In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful
This was published on the Chicago Tribune’s website on June 15.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has embarked on an ad campaign on buses throughout Chicago. The main featured ad is one which says, “Sleep in on Sundays” in Gothic lettering.
No, the ads are not as hateful as some of the anti-Islam bus ads that are cropping up in various cities. Still, the implication of the ads is that those who do subscribe to a faith tradition are somehow not “free thinkers.” I object to this characterization.
Commenting about the ad campaign, FFRF co-president Dan Barker said:
“Obviously, there are many reasons to reject religion, most of them intellectual. But face it — one of the immediate benefits of quitting church, besides getting a 10 percent raise because you can stop tithing, is getting to sleep in on Sundays! What the world really needs is a good night’s sleep.”
The tone of the ads, as admitted by the group itself, is irreverent. To me, it is also somewhat mocking of those of us who are people of faith. The first two sentences of the press release encompass this attitude:
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation started informing Chicagoans this week with ads on city buses that it’s OK to sleep in on Sundays. Yes, City of the Big Shoulders, religion is not your cross to bear (and yes, Illinois native son Carl Sandburg was a freethinker).”
There will be other signs featuring quotes from Sandburg and other famous writers and intellectuals, such as this quote from biologist Richard Dawkins (author of “The God Delusion”): “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
Faith is extremely important in my life; I do believe in a Supreme Creator from Whom everything in this universe emanates. But, I don’t believe that I am, therefore, not a “free thinker.” Just because I have faith, that does not mean that I am prisoner to “magical thinking.”
This world is intensely tangible and empirical. To fully experience the world is to touch, feel, see, hear, and smell the world in all its brilliance and ugliness. To me, the challenge of faith is not to believe in “Mother Goose,” but to believe in something that is explicitly not tangible, something that cannot be seen, heard, smelt, or felt and subsequently connect that belief to this tactile world. It is a challenge that I have happily taken up. In fact, I believe that when we look deeply into this world, we will find clear evidence of the existence of the Divine.
Yet, there are many who have chosen not to take up this challenge or have even dismissed this challenge as a false choice. That is fine with me. Their lack of faith does not threaten my faith in God, and my faith in God should not threaten their “freedom from faith.” We should be able to live together in peace. Tragically, however, many people who claim to be “people of faith” have not adopted a “live and let live” attitude. Unspeakable horrors, in fact, have been committed against scores of people who have been deemed to be “infidels” by the so-called “religious” of all faiths. It is a stain and fact that cannot be denied.
But that does not mean, then, that the problem is faith itself. Countless acts of kindness, altruism, and generosity have been committed by scores of people because of their faith in God. Actress Katharine Hepburn once said, “I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe that there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.” Yet, I am motivated to do the exactly same thing – be kind to others – precisely because I believe in God. So, faith can go both ways.
The thing we should all learn from these ads is that there should be civility between people of faith and people of no faith. No one should demonize the other (without getting into who started the demonizing). Moreover, we should work together for the common good of all and put the respective motivations for doing so aside. They really do not matter.