August 25, 2008 | 2:55 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
My article this week about anti-Semitism on college campuses discusses at length how the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine often pushes the limits of civil discourse in criticizing Israel. We already know that Muslims feel any critical depiction of the prophet Muhammad goes too far, and, to prove that each of the Abrahamic faiths is at times the target of criticism it finds offensive to the point that censorship or condemnation would be warranted, I present this drama from Ohio.
There the Activists for Atheism club at a community college has incited a lot of ire over a flier questioning whether Jesus was gay.
The question, which seems like the latests iteration of “The Da Vinci Code,” was drawn from the non-canonical Secret Gospel of Mark. Not surprisingly, the image offended a whole lot of people. The local Chronicle-Telegram filed this report, a significant chunk of which I’ve posted after the jump.
Many of the comments are irrelevant to whether the atheist club had the constitutional right to post the flier, though it violated the student code of conduct, and no one quoted does anything to explain that the secret gospel is not accepted as authentic. Offended Christians should have addressed the latter. The Secret Gospel of Mark is a joke, along the lines of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which dismissed women as undeserving of life.
Now, back to the Chronicle-Telegram:
Christopher Burns is the secretary and treasurer of the campus Activists for Atheism club, which put up the poster.
He said it wasn’t intended to mock religion. Instead, the poster was meant to stir debate about Christianity by referencing a passage of the Bible that was allegedly cut out by early Christians.
Burns said most Christians have never heard of the Secret Gospel of Mark, which was found inscribed in a letter by Greek historian Clement of Alexandria. The letter has been disputed for decades and is now lost, with only photographs of the passages remaining for study.
One text from the letter hints that the Bible’s account of Mark’s gospel originally told the tale of Jesus raising a man from the dead and then having an intimate relationship with him, said Aaron Weaver, a senior at LCCC and president of the college atheist club.
“The purpose of the poster is to get students to see something they haven’t seen before,” he said. “The chances are it challenges them to challenge something they thought they knew.”
Sure, the poster was attention-seeking, but ultimately Weaver said he just wanted to create enough buzz to get people debating and thinking about why they believe what they believe.
“I understand that people will be offended. People will sometimes be offended for the most ridiculous of reasons,” he said.
He said his fellow students have the right to practice their religions and to express themselves in any way they choose.
He said he was shocked to learn the college had a policy that bans students from mocking religion, or any idea, for that matter. The policy is a clear violation of the First Amendment, Weaver said.
Sophomore Dejoune Grantham said the poster is libelous and blasphemous, and in her opinion it isn’t protected by the First Amendment.
“I don’t want my children walking through here and seeing that. It’s filthy,” she said.
Another sophomore, Amber Cales, said the poster was in a public place, and it was easily seen by anyone who passed. She said that took away her right as a parent to shield her children from controversial ideas.
She said she also felt the poster was just taking a pot-shot at Christianity instead of protesting all religious expression.
“You know if it was something about Judaism or Islam, it wouldn’t be tolerated,” she said.
Not true, it turns out. The atheist club, Weaver said, is an equal-opportunity ridiculer.
On Wednesday, he put up a picture of the prophet Mohammed — an act strictly forbidden in the Islamic faith.
He said that about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, he received a death threat in response to the picture, which read, “With love and missiles.” He took the picture down, turned over the note to campus security officers and went home.
“I put myself at risk, but I do so freely. I don’t let fear or the threat of death stop me from speaking my mind freely,” he said.
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