We decided to submit this letter together to not only represent the importance of interfaith work on campus but also to demonstrate the feasibility of interfaith cooperation. We are both committed to this kind of understanding and stress the importance of a respectful campus environment.
The thing that has troubled me the most in this chalking situation is the lack of understanding regarding the actual offense.
While I do not claim to represent McSA, I am an involved member who is not alone in her position on the issue. We are so grateful for the campus clergy, students, groups, and administrators who have reached out to us as an organization and individually to offer their support and share their mutual affront. That being said, we do not want this to become an issue of us vs. them, of McSA vs. SHIFT, of religious people vs. atheists.
We are all part of the Northwestern community, and however insurmountable our differences may or may not be, we share a common set of values, values that Cassy Byrne, President of SHIFT, brought up at the Interfaith Retreat back in February. Introducing SHIFT, Cassy said, “…what binds us is just nothing more than a common set of values among which include honest inquiry, respect for the scientific method, treating each other as equals for no other purpose than that we are all connected, and if nothing else, all the faiths here can agree with us on that.” Unfortunately, SHIFT forgot these values when they decided to chalk the campus.
Ultimately, the issue at heart is a matter of balancing rights and responsibilities. Yes, we have a right to free speech, but, as part of a community we also have the responsibility to respect others within that community, regardless of whether we agree with them or not.
Muslim, Interfaith Leader, Weinberg Senior
As a religious studies major who literally lives in a church, I have a different perspective on religion than most atheists. Nevertheless, I am one. I attended SHIFT’s discussion this past Sunday and I addressed my concerns with them. I felt like they listened to me and made an honest attempt to understand. I’d like to thank them for creating that space and being open to criticism.
Still, I think SHIFT’s actions are demonstrative of a larger problem. According to secularhumanism.org, Secular Humanism is marked by the “balance” it strikes “between cognitive and emotional/affective commitments.” While I know that SHIFT has stated numerous times that their intention was not to target or even specifically speak to the Muslim community on campus or at large, they willingly ignored the responsibility they had to their fellow students with their chalking. SHIFT apparently thought that the necessity of sparking discussion outweighed the damages to others’ feelings.
Too often, secularists like me assume that religious people are blind adherents to an outmoded set of ideas and therefore decide to ignore their feelings or somehow reduce their personhood. Hurting or offending religious people becomes something unavoidable in the face of social progress. But as I continue to encounter people of faith, I realize that the blind adherent stereotype is as untrue as any other. I’m finding that often religious people mobilize for progress more than any other group.
Hopefully in the future there will be greater partnership between religious and secular groups at Northwestern. After my discussion with SHIFT I think that is a realistic goal as long as we all remember our responsibilities to courtesy.
Atheist, Interfaith Leader, Weinberg Sophomore
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