Imagine No Religion billboard

bildeIn a land where billboards abound proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus: Is HE in you?”; this billboard placed near Pell City in Alabama is raising quite a stir.

The organization Alabama Freethought Association who paid for the billboard  was turned down by Lamar Advertising stating that its sentiments were offensive.   Is it any more offensive than the other billboards that dot the highways of Alabama proclaiming Hell to non-believers or showing larger than life aborted fetuses?   

The right to free speech is a quirky right.  It means that dissenting minority opinions have the right to be expressed.  It does not mean that everyone must agree with the message being presented.  It’s quirky because speech when given free reign is bound to offend even when it is given as an invitation to debate. 

No believer of any faith should be so fearful of a billboard that suggests to imagine no religion or fire and brimstone.  To fear a message that one does not agree with says more about the person’s depth of faith than it does about the message.   A faith that is only sustained by the contingent of only one voice being heard is not faith but a manipulative evil. 

Unitarian Universalists stress the importance of reason in the faith development of the free church.  The ability to think, to ponder, to question, to wonder about the mysteries of life is an important aspect of our humanity.   To determine the answers are much harder to come by as there seems to be such a diversity of possibilities in the universe that are unprovable at this time.  

What would the world look like if there was indeed no religion?  Given that most of our human history has been fought in the name of a religion, would we be a more peaceful people?  Given that most of our moral and value development has been based in religion would we be a colder, more callous people?  Probably not to both of these questions. 

But the ability to ask questions is the soil from which religions sprouted.  The ability to dissent from the majority is what has enabled humanity to move forward in its development as a species.   The Imagine No Religion billboard is along this line of thought.   Those who oppose it and want its removal would do better to explore the thought in light of their faith. The answers they find may deepen their convictions than their fear of weakening it.   Blessings,

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One Comment

  1. Interesting post. Interesting information!

    I wonder whether in asking that question about religion if we are not, what would you say, Abe-o-centric? The Abrahamic religions certainly seem to be warlike. But also —

    This past year, I used Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament in an Early Christian Writings class (I enter Meadville-Lombard this fall as a 60+-year Unitarian). Apologies for taking the space, but I think what he wrote is worth quoting in its entirety.

    Odd as it may seem, to understand the nature and function of religion in the Greco-Roman world, we have to abandon some of our own notions about religion today. What do twentieth-century Americans think of when they think about organized religion? The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it does include a number of popular notions held by many people in our society …
    1. Religious organization and hierarchy (e.g., the Christian denominations and their leaders, whether a pope, a Methodist bishop, or the leader of the Southern Baptist convention)
    2. Doctrinal statements (e.g., the creeds said in churches, the basic beliefs endorsed by all believers)
    3. Ethical commitments (e.g., religiously motivated guidelines for conducting one’s daily interactions with others)
    4. Beliefs about the afterlife (which for some people in our time is
    the reason for being religious)
    5. Sacred written authorities (e.g. the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament or the Koran)
    6. The separation of church and state (an important element in American politics and religion)
    7. Exclusive commitments (e.g., a member of a Baptist church cannot also be a Hare Krishna, just as a practicing Jew cannot be a Mormon).

    One of the most striking and startling aspects of ancient religion is that outside of Judaism, none of these features applies. In the so-called pagan religions of the Roman empire, there were no national or international religious organizations with elected or appointed leaders who had jurisdiction over the various local cults. There were no creedal statements or, indeed, any necessary articles of faith whatsoever for any devotees. Whereas ethics were generally as important to people then as they are today, daily ethical demands played virtually no role in the practice of a religion itself. Many people evidently did not hold a firm belief in life after death; those who did, so far as we can tell, did not generally become more religious as a result. Pagan religions were never centered on sacred writings to guide the individual’s beliefs and practices. And there was no such thing as separation of church and state; on the contrary, since the gods made the state great, the state responded by encouraging and sponsoring the worship of the gods. Finally, virtually no one in the pagan world argued that if you worshipped one god, you could not also worship another: exclusive adherence to one cult was practically unknown. [pp. 20-21]

    Personally, I was stunned by this realization. It meant that whatever part of our brains is occupied by “religion” it is not also the part occupied by “ethics” or “a view of the afterlife.” As a UU, I have always been galled by the belief of some Christians that those of us who are not Christians cannot possibly be ethical or moral. Ehrman is a terrific Bible scholar and student of classical times, and to read his explanation of the past was very freeing for me.

    Western thought is big on categorizing. Because the Judeo-Christian religions divide the world into religious and non-religious thought along specific lines and those have been absorbed into western thought in general, it takes a leap to understand that those categories are man-made and arbitrary. People looking for a path away from that old straitjacket must be helped to find a new taxonomy of thought. Thanks very much for setting me thinking on this.


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