Just So Long As It Means Nothing

Got into a telling argument online recently.  I was talking about how progressive religious activists base their striving for social justice on their faith.  Our faith compels us to work for justice. 

From my perspective this is not a controversial statement. It comes directly from a long tradition of social activism on the part of liberal churches - from agitating for the War of Independence to the abolition of slavery to suffrage to the Social Gospel to the Civil Rights movement - all of this came out the work of churches.  And as I was typing my original post, I was specifically thinking about my colleagues, both UUs and other progressive religionists working on issue of social justice, because our faith compels us to.

But a secular humanist on the forum took offense.  She strenuously objected, saying that my words implied that you had to believe in order to do social justice work.  Um, no.  I replied.  I never said such a thing (and don't believe such a thing).  I'm not speculating on what motivates a secular humanist.  I was speaking about me and my colleagues.  We do the work we do because of our faith.

But still she persisted.  I could not, she told me, make that claim without implying that faith is necessary to work for justice.  As she insisted on being offended, and my talking about faith was the thing that was offending her, the inevitable conclusion is that I cannot talk about faith as a motivating factor in our actions.

This is actually a problem that I've run into on a semi-regular basis, non-religious people who claim to be tolerant of religious people...just so long as we don't express our religiosity in public.  It's almost as if she was saying to me: "You can believe whatever you want, just so long as it has no influence on your actions."  

I can see how from a non-religious person's perspective, this might make sense.  For them, religion is just a set of beliefs - Jesus, Buddha, the Tooth Fairy.  It can be stored away and compartmentalized the same way that I store away the belief that somewhere in the United States there are at least a few people with the last name Smith.  

That kind of belief has no bearing on my daily actions.  But faith does.  Faith is not just belief.  It is trust, it is relationship, it encompasses every aspect of life.  Or at least it should.  To expect me to check my faith at the door is to say that I can't practice it.  To say that I am free to believe whatever I want just so long as it means nothing is a shallow kind of tolerance indeed.

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