Harmon: The best way to deal with religious protesters is easy, ignore them

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The best way to deal with religious protesters is a lot easier then you think: ignore them. - Multimedia Editor / Drew Peltzman

By now, we’ve all seen it. The religious fanatics who shout at students as they walk to class or back to their dorms from the sidewalk. They hold signs about premarital sex, the impending return of God, or my personal favorite, the eternal torment of people who conduct “homosexual offensive” rather than being allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven.

We have all seen the two religious protesters who have been attempting to engage students in theological discussion as they cross the street for well over a week. Some of us may have paused to listen to what they had to say, and a select few may have even stopped to engage in discussion with them and learn more about their beliefs. I feel compelled to provide some sound advice on how to deal with religious hecklers: don’t interact with them at all. 

College campuses all throughout the United States have recently developed into discussion hubs for a range of social and political topics, including the presence of religious demonstrators. These people frequently show up on campuses to discuss their religion, express their concerns, or demonstrate against certain rules.

I contend that the most successful method to deal with religious demonstrators on campus is to ignore them, rather than participate in conversations, despite the fact that the natural inclination of students may be to dispute these rallies or try to put up a fight against them. Most notably when it comes to the particular pair who have been observed pestering kids as they leave 7-Eleven. 

Like many other students, I was driven to engage in a conversation with these individuals. I like to think of myself as a person who welcomes conflict and will gladly defend myself if I feel attacked. As a pillow biter myself, you can guess that I didn’t take it lightly when I was warned that, due to my sexual orientation, I would burn in hellfire eternally. 

But as soon as I started a chat with one of the men, I understood that these men weren’t searching for discussion. To have a conversation or even a discussion is to have an exchange of ideas and thoughts, and when you enter these exchanges you allow yourself to be open to different ideas and perspectives. 

For a holy man like himself, this simply cannot work. That became immediately clear to me when he began talking at me rather than to me. I was planning to record our talk so that I could include some of his quotes in the article, but I changed my mind when I realized that by the time it was over (after what felt like hours), I had barely spoken and had only been able to ask him a few questions.

He didn’t simply respond to questions; he also began proselytizing wherever he could. He would answer a straightforward question by randomly quoting passages from the bible, providing anecdotal examples, and making arbitrary assumptions and claims. Whether he did it on purpose or not, it was difficult to follow the conversation and more difficult to respond and push back. 

After speaking with both individuals, I rapidly came to the conclusion that they weren’t here to engage in conversation and dialogue. They don’t feel the need to engage in conversation with someone if they perceive antagonism or believe that they don’t intend to engage them seriously or convert them immediately. Instead, they appear to communicate more readily with those who are either prepared to remain silent and only listen or those who already hold similar opinions. 

When I realized all of this, I gained a new understanding; the ideal course of action is to continue going about your day and ignore them. The rule is already followed by many students. However, some people who are typically unfamiliar with the goals of these men have participated as I have personally witnessed. Moreover, they have allowed the comments of the religious demonstrators to enrage them.

It’s crucial to make it clear that this viewpoint does not downplay the value of free speech or candid discussion on college campuses. Freedom of expression is a basic right, and universities are designed to be havens for many ideas and opinions. However, it may be wiser to ignore religious demonstrators as they frequently have a predetermined agenda and are not truly open to discussion or argument.

Religious protesters frequently arrive on college campuses with firmly held convictions that are unlikely to be altered by dialogue or debate. Their main objective can be to elicit responses or win over support from their local neighborhood. Students may find it tedious, irritating, and fruitless to debate with them since the discussion frequently devolves into a struggle of wills rather than an exchange of ideas.

Ignoring religious protestors doesn’t mean silencing them. It simply means choosing not to engage. Those who are genuinely interested in hearing their message should do so, while others can opt to avoid it. This approach respects the individual choices and autonomy of students. Instead of engaging in debates, students can explore alternative methods of counteraction. These may include organizing peaceful counter-protests and hosting educational events to promote tolerance and understanding.

While the importance of free speech and open dialogue on college campuses cannot be overstated, there are situations, such as dealing with religious protestors, where ignoring them can be the most effective and pragmatic approach. It may be futile and emotionally taxing to argue with someone who doesn’t really want to have a discussion. Why would you spend your time on someone who is so adamant about their position but also, who does not want to hear you out?

Make no mistake, as friendly and nice men like this may come off, remember how they see you. While they, with flaming moral superiority complexes, are holy born-again men, you are seen as “sinful” or “unholy” in their eyes. They don’t want to talk to you candidly; they just want to preach to you until you leave out of frustration or cave in and pay attention to what they have to say.

I recommend a third option: do nothing. You have better things to stress over.

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