Lots of controversy in this week’s issue of the SFU weekly newspaper, The Peak.
After my column last week attacking creationism, I sparked two text responses:
Hey Bushfield: know before you speak.
Well said Ian Bushfield!!!
Opinion editor Graham Templeton attempted to defend his editorial record over the past couple terms, trying to emphasize that he had published more left than right wing articles, but he included this nifty quote that will likely incite some responses.
Not everything can be published, of course, and I have certainly received well-written articles that I’ve refused to publish due to the utter inanity of their thesis. This is called editorial discretion, and its inherently arbitrary nature is what leads to these sorts of controversies. I have turned away some creationist articles which are simply full of falsehoods, while I have published others (see: this week’s opinions section,) with which I simply disagree strongly, but which do not contain outright lies. [emphasis added]
Speaking of creationist articles, here’s Isaac Seo’s, international piano-e-competition champion, rant responding to my last article. I won’t respond to it in print (paper’s rarely publish a back and forth between two authors), and his arguments are repetitive and lame so I won’t respond here unless there’s demand in the comments.
There’s also an article by Dan McPeake (yes that’s his real name) about secularism and the burqa in France. I have to grant his thesis to him, although he glazes over the fact that many Islamic women are not making a choice and that it is rather being made for them, but it’s a fine line between secularism and defending an egalitarian society.
Finally, my latest piece is in regards to recent minor vandalism of the SFU Skeptics’ “There’s probably no God…” banner.
Only cowards censor
By Ian Bushfield
The SFU Skeptics have had a banner hanging around campus in various locations for the past month, but on the evening of March 11, someone decided that this banner was so offensive that they had to attempt to censor the student group. The banner was found crumpled under a railing the next morning.
So what phrase was so objectionable that it needed to be suppressed? Simply, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
This is the same slogan that Richard Dawkins plastered across buses in London,which subsequently run in cities across the world from Barcelona to Christchurch. Many other transit authorities and city councils attempted to ban the upbeat message, as though the phrase was as objectionable as “fuck Jesus.” But by trying to block the message, the censors unwittingly gave the atheists a platform to cry foul in the media.
It is almost hard to imagine this phrase as being so offensive. Having an enjoyable life should not be that offensive of an idea, so it must be the fact that there are some of us who are willing to state publicly that we do not believe in a higher power.
Yet we even admit that we may not be right by using the “probably” qualifier; you won’t get honesty like that in a Sunday morning sermon.
Perhaps people take offense to the concept that you can be moral without God. This should be an absurd notion, as countless atheists around the world, including myself, are not constantly murdering and raping. The fact that some theists believe that this is what would happen if they did not have a cosmic babysitter ought to tell you far more about their own personal morality than anything else.
Regardless of how offensive you find the banner or the justification for that offense, it does not change the fact that the banner was approved and sponsored by the Simon Fraser Student Society with a student group grant. The SFSS obviously believes in the right to free speech, and that every sanctioned group has the right to put a message across campus.
The right not to be offended does not exist in this country. The proper response to a message that you disagree with is dialogue, not censorship. This banner serves as a response to the countless religious clubs who are pervasive at this school and in society. It seeks to counter the notion that you cannot be good without God.
Alternatively, when your ideological adversaries are increasingly vulgar, sometimes the proper response is ridicule. My favourite counter-protests to Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps’s picketing of funerals are the ones with absurdist signs with phrases such as “I like donuts,” “God hates shrimp,” or “I have a sign too!”
The only other approach to take with such content is to simply ignore it. Had there been no fatwa against the Danish cartoonist for his portrayal of Mohammed, almost no one would have seen the relatively humourless depictions.
If we permit the silencing of someone’s right to free speech, we risk threatening the core of the democratic ideal. Only when ideas can compete with one another on fair footing do we have any hope of discovering which ones are closer to the truth.
Tearing down posters and crumpling banners is downright cowardly. Most of us come to university with an open-mind, ready to learn new things and hear different ideas. I guess some of us are just not ready for that intellectual challenge.
So to the miscreant who crumpled the banner I ask one thing: would Jesus vandalize?
While I keep saying that I’ll write one thing and then end up submitting another, for next week I had thought of submitting a piece about humanistic ethics to respond indirectly to Isaac’s article and general misconceptions, but instead I’ll likely be hoping to publish a piece defending The Peak from the upcoming graduate student referendum that seeks to cut all graduate funding from the Peak, which would thereby end my writing days as grad students wouldn’t get to publish if they weren’t paying for the paper.
Also, this Wednesday, as a multi-published writer I have the fortune to vote for the Peak’s editorial staff for this summer, so basically this summer I’ll have a hand in the blame if it isn’t remarkable. Leave a comment or email me if there’s any considerations I should be taking into account on this vote (since most SFU students who pay for the Peak don’t get a vote, I’m willing to take any opinions into account that have no influence).