Penn Secular Society takes our role as a secular group very seriously, and the majority of our activities are aimed at providing a community for the irreligious and holding discussions on theology, philosophy, secularism and all manner of related topics. I wish Noah Sanders had contacted us or attended a meeting before writing his article, as he would have known that. Unfortunately, since he did neither, his claims are utterly wrong, if not libelous.
As Noah correctly noted, we do have an additional goal: to prompt members of the Penn community to think critically about their beliefs. Our banner displays work toward this goal. Last week’s display was intended to inspire students to reflect on how they view difficult verses in their holy books and the value and meaning of holy texts with such statements in them.
While many have been supportive of our efforts, others — either unwittingly or less innocently — have misconstrued our efforts as ignorant or hateful. Yet we have not asserted that any opinion is wrong. We have not said that anyone is a bad person. We have not implied that some people should be tortured for all eternity. And though it should go without saying: Obviously, the purpose of the displays was not to disprove the existence of gods. Obviously, religions are not wholly represented by a few passages. Obviously, not all religious persons interpret their holy text literally, and religious people do a lot of good things. Nowhere have we implied otherwise. However, that many people tend to ignore these passages doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and it’s worth actively thinking about their existence. Though I strongly identified as Jewish through the age of 18 and participated in 13 years of religious education, I was never exposed to these sorts of passages.
Some have argued that proper context was not offered for these passages and that nobody actually believes what the quotations say. Personally, I do not believe there is any context that excuses prescriptions of bias and assault against women. However, if our display prompted you to go home, read your holy book and reconcile the passages with your sensibilities, then you thought critically about your beliefs, as we hoped. But it’s important to realize not every religious person comes to that conclusion. Last month I spoke to a local rabbi who assured me that a woman who does not scream when she is raped should be punished “because she enjoyed it.” There truly exist people who believe such things, and that’s important to think about too.
The most common complaint I have heard is simply one of disliking something that suggests disagreement with deeply held views. Believe me, I understand the feeling completely. Four years ago, I would have been unsettled by such a display. In fact, I regularly was. I listened to people who disagreed with me, and I was often annoyed by what they said. However, after much thought and continued discussion, I realized their criticisms were valid. While it was jarring at first to hear criticism of my beliefs, thought and reflection upon those challenges enabled me to improve myself.
The best way to grow as a person is to confront opinions that you disagree with. How else are you to ensure that your opinions are correct? The main benefit of going to a school as diverse as Penn is the chance to have an open exchange of opinions with students you disagree with. If you only interact with people who agree with you on all the important things, you’re doing it wrong. Closing your mind to dissenting voices is a childish action — letting the fact that someone disagrees with you “ruin your day” shows intellectual immaturity.
It’s dangerous to say that certain beliefs are off-limits to reflection or discussion. So if your reaction to our banner was like Noah’s and you dislike that we’re promoting critical reflection about religious beliefs, I’d like you to ask yourself why that is. If your beliefs are so fragile that a hint of disagreement causes you anguish, it would benefit you all the more to honestly consider that disagreement. You’re welcome to attend Penn Secular Society’s discussions, and I’m always happy to talk.
Seth Koren is a College junior and the president of Penn Secular Society.Comments powered by Disqus
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