Monthly Archives: April 2013

God Help The Outcasts

First of all, I apologize for the long break in blogging. It was due a combination of some coursework (which has ended), a pretty bad flu (which I have recovered from), and a very busy period in my full-time job (which has passed).

There have been many comments in the past alleging that I dismiss religious sources of inspiration too easily. Of course, I do proudly admit to a lot of that. I find a lot of modern religion boring, trivial, uninspiring. Even the supposedly moving sermons of pulpit pop stars like John Piper or Mark Driscoll really don’t move me much at all. But there are quite a few pieces of religious music or art that I find simply transcendent.

The most beautiful parts of religion include not just the practical, concrete aesthetics that are sometimes associated with it (like choral music or gothic architecture), but the moral impulses that religious people feel arise from it. Although such people may disagree, I believe those impulses reflect the depth of our human emotional lives and the greatness of humanism rather than the truth of any particular religion. It wasn’t too long ago that a friend showed me this video of an old Disney song:

You might not believe me, but I love it. The song talks about relating to an common experience of being outcasted, of being “hungry from birth”. The mere fact that the song references God should not interfere too much with its message of service to the least among us (“the poor and downtrod”), of selflessness (“I ask for nothing”), and of equality (“I thought we all were children of God”).

I must be kidding, right? Don’t I find that the idea of a perfect God who lets evil happen in the world appalling?

No, I’m not kidding, and I do find the Problem of Evil deeply disturbing and still yet to be resolved. More importantly and more obviously, I don’t think there’s a God out there who can help us, who can fix the deep problems facing our world (including the problems of natural and social inequality).

But thinking about what kind of society we would want if there were in fact a loving God is not futile. It creates a Platonic, idealistic version of the society we want supposing that we had infinite love and power, and challenges us to fulfill that vision pragmatically. For many, it offers something beautiful and perfect to comprehend, and compels them to do great things that change the world. I am not inspired by exactly the same thing, and still am outraged by the kind of grotesque immorality, judgement, and anti-intellectualism I get from elements of the Bible Belt crowd, but I think I understand, at least to some limited extent, the complexities of religious inspiration.

Needless to say, I think humanism isn’t just compatible with this kind of idealistic thinking; I think many people are excelling at it, putting to good use their finite time as conscious beings to build the kind of world they want. The Pathfinders Project, a yearlong humanist service trip focusing on humanitarian projects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, is a great example of this. So are the many secular organizations that do work all kinds of important work every single day for urban communities, for immigrants, for LGBTQA people, for sexual abuse victims, for the mentally ill, and so on.

It’s amazing, and I only wish we’d be inspired, in whatever ways we can, to do more.