Washington Post On Faith: Teetotalers for God take the pledge

Q. What do you think of the American Humanist Association’s new “Godless Holiday” campaign? The ads will say: “No God?…No Problem! Be good for goodness’ sake. Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.

The trouble with renunciation is that it is so absolute.  Throwing God out of Christmas can’t be a completely good idea or completely bad one. Consider the temperance movement. A hundred years ago the teetotalers equated drink with the Devil, and “taking the pledge” in writing displayed a willingness to be saved.  The culmination of the movement took place with Prohibition, when a whole nation was forced to take the pledge, whether they liked it or not.

In reality, alcohol can be put to good and bad uses. The bad may far outweigh the good, and perhaps “good” needs to be in quotation marks. But I doubt that anyone has ever been lost or saved by accepting God or renouncing Him (or Her).  God is a projection of human aspirations; God is also a projection of human guilt and a sense of sin. The two aspects have never been unraveled. To me, the unraveling must be done, but organized religion often blocks the way. Millions of people learn that they are sinners as children and carry the same crippling conviction for decades, to their deathbeds.

Humanism isn’t the same as atheism. To that extent, the American Humanist Association has co-opted a word and distorted it for their own purposes.  Even so-called secular humanism, a distortion by the religious right, doesn’t preclude a deep desire to be a spiritual seeker. Indeed, the more humanist you are, the more you care about the human condition, and that proves to be fertile ground for spiritual aspirations. I’d rather follow a troubled agnostic who wants to raise his consciousness than a smug religionist who knows all the answers because he memorized them from the pulpit (or mosque, synagogue, and temple).

Humanists travel under an 18th-century banner, held aloft by Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers, that reads “The proper study of mankind is man.” If we include women and understand that human nature extends to the depths of the soul, there’s nothing incompatible between humanism and religion.  I sympathize with anyone who has suffered from religious intolerance and close-mindedness. There’s ample reason to be repelled by organized religion. Yet nothing is absolute, and throwing God out of the holidays isn’t right.  God stands for all our spiritual aspirations, and we forget them far too often the rest of the year.

Published in the Washington Post OnFaith