If you were on the quad around noon at any time around the week of Oct. 24, you likely fell victim to the insufferable ranting and raving of the evangelical preachers perched outside of the Student Services Center. Whether you are like myself, the kind of person who would likely feel a slight burning sensation if I ever entered the threshold of a church, or the kind of moderate religious individual who does occasionally attend a service, or even a devoutly religious person, I hope you see what is reprehensible about this behavior.
The preachers, who have been invading campus every semester or so for the past few years, generally utter the same general rhetoric: “Jesus is the one true God, evolution is a lie, and it’s a sin to be gay.” It’s the regressive kind of thing that we, sadly, think of every time we hear someone preach about their interpretation of their version of God.
Andrew Semaan, the president of the Bloomsburg Atheist Society, and a junior at Bloomsburg University, has witnessed the preachers on campus for the past three years. Semaan, an outsider when it comes to religion, and an observer of the crowd mentality incited by the preachers, had much to say about the issue:
“They tend to gather quite the crowd during their visits. These crowds are full of people who are extremely angered by them. The demographics of the crowd seem to be populated by many Christians who refute them and deny that their preaching is related to their own religion. Another key element of the crowd tend to be individuals who are passionate with regards to LGBT rights, and they themselves seem to frequently be religious individuals in themselves.
“Now while I personally recognize that these preachers represent a fundamentalist approach to the religion in terms of rhetoric and practice (which is generally a minority element in contemporary religion), I do have some strongly held opinions, which could be just as liable to offend the general student crowd as it may offend the preachers themselves. Namely, I feel that Christians and other religious individuals should take a hard look at what these individuals preach and think about where their beliefs come from. The fact is that they really are quoting the Bible, and people should not refute the preachers as not representing their religion when in my opinion they are really representing elements that are typically covered up by churches or ignored by many religious individuals.
“I firmly believe that many people claim to adhere to a religion or God but do not actually study the literature, which purports their beliefs. I feel, in an odd sense, that these preachers ironically give a reality check to many individuals who go about their daily lives with an ever loving God in the background, supporting them and their lives unconditionally. I have observed many fellow students refute the teachers and discuss how Christianity is about God’s unconditional love. While I sympathize with their disagreement with the preachers’ hate, I feel that this is a naive view which ignores heaps of violent, intolerant, and illogical material present in the Bible.”
Like the crowd, which was likely made up more of moderate Christians than any other religious group, Semaan condemned the actions of the preachers. Semaan went on to discuss how inevitably, every time these preachers come on to campus, rather than promoting a rational dialogue discussing the morality of the Bible or discussing in a calm conversation whether the scripture in the Bible should be taken literally, the crowd almost always becomes an angry mob, having screaming matches with the preachers that really don’t solve anything.
I personally believe in absolute freedom of speech, regardless of whether or not it’s hate speech. That being said, considering the things the preachers said, and considering how students on other campuses have reacted, it’s pretty apparent that BU students treated them as civilly as possible.
On a number of other campuses, similar incidents have occurred. However, rather than berate the preachers with a barrage of verbal bullets, like the students of BU, many others, such as students of Boise State, have resulted to violence.
Because of groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan, the use of Christianity, as a mechanism for hatred is nothing new. Because people cling to religion and contort it to their own world perception, violence against people for being nothing more than people is an abysmal reality. This is not to say all religious people are bad, or even that most are, but to say that we should question why these preachers are saying what they’re saying.
The fact that there are passages of the Bible such as Leviticus 20:13, (“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them”) and the fact that the vast majority of us choose to view such lines as hate speech, is a pretty good indication that our morality isn’t as intertwined with the Bible as we choose to think. It’s an acknowledgement that whether we accept the Bible as true or not or somewhere in the middle, its ideology isn’t perfect.
Regardless of your position in the ongoing debate that is religion, I ask you this: think. Think critically about the words you take as gospel, and take works like the Bible with a grain of salt. And if you’re genuinely convinced that “evolution is a lie,” I suggest you open a science textbook as much as you claim to open a Bible.