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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Step up, humanists

Statistics for the western world clearly indicate a decreasing interest in or commitment to any religion; the fastest growing religion listed on surveys is "None". Persons should always have the freedom to choose any or no religion, but here's the problem: when I've participated in hunger relief, I've seen a disproportionate percentage of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and Sikhs among the givers and workers. When I demonstrated against the death penalty on the street outside Raleigh's Central Prison, I was accompanied by a disproportionate percentage of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and Sikhs. You see where I'm heading, I hope.

Phrases such as "love thy neighbor", "do justly and love mercy", and "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" are widely shared among the world's religions. It is undeniable that practice of religions is often shockingly hypocritical, intolerant, exclusionary, and most sadly warlike. Let's not toss out the baby with the bath water, however. Where are the SBNRs -- spiritual but not religious -- in the continuous, difficult, and messy quest for peace and justice for every person? Some SBNRs fight, but not enough. Where are the atheists and agnostics? Some fight, but not enough.

Religions provide a degree of accountability for failing to do good, if nothing else. Absent religion, it's easy to kick back into an epicurean, self-centered lifestyle or, worse, to embrace objectivism. (I am both amused and horrified by fervently evangelical Christians whose political views sound like Ayn Rand. Don't they see the inconsistency?) My challenge to all SBNRs, atheists, and agnostics is to set aside differences in perspective with your religious brothers and sisters and to join us in doing the hard work to improve society. My challenge to religious persons is to lead by example while reducing the chatter. To twist the saying frequently but perhaps incorrectly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: Preach often, and use words only if necessary.