As a card-carrying atheist, my antennae begin to twitch whenever true believers gather in large numbers to show how enlightened they are. On Tuesday night, the Unity in Our Community group gathered at East Lansing High School to plan their love-against-hate counter demonstrations against the “God Hates Fags” church members.
My first reaction was that the community would be wise to ignore Westboro altogether. The church employs tactics like protesting near solider funerals to bait people into taking them seriously, as if they are a real threat. In reality, they are powerless religious fanatics who have not rallied others to their cause.
In my mind, our time would be better spent solving real problems – bullying in schools (three Republicans are currently stalling Matt’s law from coming to a vote), our failure to provide full equality for the LGBTQ community and our glorification of endless war. Compared to those issues, WBC is the low-hanging fruit, as it were.
But I could also understand why enlightened Christians were keen to join the secular school community in distancing themselves from the fundamentalist WBC Christers. While WBC-types insist the entire Bible is the revealed word of God, most of my Christian friends view the pronouncements as metaphor. I have watched many Christian friends pretzel themselves to explain honoring a mistranslated collection of stories from Middle Eastern agrarian societies thousands of years ago that include blatantly anti-gay/pro-slavery passages.
Ten Commandments? How about we just pick four or five?
So I grabbed my video camera and headed to All Saints Episcopal Church for Tuesday’s community meeting to capture the proceedings. The church was filled with lots of well-meaning folks, many of them parents, rightfully concerned that their youngsters needed some help in dealing with these provocateurs. However, among all the talk of tolerance, one line in the original community statement stood out as clearly offensive to non-believers.
Despite our diverse views of God, we are united in our belief that God is a loving creator.
In my role as skunk at the picnic, during Q&A time, I asked why such intolerant language had been employed by a group that was clearly so proud of taking a stand against religious bigotry.
There was some initial reaction on the part of those who had authored the statement about how they had not meant “God” in terms of “God” in a religious sense.
Come again? That sounded suspiciously like “intelligent design” to me.
The rabbi who helped write the statement quickly argued that this was not the time nor place for a theological discussion. He would brook no response from me that the issue was not theology but blatant discrimination against non-believers. Atheists, like cannibals and pedophiles, are still groups that it is OK to discriminate against.
The good news, however, is that a small but determined band of non-believers and their fellow travelers successfully pushed to remove the offensive sentence from the community statement.
Lions (or Skunk) 1 – Christians 0.
I am now going to sound like one of those annoying Boomers who drone on about the good old days. But there was a time when leaders in the Christian community in this country showed real courage, earning the respect of even hardened non-believers like me.
Episcopal Bishop James Pike pushed mainline churches to accept the LGBT community, and he also urged that women should be ordained.
The populist Pope John XXIII convened Vatican II, which offered a welcome ray of sunshine. And who can forget the Berrigan brothers. Philip and Daniel would break into Army recruiting offices and burn draft records to save young men from being drafted and killed in what they perceived as an unjust war.
Today we get Westboro Baptist Church instead? They do indeed have the courage of their convictions, and they are willing to spend lots of time in court to protect free speech rights. But their underlying message is religious extremism and intolerance for those who do not share their views. This is progress?
So I was initially thrilled to see yesterday that Pope Benedict XVI had endorsed the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
I tend not to take advice from men in skirts unless it’s Ru Paul, but I thought it was about time the former Hitler youth (yes, I know he was conscripted) did something to help people deal with this scourge. (Too bad about the 25 million who died in the meantime.)
But oops again. Turns out the Pope only approves of condom use as an exception for infected male prostitutes.
Devolution, not evolution. Days like these I am happy to be a born-again atheist.