The Course of Reason

Counter-Protest for Sin Awareness Day at GWU

May 1, 2013

magdalena at gwuLast week, a now-familiar sight returned to the GW campus. Along with the robins and songbirds of spring, a group of born-again Christians arrived to preach from a soapbox on a sidewalk off of our main quad, Kogan Plaza. From about 10:30am to 5:00pm, this group, which consisted of about a half dozen older male members of the church heckled a sizable crowd of students, calling them sinners, and telling them to repent and find Jesus. The group, which preaches primarily on college campuses, had been here last semester too, but returned today in honor of "Sin Awareness Day."

Members of GW Secular Society responded with a counter protest of our own. One of our members, Alicia Little, who is a wonderful artist, set about making signs - "Good without a God," "Vive la Evolucion," "We love you no matter what you believe," and the "evolve fish" were among the crowd favorites. We spent about an hour holding the signs, presenting counter slogans such as "Hatred is not the answer," and "We respect you as intelligent, free human beings," and speaking to members of the crowd. We then moved to sit in a row in front of them, silent and cross-legged, holding our signs in peaceful protest. As the day progressed and the sun became more intense, we moved to the shade, and brought out the chalk. Alicia Little again demonstrated impressive artistry with sidewalk chalk, covering the area in front of the group with counter-protest slogans.

What will you do with your sin on Judgment Day?
What will you do with your sin on Judgment Day?

The reaction we received across campus and from the crowd was mixed. Some students gave us hugs, high fives, and bottles of water. Some students, even some atheist students, objected to what we were doing, saying that we were stooping to their level by responding to the religious group's ranting. While they do have a point, to an extent, it seems apparent that our message is just as important as theirs. And without their advantage of a microphone, a dramatic physical counter-protest seems more effective, civilized, and peaceful than shouting ourselves hoarse at them, trying to have a meaningful debate in a hostile forum.

At the end of the day, it seems clearly counter-productive for this group to continue with their practice. They managed to alienate many fellow Christians, as well as members of other faiths. Some of the group members came across as racist and completely intolerant, neither of which seemed to help them gain any ground. The problem with soapbox speaking, such as this, is that it makes the group appear crazy and unhinged, as it offers no room for reasonable discussion. No one, no matter how good their point may be or how interested they are in a discussion, can compete with an angry man with a microphone on a street corner. While their beliefs were clearly repulsive to most members of the crowd, they also hurt their case by the manner in which they presented it. As a secularist, a member of an oft-vilified group, this made me consider the manner in which we present our own philosophy. We need to hold debates, discussions, and presentations in controlled environments: the classroom, the auditorium, even the local café. A street corner discussion has an air of wildness about it, one that quickly alienates both sides from reason, and from each other. In quiet, calm, and respectful discussions is where real change will happen. Though we may not agree on much, members of this group and of GW Secular Society would have had a far more productive day had we taken the time to move to a forum conducive to logical, rational, intellectual discussion, put down the microphone and the signs, and listened to one another as human beings.

Chalk art by GWSS members.
Chalk art by GWSS members.

 

About the Author: Magdalena Stuehrmann

Magdalena Stuehrmann's photo
Magdalena Stuehrmann is the Public Relations and Outreach Coordinator for the George Washington University Secular Society.

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