Pluralism

Contradictions and Juxtapositions at Standing Rock

Drawing of the Camp

In early November, I flew to Minnesota to join a delegation of clergy vanpooling from Minneapolist to the Standing Rock Reservation, in North Dakota. The Minnesota Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Action Alliance, or MUUSJA, or Moose Jaw, for those of you who are familiar with the UU's tendency to reduce everything to initials. MUUSJA is the equivalent of the Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California, organized and funded a good part of the trip. The local Episcopal priest, Father John Floberg called for clergy to help the Sioux tribe, with members from more than 300 tribes across the Western Hemisphere in solidarity, protest the building of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation. What is at stake is their only source of water at risk of being poisoned by the Black Snake, the Missouri River, which is a tributary of the Mississippi River. *And* this company building the pipeline is notorious for leaks. Drinking water for millions of people are at risk.

My decision to go was a spiritual one. How could I with my presence be helpful to the Native women who are up there, prayerfully fighting for their land, and by extension Mother Earth and all of us. It helps to be aware of one's social location, especially when going into another culture, which in going to the reservation we were told again and again that the culture was different. My own social location as a Mestiza, or mixed European American and Mexican American, including indigenous heritage, queer woman. Part of my lived experience is having lived on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Northern Arizona when I was young, where I went to Head Start rather than kindergarten, and the first grade. I'm a Unitarian Universalist candidate for ministry who practices Zen Buddhism on my spiritual path. I have had a profound love for nature as far back as I can remember. In holding these identities in tension, social location certainly informed my experience while I was there.

Standing Rock is at the center of numerous intersecting issues. Going forward,Unitarian Universalists need to start thinking about issues, beyond single issues, such as environmentalism, rather through the lens of "intersectionality", a word coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw that recognizes and names the fact that there is no single issue. Environmentalism is a popular issue with UUs. What gets overlooked more often by those who have environmentalism as their issue is that communities of color most often deal with toxic dumping, factories, or chemical or petrochemical storage or pipelines with unhealthful tendencies that are put in that area because white communities do not want them and have the power to demand that they are placed elsewhere. Not in my back yard(NIMBY). Plus, you have women who are affected by the chemicals and possibly that affects reproduction. The water is affected so there is external health effects, as well as internal. In this example, environmentalism intersects with racism, feminism, and it is systemic in that those in power in the government are deliberately making laws to limit companies to be near communities of color rather than white predominantly white communities.

This Dakota Pipeline protest is about the Black Snake going through their land and ground water, but it is also about the way that Native Americans continue to be treated by the US government informed by racism, and corporations having explicit, there for systemic backing by the state and US government. It is about the threat to water, our most precious communal resource. It is about power. The pipeline was originally supposed to go near Bismark, but the citizens, white citizens, would not have it. It is about Christianity. The Pope of the Catholic Church issued a bull in 1493, called the Doctrine of Discovery, shortly after the "New" World was discovered. This document declared that all land was to be claimed, and any people on the lands were to be converted to Christianity and enslaved or killed. This bull is the basis for court decisions to this day, regardless of what is written in the numerous treaties. Treaties that have been broken time and again, not by the Native Americans, but the white European Americans that greedily stole land. The protest is a Human Rights issue, the right to water and indigenous sovereignty.

Unitarian Universalists passed a resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery at General Assembly in 2012. The Episcopalians preceded us in 2009. Our Unitarian Universalist Service committee has based one of their programs on the Human Right to Water. The UU Justice Ministry of California has centered work around water. We, as Californians, know or should know how critical water is too life, but are especially aware in a desert that has been stricken by drought. We're not out of the woods yet. Thich Nhat Hanh Plum Village Line Zen Buddhists' with concern for the Mother Earth have formed an Earth Holder Sangha, of which I am apart. The One Earth Sangha, a multi-Buddhist environmental group is concerned about Standing Rock.The Christian intentional community of which I am a friend, Urban Village, was concerned enough about Standing Rock that they and friends funded my trip. I went to Standing Rock, as one person, knowing that I represented the solidarity and well wishes of members of all of these communities, as well as the UU communities I am involved with. Those are JUUstice L.A. with whom I had a travel mate, Neighborhood Church, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship. Around sixty UU clergy traveled to Standing Rock for this particular call.

