Fiction for Fiction

So I was all set to get up a little early this morning, relax, watch Glee (I missed it last night and still haven’t seen it – please don’t spoil it for me!), when I  was woken up by a text from  Gary. The first word was “BIBLES!” I knew what it meant, so I got up, grabbed my tote-bag-full-o’-books, and started texting. At our first meeting, we had started planning for this day – the day that people were handing out bibles on campus.

It’s called fiction-for-fiction, and I know I’ve seen other SSA-affiliated groups do it on campus. Melody and I got the idea at the Secular Student Alliance conference in Columbus this summer from a presentation by Jen McCreight, president of the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University, perhaps better known as the boobquake girl. (she blogs at www.blaghag.com – check it out!) Jen suggested that this was a good idea, somewhere between ultra provocative (smut-for-smut) and wimpy (maybe a different translation instead of the New King James Version that they’re handing out today.

The premise of this idea is that there is fiction in the bible. (I would argue that the vast majority is fiction). Regardless of my personal opinion, the bible is full of contradictions; both sides cannot be true, thus one is a fiction, ergo the bible has fiction in it. Since they’re handing out fiction, why don’t we, the SSA at IUP, hand out fiction too? I grabbed a tote bag full of the best fiction I could find at the Newman Center’s used book sale last weekend – I didn’t expect to use it so soon.

Our library of fiction for the day.

Our library of fiction for the day.

By 8:20, I was outside Delaney hall, where I was told that bibles were being handed out. Two older gentlemen were standing on the corner, their hands full of slim, green bound Gideon bibles. I set up about 10 feet away from them, let them know what I was doing, and went at it. I tried to be reactive – I would only approach those people who too bibles.

Most people ignored me, or at least said no thanks. Throughout the morning, I got one or two  people to take interest. When I said something about exchanging fiction for fiction, one passing girl yelled “Asshole!” at me in a surprisingly vitriolic manner.  That was about the only negative reaction I had so far.

The two gentlemen handing bibles out were rather calm. One was more quiet, the other more vocal. The vocal one, who looked a lot like Joe Paterno, kept saying something that really grated on my nerves – he kept calling it a “free textbook.” In retrospect, I suppose the bible is potentially a textbook – in a religious study class. But still,  the idea of using a new testament in a biology or anthropology class is so laughable, so offensive, that it really grated on me.

The talkative guy even told a couple people that they could trade their books in if they wanted – he was getting on my case about depriving people of their point of view, which is a valid point, but I really wasn’t taking peoples bibles if they didn’t want to give them up; they could have had the books for free. During a lull, I pulled up the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible on my phone, and searched for contradictions. The first one I found, in Matthew, involved the number of generations between  David and  the forced migration to Babylon. Matthew said 14, 1 Corinthians said 17. To the men handing out the bible, this discrepancy didn’t matter. The talkative guy said that it was the same scene seen by two different men, so I guess at least he didn’t believe that the whole thing was literally written by God.

By about 10:30, the two men  left,  after the talkative one told me to listen to that small voice inside me – my conscience, which he called my soul. I was hot, tired, and hungry, so I decided to take a break.

We’ll be back out in the oak grove continuing fiction-for-fiction at 2:45 this afternoon. Come out and help hand out books!

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13 Responses to Fiction for Fiction

  1. Keeping it Anon says:

    I’m a little confused here. I don’t subscribe to a single belief, but it seems to me like you’re trying to pick a fight. You publicly claim the bible is fiction when you know very well the people handing out the books don’t believe that. You were looking to put someone down.

    To me, this is kinda ridiculous, and I’m all for religious freedom and separation of church and state (aka, a secular state), however this is just plain insulting. Honestly, no one cares if whatever the people said “grated” on your poor nerves. If you actually have a good message, there’s no need to publicly attempt to trash another.

  2. akfarrington says:

    Keeping it Anon,

    Thanks for your comment. I am the Secretary for SSA IUP, so I knew about this plan from the beginning. Although I understand your concerns, I think that we were not doing anything different than what the men who were handing out Bibles were doing. The fact that we handed out fictional literature the same day that the Gideons were handing out Bibles is admittedly somewhat militant, but we were making a point. If an atheist were to hand out Dawkins books or pamphlets in the Oak Grove they would not be received well, but any Christian can walk into the Oak Grove and hand out Bibles without a care in the world. The average college student would more likely get angry at SSA IUP than they would at the Christians. Would you still be offended if we had handed out Jews For Jesus pamphlets without announcing that we were affiliated with SSA IUP? Notice, once the word “atheist” or “secularist” is thrown into the mix people tend to get angry easier.

