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Fiction for Fiction

Planning Time3 to 4 weeks
Group Size6+
Staff #2-3
Event DateAnytime

Activity Overview: Religious believers rarely approach their sacred texts with a skeptical or critical eye. Atheists and humanists are often more willing to read between the lines, to the point where many know these books better than true believers!

A great way to encourage religious skepticism, as well as raise your group's profile, is a "fiction for fiction" event, where your group offers to trade others' religious books for cheap paperback books. The mild provocation of the event should raise eyebrows, but not pitchforks, and will highlight your group's irreverence and light-hearted attitude.

A variant of this event is "Smut for Smut", wherein people can trade religious texts for pornography. While basically the same in execution, it is much more inflammatory and can well turn people off.  After the smut-for-smut event was proposed in his group, Michael Gobaud, president of the UNLV SSA, said that "this debate has created more turmoil in our group than anything else in our 2 year history (already had people quit and others threaten to quit because of this). For that reason alone, I would strongly discourage any other groups from even proposing S4S, it's just not worth the controversy among your own group..."  For these reasons, we strongly recommend the Fiction-for-Fiction version.

Planning Timeframe: What makes this event particularly useful is that it can be held pretty much anytime; if, say, something else you had planned fell through, this can be easily set up so you don't have a gaping hole in your calendar. That said, planning three to four weeks in advance is recommended.

Coordinating: What you need to coordinate to make this successful is getting your trading material, a publicity campaign, and a volunteer schedule. These can be done simultaneously by two or three coordinators.

Material requirements: Obviously, you'll need to get fiction or smut, but more on that later. You'll need a table to trade over, banners or signs both for your group and the activity. Promotion will require some fliers around campus, and possibly sidewalk chalk. Absolutely don't forget clipboard, pens, and pre-printed sign-up sheets for people to write their names and emails!

Suggested Walkthrough

  1. After deciding to do this, your choice of date should hinge on your ability to get a table in a high traffic area, as well as two volunteers at the table at a time for two or three days. It's suggested that you stretch the event for a few days to build up interest and get people to come. Weekdays are probably best - work within class schedules!
  2. There are a several different ways to get a bunch of fiction books cheaply - don't splurge! As a rule of thumb, don't get heavily damaged or reference books - while these are cheap and easily available, nobody really wants one. These sources may have cheap pornography as well, if you really want to ask.
    1. Most public libraries sell off old, used books. Sometimes they do this biannually, but others just have a display in the front. This is very inexpensive, and gives money to an important cause.
    2. Have members contribute books they no longer want.
    3. Look for garage sales in your area.
  3. About a week before the event, start promoting it. In addition to all of the advertising techniques mentioned in your Group Running Guide, I will especially recommend a press release for local and campus media.
  4. A few days before, confirm your volunteer schedule. Make sure your volunteers know what to do, in particular how to explain the event in a positive way to passerby.
    1. You might want to provide your volunteers with a list of religious texts, both so that they can recognize what they're getting, and also to give examples to people who ask. Take an expansive view of what counts - some tables have received copies of the Bhagavad Gita, the I-Ching, and the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The point isn't to mock any religion in particular, but to question all sacred texts!
    2. Your volunteers shouldn't fear hostility. If they can make the event positive, they've done well. If passersby get angry and won't listen, there's no need to engage them further - and they may well attract more people!
  5. Also a few days before, have a sign-making party. They should clearly indicate that you can trade in religious books for fiction - don't assume that they will get it from the name! Remember, your signs should have positive messages, such as "Question everything you read", not "religion is for the brain-damaged".
    1. The Skeptic's Annotated Bible is a great resource for those who want to look into sacred texts more critically.
  6. Set up your table in a high-traffic area outdoors. Don't be discouraged if you're not doing blockbuster business - after all, the point isn't to trade the most books, but to raise your group's profile. In fact, a lot of people who would trade in books don't have them. Encourage these people to come talk anyway, and sign up!
    1. Your group can also 'reverse trade', where people trade a fiction text for a religious one. The point, again, is just to get people interested.
  7. After you've table for a few days, pack up and clean up your area. Thank your volunteers and coordinators!
  8. What you do with the books is up to you. Some groups have a library and will keep them there. Others will give them to their local Unitarian church, or another allied group. Jennifer McCreight of Purdue cautions: "Just make sure you don't burn them or throw them away. Or at the very least, don't promote the fact that they're going into the recycling bin... That's a sure fire way to unnecessarily offend people."
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