Lest anyone think I was exaggerating yesterday when I suggested that in our day of skepticism religion should expect to be seriously questioned, Jeffrey Tayler at “Salon” has rushed to prove my point.

Well, actually Mr. Tayler has no idea I even exist. But, independent of me, the contributing editor for the “Atlantic Monthly” posted a 2,000 word essay on Sunday at “Salon” in which he berates cultural commentators for failing to question seriously enough the responsibility of religion for the religiously motivated violence afflicting the world today.

Tayler writes,

We are accustomed to reflexively deferring to “men of the cloth,” be they rabbis and priests or pastors and imams. In this we err, and err gravely. Those whose profession it is to spread misogynistic morals, debilitating sexual guilt, a hocus-pocus cosmogony, and tales of an enticing afterlife for which far too many are willing to die or kill, deserve the exact same “respect” we accord to shamans and sorcerers, alchemists and quacksalvers. Out of misguided notions of “tolerance,” we avert our critical gaze from the blatant absurdities — parting seas, spontaneously igniting shrubbery, foodstuffs raining from the sky, virgin parturitions, garrulous slithering reptiles, airborne ungulates — proliferating throughout their “holy books.” We suffer, in the age of space travel, quantum theory and DNA decoding, the ridiculous superstitious notion of “holy books.”….

Adherence to any of the Abrahamic religions — that is, to the trumped-up doctrines of systematized, unverifiable fables mandating certain kinds of behavior and outlawing others — is, to repeat Kristof’s silly term, “otherizing,” or divisive, provocative, and ultimately inimical to social harmony. Traffickers in such fables, or those who provide cover to those who do, deserve to be disinvited from every forum convened to seek solutions to the problems they themselves have helped create. Or perhaps they should be invited, but only as court experts in the particular variety of mass psychosis they and their ancestors have engendered.  “Dialogue between religions” — a perennially popular yet doomed endeavor often proclaimed as necessary by religious potentates — should be eschewed in favor of rational discourse among reality-based individuals. Please, let’s give the shamans and witchdoctors the day off. ….

We need to turn the tables and refuse to let the faith-based or their smooth-talking accomplices set the terms for debate; refuse to cower before the balderdash term Islamophobia; refuse to let faith-mongering fraudsters, from the Pope in the Vatican to the pastor down the street, educate our children or lecture us on morals or anything else. If we do not believe the Bible is true or the Quran inerrant, we need to say so, loudly, clearly and repeatedly, until the “sacred” sheen of these books wears off. And it will. Behaviors change as beliefs are adjusted. We no longer burn witches at the stake or use ghastly vises to crush the skulls of those suspected of being “secret Jews” (as was done in Spain and elsewhere during the Inquisition), and none but the insane among us would enact the gruesome penalties prescribed in Leviticus as retribution for trifling offenses. We have progressed, and we will progress again, if we, for starters, quit worrying about political correctness and cease according religion knee-jerk respect.


When Mr. Tayler looks at religion, he finds himself facing a blank wall of absurdity. The only religious leaders he can imagine fall into the dubious category of “shamans and sorcerers, alchemists and quacksalvers” (fancy word to use next time you are playing Scrabble, means quack or charlatan). Religious people are all apparently “faith-mongering fraudsters;” none of us deserve any respect.

Mr. Tayler’s ridicule does not trouble me. I do not feel threatened by his description of me as one who spreads “misogynistic morals, debilitating sexual guilt, a hocus-pocus cosmogony, and tales of an enticing afterlife for which far too many are willing to die or kill.” His sweeping caricature is so far short of the mark in my experience that it is a little difficult to take him seriously.

What I do need to take seriously is the distance that separates Mr. Tayler’s view of my life as a religious leader in the Christian church from my perception of what I believe I, and many others like me, are trying to do in our “professional”  religious lives.

I may be deluded, but I do not see myself as a person who can be held responsible for the violence that is perpetrated in the name of religion. I do not see my role as “mandating certain kinds of behavior and outlawing others.”

However others may see me, and however imperfect my attempts may be, I see my function as encouraging people to open their hearts deeply to the power of love that I believe is the fundamental reality at the centre of the universe and at the heart of authentic human identity.

I may subscribe to “a hocus-pocus cosmogony” (I’m not sure which cosmogony does not depend on a little “hocus-pocus”); but my understanding of the way the universe may work is not the heart of what I believe. At the heart of my understanding of my role in my faith community is the desire to call us all to deep self-awareness, honesty, and authenticity. I seek to encourage gentleness and to nurture the kindness and compassion that I believe are a fundamental part of true human nature.

I aim to encourage a non-judgmental embrace of all people, even those who, like Mr. Tayler, ridicule my cherished beliefs. I hope to encourage the people with whom I minister to extend respect even to those who believe that, simply because of our religious worldview, we should be “be disinvited from every forum convened to seek solutions to the problems” we have apparently shared in creating.

Unlike Mr. Tayler, I hold a worldview that has room for those who may disagree with my understanding of how life works. I do not want to exclude Mr. Tayler’s strident rhetoric from the table. I do not wish to mock him or relegate him to the category of  a purveyor of “balderdash” simply because he and I may not see eye-to-eye on our views of what it means to be truly human.

Perhaps my religious commitments make me a dangerous person. But, it is hard not to feel that Mr. Tayler might find a more gentle life-giving world in some religious environments if he were to open his heart just a crack and look at what is actually going on in most faith communities.