    Personally, I really like religion, though I am not religious, and I am friends with a few very devout Christians. I have nothing against any religion that is peaceful and respectful of other people. I am somewhat offended by the Gideons forcing their Bibles on IUP students. Maybe SSA IUP was forcing our ideas on IUP students. We were just as justified in handing out fiction as the Gideons were handing out Bibles, and yet we are still called “assholes.”

    -Andy

  3. Keeping it Anon says:

    Andy,

    I appreciate your comment. I’ll keep this short though. Basically it’s about knowing your audience. Maybe my perception is skewed, but I don’t think a lot of students would be offended if you handed out literature for atheism in a respectful manner. Also, from what I saw, no one was “forcing” bibles on anyone, and likewise, your group was not “forcing” fictional literature on anyone, but the timing is what I’m commenting on. The timing was offensive, not the literature itself. The presentation was also offensive in a way (trying to put down a group handing out bibles by calling it fiction. It’s hard not to have a self righteous attitude in this case, lowering yourself to those who actually do force ideas onto people).

    I mean hey, try handing out some of Dawkin’s work around IUP, I’m all for it. Spread information, it’s all good. See what happens, it might be better than you expect :) Regardless, my message wasn’t intended to be mean spirited, just a critique. As I said before, if your message is good enough, people will listen, no need to insult others or to put on this self righteous hat that they blog post seemed to be promoting.

    Peace.

  4. akfarrington says:

    Keeping it Anon,

    I thought a lot about my your comment and SSA IUP’s actions yesterday after posting my comment. After thinking this through, I have decided that our timing was disrespectful. At first glance it seems that we were in the right, or at least not in the wrong when we handed out fiction (I actually wasn’t there for the handing out of the fiction, by the way.) After some thought, I realized that I had overlooked some things when defending the SSA:

    1) The Gideons were handing out their holy book, and we were handing out stuff that we view as garbage. By handing out fiction next to the men handing out Bibles, we were inferring that their holy book is also garbage. Personally, I respect the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, etc. because they are incredibly important to other people.

    2) We could have just as easily made the same point that we were making by handing out fiction on a different day. By handing out fiction the same day that Bibles were being handed out we were being militant. Our group is all about secularism, not degrading other religions. We walk a fine line, and now I think that we strayed too far from that line. Handing out fiction was specifically bashing Christians, which is against what we stand for. Until I have reason to do otherwise, I will oppose any future handing out of fiction.

    Thank you for calling us out on this. It made me think a lot about this situation. Our group welcomes your and my opinions, even if they differ from the group’s actions. Thank you for your contribution.

    -Andy

  5. Keeping it Anon says:

    Hey Andy,

    It’s really no biggie, but I’m glad we see eye to eye on the whole thing. It was really nice of you to respond, I appreciate it.

    Btw, I’m surprised you haven’t figured out who this is yet, haha. Hint: Eric :P

    Anyway, your response was nice and professional, very cool of you!

    Peace

  6. akfarrington says:

    Eric,

    Wow, you told me that you had not seen the comments on this post. I guess you meant that you had not seen my comment… You’re a very sneaky guy… It’s a good thing you commented, though. I don’t want people to think that we do not respect other religions. As an officer, I think that part of my job is to make sure we maintain a good image.

    Talk to you later,
    Andy

    • Eric says:

      Right on, and yeah, I hadn’t seen your comment yet when we talked on the phone. Totally sneaky of me; one might say ninja like… or not. Thanks for taking the time to explain all that stuff too, you’re a pretty kick ass secretary! No wonder you’re part of practically every organization I see on campus… haha.

  7. Stephen Luciano says:

    Andy and Eric,

    I tried to comment yesterday, but my computer froze just as I was sending the comment in – it was just after Eric’s second reply. What follows is what I had to say then…

    Thanks for your input! I understand that it’s borderline offensive, but sometimes you have to ruffle some feathers to get your point across. By doing this event, we wanted to make people think, and in a way that simply handing out Dawkins wouldn’t have promoted. By handing out Dawkins, we would legitimize the practice of handing out documents that are supposed to make you see the truth or provide salvation. By handing out fiction, we (hopefully) show that the very notion that a single book can provide all the answers is kind of silly.
    ….

