Doing Good in Community–Faith or No Faith

Who's around the Table?
Who’s around the Table?

I addressed a gathering of Atheists in San Francisco yesterday.  Some good conversation and questions were tossed around.  Afterward some of us met at a local pub and continued talking over fish tacos, soup and brew.  Near the end I asked the group what each did in their work.  Around the table we had:

-Social Worker

-Medical Researcher

-Literacy Teacher

-Systems Analyst

-Psychiatric Nurse


-Web Designer/Humanist Celebrant

-College Teacher/Senior Housing Manager

My comment was that we ought to make this known in our area.  People need to learn that non-religious people are contributing to our communities every day in many ways.

Who is contributing in your community?

And ultimately I would ask:  Does it matter if those doing good, important work that benefits all of us are believers or non-believers?

Chaplains are Not Missionaries

Chap Bap. . .(this
Chap Bap. . .(this “Chaplain” proudly baptized “a Jew and a Catholic” in Iraq)*

This is becoming a regular “ministry” for me. . .explaining to preachers, missionaries and their champions that the role of a Chaplain is NOT to preach and convert their flock in their own “missionfield” to grow the “kingdom of God.”

Here’s one comment I left on a blog touting the “heroic” service of a Marine Chaplain who was known as “John the Baptist” for dunking soldiers (making Christians) in wartime.

“I have great respect for those who assist our men and women in uniform. Mr. Craven sounds like a good fellow.

As a longtime Chaplain, however, I would only raise the question, “Was he a Missionary all those years, or a Chaplain?” For those who aren’t clear on the role of a Chaplain, it is not to “save souls” but to be present to support anyone, regardless of faith, with compassion. Non-Christians in or out of the military do not pay taxes for missionary work. But then, that should be obvious.”

With the vast majority of tax-funded military chaplains being Christian (and mostly Baptist) while soldiers in uniform represent a broad spectrum of belief and non-belief (that’s America after all), I wonder why more citizens don’t ask these questions.  Do you want your tax dollars paying for a “Chaplain” to baptize more of our service members?  If you do, good for you, but how will you feel when there are more Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and Humanist Chaplains joining up?  Isn’t that really what America is?

Some things really should be obvious.

Here’s the reality check and it isn’t pretty for a pluralistic, secular nation:

“Across the services, more than 100 different faith groups are represented in the chaplaincy, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Of course, these are small minorities; out of the 2,856 chaplains who were employed by the military as of April, only 40 hailed from any of these faiths. At least 93 percent of chaplains represent Christianity; at least 50 percent are from evangelical denominations.” (The Atlantic)

*The photo of a baptism is taken from the Baptist Press website.  The article quotes an Army “Chaplain.”  If you don’t find this troubling, you’re not paying attention to the fact that the United States Military is NOT the United States Missionfield.  Military service is not the same as Missionary Service.  Listen to this:

After preaching to a gathering of soldiers, this Preacher-in-Uniform was proud to say,

“Twenty-nine soldiers gave their lives to Christ that afternoon.”

“I decided to go into the Army because it’s a calling,” he said. “A lot of people have a misunderstanding about what it means to be a chaplain.”

Taylor said many people think that when he puts on a military uniform, he’s not a Southern Baptist anymore. But he is endorsed by the North American Mission Board.

“I preach Southern Baptist doctrine,” he emphasized. “I let fly that there is only one way to be saved. You can cut me, and I bleed Southern Baptist doctrine.”

“Children carrying American flags came running from the villages,” Taylor said. “At one point, all these kids came running toward me. As an officer, I’m the only one who doesn’t wear rank, but I wear the cross on my helmet. A young Muslim boy pointed at the cross and said, ‘God.’ It struck me that even a Muslim child knows that Jesus is the Messiah.”

Taylor said, a young lieutenant came to him, declaring his Catholic upbringing and desiring to find peace with God.

“He received Christ that night,” the chaplain said. “The next Sunday, I baptized a Jew and a Catholic in a Muslim country in a wooden box we had to build to use as a baptistery.”

