The other day I was introduced to a lesbian activist at an event. She took me aside and confided to me that she is an atheist and then, proceeded to ask me about spirituality. She chuckled and said, “you know you’re going to get questions like this because you’re a priest.”
That encountered backlit a recurring theme that I have encountered in contemporary society and especially in the LGBTQ community. One constantly hears the statement “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” This young atheist woman was prompted to ask about spirituality due to the death of her neighbor. The neighbor died at home and several days passed before the decomposing body prompted someone to search the house.
There are moments like that in life. Life operates on “auto-pilot” until one day our routine is unexpectedly interrupted by the death of a love one, a health issue, etc. Suddenly, we find ourselves confronted with one of life’s great existential questions. We seek answers as we attempt to orient ourselves as we reappraise the meaning and purpose of our life.
At such moments many contemporary people shun traditional religions and any insights, or wisdom they might be able to share. LGBTQ people have often been the victims of clergy who have intervened to alienate them from their parents and family. One needs only to visit the gay section of any American city during the holidays. You will find children who are not welcome at family gatherings huddled with other LGBTQ friends. Together they celebrate holiday meals and gatherings “friends are the new family.”
Beyond the LGBTQ community many Americans scratched their head in wonderment when pope Benedict XVI visited Africa in the middle of an AIDS epidemic and advised people to not use condoms. Even though such irresponsible advise will result in the infection and death of untold numbers. Even though such advise will result in countless children being made orphans.
Speaking of children, I was left speechless when I witnessed the pope cry into his handkerchief while visiting England. He was so moved by the plight of pedophilia victims. As I gazed at the photo I wondered how the same hand that held that handkerchief could sign an order to maintain such acts secret. Perpetuating injustice and creating new cases of pedophilia is a legitimate cause for remorse. However, is it remorse for having caused such injustices, or for having been connected to such injustices? Frankly, I am not amazed that Americans have become so skeptical of organized religion.
Yesterday I heard a report on the BBC. I love the BBC because they actually objectively report the news and leave it to the listener to draw his/her own conclusions. It is a refreshing and informative contrast to the “infotainment” that has replaced journalism in the USA. The BBC reported on the effects of drone bombs that were hitting targets within Pakistan.
Since the drones are unmanned, they often hit children and non-combatants. The resultant deaths and mutilations can have one of two effects on the population. It can either terrorize them into submission, or it can awaken within them a desire for revenge. The latter seems the more probable in the current reality; however, this raises a question regarding the morality of our nation’s actions.
Morality is a word that has lost its meaning in contemporary America. When the word is spoken, people usually think of sex. That Congress would impeach President Bill Clinton for a sexual encounter with Monica Lewinsky while taking no action at the war crimes committed under the watch of Presidents George W. Bush or Obama is the real scandal. That should cause all Americans to pause and reevaluate our values.
This is a twisted understanding of morality and ethics. Organized religion is largely responsible for these corrupt standards. Why such a distorted emphasis on sex? Quite simply, if you can control what people do in their bedrooms you can control what they do in the voting booth and with their checkbooks. While all of that makes great economic and political sense, it represents a failure and a betrayal by religious leaders of their people and the principles presented by the Prophets and the Gospel.
So, what did I say to the atheist about spirituality/morality? The choices you make when you entertain thoughts, speak words, and do deeds, shape who you become. They affect not only you, but also others and society in general.