The group of over 500 church leaders met in the gymnasium the night before the event. I had weird a sense of deja vu having gone to non-sporting events in the gymnasium on the reservation. I began to feel like I was having an out of body experience observing. We learned about the history of the region from one man, and heard one of the women speak of the struggle. Native women are doing the lion's share of organizing and support in this struggle, much like women are doing the organizing for Black Lives Matter. One woman who spoke the night before, told the assembled clergy that the camp looks just like a camp to non-native Americans. She said those of Native American heritage would feel like they were coming home. When we drove over the rise the next morning and saw the camp bathed in the light of a truly spectacular sunrise I was overwhelmed with love and longing. Love for the land and people, and longing for their ill-treatment to be over. Metta prayers.

For the ceremony the next day, the priest offered a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, in it's original Latin, to burn in the sacred fire that continuously burns in the camp. Those representing the tribe chose to burn it in an abalone shell outside the sacred fire. The water warriors did not want to contaminate their sacred fire with the ugliness of the source giving permission for European colonization. I liken it to the profoundly offensive practice when white people dump their loved one's ashes at the source of springs and rivers. These headwaters represent life and people come to that sacred space and pollute it with death. There is a long way to go for a cultural understanding of just how sacred the earth and it's elements are, and/or a respect for nature.

I saw the burned out vehicles, the planes and the helicopters circling overhead. Too, I saw the most beautiful sunrise in my life on the day of the protest ceremony. Yet, I also saw a ceremony that was ostensibly interfaith be performed with a profoundly Christian view. As that person who straddles borderlines, I had a hard time reconciling that the religion of the oppressing group, was also the focus as we walked behind a cross to the river. That people with other symbols were "welcome" to process in front as well, felt strange since it other faith's are not about elevating their symbol above all. This is a case where members of the colonializing dominant culture, while apologizing for the past sins of their faith, reasserted that faith in that Native American space.

Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery is a step in the right direction. A young Buddhist asked if he should repudiate it since this was not his religion that issued the bull. I did not hear what the answer was, but my answer is yes. As a U.S. citizen, he is benefitting from the legacy of that papal bull. I, as a US citizen, am benefitting from that legacy. The Standing Rock Dakota Pipeline protest is emblematic of indigenous struggles against state supported corporations, U.S. supported corporations, up and down the American continent. I met a young Tinglet woman from Alaska. She was unlikely to be born when the Exxon Valdez ran aground; yet, she has grown up with the consequences. She came down from Alaska to protest in solidarity so that what happened in Alaska would not happen in North Dakota.

The struggle is just beginning if we, as UUs, are to do something more than symbolically repudiating. Clergy were asked to return and educate. I pledged to return and educate. We do not necessarily need more UUs going up to Standing Rock, unless it's to deliver supplies. We need people to use their skills. Fundraising? Social Media? Political Savvy? Legal? Communications? Too, the water warriors need warm clothes and sleeping beds to endure the winter to come. They are committed to saving the water, by continuing the protest and camp through the often brutal winter.

Meg Riley, the minister of the Church of the Larger Spirit writes, "Hope is born in the communion of struggle." Many struggles are and will continue to be upon`us in the coming days. Bill McKibbon reminds us: "History offers us no chance to completely erase our mistakes. Occasionally, though, we do get a chance to show we learned something."

Why I am no longer an Evangelical UU

I used to have a blog called ‘Confessions of an Evangelical UU.’  This was back in the early days of my “conversion” to UUism, when I was still enthralled with what I’d found and would talk to anyone about it. At a party on a Saturday night, there I’d be talking about my church.  Obviously, it wasn’t because I thought that people who aren’t UUs “need to be saved.” I was just so excited and happy to have found this faith. 

