The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
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The Free Hugs event was a blast! We had a fantastic time offering free hugs to students, faculty, & staff coming through Speakers’ Circle, and gave out at least several hundred hugs. When we first arrived around 11, there was a preacher (who I later learned is named Gary) with a megaphone doing his bit in the circle. Technically, megaphones are not allowed at that time, but nobody really seemed to be 1) bothered nor 2) paying attention, so I decided not to bother him about it, and we set up our area. By “set up,” I mean that we attached two banners – both 3′ x 5′, one with the international Peace symbol and the other with the “Coexist” symbols – to two tall mic stands, and we got to work making our Free Hugs sign. It was a bit of a slow start, but when the 11 o’clock classes let out, we got plenty of takers!
By noon our group had swelled to 7 SASHA members – fortunately, I’d brought extra foam board to make more signs – and we were giving out hugs like crazy. Ashley was especially assertive and came up with some great slogans: “Have you hugged a ginger today?”, “A hug a day keeps the doctor away!” (followed by disclosures from the rest of us that “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease”), and “I’ll come to you; this is a Mobile Hug Zone” for people passing by on the other side of the street or across the circle.
Gary the Preacher seemed to realize that no one was listening to him, especially once we got started, and he went to sit on the concrete wall in the shade, where he stayed the rest of the afternoon (more on that later). Best line of the day: “Who needs a megaphone? We have Ashley!”
Lots of people wanted their pictures taken with us, and lots more stopped to take a picture, even if they didn’t want hugs. Although this was technically a SASHA event, we didn’t really advertise that aspect of it much – later in the afternoon we did display our SASHA sign:
but it wasn’t our focus. A proportion of people asked if we were with a group, and we decided that if people asked directly, we would say, “Yes, we are with SASHA, the Mizzou atheists’ group, but we’re just doing this for fun – to make the world a little smaller – and because the 9/11 anniversary is this weekend.” We decided just to work on promoting good feelings on campus today. At some point in the future, when we do this again (and we certainly will!), we may promote the atheist aspect of it more.
Here are some more pictures of the afternoon:
At one point, Seth decided to introduce a competitive pricing model:
You can see how well this worked out for him:
Though he did up getting 2 takers! (He gave both their money back afterward.)
We asked Gary the Preacher if he wanted a hug a few times, and he was extremely angry at us about even suggesting it. He said that what we were doing is shameful, and he told me specifically that he didn’t want to hug a fat guy. Honestly, I think he could have used a hug more than anyone. I went over to talk to him to find out what his story was – I almost always make an effort to engage with street preachers, if for no other reason than to find out who they are and where they’re from – but he had absolutely no interest in engaging in a dialogue.
I let him preach at me one-on-one for almost 10 minutes but whenever I tried to ask a question or interject, he would put up his finger and angrily tell me to listen, as though that’s not what I had been doing all along, and he said that all I want to do is talk but I’m not willing to listen. I said, “You’ve been talking non-stop for almost 10 minutes! How can you say I’m the one who won’t listen?” He kept telling me what God wants and requires of us, and I kept trying to ask, “Why do you believe that?” and he would just get angry at even the suggestion that I dared to ask such a question. He told me I should read the Bible, and that he wouldn’t talk to me unless he saw a Bible in my hand. I said, “I have a Bible app in my phone” (actually I have several dozen translations in my phone, including a Greek NT and the Vulgate), and showed him my Vulgate.
He kept going on about the fact that he had been a practicing Christian for 50 years (he said several times that he’s 71) and repeated himself a several times with certain statements, seemingly unaware that he had already had gone over that part of the “script” when me, like he couldn’t remember where he left off. Eventually I cut him off and finished his metaphor (about a cardboard box), saying, “Yeah, you told me this already,” and he seemed confused by my knowing what he was about to say. He repeatedly pointed his finger in my face and yelled at me, to the point that I eventually asked him to stop yelling, and at one point (we were both sitting) he got up and stood directly in front of me, pointing and yelling in my face, until I asked him to stop yelling and to please take a step away from me. He did neither.
