A SECULAR HUMANIST FINDS COMMON GROUND WITH RELIGIOUS SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVISTS
Guest post by Trav Mamone
I don’t believe in any gods. I don’t believe in Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, Zeus, or even some sort of pantheistic Ground of All Being. Also, while I certainly respect people’s right to practice any religion they choose (and will defend it to the death), I don’t respect any belief that dehumanizes others, teaches people to feel ashamed of their bodies and sexuality, denies scientific facts, and tells children not to trust anything that contradicts what the church teaches them.
Having said all that, though, I see no reason not to find common ground with the religious.
This is a debate that often comes up among atheists: can atheists find common ground with the religious? It depends on who you talk to, really. Chris Stedman, for example, says atheists need to find common ground with religious people, and that “reactionary atheism that fixates on making antireligious proclamations is creating even more division.” Other atheists, like PZ Myers, say “faith is the enemy,” and refuses to work in any form of inter-belief activism.
Me, I’ve always been in the middle. I don’t claim to be either a faitheist or an antitheist. True, I make no secret about how religious dogma damaged me, and I think any idea that doesn’t hold water should be criticized. But I don’t understand why being against religious dogma means I have to shun religious people. I hate cisheteronormativity, but I don’t hate cisgender heterosexuals. It’s the same thing with religion: I hate religious dogma, but I don’t hate religious people. In fact, most of my Christian friends want to smash the white supremacist cisheteronormative capitalist patriarchy as much as I do!
A few months ago, I interviewed bisexual activist Shiri Eisner for my podcast, and near the end I asked her what she thought about the roles religion and secularism play in social justice. Although she is an atheist, Eisner normally doesn’t write about religion, but after thinking about it, she told me that she has met a lot of activists who are reclaiming their religions to fit the needs of marginalized people. I’ve also met several activists online who are deconstructing the ways their scriptures have been interpreted (maybe even misinterpreted?) through a white supremacist/capitalist/cisheteronormative/patriarchal lens. For example, recently I interviewed BEA’s very own AnaYelsi Sanchez, and during our conversation, she told me she studied the Bible for herself instead of just taking what preachers say at face value. By doing so, she has discovered a new way of seeing Christianity as a religion for the marginalized.
And to me, that’s a form of humanism. Humanism isn’t a list of stagnant beliefs; you don’t even have to be an atheist to be a humanist. Instead, humanism is an ideology that is “guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience.” It teaches that human beings have the power to bring positive changes into the world. Yes, humanism downplays the role of divine intervention, but doesn’t the Bible say Christians are Jesus’ ambassadors? Didn’t St. Teresa of Avila say, “Christ has no body now but yours?” Even a spiritual worldview means nothing without human action.
While humanists and religious people disagree on supernaturalism, I think people from both camps can have similar goals and put aside differences to change the world together. Naturally, I don’t buddy-up with just anyone; I would not partner with a religious person who says I’m going to Hell for being queer, for example. But for those in the church (or synagogue, or mosque, or whatever) that value humanity over dogma, compassion over judgement, and doing good over looking good, I say, “When can we start?”
Trav Mamone is a genderqueer bisexual humanist blogger. They blog at www.bianymeans.com, and host the Bi Any Means Podcast. They are also a regular contributor to Queereka.com. They live in Easton, MD.