“A young Jewish soldier came into my tent and said he wanted to talk about Jesus,” Taylor said. “I used Old Testament Scriptures to show him how he needed a relationship with Jesus, and that night he kneeled down and gave his life to Christ.”

I hope after this sinks in, you will leave a comment.  I would especially like to hear from any Chaplains.

One Verse that Defines, then Ends, All Religion

The Beginning and End of Religion and Faith. . .
The Beginning and End of Religion and Faith. . .

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

We know that the person who said this was not a Christian (you know that, right?).  But I’m wondering if even his “followers” missed this one.  I’m serious.

“The Law and the Prophets” means The Scriptures.  Think about how you want others to treat you, and then treat them the same way.  Simple.  What does the outcast heretic infidel teacher teach?  To do this IS the whole scripture.  Sums it all up.  Do this and you’re done!  Practice this and everything else is a fading footnote.  The way you live is superior to any scripture or sacred duty, to any theology or tribe.

This IS faith. . .and faith becomes irrelevant.

Secular interpretation #1:  Let go of the scripture and just live a thoughtful life.

Secular interpretation #2:  Let go of religion and do the right and good thing.

Secular interpretation #3 (especially for those humble believers who proudly make their claim, “I’m not religious, I have faith!”):  Let go of your faith and simply live a loving life.

Is it possible the entire history of the Christian Faith missed this major, central point taught by the “Lord” they claim to follow and serve?

Maybe he said too much in the foggy mountain air that day?  Maybe he whispered this line just to see if anyone was really listening?

By the way, as you may have heard–Moses, Confucius, Buddha and Muhammad said pretty much the same thing.  Their followers may have missed the point too.

So, one verse, one instruction, one wise word, both defines religious faith. . .

and ends it.

I find that delightfully troubling, don’t you?

When Religion Can Work

sierra_leone1 sierra_leone2

Over 11,000 people have died from Ebola in West Africa.  In Sierra Leone, Muslims and Christians are working together to educate people.

As I saw during my long experience as an Inter-religious Chaplain, interfaith cooperation can be a step in the right direction–toward an understanding that the common ground is our humanity, not religion.

A man named Amadu survived the virus and felt it was due to prayer AND education AND cooperation between churches and mosques.

“We are all serving one God, at the end of the day,” he said. “We are all doing service for the same God. We are unified. Religion doesn’t matter.”

Ramadan Jalloh, the chief imam of the Jam’iyatul Haq Mosque in the eastern part of Freetown, which has held Ebola prevention talks, said stories such as Amadu’s show that “Sierra Leone has a clear understanding of what religion really is — that religion is not there to create problems between people but instead to bring people together.”

He explained that this trust and religious tolerance in Sierra Leone, which is about 78 percent Muslim and 21 percent Christian, enabled faith leaders to help stem the spread of Ebola.

As a Secular person I find this hopeful, partly because I’ve seen this kind of cooperation in action for years.  People who get a broader view, a wiser view, and take action.

Once the next step is taken, the step I’ve taken, beyond the holy books and prayers, the healthiest work remains:  to bring people together across all borders of mind and body to learn more and do more. . . to do what must be done in our communities, our countries and our common world.

A Mosque inside an Art Show inside a Church

Church?  Mosque?  Art?
Church? Mosque? Art?

Mosque in Venice Church

Begins as a possibly hopeful story of a church shut down, an artshow opening, and then people show up to pray. . .there, in the church. . .BUT, whoops!  Muslims!

Apparently, according to a letter published in the local newspaper by the Venetian diocese, a Catholic church must never be used for any other non-Catholic religious purpose unless it has been deconsecrated, which, according to the Patriarch of Venice, Santa Maria della Misericordia has not been. “The pavilion is not and cannot be a place of worship, as the promotional material issued in recent days suggests it is,” according to the Church letter

Geez, a good thing Jesus himself didn’t show up to pray. . .to himself. . .I guess. . .because, as we ALL know. . .you can only pray when and where God’s Reps say you can.  Of course.

I say, “deconsecrate” and give it to the mosque.  Might be a nice “interfaith” gesture. . .you know, something KIND and GENEROUS?

