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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Imagine no religion


There is a bill board in Denver Colorado that is gaining a lot of attention these days which says “Imagine no religion”. Let’s think about it.

A majority of the people do not wear a neon sign on their sleeves or forehead announcing their faith. Whether you are at work, grocery store, commuting in the bus or in the public square, it is certainly difficult to identify one’s faith in the United States.

There are exceptions where you can easily identify a few; like the Jewish men wearing the yarmulke or the black suit with a big black hat and long beards, a few Muslim men wear a similar beard or a cap, the Hare Krishna’s are easy to spot, the Sikhs are instantly recognized for their turban and the beard. If you watch the history channel you may find it interesting that the ancient Jewish Rabbis wore exactly same head dress as Osama Bin Laden does and the Zoroastrian priests wear the very same turban as some Muslim priests do, even today.

Among women, Muslim and Hindu women stand out with their Burqas and bindis, both are cultural rather than religious. However, many Muslim women also wear the bindi messing one up who is gauging people’s faith. On the way to their place of worship; Some Christian women, Sikh women and Muslim women wear scarf like head covering, they can pass for any faith. If you are a new Desi to town, and if you come to my house or office, you will spend a lot of time trying to figure out my religion.

Although it appears that religion is ubiquitous, in reality it is not. Only a small percentage of people are recognized because of their culture. If every one wore like the main stream community, every one had the same accent, and same skin color, then it would be impossible to identify one’s faith.

Paradoxically, I cannot imagine the world without religion; it has become a part of our psyche and is embedded into our society; one religion or the other. Of course, there are many who do not believe in ritual aspect of religion, but silently subscribe to the essence of it.

To most people, the proselytizing aspect of religion is repulsive as it goes against the instinct of freedom that monitors our actions and reaction, but they silently go along with it as their focus is live and let live and not getting bogged down with circular logic.

To be religious is to be a peacemaker, one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. Each being feels at home and comfortable when lived in peace and harmony with the creation; life and mater. Indeed, that is the purpose of religion, all religions.

In affairs of the world, religion appears to be a source of the problem; it certainly is not. You can always trace the wars, genocides, oppression and other atrocities to evil insecure stupid men. Please remember, the purpose of religion was to fix the evils of humankind and it continues to do so while some men still don’t get it.

Thank God, the world is a better place today because of the Religion and spirituality, without which there would be chaos. Every Religion is on the same side, that of goodness for humankind. Finding the truth is one’s own responsibility. Truth brings relief, salvation, Mukti, Moksha, Nijaat or Nirvana.

If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, then faith is in the heart of the believer. Let every one find peace his/her own way – Mike Ghouse

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, politics, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, India and civic issues. He is the founder of the World Muslim Congress, a group committed to building bridges and nurturing a world of co-existence. He also heads the foundation for pluralism, an organization committed to studying religious pluralism and pluralistic governance. His personal website is http://www.mikeghouse.net/ and his writings are on the above websites as well as several of the ancillary Blogs listed on the sites.

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Imagine no Religion
Stephen Merino

The Freedom From Religion Foundation currently has this billboard up in Denver, CO, just blocks from the State Capital:Yet, I must say that while I'm sympathetic to the aims of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which have to do mostly with working for separation of church and state, I'm not a fan of this billboard. I have a few problems with it. First, this is not how I interpret the first amendment and our cherished separation of church and state. Maybe "Imagine a religion-free government," or "Imagine a government that does not favor religion over irreligion." But I suppose those wouldn't make very good billboards.

A statement on their website has a couple quotes from supporters in Denver. An attorney working with FFRF says "We want the public to reflect on the billboard's message and imagine a world without the rancor and divisiveness of 2,000 different religions." A local member says "Imagine if the government would be neutral and let individuals reach their own conclusions about religion. Perhaps then, in the words of John Lennon, the world could ‘live as one.’ ”I've blogged before about the problem with blaming religion for all our social ills and historical tragedies.

In a nutshell, I said that it's really hard to disentangle religious influences from other influences since 1) until recently religion was closely bound up with other institutions and 2) religious institutions and religious individuals by necessity have to act in non-religious ways and make non-religious decisions. So, while fully acknowledging the special dangers that are inherent to religion (due to its ability to shape strong, sometimes inflexible worldviews and endow them with divine legitimacy, even when it goes against reason and rational thought), I'm not ready to jump on the blame-religion bandwagon.
My other problem with the billboard is this - how different is it from a billboard that might read "Imagine a world with no atheists!" What's the value in putting up billboards that essentially ask us to imagine what the world would be like if it were missing entire groups of people!? Yeah, that's peace and love for ya.Finally, I'm not a fan of the billboard because that's just not the kind of world I imagine. I'm a strong believer in religious freedom and religious pluralism. And to me this includes freedom from religion, too, for those who choose it. But I think there's something about us that longs for the kind of contemplation, meaning, community, and moral work that religion offers.

Also, I'm more a fan of the ACLU's approach. From their website:
The right to practice religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The ACLU works to ensure that this essential freedom is protected by keeping the government out of religion.

All of this begs the question: Is Unitarian Universalism completely invisible to people that have issues with religion? How could it not be an inviting option for some of these folks? In my last post, I hit on some of these issues, and explained why for a variety of reasons, a lot of people see it as no religion at all (which you'd think it would make it appealing to some of these folks). At any rate, this all illustrates how important it is for UUs and other like-minded individuals to imagine and even work for a world with religion, but that is more inclusive, more just, and more loving.

A side note: I'm assuming that the billboard text is a reference to the famous Lennon song "Imagine," which does mention imagining the prospect of a world with no heaven, hell, or religion. I like the song, and personally interpret it not so much literally, but as a call to challenge those parts of our society that divide and create inequality.


  1. You're both idiots. Religion had done nothing productive of value that a secular society could not have accomplished. Indeed, religions usually are the cause of a variety of problems, not to mention the fact that they never seem to be grounded in things like critical thinking, or evidence.

    I imagine if more Christians and Muslims actually read the Bible or Quran, they would see how little their God seems to represent love, and how much he resembles a psychotic, amoral murderer. Even more 'tame' religions still engage in pseudoscience and mythology, which are still bullshit and have no role in an intelligent, conscientious society.

  2. The billboard is inspiring above and beyond anything that religion can do. That's because it doesn't deal in 'faith' it's value it an reality.