Showing posts with label Moral Courage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moral Courage. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

MLK, Maya, Michael and Moral Courage

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is a fitting anniversary to cut through decades of whitewashing and remember the truth about how Dr. King was regarded in the civil rights era, the truth about the ferocious pushback from white supremacy through systemic racism in the intervening years and the truth that people of color, especially black people, remain as viciously oppressed today.

The struggle never ended, although Dr. King's brutal murder had a chilling effect on social progress. White America sanitized its antagonism towards Dr. King's message and whitewashed his legacy down to a non-threatening message of peaceful brotherhood which it could co-opt for its own. By doing so, systemic white supremacy nearly rendered impotent Dr. King's far greater and more meaningful effort to rally millions in a push for true social and political justice.

On this anniversary, I'd like to remember the entirety of Dr. King's legacy. The current crisis in the United States has finally reawakened millions of social justice warriors who are standing up, marching and joining hands with activists who never gave up the fight. Fear is understandable in the face of powerful oppressors, and yet we must do it anyway. Living in a society which oppresses so many of our neighbors and not standing up or speaking out is to be complicit with the oppression. Courage is rising, millions are recognising that, as Dr. King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere", and silence is not the answer.

Today is also the birthday of Maya Angelou, writer, poet and civil rights activist. Her words and her life are a guiding light to people everywhere who seek courage, wisdom and justice. For inspiration on this Wednesday in the midst of trying times, read one of Ms. Angelou's most famous poems.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.                     

Does my sassiness upset you?
A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling
 is detained by law enforcement in Baton Rouge
photo Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

-Maya Angelou

I leave you with another offering from Michael Franti & Spearhead, from the album Stay Human.

"...the harder they hit us, the louder we become,
 kinda like the skin on a drum..."

Skin On The Drum

I was born botanical
the soul of an animal
deep beneath the layers, I sink my roots
no need for mechanical
I come strictly organical
when I need to feast, I look to the East
that's why I'm never scared of the beast
even though they try to prey upon me
I'm protected by the one always greater than me
so now I reveal to thee
because you wanna see
the contour of my mystery
the strength of my arches
the colour of my conscience
and the way that I process my diction
some fact some fiction some mystery
some future fantasy
I'm the trunk that holds the branches
the leaves who do the dances
my flowers romantic
my love gigantic
from Africa, transplanted transatlantic
in the heat of the sun
I bring shade for everyone
like the beat on the one
I'm the skin on the drum
I keep on living with the fullness of the one
like the heat of the sun or the skin on the drum
I'm fully marinated and now I'm ready for the fire
so you can fire one
fire one
fire two
See I've been fully marinated
and now I'm ready for the fire
see I'm beginning to perspire
from deep within through the skin
yo, the feminine and the masculine
the pieces of the puzzle
see my reflections in the puddle
after the storm the purple of the sky
brings to mind another time
when we resided 
below the water line
life was fine there human divine
but in the years following
evil men came swallowing
everything in sight
some learned to run, some stayed to fight
I kneeled at the tomb of the soldier
said I would love to behold her
the magic in store there
she touched me on the shoulder
she said, "in time all is revealed, box of light be unsealed
now listen to me son, be like the skin on the drum"
And as the pepper gas clears
and police and protesters go home
just as the morning dew are tear drops of the night
my emotions are always there for you
and will never leave you dry

- Lorin G. Ashton/Michael Franti

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nifty TBT - Coming Out As An Atheist

Come on in - the water's fine!

"It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price ... One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying." Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1963.

On Facebook, people post old photos on Thursdays for "Throwback Thursday". I love looking at them, and I love that they remind people of important times in the past. I thought it would be fun to occasionally do a blog TBT. By reposting old blog posts to remind NiftyReaders of important ideas discussed in the past, maybe I can kickstart more discussion: how long have we been thinking about this or that issue? Has anything changed since the earlier discussion?  I had the idea earlier this month, but it was reading another blog today which helped me decide which old post to begin the series of TBT posts.

