Dear Religious People of America,
We have work to do.
Have you noticed the reputation we have in the media, in the public conversation? Have you heard reporters use the term “religious superstition” without batting an eye? Do you know how popular is the new militant atheist literature? Have you found it increasingly difficult to find healthy spiritual communities near you?
America is still among the most religious nations in the world, but there’s no doubt that attendance in most places of worship is steadily falling, and the number of people who have casually dropped religion like a bag of donations outside Goodwill is climbing every year.
Do you wonder why?
Do you blame someone?
Is it a dark power influencing the world, drawing believers away from God? Is it the corrupt media, poisoning the public against religion to grow their audience? Perhaps the liberal politics of the President’s administration?
Along with this apparent decline of interest in religion, this increased distaste for the spiritual, has come a reactionary outpouring of ultra-conservative political battles over religiously-charged issues. Here in Kentucky, every Republican candidate in the November elections sent me cards assuring that, if I elected them, they would put a stop to gay marriage and abortion. Fanatic rhetoric pours out of conservative churches. There is a nationwide backlash against the perceived secularization of America.
Then there are those of us in the middle, the liberal and moderate religious, struggling along between the immensities of birth and death, trying to find our place in the worldwide community of spiritual people. We have some amazing people doing good, selfless work, leading exemplary lives and making really contributions.
But what are the rest of us doing? What can we do to show the world that religion is and can be a invigorating, meaningful way to live a life and contribute to the welfare of those around us? How do we shout down the bullhorns of fanaticism, intolerance, and bigotry?
There is only one way.
But it’s incredibly difficult.
But you and I can start working on it right now. We can put it into practice this minute. We can take it step by step, like a recipe.
A recipe for change:
- Look closely at your religious beliefs and practices. Examine them thoroughly. Use your intuition, your discrimination, your intellect, your heart. Look deeply into the ideas you grew up with, or were taught, or adopted.
- Ditch the bad stuff. Every scripture, every belief, every teaching has been colored by the minds of human beings. Sometimes those people lived in times and places that we can’t begin to understand, and their views of religion were colored by their circumstances. Sometimes the people in charge of handing down religious teachings are simply bad people, and that’s something we need to accept. Basically, if it tells you stone someone, ditch it. If it tells you to wage war for God, ditch it. If it tells you to convert people by force, ditch it. If it tells you to do anything other than be an good, outstanding, compassionate person, ditch it.
- Hold on tight to the the good stuff. “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world.” “Hatred can never be defeated by hatred, only by love.” “The reward of goodness is nothing but goodness.” “Show mercy and compassion every man to his brother.” Keep these, every single one, whatever the source.
- Now the most important and the most difficult bit: live the good stuff. Live it every minute of everyday. You won’t be perfect at it. You’ll screw up a lot and you’ll feel like you’ve failed, but you haven’t. You can’t. Even the smallest effort on this path does not go to waste. You can start over as often as you need to. With every step, every breath, every word you speak, you can begin again on the path to become the best person you can be.
In this way, we can make a difference, my brothers and sisters. This is the way we change the ugly situation we’re in: by changing ourselves, our ideas and beliefs. It can be done. All of the great men and women of every religion say so with authority, because they themselves underwent this exact process of change.
We change ourselves, we change our country, we change the world.
Let’s get to work.