Walking along the bridge over 21st Avenue to class a couple of days ago, I was taken aback by a multitude of chalk propositions at my heels, following me on my early morning trek from The Commons to main campus. Trudging resolutely forward in my 7:55 a.m. stupor, functioning on fewer than five hours of sleep, I found myself particularly put-off by the statements of God’s greatness and His love that screamed out at me incessantly. I almost wanted to pull my backpack up around my head, duck and make a run for it, and while my questioning the intentions of those chalk markings is not as extreme, I admit that in the moment, the whole thing was quite overwhelming.
I am a staunch proponent of freedom of both belief and speech, coming from a country where being of a specific background in a specific place meant instant ostracism. Growing up with a Armenian Orthodox father and a Sunni Muslim mother — neither of whom were steadfast observers of their respective religious backgrounds — I formed a unique perspective on the depth of religious intolerance in my community and subsequently in the world at large. With secularism comes a distinctive outlook on religion and the intrinsic propensity for conflict. This is not to say that individuals who observe religions are themselves inciters of conflict. Hardly.
Rather, it is the very essence of religion, the universal themes of separation and institutionalization, which, despite aiming at the same notion of salvation, go out of their way to delineate their own path and proclaim that theirs is the only one that can get you there. I am not an opponent of religious observance, having been exposed to it for 18 years and now living in a similar, albeit differently flavored, environment. I will have a problem with you, however, if you overstep personal bounds — yours and mine both — and force me to see something I acknowledge exists but which I do not necessarily enjoy.
Last semester I was stopped on my way back to Commons by a couple of upperclassmen who lectured me about Lord Jesus Christ, their Savior, and begged me to allow them to pray for my absolution because I was not a Christian. It was one of the most disturbing experiences I had ever been exposed to. I cannot see how these chalk drawings are any different. You are at perfect liberty to express your ideological inclinations, but I draw the line when they become accusatory, inflammatory, patronizing and exclusive.
I felt incredibly marginalized knowing that I would not “let HIM lead,” as the chalk markings suggested. Such statements do not belong in the public sphere, and I cannot see how anyone could possibly condone such blatant evangelism. I understand the good intentions, and the wish to share and bask in the Lord’s light, but we are all living and learning at the same non-religiously affiliated university, so why should I be subject to a specific ideology that, in its very credo, shuns all others? How would you feel if you were a prospective Catholic student on a tour and suddenly found yourself harangued by pro-Islam proclamations on the bridge of this secular institution? Would “Let Allah into your life!” be a very appealing aspect of your visit?
This conversation is obviously much larger than the scope of an opinion piece, but I sincerely wonder if my view is not shared by the larger population of secular students here. My relationship with my own ideologies is personal, and I would never consider festooning the Commons walkway with rainbows.
Indeed, over family weekend last semester, I noticed many an irked parent frowning at gay pride flags hanging from students’ windows. There is a noxious inherent double standard which I would like to address (and am in the process of addressing) with individuals in my community, in virtue of the fact that I am now in a place that is light-years more liberal than from whence I came. I would be glad to discuss this more fully with anyone who has any questions or concerns about my standpoint. Chalk gods will be washed away with the next rain, but this perpetual, fundamental misunderstanding will not.
— Rani Banjarian is a freshman in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at email@example.com.