As of a few months ago, about 28% of those who supported marriage equality had changed their minds. Where once they opposed it, now they support it. A Pew poll asked them why they changed their minds and the results were very interesting. The largest group by far, 37%, said they changed their minds because they have friends, family members or acquaintances who are gay or lesbian. And that is true of other gay rights issues as well. Knowing a gay person or, more importantly, knowing that they know gay people, changes minds and changes beliefs.
This is exactly why it’s equally important for atheists to come out of the closet too, if it’s safe for them to do so... Ed Brayton, "Why Coming Out Matters", FreethoughtBlogs, October 24, 2013.

Ed Brayton's post this morning on his blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, points to the importance of "coming out of the closet" - whether you are LGBTQ or a feminist or an atheist - and he posts some statistical evidence to back it up! This is something that several atheists have spoken about before, including me. For the first NiftyTBT, here is my July 2012 post on coming out as an atheist:

Get out of hot water FREE!
Millions of people the world over are atheist but only a tiny fraction of these people publicly identify as such for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are that either they do not realise that they are atheist or they are afraid to acknowledge that they are atheist. Because of the harm that they see being caused by the power that religious dogma is given in society, some atheists become frustrated and discouraged about the number of closeted atheists in our midst, and sometimes their frustration spills out in accusations of hypocrisy - which sometimes pushes the closeted atheists more deeply into the closet.

I am an atheist who sometimes reaches that boiling point of mingled frustration, irritation and discouragement. Like most atheists, I used to be religious and like most atheists, I know only too well how hard it can be to let go of the security of a belief system inculcated from childhood - and which for many of us is intimately entwined with our identities, our families and our entire community support networks. If religion was a benign force in the world, as many closeted atheists clearly must still believe it to be, there would never be any reason to come out as an atheist.

But, religion is not a benign force in the world. Religion wreaks havoc on efforts to promote world peace. Religion mandates that women be treated as less than fully human, enshrining in its "holy books" the misogyny that permeates human culture and providing a "divine" justification for the oppression of half of humankind. Religion fosters - even insists upon - religious and racial bigotry. Religion suppresses and tries to destroy sources of human knowledge which threaten its power. It is accorded a level of obsequious acceptance and awarded a degree of power and influence that would be unthinkable for any other unelected, nontransparent entity in a modern, democratic society.

The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church. Ferdinand Magellan

The deference that is paid to religion has real consequences for humanity. In addition to the sectarian violence that rages all over the world, religious groups seek to stop scientific research which could yield outstanding new medical treatments that would greatly alleviate human suffering. Religion demands the "right" to decide for all of society what is moral and what ought to be legal, even when there is no consensus even among religionists on what is actually moral and what actually ought to be legal. It is inimical to individual freedom. Religion schemes and strategizes to persuade - through fear, bigotry and misinformation - just enough people to vote in favor of their agenda, thus turning a democratic Republic into a putative theocracy where a simple majority of religiously-influenced voters can take away human rights from women and minorities by anonymously pulling a lever in a ballot box.

Faith is essentially intolerant ... essentially because necessarily bound up with faith is the illusion that one's cause is also God`s cause. Ludwig von Feuerbach

Are you a closeted atheist?  Incredible though it may sound, it is possible not to realize that one is actually atheist. There is no shame or hypocrisy in it. While it is true that religion's greatest source of energy comes via true believers, religious leaders know that the number of zealous true believers is too small to secure real power in a culture, so they rely on the large moderate majority to protect and enable them to achieve their goals.  To that end, the strategic tool of childhood indoctrination and enormous social pressure to conform to "tradition", coupled with the more liberal mainline Christian ethics of the post WW2 western world, ensures that millions of people feel more comfortable continuing to identify as "believers" - even though they know on at least some level that they do not, really, believe everything that their religion tells them is ultimate truth. 

