Moderate Religion: I don’t care

I know this will be a somewhat contentious statement given who participates on this network, but when it comes to capital-M Moderates in religion, I don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong, I am suspicious of faith placed in a concept that cannot be tested or observed. But I am not automatically opposed to faith per se. Faith seems to be a fairly healthy bedrock for relationships, for example, and it is seen as acceptable–expected, even–to have faith in one’s romantic partners. To be skeptical of your partner’s pursuits and goals and dreams is to be an asshole, a wet blanket, a ball and chain that holds them down; you’ll apply faith if you don’t have certainty on what those pursuits will look like if you’re being a supportive partner.

So faith, conceptually, is not that bad in my opinion. And more often than not, if you query a Moderate congregation, they’re more likely to be pretty on the fence about the God issue, but they’ll have often invested faith in their communities. They trust their leaders to advise them on issues such as honesty, relationships, self-esteem–and because we’re discussing Moderates, sometimes the advice is alright. Indeed, in Moderate congregations, where just about anyone can ask to lead a gathering, you’ll get people of all kinds of educational and professional backgrounds giving advice on these topics without mentioning the Bible or Quran or Torah once.

I make a habit out of visiting religious institutions every so often. Moderate congregations have a lot in common, be they Christians, Muslim, or Jewish. With the Jewish and Muslim and Eastern European Orthodox Moderate gatherings in particular, the conversation is just as much cultural as it is faith-based. The participants are united by a sense of Otherness, of being alien, and at least part of their participation is simply wishing to stay connected with their cultural roots while they carry on with their Canadian lives elsewhere. I’ve even been in Moderate gatherings where they have openly admitted a values dissonance with the origin culture, Mosques admitting the Islamic Republics from which many of those gathered came carried out brutal human rights violations. Of course, the gathering nodded along; many of them fled those same republics for that exact reason. The younger generation seemed less sure–they had always known Canada, and their congregations weren’t spewing constant hellfire over Queers.

I’ve overheard the 1st gen immigrants, usually parents at these gatherings, talk about how they personally grapple with the messages they’ve been told about Queer people, and how that conflicts so heavily with a country that legalized gay marriage 11 years ago, where police services form specialized hate crime units to address targeted violence, where members of government–including openly Muslim Members of Parliament–march in the Pride Parade. But they do what most homophobes don’t–they admit they’ve got a gut reaction, and they’re working on it. I am far more likely to be charitable with someone conscientiously reassessing their biases than I am someone who simply accepts their bias as legitimate.

This is to say nothing of the congregations that are openly capital-P Progressive, that use their faith to justify socialism and ethnic/gender & sexual diversity.

So when I see a hardliner atheist telling me these are the people I should be casting out from my country, I see a person who is really missing the point. Yes, faith is used to manipulate people, and yes, religion is used to justify atrocities all the time. But these Moderate or Progressive congregations either: 1) used faith to justify philanthropy; or 2) weren’t really about faith but staying connected to cultural origins. When it’s the Progressive chapters of religion that are bolstering the numbers in a protest, vigil, funeral, memorial, or march, I see people that are doing right, even if it’s for the wrong reason. Many of the non-profit resources I’ve had to access had religious origins, but when I’m hungry and I need help, I’m going to prioritize getting food over standing up for atheist ideals. At the end of the day, I live in a democratic country, and these are the voters voting in progressive politicians who propose laws like Bill C-16. At the end of the day, the religious represent a similar political cross-section as the non-religious. You’ve got reactionaries, the apathetic, and progressives alike, either way.

Meanwhile, you don’t need religion to be a bigot. Just visit the slymepit to get a demonstration of that. Try telling me expelling the Muslims will solve my problems, even though my rapist was white and nonreligious, my abuser after that was white and a wooster (and a woman), the many employers whose facial expressions changed when I disclosed my trans status were white, the people heckling me on the street–white again. And the Conservatives at both the provincial and federal level? A predominantly white and Christian party, and they are the ones antagonizing every attempt by our now left-wing governments to cement Queer rights in law.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m opposed to anything that is used to justify violence. And to those of us who have suffered under a violent congregation, I wish to support your journey into a healthier community, whether that community is nonreligious or not. And when those chapters gather to preach their hate, I’ll be protesting right there with you. But that’s about holding specific organizations accountable for their actions. Ask me to picket the Muslim support group that’s trying to undo their homophobic bias through a reinterpretation of the Quran, and I’ll look at you like you grew a second head.




  1. Bruce says

    I agree with a lot of what you say in this post. But some things that people label as faith are not really faith. When people have trust and confidence in a friend or partner, that is generally due to all the evidence they have experienced of mutual support and agreement and shared values or identities, etc. it is not due to faith without evidence, which is the religious meaning of faith. As Tim Minchin has said on relationships, faith without any evidence is stalking.
    I think a lot of religious moderates are wonderful people who do wonderful things, but have mistakenly attributed their good deeds and good ethics to “faith”, when it really is due to what I would call an unrecognized non-religious humanism. So their only failing is their misattribution of this to “faith”. I believe this gives inappropriate support to others who actually think completely differently, and who use true religious faith to justify evil acts such as refusing to vaccinate kids or demanding punishment for different sexualities from theirs. Those people’s blind and unreasoning faith is a true faith in the sense that it is not based on human realities nor on anything else beyond their books of evil imagination.
    In other words, it is an accidental insult to good people in moderate religions to attribute anything in their lives to actual genuine religious faith. Good moderate religious people are good because they don’t really have faith, even though they don’t realize this. That’s my understanding of the best proper usages of the word “faith”, as opposed to justifiable confidence.
    Thanks for a stimulating post, with which I really do largely agree in most regards.