Then, deconsecrate yourselves. . .whatever that means.

Thank God it was Them and Not Me!

What does YOUR guardian angel look like?
What does YOUR guardian angel look like?

Drama in (Un-Real) Life. . .

A devout lady gave me a copy of the Reader’s Digest (haven’t read that for years).  Still some amusing stories and cartoons.  And then this caught my (baloney detecting) eye:

“A Guiding Hand”. . .a lady in Colorado leaves for work when “a firm hand restrained my right shoulder shoving me left.”  Later in the day she hears that there was an accident with two cars killing a crossing guard.  Her conclusion:

“[If I had turned right] I would have been in that accident.  My guardian angel had preserved my life!”

Isn’t that wonderful!  And, madam, while you’re thanking your special, personal angel, maybe you could, just for a moment, ask why they chose not to preserve the life of that poor crossing guard.  Why didn’t that guardian push the guard in another direction. . .or the cars. . .or others who were hurt and injured?

{Once you have the Nose for Nonsense as I do, you see, hear and smell this kind of magical faith just about everywhere you look}

I’ll bet MY angel is stronger than YOURS!  (and no doubt more attractive!)

Another Free Mind Blogger Killed

Ananta Dash
Ananta Dash

This is truly awful.  Another blogger is murdered for courageously speaking his mind in a closed-minded culture:

Bangladeshi Blogger Promoting Secularism Killed

In 2013, blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was murdered, then Avijit Roy was killed in February, in March it was Oyasiqur Rhaman,  and now Ananta Dash  who was barbarically hacked to death by the sharp blades of irrational belief.

Here is Ananta’s “Rationalist Award.”

“His deep and courageous interest in spreading secular & humanist ideals and messages in a place which is not only remote, but doesn’t have even a handful of rationalists.”

Secular Chaplain stands in solidarity with Freethinkers in all lands.  These attacks are against Free Minds everywhere.

I encourage a visit to the English site of Mukto-Mona (Free Mind).

When Faith is Not Enough

Liberia church

When Ebola Came to Church (Liberia)

Reading this NYT article about a church in Liberia that was hit hard by Ebola, I reflected back to the time I was a Pentecostal like these folks. . .

You believe that “With God, All Things are Possible.”

You believe that “Jesus is the Great Healer.”

You believe that “Prayer–especially speaking in a Heavenly Language–can do Anything.”

You believe that raising your hands and waving them is the best way to get God’s attention “Praise the Lord.”

You believe that “I am FILLED with the Holy Spirit (so the God of the Universe is especially interested in ME, speaks directly to ME and will heal ME whenever I ask–unless He wants to teach me a Lesson. . .or has something better to do“).

You believe that “We have Victory over Evil and the Devil (the cause of disease).”

Then. . .you begin to have an uncomfortable feeling.  It starts as a quiet, disturbing doubt.  You try hard to “pray through it,” to “pray it away.”  But it persists.  You see that some people are not healed.  You see that the “indwelling Spirit” will not (or cannot) do what you ask, or what a congregation asks, or what a preacher asks.  All the sincerity in the world, all the good intentions, all the Bible verses you can quote, all the faith you can stir up, isn’t enough.

I feel for these people in Liberia.  They have been taught by Missionary Preachers from the West to believe a false and failed message of miraculous healing.  But what happens when it’s EBOLA?  Someone is brought into the church with this terrible disease and they die. . .infecting other believers, who die. . .then infecting others in the community, who die.  What then?

What happens when faith doesn’t work?

I remember what the Missionary Preacher Faith-Healers say:  “God has other plans,” “You need to Pray more,” “Just Believe,” “It’s the Devil.”

I remember.

This sickness needs to be stopped before it infects many more.

Not-so-by-the-way. . .here’s what really stopped Ebola in Liberia:

Nearly 200 health workers died fighting Ebola in Liberia.

While praising the international partners for helping to get Liberia to zero cases, [Liberian President Ellen] Sirleaf said the fight “got off to slow start.”
“Therefore, let today’s announcement be a call to arms that we will build a better world for those Ebola could not reach