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means. George Bernard Shaw

Cultural believers are trying to have it both ways. Those who believe that there are many pathways to God, and who sincerely believe that their religion is one of love or peace, tend to reject the actual religion found in holy scripture and embodied by the fundamentalists of their faith. They wish both to believe and disbelieve. They wish to align themselves with the best of the modern, liberal religious sensibility - which is secular humanism by a more acceptable name - while denying the reality of the message in the dominant faith traditions.  They tell themselves that people who are intolerant of spiritual differences or who fight to deny others the freedom to develop and live by their own religious and moral values are not "true" Christians. They are uncomfortable with the way the religious right oppresses minority groups, but they stop short of taking effective action to push back against it. In the end, they support their extreme co-religionists because of their shared religious heritage - sometimes actively but more often just passively through doing nothing, keeping their heads down and continuing to enjoy whatever it is that their own church community gives them.  These people unintentionally form the cultural bulwark of reasonable, moderate, kind and compassionate religion which provides cover for fundamentalists with their unreasonable, extreme, cruel and oppressive agendas. 

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. George Bernard Shaw

Did you just say you
 don't believe in God?
Easier to understand are the millions of people who do know they are atheist but who are too afraid to come out of the closet. One does not have to look far or for very long to find evidence of the socialpolitical and personal cost that open atheism can bring to an individual. The fear that many closeted atheists feel is genuine and completely rational. In many parts of the world, open atheism can get you persecuted, arrested and even executed. In the western world, atheists are openly vilified, compared to rapists, pedophiles and psychopaths and are discriminated against socially, politically and economically. Being openly atheist can cost you your friends, family and community. It will mean you will probably never be able to hold public office. It could cost you your job. It could cost you your safety and peace of mind.

And yet, by remaining silent, are we in the western world really safeguarding ourselves and our children? 

Just fifty years ago, before the global resurgence of religious fundamentalism, most of the developed world and much of the developing world was moving slowly but surely toward modernity. Most of the world had explicit goals for educational and social progress, including countries which today are rued by fundamentalist religious regimes. Universities, modern medicine and infrastructure and international trade were on the rise, and societies were proudly producing post-war generations eager to participate in the explosion of scientific and technological discovery that marked the second half of the twentieth century. But scientific achievement and progressive social and educational reform threatens religious elites and the rise of fundamentalism soon followed the brief, shining period of progress.  

The moderates in these countries did not imagine that the hard-won gains that had been so recently made could be rolled back. They did not think that the extremists among them could seize control of their countries and push them all back into a new dark age. But it happened. It happened with the unwitting help of the moderates who did not anticipate that while their more extreme co-religionists might only target vulnerable minorities at first, they would inevitably turn their attention to the insufficiently devout within the majority - the moderates themselves. By the time the moderates woke up to what was happening to their countries, it was too late. 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

It is recognition of the ultimate consequences of society's continued acceptance of religious hegemony which prompts atheists to urgently challenge closeted atheists to take a stand for humanity. Insistence on the benignity of belief systems which wreak havoc on world peace, which mandate the oppression of women and which demean and discredit the highest achievements of humankind is irrational and destructive, even if the motive for doing so makes perfect sense to the moderate majority which is scrambling to protect its own cherished privileges and traditions.

The benefits that closeted atheists receive from their church communities are outweighed by the harm that religion is doing to those same communities and to the societies which they influence, to the earth via support for climate change denial through anti-science anti-intellectualism and to the whole of humanity through hatred, bigotry and the implacable religious drive for theological supremacy. Our fear of ostracism today ought to be outweighed by our concern about the kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. By coming out of the closet, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists will encourage each other to see that we already have the numbers to support thriving human communities, based upon better ideas than fear and misogyny.

In a world that is as oppressively and even violently dominated by religion as ever in human history, it may take more courage - even in societies which claim to protect religious freedom (for now) - than the average person can muster to come out as an atheist. 

And yet, I am asking you to do it.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Some recommended reading:

The cost of staying in the closet. MarieAlena Castle, Atheists For Human Rights, 

Coming out of the closet,  Eric Jeffries,

Religious Moderation Enables Religious Fundamentalism,

The Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris, 2004.

