Am I Anti-Religious? Are You?

In my discussions on Atheism+ and its relationship to Humanism it has frequently been suggested that A+ is more “anti-religious” than Humanism.

What does it mean to be “anti-religious”? I’m not sure that I have much idea. Certainly, if there are things that religious people are doing or believing which cause harm then I am anti those things. If religious communities are engaged in politics promoting inhumane or iniquitous policies I am against them. If religious leaders are denigrating a minority or teaching dogma I oppose it.

I resent that I was told, as a gay teenager in an all-boys school, that “homosexuals deserve our pity and our prayers”. I think it is unjust that women are continually demeaned by representatives of religious traditions, who seek to limit their freedoms in accordance with ancient social roles. I hate the fact that a friend was tortured by hacks who thought they could “cure” his homosexuality through electric shocks and burns, and believed they should do it due to their religious beliefs. I abhor the discrimination and prejudice faced by nonreligious people in the USA, some of whom fear to reveal their true beliefs due to the potential for social or professional recrimination. I find it reprehensible that some religious parents force their religion on their children, disabling them form making an informed choice of their own. I think that the supernatural framework which surrounds most religions is irreparably false.

Does that make me “anti-religious”?

Or does the fact I love singing hymns during Anglican services mean I’m “pro-religious”? What about my enjoyment of the Christian soft-rock they play at evangelical mega churches? Or how I love to dance and sway during Shabbat services, and chant the Kirtan with the Hare Krishnas?

I love that moment in Christian services when you are invited to share the peace with the other congregants. I appreciate the quiet simplicity of Won Buddhist temples. I thrill to the force of drums as they reverberate through the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, am uplifted by the sound of voices floating through St. Peter’s. I’m inspired by the intensity and passion of liberation theologians, who put their lives on the line to free the oppressed. I respect the polite, respectful demeanor which characterizes every Mormon I have ever met – even as I give them hell over gay marriage. I often find sermons thought-provoking – a chance for ethical and existential contemplation I don’t find in many secular spaces.

Does this make me “pro-religious?”

Ultimately I don’t think I accept either label. I think religion is far too complex and multi-faceted a phenomenon to take a single stance toward it, pro or anti. I want to identify and reclaim the parts of religious practice which are genuinely valuable, and change or discard the parts which are harmful. Does that truly mean I’m out of step with atheists and Humanists like PZ Myers, as he seems to think? Or am I just expressing my position differently? And how about you? Do you identify as “anti-religious”? And, if so, what do you mean by that?

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About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 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.


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