Two things happened to change my attitude about evangelizing UUsm.  The first is that someone actually decided to visit their local UU congregation because of me.  When faced with the reality that I could actually influence other people to join us, I then felt responsible for their UU experience.  I started to wonder what they’d find in the congregation(s) nearest them, and how much of what I loved about Unitarian Universalism might actually be more specific to my particular congregation than our religion as a whole.  (You can read about that experience here.)  At about the same time, I'd become increasingly aware of WASPy middle-to-upper class cultural biases within Unitarian Universalism, and that too made me wonder whether the folks I sent through our doors would find us to be welcoming to them.

The second reason why I stopped evangelizing UUism is because I realized that growing the roster of avowed Unitarian Universalists per se was not really my ultimate goal. What I ultimately want is to help build a world that is more kind, more just.  If you are a Christian or a Buddhist or a Pagan or a secular humanist and you share those values, then it doesn’t matter to me whether you wear the label of Unitarian Universalist or not. 

When I realized that I could no longer call myself evangelical, I stopped that blog.  And for reasons too long to go into here, I never really started another one, until now.  But I am still a UU – having flirted (not very seriously) with the idea of leaving for various other traditions from the UCC, to (progressive) Catholicism, to Pure Land or Ch’an Buddhism, I still remain a UU.  What initially convinced me to join, was the invitation that UUism offers to help co-create our shared faith.  Unlike some (not all) other traditions where if you don’t agree with something you just have to suck it up and change yourself to fit the religion, here in Unitarian Universalism we have both the freedom and the responsibility to share our lived experiences to help shape a more just and inclusive faith.  So my more modest goal now, instead of evangelizing UUism to the world, is to help create a faith community where all souls will indeed feel welcome (while still promoting our shared values of justice and compassion in the world). This new blog, and this new website, are part of my attempt to do that.

There's a New Pope In Town

In case it was possible for anyone to not know, the Pope is in town.  And DC seems to be agog.  All week long the metro platforms have been announcing that you can take the train to Nationals stadium (if you have a ticket).  On the trains, I've heard several cellphone conversations about the pontiff.  And the Post is running stories about people who paid thousands of dollars to fly here, or drove all night... And of course there is stuff like this.

I am a little taken aback by all this.  Not that I ever put much stock in us being the capital of the "most powerful nation on earth," but still, I would think that Washingtonians would be used to visits by really important people.  And I suppose the other part of it is that I don't like the guy.  Now, Pope John Paul II, I could understand waiting all night to see. But Benedict...he doesn't have a kind face, and I'm not convinced he can't control that.  JPII was the first pope to visit a mosque.  Benedict, otoh, one of the first things he does as Pope is to attack the Muslim faith.  JPII visited Auschwitz and kneeled in repentance for the sins of the Church.  Benedict reinstates the Latin Mass, part of which describes Jews as deluded.  JPII seemed to approach the world with love.  Benedict seems to be out to bring the faithful in line.  

The frenzy over this man whom I do not find at all appealing drives home to me the fundamental difference between Catholics and UUs, or Protestants for that matter.  I can like people and dislike people based on what I perceive of them.  I can even understand a particular amount of respect for a title.  But I can't for the life of me understand the adoration of a title.

A friend of mine once said that real sports fans are loyal to their team, not to the players on the team.  I guess Catholics are real sports fans.

Catholicism has traditionally been a "love or leave it" religion.  What the Vatican said went without question (because it was the discerned will of God) and you either follow or become a heretic/apostate.  Given the position that the Church still holds on women clergy, celibacy, contraception, and BGLT equality (man, the Church must really be against sex), it's been harder and harder for many American Catholics to stay within their Church.  Many just leave.  That's why I was especially impressed by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend when she exhorted disenchanted Catholics to not give up on their Church, to work for reform.  Do not simply walk away from the religion that you love.  Work to save it.

That is what some very dedicated progressive Catholics are trying to do during this Pope's visit - advocating for women and BGLT clergy.  They are working to make the Catholic church, which btw means "universal," more Catholic - to make it a church that fully embodies the power of God's love, which embraces all.  I still think Benedict looks mean and have no faith that he will listen, but I applaud the work done by these loving souls.