The God Delusion,  Richard Dawkins, 2006.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, 2007.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr

Today, we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta Georgia on January 15, 1929, the son and grandson of Baptist ministers. In spite of school segregation, he was a good student, graduated from Morehouse College like his father and grandfather before him and went on to study for the ministry at Crozer Theological Seminary, where he distinguished himself as a leader (winning election as president of the predominantly white class). After receiving his Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer, he was awarded a fellowship and continued on to complete a doctoral program at Boston University, where he earned the title of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1955. In Boston, Dr. King met his wife, the accomplished and intelligent Coretta Scott King with whom he had a family of four children.

The Kings moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King became pastor of the Dexter Street Baptist Church and became active in the NAACP. When Rosa Parks defied the segregationist Jim Crow laws by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, Dr. King led the year-long bus boycott which led to the eventual Supreme Court ruling that the laws requiring segregation on buses were unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Movement had arrived at its moment in history at last and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had emerged as its leader.

In spite of his determination to lead a peaceful revolution for civil rights, Dr. King was the target of unceasing attacks during his years in the public eye. He was arrested more than twenty times, was assaulted numerous times and was under constant threats of violence and verbal attacks. During the bus boycott, his house was bombed as those who resisted equal rights for people of color demonstrated their utter lack of respect for the lives of Dr. King and his wife and children. In spite of these terrible dangers, Dr. King persisted in the march toward justice, with the blessing and support of his wife and family.

Dr. King was the right leader for the right time as a movement that had been simmering - a yearning for the true liberty and dignity of full equality - finally came to a boil. Marrying his interpretation of Christian theology with the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. King's ideal truly represented a revolutionary new way of bringing about peaceful social change which he believed could strengthen, not unravel, the fabric of society. In 1964, at only age 35, he was recognized for his courageous and enlightened leadership with the Nobel Peace Prize. He donated the more than $50,000 prize award to the Civil Rights cause.

In early April, 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis to lend moral support to black workers who were striking to protest the egregious inequities of their treatment and compensation compared to white workers. King's arrival in Memphis had been delayed because of a bomb threat to his plane but he managed to get there, march with the sanitation workers and speak at rallies.  On the last night of his life, at a rally at the Mason Temple in Memphis, he referred to the intimidation and threats of violence that had dogged him for years. In what became known as his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, King had this to say to his listeners:

"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Martin Luther King, Jr. was brutally taken from this world on April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tennessee. He was shot to death by a white supremacist sniper as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.

You can find an excellent, brief (4 minutes) biography of Dr. King here.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963. (full text)

Recommended reading: Good and Evil in Birmingham, Diane McWhorter,The New York Times, January 20, 2013. McWhorter argues, rightly I think, that the battle of the Civil Rights movement was not between "good" and "evil", but between "good" and "normal".

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I Am My Brother's Keeper

        Sr. Simone Campbell speaks at the Democratic National Convention, September 5, 2012

Sr. Simone Campbell spoke yesterday at the Democratic National Convention and she nearly brought down the house. At times, she could hardly continue because of the applause. Please make time to watch her brief  (6 minutes) and moving speech.

This is the best of Christian ideology. How did the Republican Party's faithful lose their way?

"I am my sister's keeper. I am my brother's keeper!"

"Paul Ryan says his budget is in keeping with the values of our shared faith. I disagree."

Transcript of Sister Simone's remarks. 

“Good evening, I’m Sister Simone Campbell, and I’m one of the ‘nuns on the bus.’ So, yes, we have nuns on the bus. And a nun on the podium!

Let me explain why I’m here. In June, I joined other Catholic sisters on a 2,700-mile bus journey through nine states to tell Americans about the budget Congressman Paul Ryan wrote and Governor Romney endorsed.

Paul Ryan claims his budget reflects the principles of our shared Catholic faith. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty.

We agree with our bishops, and that’s why we went on the road: to stand with struggling families and to lift up our Catholic sisters who serve them. Their work to alleviate suffering would be seriously harmed by the Romney-Ryan budget, and that is wrong.

During our journey, I rediscovered a few truths. First, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are correct when they say that each individual should be responsible. But their budget goes astray in not acknowledging that we are responsible not only for ourselves and our immediate families. Rather, our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another.

