Humanist Pride at Interfaith Service

On Saturday (15th June) I spoke at the Boston Pride Interfaith Service at Old South Church, a service designed to show support for the LGBTQ community. Members of many faith communities and philosophical traditions came together to affirm the dignity and equality of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression: Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and others were all represented, as was the life stance of Humanism.

I was asked to provide a reading to preface the offering, which was held in support of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Humanists have long supported the queer community – the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II stated unequivocally that “individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire” – so I think it is important that we seek representation in such events.

I chose to read a poem by Algernon D. Black, formerly a leading light in the Ethical Culture movement. You can hear the whole service here, or listen to me speak at the link below. The full text of my remarks follows.

Pride Interfaith Service – James Croft Represents Humanism

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Humanists believe:

Our only life is this life,
Our only world is this world,
Our only hope is each other,
And this is enough.

This poem, “Call to the Living”, is by Algernon D. Black

This is a call to the living,
To those who refuse to make peace with evil,
With the suffering and the waste of the world.

This is a call to the human,
Not the perfect,
To those who know their own prejudices,
Who have no intention
Of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.

This is a call to those who remember the dreams of their youth,
Who know what it means to share food and shelter,
The care of children and those who are troubled,
To reach beyond barriers of the past
Bringing people to communion.

This is a call
To the never ending spirit
Of the common person,
Our essential decency
Our integrity beyond all education and wealth,
Our unending capacity to suffer and endure,
To face death and destruction
And to rise again
And build from the ruins of life.

This is the greatest call of all
The call to a faith in people.

This is also a call to give generously: a portion of today’s offering will be donated to support PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and their work with transgender youth. So heed this call, dig deep for this worthy cause, and you can feel especially proud this Pride weekend!

***

The service was also notable for a fiery denunciation of the Catholic Hierarchy by Rabbi Howard Berman. I found the following transcript at the blog of BK Hipsher:

Excerpt from a Prayer for the Community by Rabbi Howard A. Berman of Boston Jewish Spirit, at the Pride Interfaith Service at Old South Church, Copley Square, Boston.

As a son of the tradition of the great Hebrew Prophets, who courageously and forcefully spoke truth to power, I feel called this morning to depart from the usual code of polite civility and deference which governs interfaith discourse in this community – usually expressed by avoiding conflict and disagreement with restrained silence.

Friends, who have gathered together here from so many faith traditions – among us, so many faithful Roman Catholics, such as Marcia and Ken Garber whom we honor today – we cannot keep silent in the face of the relentless and unending onslaught of attack and rejection that our community continues to face from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church – and particularly, the Archdiocese of Boston. The incredible news in today’s newspapers of the summary and tyrannical cancellation by the Archdiocese of a Mass at St Cecilia’s Church, whose grave heresy was its public proclamation that “All Are Welcome” during Pride Week, fills us with outrage. The obfuscation of the Archdiocese and its inevitable lame backtracking…the ignorance and raw bigotry reflected in the mindless statements of extremists who seem to have forced the Archdiocese’s hand, are chilling and appalling. They include the absurd blasphemy that, after all, according to Catholic teaching, “Pride is a sin”.

Cardinal O’Malley…enough already!

O God, we need You now to open up the eyes, minds and hearts of those who claim authority in the name of Saint Peter.  I speak as a colleague and an equal to those claims – representing a far older tradition than the pomp and power of Rome. We pray that they will realize the pain and hurt they have caused so many… and that they will join us as people of many faiths, in understanding the teachings of the Rabbi of Nazareth as a call for a Gospel of Love and Justice, rather than as a basis for the prerogatives of power.

***

No one who witnessed Rabbi Berman speak so passionately could suggest that interfaith gatherings are irredeemably kumbaya-ish!

About James Croft

James Croft is a Humanist activist and public speaker who has swiftly become one of the best-known new faces in Humanism today. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently studying for his Doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As a leader in training in the Ethical Culture movement – a national movement of Humanist congregations – he is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com/ Nathan DST aka LucienBlack

    You do good work James.

