As a Humanist, I technically don’t identify as “religious.” But I was proud to join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
I recommend that atheists, agnostics, and the non-religious support the NRCAT’s efforts to define torture as a moral issue, and as an evil for which we must not stand. In fact, we should support it passionately and join in its efforts enthusiastically. Let’s sign NRCAT’s “Torture is a Moral Issue” statement en masse, support its efforts to influence public policy, and encourage our Humanist and atheist organizations to join its religious congregations in screening the film “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.”
However, I also call on the good and decent religious people rallying around this issue at On Faith and the NRCAT to publicly acknowledge that theists and atheists can share equally in denouncing torture. This afternoon I asked Rev. Rich Killmer, the distinguished Presbyterian Minister who directs the NRCAT, if his organization would consider -anywhere on its website- saying explicitly that the campaign welcomes the support of Humanists, atheists and the non-religious. Killmer indicated that it’s highly unlikely they would do so (he did acknowledge many of his supporters are likely not religious, and said I should “go for it” in asking my own community to support his). As much as I respect his cause and his tremendous dedication to it, such a response strikes me as, at best, inadequate for an organization professing moral leadership.
Of course, this raises two big questions I hope you will join me in discussing:
1. Should the non-religious join and support specifically religious campaigns and coalitions?
2. Should progressive religious and interfaith campaigns do more to reach out to the non-religious?
I spent a long last week traveling from Boston to the “Interfaith Youth Core” conference in Chicago and then to “Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0,” a gathering of renowned atheist scientists and thinkers at the Salk Institute in San Diego. At each, I went from speaking engagement to Q & A to behind-the-scenes discussions, urging that the answer to both questions above must be “Yes!” Going from dialogue with Eboo Patel and Sheikh Hamza Yusef one day to Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett the next was quite an experience; maybe I’ll write more about it later.
In short: reactions were mixed on both sides, regarding both questions. There is mutual mistrust and misunderstanding between leaders of theistic and atheistic communities (yes, the latter do very much exist, though they believe deities do not) in the US and beyond. But I was also buoyed by the hope many on both sides expressed: that yes, we can find moral common ground to work together in deep friendship and respect.
But what do you think? Is “Interfaith” a valid approach to the torture issue and others like it, or a sneering condescension towards atheists? Is it enough to quietly “tolerate” Humanists in progressive coalitions, or must we celebrate their participation as equals in moral discourse?