Addendum (2008.04.18 21:04)

Hey, so I just saw that Pope Benedict visited a synagogue in New York.  Well, good on him. :)

What Else Would One Do On a Sunday Evening?

than watch the Compassion Forum on CNN.  At 8 pm, I tuned in to see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama answer questions on faith and how it affects their approach to public policy. (Fyi, the Compassion Forum was organized by Faith in Public Life, for whom my supervisor sits as chair of the board.)  John McCain was invited but declined.

I cringed when Clinton awkwardly talked about how she admired Esther from Jewish scripture, as a girl begging for the story to be read to her again and again.  Her obvious discomfort made it less than believable, and came across as a blatant attempt to pander to Jewish voters while reinforcing her credentials as a feminist.  In contrast, I was very impressed by her response to the question of why God allows suffering.  She talked about her belief that God calls us to act in response to suffering and cited the Jewish prophets and Christ, and asked why this aspect of faith gets ignored so often in public discourse.  It was right on the money, and what's more I believed she meant it.  I also liked how she talked about Grace being not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with others.

For Obama's part, his response to questions about the "bitter" controversy were cringe-worthy.  Given the amount this has been brought up, I would have thought he'd be better prepared to answer, and to say that "clinging to religion" is not a bad thing seemed reminiscent of Bill Clinton's parsing of words.  I realized at that moment that the word "cling" was far more damning than his use of the word "bitter."  Bitter is understandable.  The issues he raised like immigration, religion, and gun control were understandable.  But there is no way to take "cling" other than as condescending.  That said, he made a very good point about his community organizing work within churches as evidence that he does not look down on faith.

Obama's high point for me is when he talked about how people on end of the spectrum, mostly on the left, think that any mention of faith with respect to politics is a violation of church and state, while people on the other end of the spectrum, mostly on the right, feel there should be no separation, and how both are wrong.  I particularly appreciated him saying that those who speak in terms of faith need to translate, as King did, in this pluralistic society so that all may relate.

The tv is still on and the analysts on CNN are now going on and on about the "bitter" remark.  Oh bother.

As for me, I am just happy to have an evening where so-called liberals are talking about their faith in public.  Not only is it important to winning votes, as the analysts keep claiming, but it's also important to me personally.

Easter Sunday

Blue Gal over at Street Prophets is asking people to participate in blog against theocracy this Easter weekend, so that's what I had intended to do today. 

I've been thinking a lot about Jesus' death, especially for someone who isn't Christian. And it occurred to me that Jesus was a victim of theocracy. Bear in mind that this is coming from someone who doesn't believe that Jesus was sent to die for our sins. I see his crucifixion as a state-sanctioned murder of someone who preached a radically liberal message of inclusivity and threatened established authority, both religious and state. Although, if Jesus were merely a victim, he wouldn't mean much to me. The Romans executed thousands. It was the way that Jesus unflinchingly lived his values of radical love and inclusivity, in the face of overwhelming power, that makes him a "first amongst equals" - fully human, and also fully divine.

I digress.... Some may question the claim that 1st century Jerusalem was a theocracy. After all, the political power was Rome whereas the religious power was the Temple high priests. While Herod may have been installed by the Romans (Marc Anthony), the Temple priests surely were not. But Herod and the Priests had entered into a cozy deal with Rome. In exchange for some amount of autonomy (and ability to collect wealth), sacrifices were offered in the Temple on behalf of Rome and the Emperor twice a day. The net result was the perception that the God of the Jews endorsed the legitimacy of Roman power.

Thus, religious authoritarian structure was supported by the state and in turn supported the state. This mutually beneficial arrangement assured that no one would be looking out for the welfare of the people. Until Jesus. And as he threatened this unholy alliance, he had to be done away with.

One of the main purposes of the "Church" is to bear witness against the injustices of authority. This is what the Jewish prophets did, bearing witness against Egyptian pharaohs and even Jewish kings. No one was beyond accountability. But the "Church" cannot hold the State accountable if its livelihood is dependent upon the State.

This was one of the primary concerns of our Founding Fathers as they carefully crafted the system of checks and balances intended to keep tyrannies in check. Many people now, see the separation of church and state as ensuring "freedom from religion." They see religion as the tyrant that the 1st amendment protects them from. But the original intent of the wall of separation was "freedom of religion," protecting religion's ability to be an independent voice of conscience, against the State if need be. Either way you look at it, separation protects everyone.