    Andy’s right – we walk a fine line. When the vast majority of campus is Christian, I feel like it’s only natural that some of the stuff we do is directed at Christianity only. It’s a tough call. I think that this whole thing could have been organized better. The problem was, it was a reaction. Maybe next time we should wait a couple days and let cooler heads prevail.

    Steve

    • Eric says:

      Hmm, I guess this is important, “By handing out fiction, we (hopefully) show that the very notion that a single book can provide all the answers is kind of silly.” My point is that it’s not silly to a very large group of people, and just as Andy pointed out, the Holy Quran is not a “silly” work of fiction to over a billion Muslims. The idea that a single book can provide answers in mainstream religious thought is anything far from silly to those who practice it, which when combining the Abrahamic traditions, is literally billions.

      I really couldn’t disagree more about the ruffling feathers as well. It’s all about timing, like I’ve already said. No one will listen to you if you run into a McDonald’s and call out someone for eating something that is degrading to their health, because no one wants to hear it. But there are other ways to spread information in a reasonable manner that isn’t degrading or inciting some kind of conflict. There’s no need for it.

      And finally… “By handing out Dawkins, we would legitimize the practice of handing out documents that are supposed to make you see the truth or provide salvation.” You don’t need to, it already is very legitimate to many many people and is a core of many religions.

      Anyway, I’m trying to see both sides here. I really do see where you’re coming from, but I feel like there’s still this self righteous attitude towards it all. And yes, Christians certainly aren’t exempt from a self righteous nature, haha, but I don’t see the need to stoop to that level either.

      • Stephen Luciano says:

        Eric,

        Interesting analogy, comparing it to McDonalds. I was going to say that I agree with you that there are ways of spreading information about atheism without creating conflict, but I’m honestly not sure if there are. The existence of atheists is offensive to some Christians. By simply stating who we are, we ruffle some feathers.

        Methods that are calculated to be the least offensive may work to spread info, but I’m not convinced that they work as well as methods that offend some people. I don’t want to make everyone my friend – I don’t expect (or want) all of them to immediately change their mind and become atheists/agnostics/whatever. I want people to think about religion, about stuff they might take for granted. Different methods work for different people – some people prefer to hear an approach that is the least offensive possible others ignore it. Some people shut out something that offends them, some people consider it.

        I’m sorry that I seem to be giving off an air of self righteousness. I feel like giving out Dawkins instead would have been more self righteous – it would have been saying that we have all the answers too. I’m not convinced that atheists have all the answers, but I’m convinced that people need to question things more – that’s why I was handing out fiction instead of bibles.

  8. Eric says:

    “The existence of atheists is offensive to some Christians. By simply stating who we are, we ruffle some feathers.” But you didn’t, you took an entirely different approach. You haven’t tried a different approach, and so you’re only assuming there aren’t ways of spreading information without creating conflict. Like you said “but I’m not convinced that they work as well as methods that offend some people,” but at the same time, what has convinced you to think this way? What methods have you tried? Who is your audience? Etc..

    ” I feel like giving out Dawkins instead would have been more self righteous – it would have been saying that we have all the answers too.” Yeah, only if you come out and say that, haha. Or if you don’t present yourself well enough to get across the message that in fact, Dawkin’s may not be the lord and savior and have all the answers. Just talk to people, and don’t assume so many things as to what their reactions might be. Just try is all I’m saying, I could be 100% wrong on this, but again, no one is going to listen to you when you come across, as Andy said, very militant. It just doesn’t work, and you end up turning off people. I’m all for spreading information, freedom of religion, etc… but because of the fiction for fiction, I was very turned off to your group.

    And… “I’m sorry that I seem to be giving off an air of self righteousness.” Nope, you weren’t, I was commenting on the blog post; and Melody (I don’t think I actually know her…) probably didn’t mean to come off that way, and I’m sure she’s a nice person and all, no hard feelings there. And obviously I like and respect you Steve, you’re a pretty reasonable guy, so none of what I’m saying is trying to put you or anyone down or anything like that. It’s just a critique, nothing personal :)

  9. shabadadoo370 says:

    Hey, I know this is probably a little late into the semester, but I just found out about you guys and would love to join in on whatever’s going on! When/where do you guys meet? Thanks!

    • akfarrington says:

      I can add you to the email list. I will do that right now.

      We normally meet on Thursdays at 8 in the HUB Knowlton room. We will send out an email about tomorrow’s scheduled meeting sometime soon..

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