At the University of Alabama this past weekend, the Alabama Atheists and Agnostics group decided to advertise their upcoming meeting by chalking the campus (the link goes to an article in the campus paper… but the page is freezing up my browser. You’ve been warned).
They inscribed the following messages around the school along with info about their next meeting:
“You don’t need God to be Good.”
“You’re not alone if you don’t believe in God.”
“Those who believe in absurdities commit atrocities”
Clearly, they offended someone because the reaction was swift and harsh:
“While we were chalking somebody dumped water on what we were chalking, somebody spat at us,” [group vice-president Peter] Sloan said. “But really, overall, most people were polite.”
Within a span of six hours, all the chalkings had been “erased and scrubbed clean.”
Who was the culprit? At the moment, it’s unknown, but an eyewitness says the erasers “did not believe in the organization.” (Which makes no sense to me. I mean, the group really does exist…)
“I did not think that this would be the reaction,” Sloan said. “This is uncivil, undemocratic and does not speak well to those who did it. They feel like they have to silence dissenting ideas instead of being involved in active debate.”
When I was in college, a member of my campus group told me that, as he was putting up flyers advertising an atheist speaker on our campus, someone else was ripping them down a few seconds later. She was basically stalking my atheist friend so she could “undo” his work.
When I was in high school, some students taped paper along the main hallway for a Humanities project. Each paper had a word on it — GAY, QUEER, LESBIAN, HOMOSEXUAL, etc. During passing periods, someone in the group would stand at a distance and record how many of those signs were ripped down in the span of a few minutes. Whatever the number was, it was too high.
It’s not just the vandalism that’s so scary, though.
As Peter says, what’s sad about this story is that there are people who are afraid of hearing from someone who disagrees with them, who might challenge their beliefs, who might get the audience to think critically and rationally about religion. Instead of hearing that person out and responding in a civilized way, the culprits try to prevent anyone from hearing the dissenting opinion.
It’s the same mindset that thinks it’s ok to ban books from public schools and libraries.
College is precisely the time when you should be hearing differing opinions from what you’re used to. Be challenged. It’d be great if the students who are ripping these signs or erasing the chalkings came to the advertised meeting and asked good, tough questions to the speaker. That’s what most atheists do when a Creationist or Intelligent Design proponent comes to give a talk on campus. We relish the debate and we know we have the facts on our side.
I guess when you know you’re on the losing end of the debate, you’d rather no one witness it at all.
(Thanks to Reginald for the link!)