This piece can be read in full on the Huffington Post Religion; it was co-authored with Valarie Kaur.

david katoIn the weeks following 9/11, a Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot down at a gas station by a man shouting “I’m a patriot!” In 2009, a 9-year-old girl named Brisenia Flores and her father were murdered in Arizona, allegedly at the hands of anti-immigration crusaders. And just last week, a gay activist named David Kato was bludgeoned to death in Uganda after his picture was published in a magazine article outing and encouraging the execution of LGBT individuals.

What do these three disparate acts have in common? They were rooted in fear and hate, represent humanity at its worst … and they brought together a 29-year-old Sikh woman and a 23-year-old gay atheist.

At first glance, we may seem an odd duo. One of us is a Yale law student and dedicated filmmaker who has spent years raising up the stories of people swept up in hate crimes, racial profiling and domestic violence since 9/11; the other is a queer interfaith activist from the Midwest with more tattoos than fingers, who is working to bridge the cultural divide between the religious and the nonreligious.

We first met in September of 2010, when Park51, or the “Ground Zero Mosque,” came under national scrutiny and a pastor gained prominence by threatening to burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Looking for a compassionate place to form a response in the midst of cultural strife and increasingly hateful rhetoric, we gathered in a living room and drank hot tea, brainstorming with a group of peers across the country over Skype and e-mail. The result was the Common Ground Campaign, a youth-led coalition speaking out against anti-Muslim bias. In a few short weeks, more than 1,000 people from all walks of life signed on to the Common Ground Campaign charter, and the movement continues to grow. Continue reading at The Huffington Post.

Church FiresWondering what’s going on in the world of religion and secularism? Wonder no more — it’s time for your weekly religion and secular roundup! This week:

Church Burning and Atheist Learning: Reports this week on the ongoing investigation into a series of church fires in Texas prominently featured the fact that raids on one suspect’s home uncovered “books on demons and atheism.” What does it say that news reports are so strongly linking a suspect’s books on atheism to his alleged participation in church arson? Whether there is an actual correlation between the material he read and the crimes he is accused of committing, it is an unfortunate narrative on secular folks that we need work to change. Additionally, if these men are in fact guilty of the crimes of which they are accused, I’d be inclined to raise questions about what role narratives of fundamentalist anti-theism may have played in informing these actions and if anti-theistic motivations were involved. I strongly believe that one is innocent until proven guilty, but I also cannot help but fear that, if these men were in fact driven by totalitarian anti-theism to burn down religious houses of worship, their actions could have easily been prevented if only they had been exposed to a different, more pluralistic understanding of how atheists and religious folks can engage in the world.

Tiger Woods and the Need for Religious Literacy: The USA Today ran an intelligent reflection on Tiger Woods’ public apology, highlighting Woods’ appeal to his Buddhist commitments as a means for considering the controversy. The piece thoughtfully situates Woods’ apology within the larger context of American religious diversity. As Brit Hume’s controversial comments suggesting that Woods seek forgiveness in Christ exemplified, American society generally expects fallen public figures to offer Christian apologies and seek Christian redemption. Woods’ Buddhist narrative suggests that our country is in need of greater religious literacy. To quote the article: “Part of living in a multireligious society… is learning multiple religious languages. In a country where most citizens cannot name the first book of the Bible, we obviously need more Christian literacy. But to make sense of the furiously religious world in which we live, we need Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist literacy too.” This should be a keen reminder to secular folks of the importance of knowing about the religious beliefs of others. If we don’t know about the beliefs of others, how can we expect to try to understand them?

The Secularists Are Coming! The Secularists Are Coming!: This last week, representatives of the Obama administration hosted members of the secular community for the first time in American Presidential history. The Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group representing secular interests, was briefed by the members of Obama administration in a White House meeting. As you might expect, this was met with shock and horror from some on the political right — Sean Hannity, for example, featured an inflammatory and outright false segment on his show about the meeting. But reports from the secular community indicate that it was a positive experience; check out Hemant Mehta’s The Friendly Atheist blog for an inside scoop. If nothing else, the meeting is an important symbolic step toward the recognition of a salient, cohesive, and growing secular community.

More Reflections on Religion and Millenials: Earlier this week I posted on the new Pew report on Millenials and its implications for Millenial secularists living in a religiously pluralistic world. I wasn’t the only one ruminating on this data — Politics Daily ran a piece called “Young Adults Doing Religion on Their Own? Blame Politics” that suggests that less Millenials are affiliated with traditional religious institutions while still retaining religious beliefs because many tend to be more politically liberal and see traditional religiosity as being aligned with political conservatism — which explains some of why religious affiliation is down among Millenials even though belief in god and that one’s own belief system is “the one true path to eternal life” are on the rise. Separately, the New York Times ran a piece by Charles M. Blow that posits that Millenials are more “spiritually thirsty than older generations.” He bases this claim in the Pew report’s finding that Millennials articulate a desire for “closeness to God” as a long term goal significantly more than previous generations have. Blow asserts that though less Millenials are religiously affiliated than members of generations that have come before, we value religious and spiritual commitments — perhaps even more so than other generations. Both pieces are well worth reading and I suggest you check them out.

Are There Secular Reasons?: The New York Times has a heady, thought-provoking opinion piece by Stanley Fish. In it, he challenges the notion that there is a distinction between “secular” motivations and “religious” motivations in public policy. He postulates: “Insofar as modern liberal discourse rests on a distinction between reasons that emerge in the course of disinterested observation — secular reasons — and reasons that flow from a prior metaphysical commitment, it hasn’t got a leg to stand on.” He makes an interesting point, and he makes it well. What do you think, fellow secularists?

