Is there a God?
That’s not what Penn Secular Society is asking. The members are not trying to promote atheism or convert passersby to atheism.
We’re sure that most of you, on your way to and from class, have passed by the large Penn Secular Society poster hanging on Locust Walk. It is often covered in quotes from Scripture or about religion. At one point, there was a list of dozens of deities, meant to represent all the gods you didn’t believe in. “What’s one more?” the poster challenged.
These actions have attracted much attention and controversy. Some students find the Scripture quotes offensive and a mockery of their religion. In light of this, the poster has been defaced four times over the past two weeks. According to a recent Daily Pennsylvanian article, defacers threw liquids at the poster, ripped quotes off and wrote over the printed pages.
We don’t understand what all the turmoil is about. We do not think the views expressed or the questions posed on the poster are offensive. We believe Penn Secular Society is following its goal, outlined in its mission statement as “encourag[ing] the Penn community to think critically about their beliefs.” Upon reading some of the quotes displayed on the poster, we do pause to think about what the message is and how that fits into our own mindset.
Penn Secular Society President Seth Koren does not dispute that some of the quotes on the poster can be offensive to some people. But, he adds, “That’s the point.” The display utilizes these inflammatory quotes to make people think, and at least for us, it seems to be working.
We tend to agree with Koren. One of the biblical quotes on the poster advocated stoning virgin women who slept with other men. It’s safe to say that even the most religious of students on Penn’s campus are unlikely to condone that act. Penn Secular Society is merely using “outdated” parts of scripture as a vehicle to push people to question their other religious beliefs. Sound like their mission statement? We think so.
Those who disagree certainly have a right to protest Penn Secular Society, but we would encourage them to find more productive ways of protest. Acts like throwing coffee on the poster and scrawling “no way” across the poster are childish. They are also pointless if these protesters want to effect change.
Open expression is unquestionably a two-way street. Penn Secular Society has upheld their end of that by addressing the concerns raised about their poster and repeatedly requesting those who disagree to come speak to them, even adding that as a fixture to its poster. The defacers should stop acting so cowardly and join the conversation, too.
At Penn, we are afforded an environment with a rich variety of beliefs and opinions, and we should take advantage of that to start a meaningful dialogue. Penn Hillel President Josh Cooper, wrote in a guest submission to the DP that he found the poster “unnecessarily provocative,” but it still prompted him to think about his faith and take the posters as “an opportunity to affirm my beliefs … and fortify my religious identity.”
In the DP article, it was implied by Cooper and other religious leaders on campus that perhaps a poster was not the best way to convey the views of Penn Secular Society. We think that’s fair. Perhaps both Penn Secular Society and the posters’ defacers can find a more productive outlet for discussion and exploring new ideas.
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