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. … Continue reading
Glenn offers an atheist perspective on the issue of social justice. His post is in response to Who Should Challenge the Lions and Wolves?.
By Glenn Burgess (BEA Guest Writer)
(originally posted here)
“People are called to do justice as an extension of perspective faiths – in my case, Christianity. This is not a secondary suggestion that the Lord gives to an elite few in order to counteract the bad behavior of some. God is not providing it as an optional pursuit in case we bore ourselves with the day to day requirements of Christian life.” – AnaYelsi Sanchez
I do not believe people are called to ensure justice for others as an extension of faith. I believe this is an extension of being a human being. As an atheist, there is no book by which I live my life. I don’t have a suggestion sheet with a handy 10 tips to make you a good person. What I do have is something uniquely human, and that is an extremely strong sense of empathy. Religion does not teach you this. Your upbringing, while it can encourage it, does not teach you this. It is in you from the moment you’re conscious. This is what calls you to action.
When we make excuses for allowing the call to do justice to fall on the backs of others we are in the wrong. We utter cliches.
“God simply didn’t give me the gifts or skills to deal with stuff like that.”
“The Lord is calling me to something else and I’ve decided to put my focus there.”
I don’t wish to belittle anyone’s beliefs here, and I’m certainly not implying that AnaYelsi herself acts like this, but I have noticed where many of the current generations of Christians express their faith improperly and it acts against their ability to affect action and justice. Namely in the way of prayer. Where people of past generations would pray for a lesson to give them strength, now people seem to simply pray their trials to be over. Much in the same way, where people would previously pray for the wisdom to act in the face of injustice, they would now just pray for injustice not to exist. This seems to give the easy way out of, “it was God’s will,” or, “only God knows why this happened.” Whether you’re of faith or not, you have to earn your strength. The only difference is the theory of where it comes from.
By the very nature of atheism, we believe the only person who can act is us. There’s no saved games, no check points, no do-overs, no redemption, no forgiveness. You get one shot and if you don’t do it right you have to live with it.
While this is quickly becoming a debate of morals rather than justice, I have no desire to make it such. I love all my friends no matter who they are or what they choose to believe. My point is not to offend, but rather to give another view. I believe everyone is responsible for seeing justice is done throughout the world. Regardless if you’re a person of faith, a man, a woman, rich or poor, it’s said that character is who you are and what you do when no one else is looking, and I whole-heartedly believe that to be true.
There is one last thing I would like to add. The lions and wolves aren’t people. They are something a great deal more dangerous. An idea. A mindset. As such, your inaction directly enables their actions. By doing nothing, you embody the very concept that allows injustice to thrive. As the title here suggests, you’re either with us or with them.
You can find Glenn Burgess Here:
The opinions expressed above are those of the guest writer and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of Brown-Eyed Amazon. Publication on this website should not be considered an endorsement.
I do not wear humility well. I usually find modesty to be an unnatural fit and will shy away from experiences that force me to adopt these traits. This may stem from self-consciousness as much as it does pride. There are limited areas of life in which I truly feel confident and, like most, I seek out things that give me confidence rather than touch on my insecurities. I will say this, when my insecurities come up against my passions they are without any hope of victory. Those things which spark my passion also spark my confidence and this can be beautiful and powerful. It can also be my downfall.
One of the greatest challenges to humility is passion. To know even a taste of what God created a person for can make one reckless and proud. Recognizing one’s passions is directly followed by the urge to “gift” others with your knowledge and influence them to work towards a shared vision or goal.
That desire is not innately wrong or selfish. It is natural to want to be able to express your heart in a way that engages others. My heart beats for justice and the overflow of that is evident in all conversations of depth. The weight of my passions are something I rarely can restrain. Good can come of that. Justice can come of that. But so can pride.
It is vital that we temper our passions with self-reflection and humility. I am confident that God has commissioned me to live a life in pursuit of justice for victims of oppression, abuse, and those living in extreme poverty. I have always known this. My story rarely changes but the means through which I convey it are ever-evolving. I would hope that, over the years, my message has become more mature and humble. I’m sure there is still work to be done.
Having new experiences laid before us is crucial to our spiritual growth. To a degree, I have been a voice of authority and knowledge within my circles, at least as it has pertained to my particular passions. With some embarrassment, I will admit that part of me revels in that. There is a euphoria that is born out of having people look to you for answers or recognize you as someone they might learn from. Unfortunately, there is a point where living in this role can cause a person to forget what it means to take a posture of humility or learning. If one does not make a point to take these postures, life will often do it for them. Failed marriages, loss of jobs and homes, broken friendships and redirected dreams can force humility upon us.
I identify myself as someone who will go anywhere and do anything if it means serving others and doing what God has called me to do. Want me to teach in Mozambique? Let’s hop a flight today. Serve at a children’s home in Haiti? I can pack in an hour. It is so simple when the circumstances are ones of my choice. When I choose to put myself in certain conditions. But what about when they are chosen for us? The experiences we invite and the experiences that confront us are survived much more easily if we live in a continued place of learning. Our ability to fulfill our roles in life and serve others can only be strengthened by a posture of humility.
