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.

obamabfastNational Prayer Breakfast Acknowledges Those Who Don’t Pray: Obama mentioned Americans of “no faith” at the National Prayer Breakfast but in, uh, this context: “God’s grace [is expressed] by Americans of every faith, and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose.” Is it just nitpick-y to criticize his language here? To his credit, his words throughout were very inclusive of people of all faiths (and “no faith,” which is again a first for an American President). But his language did at times carry some assumptions: “we all share a recognition — one as old as time — that a willingness to believe, an openness to grace, a commitment to prayer can bring sustenance to our lives.” No, Mr. President, that isn’t a recognition we all share. But then again, there was this beautiful bit: “We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.” So, like his Presidency so far, the speech had its flaws but contained significant “firsts.” (source)

Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson: Good Buddies?: The New York Times has a truly excellent op/ed on how fundamentalist Atheists use fundamentalist religious folks to drive their narrative that religion is universally extremist. Writes Ross Douthat: “the fact that Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson both disagree tells us something, important, I think, about the symbiosis between the new atheism and fundamentalism — how deeply the new atheists are invested in the idea that a mad literalism is the truest form of any faith, and how completely they depend on outbursts from fools and fanatics to confirm their view that religion must, of necessity, be cruel, literal-minded, and intellectually embarrassing.” Bravo!

Some Say Mother Theresa Doesn’t Deserve a Stamp: The U.S. Postal Service has come under attack from atheists for announcing its intent to issue stamps featuring Mother Theresa because she was a Catholic saint. Really — that’s the most productive place to direct your energy? In opposition to acknowledging a widely respected figure that did good work in the world as motivated by her religious beliefs? Because with that logic, stamps featuring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X should be unacceptable as well — right?

College Blocks Secular Student Club: Concordia College in Moorhead, MN (my sister is an alumni) has forbidden the formation of a Secular Students Association because they say that, while they support freedom of speech, the group’s mission is in direct opposition with the school’s identity as a college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). As a graduate of another college affiliated with the ELCA, I can tell you that religious diversity was present at my school, including many secular folks. The school’s decision is ridiculous and I hope that they will reconsider. (source)

Religion And Science Get in Bed Together: The Guardian has a fascinating piece drawing parallels between organized religion and science. It concludes: “Science and organised traditional religion have to some extent the same enemies. Both rely for their influence on society on trust in authority and that is rapidly eroding. This is obvious in the case of religion, but we can see from the progress of climate change denialism how helpless scientists are against the same kind of jeering and suspicious anti-intellectualism that some of them direct at religion.”

Sociologists See Religion in a New Light: New research from “Inside Higher Ed” describes how religion has moved from a fringe study within an academic discipline to becoming an area of study all its own. Sociologists now recognize that religion is not “only a reflection of some other socioeconomic trend, but increasingly… the factor that may be central to understanding a given group of people.”  This is reminiscent of trends seen in disciplines like economics, foreign policy, and history. (source)

Are Atheists Moral?: Beliefnet has a great piece on the question of whether Atheists can be moral — it brings in a variety of voices and does a good survey of the current conversation in light of some pretty heated issues.

Atheistic Fiction: The Boston Globe reviews the new book “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, dubbing it the story of an “Atheist with a soul.”

Head on over to Just Out’s blog to read my statement on the American Prayer Hour and, while you’re there, be sure to check out “Remember to Breathe,” a deftly written column by Just Out’s Nick Mattos. Thanks to Nick for asking me to chime in on this significant event!

"Islam is of the Devil"

Beginning this week, I will try to offer a weekly roundup of what is going on in the world of religion, from a (fairly) respectful secular perspective.

Conservative and Caring: The common perception among us secularists is that conservative religious folks are either unengaged or dangerously opposed to progress, but as this recent New York Times piece shows, Evangelical Christians are moving more and more toward issues of social reform and justice. Hallelujah!

Mix and Match: The Pew Forum has a new report out this week that reveals an increased number Americans who “hyphenate” their religious identity, pulling from more than one tradition. Religion is changing, folks.

Turn the Other Cheek?: NPR notes that a new FBI report shows that the greatest rise in hate crimes has been ones committed against people because of their religious identity. This may come as a surprise to those who view all religion as oppressive but, as it turns out, religious people get hated on for who they are, too.

Sacred Symbols: Worth checking out is an interesting piece by Hussein Rashid that compares the banning of t-shirts at a high school in Florida that say “Islam is of the Devil” and the inexplicable banning of Minarets in Switzerland.

Preventing a Gay Genocide: A potential (horrifying) new measure in Uganda that would condemn those “suspected of homosexual activity” to imprisonment and, in some cases, even death, has raised controversy around the world. The issue has significant implications in the field of religion, particularly because of the connections of many of the act’s Ugandan supporters to the American evangelical community. For those out of the loop, Time does a good job providing some background. More recently, Faith in Public Life published a joint letter from conservative and liberal Christians condemning the law; this is especially interesting because it is signed by those from across the Christian perspective, with widely varied views on issues of gay marriage and civil unions. Additionally, after initially refusing to take a stance Rick Warren, the world’s most influential minister, finally came out against the measure this week. I can’t understate how important it is that we keep talking about this measure.

Barack Obama, Theologian: This article highlights Obama’s growing discourse on religion as evidenced in his Nobel Prize Speech. In his address, Obama criticized religious extremism while also offering his own particular hope for cooperation and peace, sounding like a preacher for much of it. His message was profound and important. While acknowledging I have a soft spot for this kind of language, I was surprised by how moved I was by this speech. The following passage is, for me, especially inspiring: Read the rest of this entry »

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