Religion’s Role in U.S. Foreign Policy: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs task force, featuring Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, just released a new report called “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad.” You can view the full report here; the Washington Post has a good summary of it here.

Finally, if you missed them, I did my first “The Non Prophet” column for The New Gay, titled “All My Friends,” and gave a statement to Just Out Portland on the French anti-smoking ad controversy. Stay tuned to The New Gay every Wednesday at 1 PM (CST) for a new column, and thanks for reading!

redeyeAs I usually do, I grabbed a copy of Chicago’s free Red Eye publication this morning before boarding my train. I enjoy reading the Red Eye here and there; though it’s mostly celebrity gossip and information on where to drink in Chicago, it sometimes has some intriguingly left-field stories (a few months back they ran a profile on Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel). After a quick brush of the seat with my free hand to be sure it wasn’t soaked in urine — a lesson learned the hard way en route to work one morning (ah, public transit) — I sat down and looked at my paper. The front page stared back at me with big bold letters declaring: “Millenials Exposed.”

Ah, the so-called Millenials. There’s been a lot of talk about Millennials this week — the Pew Research Center just released a new study looking at all aspects of this generation, from behaviors to values. As a 22 year old, they’re talking about me and my friends. Apparently we’re open-minded, optimistic, like the word “hope” and really like our cell phones. Reading the story, I was curious: what did this study find about our attitudes on religion? Are we just as open-minded?

What I found is that the answer isn’t exactly “yes” or “no.” Some of the data reflects previous findings about the changing face of religiosity in America, echoing a study that came out last year declaring that “young Americans [are] losing their religion.” That study reported that young Americans are significantly less likely to claim membership in a religious tradition or attend a religious service regularly than older folks. One commentator in that article raised a very interesting point: that, rather than signifying the beginning of the end for religion, this “‘stunning’ trend of young people becoming less religious could lead to America’s next great burst of religious innovation.” This resonates with my experience and what I’ve seen of the world around me.

Maybe this is because, though it is changing, the numbers in the Pew report demonstrate that religion isn’t going away anytime soon. While the report found that people aged 18-29 are “considerably less religious than older Americans” (one in four Millenials “are unaffiliated with any particular faith”) and that more religious Millenials believe that there is more than one way to interpret their own religion, there are also indications that young religious people are moving in some key ways toward greater religiosity. Pew found that not only is “the intensity of [religious Millenials’] religious affiliation… as strong today as among previous generations when they were young,”  but that “levels of certainty of belief in God have increased.” And while there are more religious people who believe that any religion can lead to eternal life than those who don’t overall, religious Millenials are “more inclined than their elders to believe their own religion is the one true path to eternal life.”

What are the ramifications of this study for us Millenial secularists? First, I believe this suggests that we have to work that much harder to stake our claim in the American religious milieu and make a concerted effort to come together as a community so that our perspective is not ignored in an increasingly fundamentalist society (something we here at NonProphet Status hope to contribute to with our recently announced “Share Your Secular Story” contest). If America is moving toward its next great “burst of religious innovation,” shouldn’t we at least be involved, if not leading the way? Second, I think this affirms the importance of dialoguing respectfully with people of faith. Let’s capitalize on the open-mindedness of others and give them an opportunity to get to know us and and the stories of our experiences as secular folks — and, more importantly, not forget to tap into our own open-mindedness in listening to theirs.

Below is the abstract from the Pew report:

By some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young. Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation — so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000 — are unaffiliated with any particular faith. Indeed, Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s). Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.

Among Millennials who are affiliated with a religion, however, the intensity of their religious affiliation is as strong today as among previous generations when they were young. More than one-third of religiously affiliated Millennials (37%) say they are a “strong” member of their faith, the same as the 37% of Gen Xers who said this at a similar age and not significantly different than among Baby Boomers when they were young (31%).

Gallup surveys conducted over the past 30 years that use a similar measure of religion’s importance confirm that religion is somewhat less important for Millennials today than it was for members of Generation X when they were of a similar age. In Gallup surveys in the late 2000s, 40% of Millennials said religion is very important, as did 48% of Gen Xers in the late 1990s. However, young people today look very much like Baby Boomers did at a similar point in their life cycle; in a 1978 Gallup poll, 39% of Boomers said religion was very important to them.

GSS data show that Millennials’ level of belief in God resembles that seen among Gen Xers when they were roughly the same age. Just over half of Millennials in the 2008 GSS survey (53%) say they have no doubt that God exists, a figure that is very similar to that among Gen Xers in the late 1990s (55%). Levels of certainty of belief in God have increased somewhat among Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in recent decades. (Data on this item stretch back only to the late 1980s, making it impossible to compare Millennials with Boomers when Boomers were at a similar point in their life cycle.)

Young people who are affiliated with a religion are more inclined than their elders to believe their own religion is the one true path to eternal life (though in all age groups, more people say any religions can lead to eternal life than say theirs is the one true faith). Nearly three-in-ten religiously affiliated adults under age 30 (29%) say their own religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life, higher than the 23% of religiously affiliated people ages 30 and older who say the same. This pattern is evident among all three Protestant groups but not among Catholics. Interestingly, while more young Americans than older Americans view their faith as the single path to salvation, young adults are also more open to multiple ways of interpreting their religion. Nearly three-quarters of affiliated young adults (74%) say there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith, compared with 67% of affiliated adults ages 30 and older.

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