10/1/2007--Secularism likes to portray religion negatively. There are various aspects to the criticism. Religion promotes conflict; it promotes injustice; it appeals to the irrational; and so forth.
But the protests going on in Myanmar by Buddhist monks against the military government give us a different understanding of religion. The monks protested by holding their begging bowls upside down, refusing to receive alms from the military officials, thus, in the words of the New York Times story, “effectively excommunicating them from the religion that is at the core of Burmese culture.”
And this is not the first time that religion has helped people challenge an unjust status quo. The Solidarity movement in Poland that helped bring about the disintegration of Communism was a deeply religious movement, greatly aided by the support of Pope John Paul II. The liberation movements in Latin America also find their bedrock in Christian faith. And, of course, the American civil rights movement was grounded in the Black Church.
It is true that religious establishments have often supported dictatorial rule. It is also true that many protestors against injustice have been secular. You don’t have to be religious to love freedom.
The point, though, is that with religion, one can get beyond narrow self-interest. Something new becomes possible. There is hope. There is even surprise.
Sometimes that surprise is shocking, as when an Amish community in Pennsylvania genuinely forgives the man, and the family of the man, who killed five Amish girls in a school. That happened one year ago.
Don’t say quickly, I can be good without religion. Maybe we’ve never been good and we only mean we can be what we are without religion. That is true. But maybe without religion we can never be different from what we are.
I know you can’t force yourself to be religious. I am not a believer either. But the religious people in these stories have something we lack. And that something frees and liberates them. If we can’t have it as such, we had better get as close as we can. That’s what Hallowed Secularism tries to do.