Every year, Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics (AHA) puts up an Easter display as a means to support our club’s mission, holistically or in part. This year, we decided to put up a poster of Jesus depicted as a zombie. AHA heard conversations in passing about the offensiveness and distastefulness of putting such a poster on display. We received emails, Facebook messages, and other feedback in response to the poster.
Among other things, the emails and online messages we received stated that they felt the poster goes against our mission statement to promote the discussion of faith and religion on the UW-Madison campus. They claimed it to be defacing of a religious figure. There were comments of it being considered hate speech. Some emails stated that it goes against the university’s statement of diversity. We heard all of this and more, and feel it is necessary to respond with out intended purpose.
From a secular standpoint, the Easter poster was simply a parallel, light-heartedly drawn to illustrate a different point of view. After the reactions surfaced, however, we understand that this was hardly received as light-hearted. The artist behind the piece did not design the poster to offend any members of a religious community. In the event someone would be upset about it, the artist hoped that the person would ask themselves why they are upset, and that this would potentially create a discussion between that person and others of different beliefs. The artist remembered a particular occasion, when someone walked into the office and talked about whether the piece was offensive. It led to an insightful conversation where we expressed our opinions, and led to encounters that we at AHA strive for. When we at AHA did our Valentine’s Day Poster display in the Capitol and in front of our office, it led to very little discussion or recognition from our surroundings. The concept for the Easter poster had the potential to start conversations and had it been more tactfully executed, we believe that it would have.
We want to include the following information to make this clear: Christians are in positions of power. In the United States, there is a system of oppression which benefits Christians. We also want to use this poster as a means of responding to the anti-secular views brought to us often in our hate mail, in our discussions with some religiously-driven individuals on the streets while tabling, and in our sense of belonging on campus. We think that although it is not always overt, atheists are discriminated at UW-Madison. Non-Christian folks are regularly discriminated against in the United States in ways that Christian folks would not be. In Maryland, it is in their constitution that a declaration of the belief in God is required for one to be considered for political office. There have been instances where our own team members have not been hired for jobs because of their non-belief. We did not make this poster out of malicious intent. We understand that secular folks are known for scoffing at belief systems and see how such a tone could be taken from the poster. That was not our intention.
In our enduring commitment to encourage discourse and discussion while maintaining diplomacy and respect within the UW-Madison campus and greater Madison community, we chose a poster that erred on the side of evoking discourse whilst sacrificing diplomacy. Moving on, however, we would like to be a little bit more interactive, engaging, thoughtful, careful, and educational with out content. The whole point of our presence on campus is to de-stigmatize atheists as disruptive or distasteful to other members of campus; that begins with, as it always has, more messaging, programming, and secular student support. Breaking the stigma and raising awareness for issues concerning faith, or lack thereof, is what we are here for and we want to work with you in making that happen.