I am my sister’s keeper. I am my brother’s keeper. While we were in Toledo, I met 10-year-old twins Matt and Mark, who had gotten into trouble at school for fighting. Sister Virginia and the staff at the Padua Center took them in when they were suspended and discovered on a home visit that these 10-year-olds were trying to care for their bedridden mother who has MS and diabetes.

They were her only caregivers. The sisters got her medical help and are giving the boys some stability. Now the boys are free to claim much of the childhood they were losing. Clearly, we all share responsibility for the Matts and Marks in our nation.
This is part of my pro-life stance
and the right thing to do...
We care for the 100%!

In Milwaukee, I met Billy and his wife and two boys at St. Benedict’s dining room. Billy’s work hours were cut back in the recession. Billy is taking responsibility for himself and his family, but right now without food stamps, he and his wife could not put food on their family table.

We all share responsibility for creating an economy where parents with jobs earn enough to take care of their families. In order to cut taxes for the very wealthy, the Romney-Ryan budget would make it even tougher for hard-working Americans like Billy to feed their families. Paul Ryan says this budget is in keeping with the values of our shared faith. I disagree.

In Cincinnati, I met Jini, who had just come from her sister’s memorial service. When Jini’s sister Margaret lost her job, she lost her health insurance. She developed cancer and had no access to diagnosis or treatment. She died unnecessarily. That is tragic. And it is wrong.

The Affordable Care Act will cover people like Margaret. We all share responsibility to ensure that this vital health care reform law is properly implemented and that all governors expand Medicaid coverage so no more Margarets die from lack of care. This is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do.

I have so many other stories but will only tell one more. In Hershey, Pennsylvania, a woman in her late thirties approached us. She asked for the names of some people she could talk to, because she felt alone and isolated. Her neighbors have been polarized by politics masquerading as values. She cares about the well-being of the people in her community.

She wishes they, and the rest of the nation, would listen to one another with kindness and compassion. Listen to one another rather than yell at each other. I told her then, and I tell her now, that she is not alone.

Looking out at you tonight, I feel your presence combined with that of the thousands of caring people we met on our journey. Together, we understand that an immoral budget that hurts already struggling families does not reflect our nation’s values. We are better than that.

So I urge you to join us on the bus. Join us as together we stand with Matt and Mark, Billy and his family, the woman in Hershey and the Margarets of our nation.

This is what we nuns on the bus are all about: We care for the 100 percent, and that will secure the blessings of liberty for our nation. So join us as we nuns and all of us drive for faith, family and fairness.”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Inspiration - There Is Hope For Christians, After All!

Col. Timothy Wagoner : "He embodies the best of the chaplain corps." 

Slowly, but surely, decent Christians everywhere are beginning to step back and take a good hard look at what has been happening to their religion.  Slowly, but surely, decent people are gathering the strength to brave the inevitable backlash in order to speak out against the evil that is being said and done in the name of their religion.

A long-serving military chaplain, Col. Timothy Wagoner, has parted ways with the Southern Baptist Convention after being publicly admonished over his attendance at the first gay marriage in the military. He will remain as a chaplain in the military, affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship which holds more moderate views than the SBC.

“I find very little that is more important and nothing that is more exhilarating than providing for the religious freedoms and spiritual care of all service members and their families — and will joyfully continue to do so,” Wagoner said Friday in an e-mail to The Associated Press. (Military Times story here).

Col. Wagoner joins a whisper-thin but steady drizzle of believers who are trickling out of the fold of the most extreme conservative churches, as they realize that the political agendas of these churches have little to do with the teachings of Jesus and everything to do with political power and social control. They join a steadier, but still thin, stream of moderate Christians from putatively moderate churches whose individual congregations claim to be more tolerant and accepting than the parent denomination, but who nevertheless contribute to the continued rightward lurch of Christianity through financial support of conservative parent hierarchies.