    However, I do have to admit to still being skeptical about this interfaith concept. To that end, I have a question: In your experience at interfaith gatherings, has any atheist ever stated that they believe faith is delusional?What was the response? If that has never happened that you’ve observed (or even heard about), what do you think would be the result?

    I ask because while I can see working with the faithful on matters of common interest, and support that wholeheartedly, I cannot see biting my tongue to pretend that I see faith as a virtue, when I consider it to be vice (sometimes harmless, but still vice). I won’t go into detail of my view on faith here, as over at “Occasionally, I think” I just posted on that issue. How would such an attitude be dealt with in an interfaith setting, even if I’m there to work toward common goals?

  • TempleoftheFuture

    Thanks for you comment and questions, Lucien! The answers are as follows:

    “In your experience at interfaith gatherings, has any atheist ever stated that they believe faith is delusional?”

    Yes, myself, more than once, although not using the term “delusional”. I have made it clear multiple times during interfaith events that I think faith is epistemically untenable and dangerous as a basis for action. I don’t avoid the term “delusional” in order to spare feelings, incidentally – I just don’t think it’s optimally accurate as a description of the faith phenomenon.

    One specific example is when I attended the week-long “Faith and Leadership” workshop at Harvard this year. I made it clear from the very start that I did not think there was a role for faith (as I understood it) in leadership at all, and I said so all the way through. I was particularly strong regarding a case study which involved a CEO praying to find guidance during a difficult time in their company. i pushed very hard against the idea that someone should run their company based on what they think God is telling them.

    “What was the response?”

    People are often taken-aback and sometimes upset. I take pains to express these views in as respectful way as possible, but obviously it is seen as an attack on very cherished beliefs. In response to the anger and upset my comments receive I try to stay completely calm and assert my right to express my opinion just like everybody else. I point out that I haven’t said anything that is an attack on any person and that I expressed myself respectfully. I am actually extremely firm about this – I consider myself to have a right to be there and express my views and I will accept no abridgment of that right.

    On the other hand, I have had a number of very positive responses: people saying that they appreciate my comments, they’re glad I’m starting the discussion, that it makes them feel they can honestly state their view too, and even once a Christian said she totally agreed with me and felt that when someone does something on the basis of “faith” they get very afraid. So there is a wide variety of different responses.

    So I refuse to bite my tongue and refuse to be silent. I know that Chris Stedman does this too, incidentally. It takes a strong will and a thick skin to go into these spaces to say your piece, certainly, but I’m entirely confident that Humanism is strong enough to take it.

    • http://nathandst.blogspot.com/ Nathan DST aka LucienBlack

      “I don’t avoid the term “delusional” in order to spare feelings, incidentally – I just don’t think it’s optimally accurate as a description of the faith phenomenon”

      Can you expand on that? Thinking back on what posted at my site, I’m thinking that I didn’t really back up the word descriptive “delusional,” so much as argue that faith is a bad reason for believing and acting. I’m curious what you think *is* an optimally accurate description of the phenomenon.

      I’m glad to hear that you’re not biting your tongue, and that you’re standing firm on your views. Truthfully, I’m surprised you’ve received _any_ agreement for that from even a single Christian.

      Also, feel free to call me Nathan. Lucien still works of course, but with my real name out there now, at some point I’ll be retiring the pseudonym completely.

      • TempleoftheFuture

        Sure! The main reason I don’t use the word “delusion” is because I think that a very significant part of the reason why people stay affiliated with their religious faith is cultural in nature, and not primarily psychological or intellectual. I think many people have very strong affiliations with the people, narratives, rituals and symbols with which they grew up, and this, rather than any force of argumentation, is a significant reason why, I think, a lot of people have strong allegiance to their faith tradition.

        Therefore I think fairly often these beliefs, though rationally indefensible, are often not pathological. It’s clear too that such beliefs can exist within a perfect healthy and potent mind. So I just refrain from calling them a “delusion” (which has connotations of illness to me) and instead simply say that they are beliefs that cannot be supported with evidence or good reasons.

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