It is a wonderful thing to assume the role God intended for you—if it is done in God’s timing and without a propensity for self-exaltation. One should cherish the times where they can learn and grow from the wisdom of others. If we prematurely assume the honor of being a teacher we are dong a disservice to ourselves and those we would presume to teach. The same can be said for prophets, missionaries and advocates. This is particularly true for those who feel called to roles that require great acts of service. It is part of the reason that forging relationships is so vital to the work of justice and mercy. This work must be less about stepping into our perceived roles and more about cultivating relationships of mutual respect.
We must always be cautious of the inclination to assign the roles of “servant” and “person in need of service”. Without this caution we run the risk of dehumanizing others and creating “projects” out of those we are called to love. This awareness protects the dignity of those being served but it also protects the person doing the serving—the latter from the fallacy of unassailable spirituality and holiness. You are much less likely to run the risk of pride when you recognize your own capacity to fail, to be hurt and to be in need of the service of others.
It is an immeasurable blessing to be given the opportunity to serve. We cannot allow this blessings to be diluted by arrogance. Though the fit may be unnatural we must lean into the uncomfortable and allow ourselves the gift of humility.
This article was originally featured in Spring 2012 issue of The Cry – A quarterly journal that shares the stories of those who suffer under poverty and Injustice.
Identity can be explored in solitary and with others. Are you taking time for personal retreat, a small group, private counseling or some other identity exploring activity?
Personally, I struggle being apart from others or from activity for too long. I am an extreme extrovert and to say Quality Time is my love language would be an understatement. I barely even sleep. Secretly, I think I’m afraid I’ll miss something horribly exciting if I dare close my eyes.
Nonetheless, I realize how vital time alone and intimate time with God can be. I have had to learn ways to make that time and how to use it effectively for me. In my case, I love to paint and to write. Transmitting my thoughts, fears, and prayers to canvas or paper is a powerful act for me. What environment is most effective for you?
Western culture is rich with people who celebrate a focus on independence, self-appreciation, and personal identity but much of that is wrapped up in our status, money, and appearance.
It is a whole other thing to say I need time to “take care of me”, “to know myself”. Particularly for women, there is a perceived air of selfishness in these types of statements. Who are you to focus on you when there are so many of us clamoring for a piece of who you are?
But even if we can get past those voices there is a more painful question at the root of this issue- “How do I pursue intimacy with myself if I’m not even sure I’m someone I want to know?”
I have spent the better part of my life believing 3 things…
1. I am not someone worth pursuing
2. I am not someone worth loving
3. I am not someone that people stick around for.
I spent my childhood passed around from orphanages to families to state facilities. I had a mother who would look at me and tell me how little there was about me worth loving.
Who would want to know that person? I certainly didn’t.
The truth is that the ways that our parents treated us in childhood did not have anything to do with who we are but more to do with their fractured identity. If my mother couldn’t see herself clearly she certainly could not see me – let alone love me the way a child deserves. Our relationship was filtered through a lens of her own hurts and shame.
My mother taught me and society teaches all of us to be dishonest. Many of our parents taught us that keeping up appearances, worrying about what the neighbors think, was more important than our feelings.
My mother taught me that to survive was to not feel and, more importantly, to conquer was to never reveal our true self.
You may not have learned the exact same lesson and you may not have learned it from a parent but to a degree we all play these games. We were all given lessons about just how how much of ourselves it is okay to share with others.
I know, intellectually, that I am not defined by the lessons my mother gave me. Most would agree that who we are may not be defined by our past but it is certainly affected by it. For better or worse, it is our heritage. Those lies that I was told as a child are a part of my heritage. We might think that because of our achievements or our relationship with our perspective gods that heritage shouldn’t matter anymore, that somehow it would just cease to affect our identity.
That’s simply not true. Healing of one’s identity requires intimacy; with self, with God, with others. I had to be taught what it was to love… to be vulnerable. I had to watch people in my community exercise acts of intimacy because I didn’t know what it meant.
Every time my mother looked at me and told me what an embarrassment I was to her or raised her hand to me has required a healing experience of someone in my life telling what I am really worth; how I am really loved… by them and by God. I have spent years observing healthy intimacy, learning about my true identity through it, and in turn being able to experience intimacy myself.
In this video, Jean Vanier refers to “Taking out, from within us, all the seeds that separate us from people…”
My fractured identity, my painful memories, the lies I’ve carried through my childhood and into adulthood… are all seeds that separated me from people.
Even my passion for justice, something I believe God entrusted me with, was a broken version of itself. My need to be needed, my fear of abandonment, my wounds had diluted that passion into something less than it was intended.
Yes, each of us, with all our hurts and broken identities, can still bring about change in this world. A person who is starving does not need me to be emotionally whole in order to enjoy the food I am offering them. I can occupy Wallstreet.. or Omaha… even in the midst of my personal trauma.
But do you want to bring about change in this world or great change… The kind that rocks communities, helps restore the identities of others, brings not only physical but spiritual freedom?
Those types of changes require intimacy. They require knowing your identity, being vulnerable enough to share it with others, and taking that step together towards impactful action.