Faithful America

When Rabbi Lerner (of Tikkun fame) brought his Network of Spiritual Progressives to DC two years ago, what drew me most to the movement he was starting was his giving a voice to the Religious Left. For too long the "battle lines" for the "soul" of America had been drawn along the Religious Right and the Secular Left. (For the purposes of exposition here, "Secular" refers to those who are hostile to religion. The writer recognizes that there are other meanings.) The Religious Right claimed it was moral. In other words, if you didn't agree with their conservative views you were immoral. The Secular Left claimed it was intelligent. In other words, if you believed in God and/or belonged to organized religion you were stupid.

What was a liberal and rather highly-educated God-loving church lady like me supposed to to do?

The truth is that neither of these groups are big enough to represent half of the U.S. According to the latest Pew report, those who identify as atheist/agnostic/secular unaffiliated still make up little more than 10% of the population. And to quote a button that I used to wear, the "Moral Majority" is neither. While I concede their ingenious bit of branding, Falwell's "Moral Majority" was highly vocal and politically organized but never a majority of the U.S. population.

So then, if the Religious Right and the Secular Left make up but part of our population... If the U.S. in reality is far more varied, with Secular Conservatives and Religious Liberals and all sorts of people in between... why do we perceive the "battle lines" drawn this way? Partly because these are the two most vocal groups. Partly because the Religious Right chose the Secular Left as its target, exaggerating their significance. And partly because the media likes to frame things that way.

Enter Faithful America. Operated by Faith in Public Life (of which my boss is a board member), Faithful America tells us that tv network exit polls are reinforcing the idea that only conservatives are religious. The presidential primary polls are asking Republican voters more questions on religion than Democratic voters, and in some cases ignoring Democrats' religion entirely. (I imagine the Kennedy family would be surprised to learn that their faith doesn't count.)

In science we had a saying, "You tend to find what you're looking for." If the media starts with the assumption that only conservatives are religious and pursues its questions along that line, it will find answers that support its assumption. And so on.

We, the Religious Left, have been quiet for too long. We need to make some noise and represent.

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.

News from the Pews

First, the Pew Center on the States tells us that for the first time in U.S. history, more than 1 in 100 American adults is prison or jail. Per capita, that is more than any other country in the world. At the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were incarcerated. And "while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole." The report goes on to say that our 50 states combined spent a total of over $49 billion dollars on incarceration last year.

More than 1 in every 100 adult Americans are in jail. Shocking.

My officemate, Taquiena, once told me that a nearby state tracks how many prisons it's going to build in the future by how many low-income kids of color are enrolled in grade school right now. That means the state has already written these kids off as jail-bound before they've ever committed an offense. That means the state would rather spend money on prisons than on better education or economic development. Perhaps the free/forced labor within prisons is a motivating factor.

----

Second, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life says that we Americans are a "fluid and diverse" bunch when it comes to religion. More than 1 in 4 American adults (28%) have switched from the faith of their birth or lost faith entirely. If one counts changes within the different Protestant denominations, that number jumps to about 44%.

Atheism is on the rise and Catholicism has dropped sharply. It would have dropped even more if not for immigration. Immigrants also make up most of the increases in Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It also says that there is a great deal of diversity within each category.

(Unitarian "and other liberal faiths" got characterized under "Other Religions," along with New Age and Native American traditions.)

Pew tells us what we already knew. There is lots of diversity, with various denominations splintering into ever smaller groups. There is lots of fluidity. Heck, all one has to do is spend some time on an online religious forum and you run into people who are Buddhist one week and Pagan the next and then born-again Christian.

The report appropriately describes the country as "a very competitive marketplace." James Madison would be proud, as that is essentially what he wanted.

We are a country of religious consumers. Ok, maybe Madison wouldn't be so proud, because I can't imagine that he wanted that.

Happy Darwin Day

Most people know today as Abraham Lincoln's birthday. What you might not know is that the man who saved the Union shares his birthday (to the year) with the man who proposed natural selection as the driving force for evolution. February 12th is "Darwin Day," promoted by some as an "international celebration of science and humanity," mainly in reaction against those that favor creationism/intelligent design.

As a former biologist, there is no doubt in my mind that the diversity of life on earth today came about by evolution. The common genetic origins that we share with all living organisms is seen not just in evolutionary theory but also genetics, developmental biology, molecular and cellular biology... In short, all of biology points to this unifying explanation. Even so, I would not normally be holding up Charles Darwin's birthday as something particularly important to note. So why am I doing it now?

Yesterday, February 11th, the Florida Department of Education held its final public hearing on new state-wide science standards that would supercede any policies at the local levels. The proposed standards, which have been favorably received by teachers and scientists, would make the teaching of evolution a required part of Florida's science education for the first time. This little fact drew people from all over the state to testify both in favor and against the proposed state standards. The controversy was so great that it eclipsed discussion on any other aspect of the proposed standards.

While I appreciate their sincerity, the arguments presented against the teaching of evolution show a fundamental lack of understanding of science and highlight the desperate need for improved science education. People argued that the word "theory" means it's unproven, ignoring the fact that science doesn't use the term that way. Few people go around disputing the theory of gravity, for example.

Nor do proponents of teaching intelligent design in science classrooms understand that while "God did it" is a valid theory, it is not a valid scientific theory. The assumption seems to be that "science teaches the truth and since I believe that creationism is true, science should teach it." In reality, science describes the natural world and thus has no room for supernatural explanations. Science is not saying that there is no God; it makes no statement about God whatsoever.

One seemingly open-minded suggestion was that kids should be exposed to "all theories of creation," and then free to decide which one they like best. That is great on a personal level. Every one of us is free to decide what we will and will not believe. However, we are not free to decide what is science and what is not science. Science is determined by an objective set of standards, not by subjective feeling nor popular vote.

Most shocking of all in this debate was the revelation that twelve county school districts in Florida have passed resolutions against the teaching of evolution in schools. Yes, twelve. First, I had no idea, after the Scopes (Monkey) Trial, that it was still possible to ban the teaching of evolution in schools. (What exactly does this mean? - will teachers be arrested or fired for teaching science?) Second, I would have thought that something like this would have received more attention than it has. A school board here and there is a blip; twelve school boards in one state is a movement. Yet so far, I've only been able to find scant mention of it in local Florida newspapers.

The Florida State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the new science standards on Feb 19th. On this Darwin Day, let us pray that it votes to uphold education for future generations.

Another Fundamentalist Atheist

I used to like Bill Maher. He's smart and funny. I've always known that he has no personal use for religion and that's fine. But I just heard him on the Larry King show - attacking Mormonism, attacking Catholicism. And then arguing that he's not a bigot... because he's against all religions.

Right.  Equal opportunity hate.

Maher is a smart man who sometimes has the nerve to say what no one else will say. So I am all the more disappointed that he's fallen into the "you're either with us or against us" mentality that is so pervasive these days.

The great irony is that people like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens... and Maher are every bit as intolerant of difference as the fundamentalist religionists whom they despise.

These guys aren't just criticizing a set of ideas, which people have every right to do.  You can question the veracity of the resurrection if you want (tho I personally find such arguments to be a waste of time).  But to attack people, en masse, for being religionists... that leaves the very realm of rationality that they claim to uphold.

Of course people are always going to think that they're way of thinking is the right way.  I have no illusions about Catholics and Mormons and others believing anything other than that they are the one true faith and Mormons can believe they are the one true faith.  And so, it is not a problem that atheists also believe that they are the only ones who got it right.  Heck, we UUs sometimes think we have it right too.  But there is a difference between thinking you're the only one who is right and trying to convince everyone else.  The definition of tolerance is being willing to put up with people whom you think are wrong.

This happens to be a matter of faith for me, I am theologically a pluralist. But I can argue that you don't even have to be a pluralist to object when people start spouting their intolerance for other beliefs. It's a matter of pragmatism. If we are to live peacefully in a diverse society, we simply have to be tolerant of people who think differently from us.

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