Another April is upon us, which means another Hash Bash is behind us. As the cleanup crews get to work trying to get the Diag ready for another week of classes, the entire student body needs a gentle reminder to help keep this area pristine for all of us. However, it’s not the trash I’m talking about (though the out-of-towners bring a lot, damn dirty hippies), but the noise pollution.
Yes, it’s just about that time for the campus hate-mongers to make an appearance. If this isn’t your first semester, then you know exactly who I’m talking about: the angry man with his sandwich board, spewing hate and vitriol to anyone who will listen; the guy who argues with him while hocking his own book and performing a few weird magic tricks; or just about any imaginable kind of gospel-preachin’, soul-savin’ outdoor evangelist.
Regardless, when you break all of them down into their constituent parts, they’re here spreading a message of hate, intolerance and/or exclusivity, and that is the polar opposite of what campus should be. Anyone carrying around a sign that says “Repent or die,” “Ask me why you’re going to be cast into a lake of fire” or “Obey Jesus” isn’t coming at you with an attitude of love or respect (again, except Magic Guy, and he’s just here for your cash — though at least he’s honest about it).
Don’t get me wrong; I love a good campus preacher. One of the first groups I associated with, the campus Atheists, Agnostics & Humanists at Western Michigan University — presently the Center for Inquiry — originally congregated around a campus preacher. Then again, what they had at WMU we lack here at the University; mainly, a strong-willed, intelligent group that could factually, and loudly, counter anything that gets tossed around — and do it in a way that isn’t overly insulting or condescending.
And that is a problem here on the Diag. Sure, we have plenty of people who will yell at the guy, but all they’re doing is playing into his hands. This preacher isn’t doing anything special, per se, but a lot of this goes back to the facts that we just don’t have many older students here, and campus religious diversity always seems to revolve around some sort of god (as I have noted before).
Unfortunately, the Diag is technically considered a public space, so they are well within their rights to preach their message of hate — or magic and books, depending on the source. But there are a few things we can do to combat this nuisance. One tried-and-true response is for a well read, free thinker to stand out there, to heckle him back while winning over the crowd, until the preacher gets irritated and goes away. However, lacking a 350-pound man with a booming voice, quick wit and a powder blue t-shirt that reads “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist” — and we are lacking that on campus, trust me — the best thing we can do is ignore him.
I know, much easier than it sounds, to ignore such a spectacle. Students naturally congregate around these people. Honestly, we’ve all done it. In fact, I stopped and watched one about this time last year. I probably should have spoken up, but I was underprepared, and that’s the last thing you want to be when dealing with these loons. “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience,” as the saying goes.
Then again, as much as I say we should ignore them, I also have some weird fantasies about these people getting their comeuppance. I mean, wouldn’t it be fantastic if the circle of people around one of them just spontaneously turned around and started talking to the people behind them, alienating the preacher in the midst of a large group of people? Or if a couple of them started some sort of preacher rap battle, and we were on hand to judge it, complete with scorecards? I’d love to see sandwich board guy try to spit a rhyme — I bet it would be hysterical.
Anyhow, remember they are not there to be nice or make friends, no matter what they say. They are here for self-serving ends, to get attention and money, whether it be American dollars or spiritual spending power for the afterlife. Be vigilant around these con men, and stay out of their money trap.
Finally, whatever you do when you see these guys, make sure you don’t get violent or make threats. All of these things play into their hands, and the last thing we want is to give them more self-righteous fury. Instead, smile and walk away. If they have no crowd, they have no currency, and they will quickly move along to the next group of “suckers.” Let them say what they came to say, and then let them leave. The sooner they get the message that we don’t care, the sooner they’ll go away and the sooner we’ll go back to having a nicer, cleaner Diag.
Erik Kukielka can be reached at email@example.com.