‘Kirkbride Preacher’ claims should be challenged
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 17:04
I am the person who challenged the street preacher outside Kirkbride Hall on March 1, and wish to address your article.
First, I am a full-time student here, though I am, as your article described, in my 30s. I first attended the university in 1999, left to join the Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and returned to complete my degree in 2009.
Mr. Johnson, or one of his associates, has been standing in that spot for at least the past 14 years, shouting fire and damnation, telling passing students they literally deserve to die. Somehow, if that sort of hateful message is draped in a cross, it’s considered OK. Can you imagine another situation in which anyone would defend a man who conducts himself in this manner? His associate once shouted, “God loved us so much, he sent his only son to be slaughtered. ” In what other context does such a statement make sense, that a being can show love through the horrible torture and murder of another? It’s a monstrous idea; it’s scapegoating on a cosmic scale, and frankly, deserves to be challenged.
I should like to point out that I never asked him to leave; I acknowledge and respect his right to free speech. However, free speech does not mean unopposed speech. I do not respect religious belief in general, or Christianity in particular, and feel in no way obligated to honor the taboos against criticizing the religious beliefs held by others. The point of my exchange with Mr. Johnson was to let him know that not everyone agrees with his worldview, and to provide, at least for an afternoon, a dissenting viewpoint. I reacted passionately to a person shouting blatant falsehoods on a university campus.
I would ask those who defend or “respect” Mr. Johnson’s methods and message how they would feel if instead of a lay minister “spreading the good word,” Mr. Johnson was a brown man who claimed we deserve to die because the Koran says so, rather than because we don’t adhere to the Bible? What if he were insisting the Book of Mormon were the inerrant word of God, or that our failure to embrace Marxism makes us worthy of death? What if he had been shouting about E-meters, Dianetics and Xenu (aspects of Scientology, for those unaware)? Imagine if he claimed the only path to eternal paradise was honorable death in battle, as the Norse believed.
If his horrendous claims were based on anything other than accepted modern religious faith, no one would question our disbelief. If his abhorrent view of reality weren’t couched in a faith the majority passively accept, that the majority agree with, they would be universally ridiculed and rejected. Mr. Johnson repeatedly asked me to “prove” there was no God. I respond to these claims with the late Christopher Hitchens’ maxim “That which may asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.” Proof for a thing’s nonexistence is an invalid concept; if a thing exists, it will leave evidence. If a thing does not exist, it will not leave evidence. I would be just as unable to prove the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist.
People must critically examine their beliefs, and should consider not only what they believe, but why. The majority of theists base their beliefs either on simple tradition (they were indoctrinated into their faiths since infancy) or base appeal to authority (the church and the Bible say it, so it must be true). My goal was not to silence Mr. Johnson, but to encourage other students to think about why they believe what they do. Many assert the Bible is the foundation of our morality, but we know this isn’t true. We don’t believe the appropriate punishment for a rape is to force the rapist to pay the victim’s family 50 silver shekels and marry his victim, as the Bible says. We don’t support the genocide of other nations based on their religious ideals. We don’t respect or venerate cult leaders who proclaim they have come “to set man against man, to put the son at variance with the father,” we don’t hold slavery as a part of the natural order and a moral institution, and we recoil at the notion that we can punish one person to forgive the crimes of another. My beliefs are based on scholarship, observation, experimentation, in short scientific study. Science is a quest for understanding; it is a process that doesn’t have all the answers. It can even be wrong, occasionally. I believe that given enough time, we will find all the answers, but that’s simply optimism. Regardless, “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable, and honest, answer.
Theists assert the answer is God, based on nothing but ancient writings, and then become upset (often brutally, violently, murderously upset, over the past 3,000 years or so) when a person like me points out how absurd it all is. If I told you I believed the world was a disc on the back of a massive turtle, you’d tell me I was mad. If I said the world was the body of a giant slain by Odin, you wouldn’t consider it. But because the current myth still holds some sway, the idea that the Earth spontaneously popped into being at the will of deity 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, when we know the Earth is around 4.6 billion years old, is somehow not ridiculous.