread of the Christian church in the first few AD centuries affirms that there were eyewitnesses to Jesus who spread his teachings with great passion and conviction.

    Merry Christmas!

    Comment by Laer — December 22, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

  4. As you suggested, I read up on Josephus. First, I guess I should qualify my statement: “there were multiple historians in the region and they made no particular note of him.” I meant Romanian historians that mentioned Jesus while he was alive i.e. an independent first-hand account apart from the gospels.

    As for the particular case of the “Testimonium Flavianum,” there are several reasons to believe it is a forgery on textual criticism grounds.

    As for nothing has been found in the historical that contradicts the story of the gospels, it would be equally hard to find something in the historical record that would disprove the existence of Sherlock Holmes. Positive claims require positive evidence. The strongest, most controversial claims require the most evidence, such as son of God, virgin birth, rose from the dead, etc.

    The growth and spread of the Christian church is independent of the question of whether Jesus Christ actually existed. Scientology has a grown and has many devoted followers, does that mean Xenu existed? Just because something is popular does not mean it is true. The best explanation I’ve found for the spread of Christianity is as a reaction and form of social resistance to the Roman Empire. In one of history’s great ironies, Christianity was adopted as the state religion of Roman Empire by Constantine. This forced adoption of the religion throughout Europe is the best explanation for why there are as many Christians as there are today.

    Which is why we are celebrating Christmas on December 25th (which is unlikely to be the date Christ was actually born according to the gospels), instead of say, the Winter solstice to some pagan God around a decorated tree.

    Comment by codesmithy — January 15, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  5. I find it interesting that Corbett is allowed to discuss Christianity if he is criticizing it, but a student can’t thank The Lord in a valedictorian speech.

    Does anyone believe that he could get away with saying ‘When you put on your Allah glasses, you can’t see the truth’?

    It appears that separation of church and state only applies to pro Christian stances.

    Comment by Austin — April 2, 2008 @ 5:11 pm

  6. I find it interesting that Corbett is allowed to discuss Christianity if he is criticizing it, but a student can’t thank The Lord in a valedictorian speech.

    You mean thanking the Lord like this student?

    Look, I have no problem with people thanking Jesus for his role in their achievement, however don’t use your moment in the spotlight to start repenting for my sins. Put another way, people should be able to thank Zeus all they like (or not thank him), just don’t lecture about how he is going to hurl lightning bolts at people if they subscribe to a different dogma.

    Does anyone believe that he could get away with saying ‘When you put on your Allah glasses, you can’t see the truth’?

    Yes, I do.

    Comment by codesmithy — April 3, 2008 @ 4:36 am

  7. He should not be allowed to teach. He took an oath to remain neutral on religion and politics and he broke both.

    Comment by Rudie Wilhelm III — May 9, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

    • Rudie, what is this oath that you speak of?

      I’m aware of the California’s state oath of allegiance the text of which appears to be the following:

      I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the
      Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of
      California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true
      faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the
      Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely,
      without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and
      faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.


      What is important is that classrooms remain secular. I don’t think off-handedly dismissing creationism as superstitious nonsense is violating any one’s freedom of religion, although apparently the judge in the case disagreed. One of my problems with this is where does it end? Like the White Queen, do I get to believe six impossible things before breakfast if I declare them to be religious? Are teachers required to accommodate my impossible beliefs and forbidden from commenting on them? To me, that isn’t a secular society, it is the religious demanding accommodation and it is the opposite of the spirit of freedom of thought and freedom of conscience that the Constitution is intended to protect.

      Comment by codesmithy — May 10, 2009 @ 2:45 am

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