LA JOLLA, Calif. The Snake Path, the site of a May 1 staff prayer vigil at the University of California, San Diego, is a secular monument designed to squelch religion, according to a local ministry leader.
Eddie Brown, who heads the San Diego Justice House of Prayer, said he's alarmed by the symbolism of the installation art.
"Once I saw it I was struck by the significance of it," Brown said.
The Snake Path, which features rock tiling and integrates a small garden as it slopes up to the university's Geisel Library, is part of UCSD's celebrated Stuart Collection.
The collection's Web site said the project "seeks to enrich the cultural, intellectual, and scholarly life of the UCSD campus and of the San Diego community by building and maintaining a unique collection of site-specific works by leading artists of our time."
Installed in 1992, the 560-foot Snake Path was created by Los Angeles-based artist Alexis Smith and celebrates classical knowledge. It begins at the tail, where the narrow body, created with rock shale tiles, expands up the hill, wraps around the small garden and eventually winds its way toward the library, where it ends with its split tongue.
The work also includes a 6-foot granite monument replica of John Milton's book, "Paradise Lost," which includes this inscription from the book:
"And wilt thou not be loath
To leave this paradise yet shalt possess
Paradise within thee happier far?"
In an interview with the Journal of Contemporary Art, artist Smith called the Milton reference "the perfect quotation for a university campus, because it carries the additional suggestion of the ivory tower environment and the need for personal investigation."
Although he had heard about the Snake Path for several years before visiting it, Brown said he was shocked at the size of the artwork.
"I pictured something that you couldn't even tell what it was," he said.
After doing research on the collection, the Snake Path and the history of secular humanism, Brown said the Lord moved him into action.
"The Scripture began to open up to me from Genesis to Revelation," he said, citing Genesis 3:14-15 where the Lord curses the serpent.
For the past 18 months he and others from the House of Prayer have been praying on the serpent's head almost daily.
"That's what galvanized it in my heart, the magnitude of it," he said.
Brown maintains the symbolism of the snake, which parallels a student's journey through college, sends a strong anti-Christian message, something he said is highlighted by tour groups that visit the site.
"A serpent is crafty and twisty," he said. "It's the anti-Christ spirit."
Brown added that the steepest and most difficult part of the path comes at the "Garden of Eden," where the snake wraps itself around before continuing up toward the library. Most snakes, he noted, wrap themselves around something they intend to kill by constricting.
'Age of Innocence'
Since discovering the Snake Path, Brown said he's monitored dozens of tours at the site and said the docents offer similar interpretations of the piece with most of them referencing "the Great Enlightenment when man became the measure of all things. It became about man, not about God, but man's divinity," Brown said. The guides, he said, also discuss leaving an "age of innocence" to a higher pursuit of self and knowledge. A few, he added, have openly mocked religion.
Mary Beebe, the director of Stuart Collection, said Brown's claims are ridiculous.
"It's not anti-Christian at all," she said. "That's crazy. It's neither religious nor not religious."
Beebe said the piece reflects the story of the flight from the Garden of Eden.
"It's not leaving religion," she said. "It's leaving the Garden of Eden. Once Adam and Even ate from the tree and acquired knowledge they had to leave."
She said it's a message that reflects the purpose of higher education.
"Like Adam and Eve once you get knowledge you have to go out unto the world and spread what you know," the director said.
Although he's frequently on the campus, Brown and the House of Prayer are not affiliated with the Faculty and Staff Christian Fellowship, the university-sanctioned association that will hold the May prayer meeting.
Brown said he and the others who pray at the site are confident the Lord will have his way.
"I believe that we are finishing the artwork," he added, saying as they remain consistent in their prayer and outreach, young people are being saved.
"Secular humanism is about an attempt at being good; that man can be good apart from God," Brown said. "Well, that's a good idea, but it's never worked. Jesus said there's nothing good apart from the Father. It has to come back to the reality of Jesus Christ, the Son."