For a long time, stretched between two posts in front of Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, the Penn Secular Society’s black banner hung, shamelessly displaying its message for all of Penn to see and shamelessly ruining my day … every day.
There is nothing wrong with secularism. As the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it, secularism is “the belief that religion should not play a role in government, education, or other public parts of society.” A society free of religious bias is a noble goal. The Penn Secular Society, however, does not concern itself with discussing secularism and its place in society. No, the Penn Secular Society devotes its time (and banner space) to trying to prove that G-d does not exist.
The Penn Secular Society needs to understand two things: First, trying to prove that G-d does not exist is impossible. Religion is not based on rationality (belief implies a certain level of irrationality) and trying to “out-reason” religion betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept. Second, it is never acceptable to force a viewpoint on another individual. Personal autonomy is something every member of a functioning society must learn to respect.
The Penn Secular Society’s mission statement is as follows:
“The Penn Secular Society aims to foster community among the irreligious, provide a haven wherein members may discuss religion and related issues and encourage the Penn community to think critically about their beliefs.”
That is beautiful. The secular students on campus deserve a community of their own, and every religious student should be encouraged to think critically about his or her beliefs. What I am struggling with, and from whence the rationale for this piece comes, is where in that mission statement does it advocate tearing down any belief you don’t ascribe to and stepping all over it?
Proselytizing in general is obnoxious and necessitates a certain amount of disrespect for others, but at least other evangelical organizations have a reason for being disrespectful. Evangelical Christians, for example, believe they have a duty to save non-believers from eternal damnation.
The Penn Secular Society, however, has no such reason. The Penn Secular Society wants everyone to stop believing in G-d because, well, because they don’t believe in G-d. If the Penn Secular Society believes something, everyone else has to believe it, too … right?
Right now, the Penn Secular Society does nothing constructive and serves only to offend religious students. It can and should change its message, as secularism has a very necessary role in society — one that the Penn Secular Society is failing to play. Show us where religion has taken too strong a hold in the government, discuss whether or not Christmas should be treated as a national holiday, question the ethics of allowing religious students time to pray in public school. Don’t just stand on Locust and tell us you think we’re stupid. We got that.
Noah Sanders is a College junior. His email address is email@example.com.
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