This is the ugly underbelly of religion.
The silent support of the moderate majority has
 allowed it to flourish but finally, good people of faith
are finding the courage within themselves to speak out.
Maybe it is only a trickle now, but I am hopeful that it will soon become a torrent.

More and more religious people are realizing that their beloved faith has been hijacked by the extreme right wing and more and more of them are taking the incredibly courageous step of walking away - not from their belief in God, but from the pernicious influence of the destructive conservative religious juggernaut and its powerful religious institutions.

And it does take courage to walk away from one's church.

The term "social animals"  does not mean that we merely enjoy spending time with kith and kin. Being social animals means that our connection to, and reliance upon, our social groups is vital to our physical and psychological health. People rarely rebel against social norms -  we rarely challenge the will of the dominant social group (often a large powerful religion) - because we know on a deeply visceral level that to do so could have dangerous consequences.

Society threatens apostates with total ostracism. We know what can happen if we criticize our social/religious group. Friends turn away, families are torn apart, careers are destroyed and lives are even threatened or lost in the vicious backlash that an outspoken member of a religious identity group experiences. We all know this is true. The fear of losing everything we know and love - especially our sense of belonging within the security of a large, powerful, familiar group identity - is what keeps people silent. It is what keeps people uneasily trying to perform a balancing act between what we know is morally right and what our churches say we must say and do.

I am inspired this Sunday morning by Col. Timothy Wagoner.  He is both courageous and righteous.  I hope this story goes viral. I hope it will encourage others to follow his example.

From Justin Griffith, via Rock Beyond Belief: Air Force chaplain quits Southern Baptist Convention over gay wedding.

Update: Ed Brayton (Dispatches From the Culture Wars) added to the hopeful news out of the military last night by posting a young soldier's re-enlistment speech.  Honest, unpolished and sincere, a chaplain's assistant named Nick spoke movingly and courageously about bigotry and homophobia both within the military and out in civilian society.  I could not find a YouTube link for the speech, but I hope this speech also goes viral. You'll find it in Ed's blog at this link.
The look of love: Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali wed civilian Will Behrens on June 23, 2012 in New Jersey.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nuns On The Bus!

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about the The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who had come under fire from the Vatican for doing the actual work that Jesus called on his followers to do.  After working on yesterday's post -  thinking about how difficult it was to leave the church I was born into, and how hard it must be for other closeted atheists who, like me, hoped to bring about change from within their churches rather than be forced to leave it because of irreconcilable moral and philosophical differences - I decided to follow up on the story.

And what a story it is turning out to be!

Women coming together to fight
social injustice.
Short recap: The Vatican, displeased with the social work of U.S. women religious, launched an inquisition into their leadership and activities. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Vatican issued a public reprimand of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and announced that its leadership would be assumed by a group of bishops, headed by Archbishop J.Peter Sartain of Seattle, who would be tasked with chastizing, reorganizing and "reforming" the orders of women religious who had been active in the social justice causes which had so disgusted Rome. Garry Wills recites a short list of the sisters' "misconduct": 

Now the Vatican says that nuns are too interested in “the social Gospel” (which is the Gospel), when they should be more interested in Gospel teachings about abortion and contraception (which do not exist). Nuns were quick to respond to the AIDS crisis, and to the spiritual needs of gay people—which earned them an earlier rebuke from Rome. They were active in the civil rights movement. They ran soup kitchens. -- Garry Wills, NYRB, April, 2012.

After a brief period of stunned silence, the LCWR responded:

“The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusion of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We were taken by surprise by the gravity of the mandate. This is a brief moment of great import for religious life in the wider Church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR national board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.”-- Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

LCWR supporters in Louisville, KY
Far from retreating into chastened silence after the Pope's reprimand, as was the expected response (certainly by the men of the cloth in Rome), the LCWR has refused to be silenced - gently and respectfully to be sure, but with steadfast determination. Moreover, encouraged by the quiet groundswell of support they have received from progressive Catholics and other moderate religious people who share their social conscience and support their work, they took the unprecedented step of challenging the Vatican assessment of them and their work.