I had a friend with me, a Marine actually, and it’s not that I was worried about things getting out of hand; it was more a group dynamic thing. Whenever I tried to ask him a question, he accused me of not listening, and he insisted that he already answered my question, even though he failed to address the point (e.g. “Why do you believe the Bible is true? Why trust THIS book?” and he would tell me what God said, and I would say, “The Bible says God said that; there’s a difference. Why believe the Bible at all?” and he would just yell at me that I wasn’t listening).
At one point I went to my car and got my Interlinear Bible – it’s a whopper, a full-size hardcover around 4 inches thick – and showed it to him, since he kept insisting that I need to read the Bible. His tone changed for just a minute when he saw it, and he said “I have that same Bible,” and he suddenly wanted to shake hands, which I did. But as soon as I said that yes, I’ve read it, many times, I just don’t believe it, he got angry again. He said we’ve both read the same book, and therefore I shouldn’t be disagreeing with him. I asked him why he believes the Bible instead of the al-Qur’an, and at first he didn’t seem to understand the question, and then he got angry again and said “You’re one of THOSE,” and told me that the Bible is true and the Qur’an is from a false prophet. I asked him how he knows this exactly, and he either didn’t understand the question or just chose to get angry instead.
At one point he explicitly told me to shut my mouth, because (according to him) I was making unsubstantiated statements. I said, “Everything I have said so far is a question. I’ve asked why you believe what you believe, why you believe the Bible, how you know the Holy Spirit isn’t just your imagination… All I’ve been doing is asking questions,” but he didn’t want to hear it. Several times he said “This discussion is over” and turned away, and I said, “You don’t have to answer, but I’m sincerely asking you because I want to know: Why do you believe Christianity?” and he would get worked up again and say, “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” and then he would forget that he decided not to talk to me and start to yell/preach at me again. Eventually he gathered his suitcase and moved to a different part of the circle, and I didn’t bother him after that.
I apologize for the long description, but I wanted to make it clear to our readers that this is the sort of irrationality that goes on when someone get too deeply involved in something that doesn’t reconcile logically. This is CLASSIC cognitive dissonance: Signs include anger, blaming, and denial when something you believe is challenged and you realize you don’t have evidential or logical justification for it. This is something we need to watch out for, not just in others but in ourselves as well. It’s like the bumper sticker says: “Question everything.” If something you believe is unsupported by evidence, reason, or logic, acknowledge this and move it to the category of things you are willing to reconsider until you have better reason to believe them. The alternative is to get angry, like Gary.
The way to understanding, knowledge, and coexistence is rational inquiry, dialogue, and understanding. Gary displayed none of these traits. The best I could get from him is that he has faith in his religion (although he insisted that Christianity is not a religion – “it’s the Truth”). The fact is, faith fails as a justification for belief because faith is not exclusive to any one belief. You can have faith in anything – as I was saying to someone the other day, you can have faith that you have a million dollars in your bank account, or that Brad Pitt is secretly in love with you – but that doesn’t make either statement actually true in reality. You have to look at the evidence, and the logical reasons for believing or not believing such statements, and base your confidence off of those.
When someone says, “You just have to have faith,” what they are really saying is, “Here is the evidence. Here are my logical reasons. I acknowledge that on their own, neither are sufficient to tip the scale in favor of belief that this statement is objectively true. But I don’t care; I want to believe it so much that even though I admit the evidence and the logic are not good enough to warrant belief, I choose to believe anyway.” Faith is what you have to use when your arguments fail, but you are unwilling to see the logical conclusion that, on account of your arguments failing, your next step is to reconsider whether you should continue believing your claim. Faith is cognitive dissonance, manifested.
At 12:55, we played John Lennon’s “Imagine” on a boom box. I teared up a bit while continuing to give out lots of hugs for those 3 minutes. I have always loved that song. I’d hoped that we could get a bunch of us to sing along, but we were so busy hugging people that we didn’t get a chance!
We wrapped up around 3 PM, and after putting our stuff away, Robbie and I had an interesting conversation with a few LDS (Mormon) missionaries. I gave them my card and invited them to our next meeting to come and talk to us about why the believe what they believe, and so we could ask them some questions. I hope they call.
Have a great weekend, everybody! We’ll also be around this Sunday for the “No More Victims: We Declare Peace” procession from the mosque to the courthouse at 1:30 PM, if you would like to join us. Here is the Facebook event:
(573) 424-0420 cell/text
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, he posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!