Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blasphemy Day at Purdue

Wednesday the 30th was International Blasphemy Day, and Purdue was one of the many campuses where an event took place. What the heck is Blasphemy Day, you ask? Well, here's the information the Society of Non-Theists had on the flyers we handed out:
Blasphemy Day International is a campaign seeking to establish September 30th as a day to promote free speech and stand up in a show of solidarity for the freedom to challenge, criticize, and satirize religion without fear of murder, litigation, and reprisal. The primary focus of the Blasphemy Day movement is not to debate the existence of any gods or deities, to promote hate or violence, or to insult or offend. Nor is it a movement of atheists – the tenets of one religion blaspheme against another if they disagree. The main objective of Blasphemy Day is to open up all religious beliefs to the same level of free inquiry, discussion and criticism to which all other areas of academic interest are subjected.

Why September 30? It is the anniversary of the original publication of Danish cartoons in 2005 depicting the prophet Muhammad's face. Any visual depiction of Muhammad is considered a grave offence under Islamic law. The fury which arose within the Islamic community following this publication led to massive riots, attacks on foreign embassies and deaths.
So what did the we do? Like it stated, our goal isn't to offend just to get our rocks off. And since Purdue is a fairly conservative campus, we went the safe route of just celebrating freedom of speech. We put up blank posters that anyone could write or draw on, with no censorship at all.When I set up the event at 9am, we had 6 starkly blank flyers. At 11:30 I walked by on the way to my next class, and they were already full. By 12:30 when I returned, six more posters had been purchased by a new member (a friendly theist, actually!) and were already filling up. By 1:20, we had a total of 18 posters up, and by the end of the day people were having a hard time finding space to write anything new.The messages ranged from politics, religion, and philosophy to potty humor, penis drawings, and internet memes. Some messages were deep, some were hilarious, and some were downright strange. Some I agreed with, and some I definitely did not. But that was the great thing about the day. I wasn't offended if someone wrote about Jesus or Glenn Beck because our goal was to show everyone has the right to free speech, even if it's criticizing others, including myself.Throughout the day we attracted quite the crowd. Many random students wanted to add their opinions, and many more just wanted to read what others had said. I didn't hear a single negative reaction through the day. Everyone was smiling and saying what a cool event it was, and people were asking if we could leave it up for the rest of the week. Unfortunately we couldn't, especially since we later found out taping things to buildings is a no-no.
Yes, I had about a 30 minute conversation with the police about tape (I guess that's how I pantomime adhesives). I think I scared the crap out of my members, because they had no idea what I was talking to the police about for the longest time. Effectively there was a miscommunication between me and the people approving the event (they didn't realize we were taping it to the pillars), so it ended up not being a big deal at all, especially since we only had an hour of the event left. Pablo, the Dean of Students who I know from doing club stuff for the last three years, basically just had to come and make sure it was okay.

Pablo: Tape, that's it? Man, I was ready to march down here and defend you guys and your freedom of speech and it's just about silly tape?

All we had to do was promise to clean it up, so all was right with the world!

All in all, I'd call the day a success! Who knows, we probably offended someone (I think our mere existence offends some people), but the most common reaction was very positive. Let this be a lesson to all the atheist activists out there - you can be outgoing and controversial while still being nice!

Tomorrow I'll have time to photograph each of the signs, and I'll post them here for your viewing pleasure. But other than that, what should I do with them?! Art exhibit? eBay? Wallpaper to cover the hideous wood paneling in my apartment?


  1. Sounds like a smashin’ success. Honestly, I’m quite (pleasantly) surprised that the posters weren’t just torn down as with your Non-Theists flyers, or desecrated, or etc. Maybe people may be maturing …?

    Too bad Québec is so doggone liberal and secular these days, there was nothing of the sort anywhere around as far as I could tell. I bet the only Qc students who even knew about Blasphemy Day were ex-Americans who keep tabs on what happens in the U.S., or something.

  2. Wallpaper.

    And if you don't want that up in your apartment, I'll take it. But I have a new party idea: marker party. Tape the walls in cheap paper and have people write/draw/whatever.

  3. Wallpaper. I'd want to keep that close. It's a huge success, and you can tell the story much later. Plus I think you need a little reminder of how awesome you are.

  4. Art exhibit. What you did was make a collaborative art piece about free speech and people. All the people what wrote or drew something were adding part of themselves to the final piece and that work says something about your school and the people that go there.

    I think because people wanted to stop and see what was there and wanted it to stay up means you produced something interesting and meaningful, that is what makes it art. The only question is who you want to share it with.

  5. Giant scrapbook, keep all the posters over successive years kind of like a timeline. Or a wallpaper timeline. Hmmm. Great work!!!!!

  6. Written by two different people on one of the posters:
    Jesus Saves!
    (after he passes every level)

    Absolutely brilliant.

  7. That was a fantastic idea. Glad it went well. Can't wait to see what t.estes thinks of it!

  8. There was one guy who got upset. He came up to me and asked me what it was about. I handed him a flier and explained that we didn't believe that freedom of speech stopped where religion began, and this was our way of saying that no one has the right to be free from criticism. He crumpled up the flier and mumbled something under his breath and walked away. Other than that, it was extremely well-received.

  9. I thought the event was pretty cool. I stopped by and wrote something. I also wrote about the event,

  10. Guess I was wrong. Glad it went well!

  11. "Let this be a lesson to all the atheist activists out there - you can be outgoing and controversial while still being nice!"

    This is a great quote.

    I would like to add, I am a theist who reads your blogs. I think this idea here would be really great for all people.

  12. I'd consider getting each of the posters mounted and framed and then see if the University would let you put them on a blank wall somewhere, or auction the framed pieces off for charity.

    I'm sure some art connoisseurs would enjoy some amateur art that symbolizes Free Speech.


  13. YHG, I heartily disagree. You can paint, wallpaper, or drape fabric over drywall. Every time I'm in Jen's apartment, I feel like cheesy 70s porn music will start playing any minute.

  14. Every try hanging drywall? Every try hanging paneling? Paneling FTW!

  15. Ours are definitely getting hung up in my bedroom...

    Easy to find the blasphemy day post... it's my first and as of yet only one lol...