I am still working through the anger. I’m inviting you, the reader, along with me through that process.
Frequently, when many express anger and offense at our Gods being poorly portrayed, spoken against, disrespected, or blasphemed against, there are many reminders that the Gods can handle the abrogation, and that it is not ours to deal with. My anger, in this case, came from looking at this display from the AHA group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before I go into the topic at hand, a few words on why I am angered:
I do not find it clever. They not only got dates of ancient worship wrong, but this was an act of erasure to Pagans, and in some cases especially to, among a great many, African Diasporic religions. This was a ham-fisted and childish ‘look at me!’ display on their part while also being completely needlessly hostile. I look at it with contempt. College is hard enough, and so, I look on displays like this, regardless of faction, fraternity, religion, etc. with equal contempt. From personal experience of talking with folks, actions like these stop, or at least discourage people from minority religions, as well as atheists and agnsotics who have to deal with fallout from stupid actions like this, from wanting to come out with their own religion/lack thereof, and share.
It also goes completely against the Mission Statement the group is under:
The mission of Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics @ UW-Madison shall be to promote the discussion of faith and religion on the UW-Madison campus. Through our services and programs AHA seeks to educate students on issues important to the secular community, and encourage the personal development of one’s religious identity.
This neither fosters dialogue, nor does it educate.
I’m not attached to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. However, I am speaking from similar actions that have taken place in my own college from atheists and Christians. When Christians set up their evangelical displays and pull stunts like this atheists are, understandably to me, upset. It is not only having a view shoved in your face, but done so rudely, and with no thought to the discomfort and erasure done to those who do not believe, see, etc. as you do.
This is my view and experience talking: part of the reason that you are seeing a backlash is that there is such a bias against us at work in academia and college already. If I had a nickle for every time I had to correct a teacher on what Pagans believe, ancient and modern (with sources for the former, and sources along with my own experiences for the latter) I would not have to worry about my student loans. For every time that I explained my religious views, the round mocking I received from both teacher and fellow students, I would not have to worry about furthering my education. Atheism and agnosticism are becoming more the rule in places of higher learning, and I have, on several occasions, endured ridicule from professors in professing my beliefs. It is not just that they do not want to understand what I believe, it is that they are actively hostile and/or mocking to what I believe.
Things like this, tacitly approved by the University of Wisconsin, add to an atmosphere that many already feel is possibly, if not actively hostile to them. No Pagan groups go around denouncing atheism like this. Christian groups that do are often, in my experience, reprimanded. Yet somehow this antagonizing is consistently supposed to be given a pass because they’re atheists; I do not understand that. So this isn’t just one thing or another, it is a litany of bullshit many of us who are in an academic field have to endure.
I am not asking, nor would I ask Pagans to endure stupidity like this, no matter the speaker. I would not ask a Pagan to endure a sermon from an outwardly hostile preacher, nor more than I would a mocking one. Unfortunately, this AHA group is employing more or less those same tactics.
The AHA should be called for task for failing to even do the minimum to stand by their Mission Statement. I don’t care how big or small the group is, or how they justify their actions. What they have done has not generated goodwill, has been inhospitable to their fellow classmates and/or future ones, and creates a hostile environment so they can advertise their group.
As to the notion that the Gods do not need us to defend them: What I am saying is that our ways should be defended from erasure. From needless mean-spirited acts. From the ignorance of others. From having our ways mocked by people that profess to want to build relationships and tolerance and understanding out of one side of their mouth but mock those Beings we hold most dear, and our ways along with them, out the other side of their mouth.