Can a Humanist Partner with Religious People for Activism?


A month ago, I posted an article here on Queereka about why I think humanism is a much better option for LGBTQ people than religion. As a follow-up, I just want to let everyone know that, even though I’m strongly against religious dogma, I don’t hate religious people. It seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of people (both religious and non) think hating religion as an institution means hating everyone of faith. Not only is that a ridiculous idea, but I’ll raise you another shocker: I actually have no problem partnering with people of faith when it comes to doing social justice activism!

The subject of inter-belief (I don’t like the term “interfaith” because I don’t walk by faith) activism will always start a shit storm among atheists. Folks like Chris Stedman, Kile Jones, and Matthew Facciani say we need to set aside differences and focus on our common goals in order to make the world a better place. Others, like PZ Myers, say that faith is one of the primary causes of social injustice, so inter-belief activism is a bunch of hooey.

I think both camps are right to an extent. Religion didn’t invent injustice, but religious dogma does tend to perpetuate injustice. Look at Kim Davis. Look at the old “biblical” arguments for segregation in the early 20th century. Look at the atheist bloggers who have been killed for criticizing Islam. We can argue whether or not they are “true” Christians or Muslims, but you can’t deny that they were motivated by religious dogma.

And yet, I’ve met religious people who acknowledge that people have used their religious beliefs to hurt others. Not only that, but they’ve found ways to reclaim their religious traditions to fit the needs of marginalized people. For example, during my interview with Latina Christian feminist AnaYelsi Sanchez, she told me she studied the Bible for herself instead of just taking what preachers say at face value, and found that a lot of Christians interpret the Bible through a white supremacist/capitalist/cisheteronormative/patriarchal lens. Once again, we can debate what holy books “really say,” but I don’t see why I can’t join forces with religious people who want to smash the White Supremacist Capitalist Cisheteronormative Patriarchy just as much as I do.

For me, partnering with the religious is kind of like partnering with straight allies. Some so-called “allies” just do it to get attention, and really don’t give a shit about changing the system. They think they can slap a “Marriage is about love” sticker on their cars and call it a day. When they say or do something problematic and you call them out on it, they get incredibly defensive and cry, “I’m on your side, stop picking on me, heterophobia alert!” Real allies, on the other hand, actually get it. They know they’ve contributed to systemic oppression (mostly without being conscious of it), and they want to learn how to stop it. They’re more interested in listening to the LGBTQ community than puffing themselves up with ally pride. Those are the ones I consider our true allies in the fight to end anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

Likewise, I consider those people of faith who want to end religious discrimination against marginalized people allies in the fight. This doesn’t mean humanists can’t openly disagree with religious people, or that we can’t call out harmful religious beliefs. Calling out is sometimes necessary to get shit done. At the same time, though, I think it’s foolish to bar all religious people from the fight against oppression.

Just don’t try to convert me, okay?

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  1. Some of the Great Rifts ™ in the atheist movement have shown that a lot of atheists really aren’t all that progressive on other issues. For LGBT activism, it makes a lot more sense to partner with pro-LGBT religious people than anti-LGBT atheists. In some cases, they can even be better than pro-LGBT atheists, as they can speak to other religious people as part of their own community, making it easier for them to make headway against bigotry among the religious.

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