January 8, 2015
The United Church of Canada
3250 Bloor St. West
I write with deep concern for the world’s community as it reels following the religiously motivated attacks in Paris this week and as diverse groups respond with courage and a renewed commitment to ending acts of terrorism.
The prayer posted to the United Church’s web portal is one of the myriad responses and I appreciate that we chose to offer it in a timely manner. I question, however, the merit of such a response because it underscores one of the foundational beliefs that led to the horrific killing in Paris: the existence of a supernatural being whose purposes can be divined and which, once interpreted and without mercy, must be brought about within the human community in the name of that being. This belief has led to innumerable tragedies throughout the timeline of human history and will continue to do so until it fades from our ravaged memory. If we maintain that our moral framework is dependent upon that supernatural being, we allow others to make the same claim and must defend their right to do so even if their choices and acts are radically different from our own; we do not hold the right to parcel out divine authority only to those with whom we agree.
I urge you to lead our church toward freedom from such idolatrous belief. For decades, our denomination has pressed forward the edges of social, sexual, and environmental justice. Freedom from religion is no less urgent an issue. Individuals around the world face execution and imprisonment because of the beliefs they do or do not hold. It is essential that those religious organizations that have recognized and taught the human construction of religion speak the truths they have achieved with a clear and uncompromising voice. Ours is the denomination within the Christian church that can and must do so at this critical time.
Where it may once have seemed justifiable, ours is not a time in which personal religious beliefs can be welcomed into the public sphere; we can no longer claim that the impact of religion on political and social structures is purely beneficial. This truth is obvious in the shadow of Paris, Ottawa, and countless other tragedies. We must boldly stand with those who would clear the public sphere from the prejudices of religious belief even as we defend the rights of individuals to hold whatever beliefs allow them to sleep at night.
Now is the time to speak clearly and bravely. I appeal to your vision of and commitment to a future of peace within the human family and urge you to do everything in your power, even and especially those most difficult, to make it so.