The harsh reprimand from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith felt to the sisters like getting a "punch in the stomach". I suppose they should not have been so surprised. Previously known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition (also known as the Roman Inquisition or Holy Inquisition, names popularly used in reference to the brutal 16th century "tribunals" investigating alleged witchcraft and heresy), the VCDF has a long history of exactly this sort of activity. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

After a brief period of prayerful regrouping, the sisters embarked on something truly surprising and not a little inspiring. Signaling that they are standing by their principles and they intend to continue standing up for the most vulnerable people in society - even at the risk of losing everything - the LCWR has decided they are all in.  They have devoted their lives to fighting for social justice and they seem prepared to go on fighting. They painted a bus, planned a route and launched the Nuns on the Bus campaign to raise awareness of their mission to fight for social justice.
Sr. Mary Wendlen greets supporters near Chicago.

Jim Winkler, minister of the church, was the first to take the podium at the July 2 noontime press conference in sweltering 95-degree heat, just days after millions in the area had lost electric power during a brutal storm.
"They have been traveling across this nation to speak out for a faithful budget," said Winkler, "and they are here today as our rock stars!"
This was the final stop on the "Nuns on the Bus" tour, which started in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 17 and ended about two weeks later in Washington, D.C., with this press conference.
The tour's stated mission was to stir up outrage over what the nuns called the immorality of lowering taxes for the wealthy while attacking the poor through cutting food stamps and Medicaid, as outlined in the budget plan crafted by Paul Ryan, a Republican representing Wisconsin's 1st District in Congress.
But the tour, which took place in the aftermath of Vatican censure of the nuns' leadership group, was about more than the national budget.
It was also, intrinsically, a demonstration of how devoutly the nuns refused to be muffled.--Samantha Kimmey, WomensEnews, July 12, 2012. (emphasis mine).

I cannot stress strongly enough just how unusual and ground-breaking this is for women religious in the Catholic church. Historically, women have been relegated to silence and invisibility in the church.  Even after Vatican ll allowed for the expansion of their mission and increased self-direction, it was unthinkable for women religious to appear to defy the male church hierarchy. From the meanest Parish priest to the Congregation of the Faith in Rome, all it has ever taken was a look, a word or a secret reprimand to bring an individual nun or order of nuns back into line. 

Oh, those uppity radical feminists!
The defiance of these women religious will not be without great cost - they may endure further censure,  even excommunication and will almost certainly face the withdrawal of financial and pastoral support. In short, they may essentially be unilaterally "divorced" by the church and thrown out of their homes and livelihoods at one stroke of the papal pen. Yet, they are not backing down. 

"Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences."—Susan B. Anthony

Keep your eyes on these women religious, folks. I hope we will see much more of them in the coming months and years. They embody all that was hopeful and inspiring about the post-Vatican ll church. They restore one's faith in the inherent goodness of humanity, in spite of all its flaws, fragility and failures: they have shown the courage and the will to fight for what is right. How telling it is that, in order to do what is right, the sisters will have to fight the church.  

"Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead." —Louisa May Alcott

Read all about it!

Vatican Harangue Makes Stars of 'Nuns on the Bus', Samantha Kimmey, Women'sEnews, July 12, 2012.

Bullying the Nuns, Garry Wills, New York Review of Books Blog, April 24, 2012.

Nuns and the Vatican, A Clash Decades in the Making, Scott Neuman, NPR news, May 3, 2012.

The Vatican's Attack on America's Women Religious, StateOfBelief, May 9, 2012 (transcript of enlightening interview between Rev. Welton Gaddy and Sr. Simone Campbell).

U.S. nuns reject Vatican criticism and reform efforts, BBC news, June 2012 (links to several articles).

Help a Sister Out: Protesters Call for Vatican Support, Not Censure, of U.S. Nuns, Felipa Rodrigues, Mario Jacinto and Reshma Kirpalani, KUTnewsAustin, May 15, 2012.

Nuns Gone Wild, Catholicism in America,  The Economist, April 26, 2012.

LCWR, Leadership Council of Women Religious.

Network, A national Catholic social justice lobby.

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead