Choice in Religion? Not Transferrable to Secular Life!

By Donald A. Collins | 5 December 2016
Church and State

We are all seekers in life, trying to rationalize the inconsistencies of the overpowering complexities presented to everyone of the over 7.5 billion humans who occupy our tiny globe.

Those of us who look askance at organized religion, a phrase writ large in its vast encompassing reach, often end up pondering how one comes to a choice of faith, knowing that over time many will fail to continue in their original faith, often seeking change to something else as I did.

My readers may recall the piece I recently wrote about my searching for a view of religion and how I ended up an 85 year old non believer.

The key to me was the wonderful opportunity I possessed to have a choice. In Salem, Massachusetts in early American history, one often did not have a choice and could pay with one’s life if the religious dictators there so decided.

Now we see ISIS and other forms of what seem to be misnamed religious beliefs demanding the same fealty.

Coming to choice, if available in any country, carries with it some costs. Certainly as an avowed atheist I could not run successfully for public office in most places in the United States today.

Thus we come to the point of my discourse. How to overcome such a dangerous bias and how to argue against the religions that seek to inflict their faiths on what should be secular matters such as the right to choose not to have a baby and thus obtain a safe, early abortion procedure.

I was drawn to thinking further about this by a December 4, 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Breaking Up With Your Church Over Politics: The contentious election is a ripe topic for sermons but is sending some churchgoers to the doors” by Clare Ansberry. She begins her discourse by writing: The election is over and so is Brandi Miller’s religious affiliation.

“On Nov. 8, white evangelical Christianity and I called it quits,” she wrote in a message posted on Facebook. Ms. Miller, a campus minister at the University of Oregon, says that exit polls showing that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump revealed a divide over race that she, as a biracial woman, can’t condone.

“Evangelicals have decided who and with what they will associate,” wrote Ms. Miller, 26 years old, in an online magazine and on Facebook. “It’s not me.”

Church is often the place where people seek comfort and community in unsettling times, but the contentiousness of this election has filtered into the pews. In a sign of lingering partisanship, some people have looked for another place to worship, having split with their pastor over politics. Others are staying but feel estranged, wondering how a person a pew away backed a pro-choice candidate, for instance, or supported someone who demeaned immigrants.

“We have a lot of fingers pointed at each other saying ‘You are not Christian,’” says Megan Sutker, who was ordained in the United Church of Christ, works as an interfaith minister and belongs to the Episcopal Church. She worries the split will exacerbate disillusionment with organized religion, at a time when mainstream churches are already experiencing declines. Even messages from the pulpit urging unity can be loaded, with some people feeling it diminishes their concerns.

Nate Pyle, pastor of the small Christ’s Community Church in suburban Indianapolis, is aiming to bring both sides “to the same table to break bread.” He is planning small-group discussions in the church about books such as “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir about growing up in a poor white Appalachian town, and “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” an exploration of race and religion. “The church is just as divided as the rest of society and we need to have a conversation about that,” he says.

In the presidential election, most religious groups voted as they have in the recent past. There is no single evangelical church, with the National Association of Evangelicals representing nearly 40 different denominations. But people who identified as white evangelical Christians, as well as white Catholics, supported Republican candidates. Groups that traditionally back Democratic candidates, including religious “nones,” or those without a religious affiliation, Hispanic Catholics and Jews, voted for Hillary Clinton. But within those groups, there are plenty of differences.

Carolyn Kramer, a 57-year-old retired public school-bus driver and lifelong Methodist, says she cringed when she entered her Mentor, Ohio, church parking lot on Sundays before the election and saw Clinton or Obama bumper stickers. “How could they claim they are good religious people,” she says of her fellow churchgoers, in backing pro-choice politicians.

Following the history of religions, one is struck time and again with the horror of its violence. The folks mentioned above are not killers but they are making the same decisions as the most vicious perpetrators of religious history, namely that my god is better than your god and that my intolerance is justified by my certain knowledge that my god is right.

Now understand that my view as an atheist is not definitive for anyone else. I do not make secular decisions based on my belief that all religious fantasies are just that, fantasies. Ok, one may argue, science is your god! Well, we now know that one of the most flexible subjects is science whose findings are constantly changing and indeed those changes have wrought some of the most amazing advances in human welfare ever imagined.

The same cannot be said for the fantasies forwarded by religion, whose moral codes are retrograding human behavior in the form of gentle intolerance to the beheadings by ISIS.

Reading about the folks in the Wall Street Journal article I cited, we realize that religious bodies amass power that transcends the influence of its members. Such powerful institutions can have huge influence on secular decisions. Again, let me come back to the importance of individual choices.

The WSJ author tells us of one family who was savvy to that political aspect of church power.

The Cruz-Uribe family changed parishes over politics. A few weeks before the election, 19-year-old Francisco Cruz-Uribe was sitting with his family in the front of his church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when the priest delivered a homily centered on abortion and said those who voted for Democrats were committing a sin. He got up and walked out. “I would have walked out even if he said don’t vote for Trump,” says the sophomore at University of Alabama. “I don’t come to church in order to be told who to vote for.”

Guarding against the tyranny of religion in government or anywhere must be the constant job of all people of good will, some of whom clearly claim succor from beliefs in their religion, which is fine so long as their beliefs are not thrust onto others of other views. Changing your church is fine, so long as you don’t bring it to bear on secular law or rule making.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
ASIN: B00MA40TVE
Kindle Store

Back in 1991, the NGO Don Collins founded in 1976, International Services Assistance Fund (ISAF), co-produced a TV quality 22-minute film called “Whose Choice?” which Ted Turner arranged to broadcast on September 21, 1992 in prime time on his then independent Turner Broadcast System (TBS). Other outlets such as PBS and several of its affiliates Collins and his colleagues contacted then refused to run it because of its forthright treatment of the abortion issue, arguing for all women’s right to choose not to have a baby. ISAF has made a new edition of that DVD. The purpose for reissuing this 3rd version of “Whose Choice?” was simply to show the historical urgency that attended those times, still blocked and attacked over 40 years after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. This video is available for public viewing for the first time.

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