Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Penn Secular Society Sign Vandalized

Running a secular group at an institution like the University of Pennsylvania has a few unique challenges. Unlike many schools across the US where secular groups are outcast and face opposition at every turn on religious grounds, at UPenn groups like the Christian Association, the interfaith group PRISM, and most of all the Chaplain's office have been our greatest outside supporters. Groups that would oppose us tend to keep to themselves. Penn has such a diverse religious life that most people have become extra accommodating to people of other beliefs, and I'm glad they've begun to include non-believers in that umbrella.

All of this love and support can be a burden as well when it comes time to ask the hard questions some of our members want to ask our classmates. Questions like "what good is faith?" Or "why do you put so much value on a book that supports slavery?"

This culture of interfaith cooperation is naturally resistant to any cross examination. Certain venues do exist for this type of discussion, but most are Christian organizations like InterVarsity, Cru, and Veritas Forum which have varying degrees of evangelistic missions.

Last week, the Penn Secular Society attempted to strike a balance by appealing to common ground. On the main campus walk, the PSS banner proudly displayed a partial list of "Gods you probably don't believe in."

On the right side in soft, non-pushy writing sat the lingering question: "so what's one more?"

We reasoned that this would be inoffensive enough to our religious classmates (seeing as we stuck with Gods no longer widely worshiped today), yet it would encourage people to think about their beliefs in a hopefully new way.

Apparently, not everyone felt that way.

It's hard to see in the picture, but by the end of the week someone had torn down page one and thrown coffee on the middle of the banner. The banner's fine, but very sticky.

When the vandalism came up at the next meeting, the unanimous decision amongst those present was to respond with something a little more provocative. We decided to go with some popular Abrahamic holy books' views on women. Three verses were selected and quoted without commentary, followed by a message:

"Do you dislike this display? Please don't deface our banner - find us on Facebook and tell us why."

Not 5 hours had gone by when we noticed someone hadn't read the instructions:

So in a new record for Penn Secular Society, someone has thrown soup on our 5 day long banner campaign less than 5 hours into the week.

We've decided to not clean the banner this time, in the hopes that passers by will take notice of the vandalism and hopefully learn something.

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