The Success of a ‘Stone-a-Heathen’ Fundraiser October 1, 2010

The Success of a ‘Stone-a-Heathen’ Fundraiser

(Hemant’s note: This is a guest post by Kelley Freeman. She’s a sophomore Art major/Russian minor at the University of South Carolina who can crochet like a fiend. She is currently the co-humanist outreach director for the Pastafarians at USC.)

On September 30th, the Pastafarians at USC hosted our first huge fundraiser: Stone-A-Heathen.

We partnered with Amnesty International and raised money to fight stoning in Iran and other countries where stoning still unfortunately exists. The idea was that to ‘stone’ a heathen, one could purchase a water balloon (for a mere dollar!) to throw at the Pastafarian of their choice. The UGAtheists proved last month that this could be successful and fun as a publicity stunt, but we were curious (and a bit scared) to see how well it would work as a fundraiser.

We had some interesting problems in our quest to hold our event.

For starters, we had to convince our campus organizers to let us host it in the first place. (“Stone-A-Heathen” is admittedly a very odd name for a fundraiser.)

Then we wanted to use Bible verses. We wanted to make a statement about how Abrahamic religions are the basis for stoning (it’s most prominently mentioned in Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament/Torah). We were told we could not do this — not that we couldn’t make the statement, but that we couldn’t use the verses at all because they could be considered disrespectful, especially if water balloons were thrown at the verses on our backdrop.

We understood where organizers were coming from, so we asked if we could still have signs with Bible verses on them as long as there were no water balloons being thrown at them. This was acceptable. We could have been more irritated about the fact that we weren’t allowed to throw water balloons at the Bible verses — on Blasphemy Rights’ Day — but the fact that we were able to use them at all was appreciated. We love our university and the campus organizers are wonderful to work with; we didn’t want to piss them off. (After all, we do want to hold events with their support in the future.)

Then came the weather. We nearly cancelled the event! The weather has been terrible the last few days — cold, rainy, overcast — not good for throwing water balloons (or getting soaked with them). We were prepared to go through with it, though; we had wetsuits! We considered canceling early and rescheduling for next week if the weather became horrible, but thankfully, due to divine intervention (joke!), the weather was just as perfect as it could be. It was over eighty degrees and sunny for the three hours we were out there.

People were not as keen as we had hoped to stone us.

Many of them perhaps felt like we were mocking them (we are the Pastafarians, so I understand this), but we barely mentioned scripture. We asked them if they wanted to donate a dollar towards Amnesty and in doing so they could get a water balloon and “stone” us. The odd thing about this was how many people claimed to be Christian and that it was “against their religion” to stone people. I couldn’t help but listen to what they were saying while glancing at the Leviticus verse on my sign. I know that the Pew survey shows that people don’t know their own religion, but this was just dumbfounding.

There were a lot of people who looked curiously at our signs and laughed. A lot of people donated but didn’t like the idea of correlating a fun event like this to the seriousness of actual stoning. They felt like we were trivializing the pain and brutality of lapidation. I understand where these people are coming from, but we felt that raising awareness and funds was worth them being offended. There are people on my campus who don’t know stoning still takes place. To raise their awareness is worth the slight discomfort.

What really made this event worthwhile was the fun we had doing it. I don’t know that we’ve ever had as many people from the Pastafarians out on Greene Street tabling and raising awareness. We had at least twelve members come out to work the event, plus several others who came in support! We laughed, generated a lot of buzz, called people out, and just had a genuinely good time. Even our university mascot — Cocky the Gamecock (really) — came out and ‘stoned-a-heathen’!

Amnesty International was also a great group of people. They were so nice and came out to table with us. It’s not always easy to find an organization willing to work with a non-theist organization, but they were great!

All of that fun and insanity cost us $8 for balloons. Meanwhile, we raised $140 for Amnesty International! We hope to see other campuses doing it next year.

(Just for future reference, it is really hard to find water balloons in September. Harder than we expected, anyway. Also, filling up water balloons in the mens’ bathroom is far too entertaining of an experience.)

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  • flatlander100

    Interesting that officials of a public university think they have the authority to deny permission because some students might think the event “disrespectful” of their beliefs.

    Some administrators, it seems, need a refresher course in Bill of Rights 101.

  • I don’t know if they were necessarily prohibiting it… It was more that they would prefer that we didn’t. They’re nice to us though, so we worked on a compromise. 🙂

  • Ron in Houston

    I really hate being critical of Kelley but she does need to learn more about religion before she says things like how she finds it “dumbfounding” that Christians will say they don’t believe in stoning.

    Now having said that, I give you guys a lot of credit for having a very edgy fundraiser. Given the plight of that woman in Iran it also is very relevant.

  • Great job! Fundraising and increasing awareness are tough to do in the same event so kudos for pulling it off.

    Next time you may want to highlight the AI donation connection more if they are ok with that-it gives people more of a context to understand an very unfamiliar event.

    As to the christians and not stoning people, they’d likely point to the end of john 7, beginning of john 8 in the bible as their justification for making that statement.

    You can walk them through the logic from their pov: god instituted stoning in the old testament; jesus is god therefore jesus stopped a stoning that only would have happened because he instituted it. From there you can go in a number of directions with the discussion.

    Again, great job-I’m sure some folks will look forward to it next year if it becomes an annual event.

  • Michelle

    Now we just need to find ways to move these awareness and fund raising events into the greater community (any community). I really enjoy sharing these ideas with local free-thinker groups.

  • This is fantastic! Would love to do a similar event across the pond. 30th is a Friday next year, so not sure if I would have the annual leave, but 2012 it’s a Sunday – a perfect day for it I think.

  • Court

    Looks like a very fun event and it’s good you raised people’s awareness.
    Some people at my campus are trying to put together a Secular Student Alliance and I think this would be a great event for up to put on.

  • Silent Service

    Also, filling up water balloons in the mens’ bathroom is far too entertaining of an experience.


  • Jude

    Christians ignore any old testament provisions that they dislike–e.g., much of Leviticus is ignored (except the part about gays). Take Deuteronomy 25:11-12: (New International Version) If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.” I’ve always had trouble imagining this scenario. Would you make a law to prohibit something that didn’t happen on a regular basis? Christians attempt to adhere to the new testament*, which is far less colorful but equally strange. *(except of course, when it contains provisions which they dislike, e.g. about public prayer–New International Version Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”)

  • Dmitri

    I’m glad that funds were raised for a good cause, but there are a couple of problems I see. A) “Heathen.” There is a group of Modern Pagan religions which gather under this name. I realize it was more than likely unintentional, but it could still give the event a very negative meaning other than what the organizers meant. B) Using stoning to protest stoning just seems a bit odd to me. Even if it is tongue-in-cheek with water balloons, it doesn’t surprise me that some people were unwilling to participate in what is essentially a practice of execution.

  • Let me get this straight. They refused a permit to throw water balloons at bible verses, but they approved a permit to throw water balloons at actual human beings?

  • flatlander100


    OK. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Hitch

    Great stuff. Humor with a somber point.

  • haw, i SO remember that! campus activism life is hard. it gets better.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Then we wanted to use Bible verses. We wanted to make a statement about how Abrahamic religions are the basis for stoning (it’s most prominently mentioned in Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament/Torah). We were told we could not do this — not that we couldn’t make the statement, but that we couldn’t use the verses at all because they could be considered disrespectful, especially if water balloons were thrown at the verses on our backdrop.

    Okey dokey. Quoting their scriptures is disrespectful to religions. Whoda thunkit.

  • l.vellenga

    i think it’d be interesting for a christian group to host something similar. christians* by and large do not think there ought to be stonings of any sort — in iran or anywhere else. i’m pretty sure you could find a campus christian group who’d be interested in raising money to fight violence against women. out of curiosity, why the bible verses as opposed to textual support for stoning from the koran?

    [* please please don’t hate on me if you think i’m wrong on this; some christians are nut-jobs, true, but most of them (even if they can’t articulate a good reason why) are pretty much anti-stoning.]

  • Pseudonym

    In case anyone is curious, one obvious reason why Christians disapprove of stoning is because they have historically been on the receiving end. Christians didn’t crucify people, either.

    There has always been a taboo in Christianity (and specific prohibitions in Canon Law) against the shedding of blood. That’s why some psychopath with a fondness for legal nitpicking decided that it was okay to burn heretics at the stake.

  • KathrynRN

    Ooooh, Kelley, maybe next year we can have a bonfire.

  • AnonyMouse

    I can appreciate the idea behind this, but somehow I can’t help but think that actual stoning victims would not find their “creative” fund-raising techniques very humorous. Maybe they should have started a campaign to demonstrate that stoning is still a real and serious penalty in some countries. You can bet Christians would give money to end that.

  • dspoet

    What a brilliant fundraiser and lesson in scripture at the same time! It drips with irony. The reaction of the university is priceless and furthers the poignance of the event. They couldn’t have offered you a more perfect catch 22.

    I hope we will witness many more of these superbly creative events.

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