I'm a proud atheist. But for 35 years I was religious, having been an active member of an Indian organization led by a guru considered to be God in human form.
So I understand how powerful religious faith can be. I also know that secular forms of faith are equally powerful and deserve just as much respect.
In fact, more so, as I'll explain below.
This is why I admire the stand of Salem's Human Rights Commission, which recently unanimously voted to oppose the City of Salem paying the Salem Alliance Church for use of a church-owned building to temporarily house the public library while renovations are being made.
The church considers that same-sex marriage and same-sex sex are sins.
Not surprisingly, the Salem Alliance Church doesn't base this anti-LGBTQ attitude on anything but the Bible. Which is a circular argument, since as I noted in a post on my churchless blog, the church uses the same illogic that is common to every religion.
What we believe is true because the holy scripture or holy person we believe in says it is true.
But here's the important thing. Religious faith has nothing to do with the practice of being faithful to some cause, moral standard, or divine entity. Martin Hägglund discusses this in his marvelous book, "This Life: Secular Life and Spiritual Freedom."
Religious faith takes the object of faith to be a god -- or some other form of infinite being -- that is independent of our practice of faith. Our spiritual cause is treated as though it were a being that commands and has power over us without being dependent on us.
In other words, the Biblical God worshipped by the Salem Alliance Church isn't affected in any way by how LGBTQ people are treated. That God (which I consider to be imaginary, along with all other gods) isn't lessened or enhanced if same-sex marriage is legal, as it is in the entire United States now.
Thus whenever we humans take a stand on some moral or ethical issue, our secular faith is at stake -- not religious faith. I quoted Hägglund in my post, "What sustains us is caring in time, not detachment in eternity."
Secular faith is committed to persons and projects that may be lost: to make them live on for the future. Far from being resigned to death, a secular faith seeks to postpone death and improve the conditions of life. As we will see, living on should not be conflated with eternity.
The commitment to living on does not express an aspiration to live forever but to live longer and to live better, not to overcome death but to extend the duration and improve the quality of a form of life.
...To have secular faith is to acknowledge that the object of our faith is dependent on the practice of faith. I call it secular faith, since the object of devotion does not exist independently of those who believe in its importance and who keep it alive through their fidelity.
The Salem Human Rights Commission was practicing secular faith when it issued the statement calling for the City of Salem to find another location for a temporary library, even if it cost more or was less convenient than the church-owned building, because, as the Commission said in its statesment:
It is offensive to some members of the Salem community for the City to enter into a contract with, and pay money to, an entity that may be experienced as unwelcoming to members of the LGBTQ community.
...Locating the Library at the proposed site will result in a Library that some members of the community, not only the LGBTQ, will not be willing to visit, and will negatively impact the Library’s mission.
Hopefully city officials and the Salem City Council will realize that people take secular forms of faith just as seriously as religious forms of faith.
I say this because when I listened to an audio recording of the April meeting of the City Council's Library Renovation Subcommittee, I was struck by how much of the tenor of the discussion over where to temporarily house the library centered around cost and convenience, not the ethics of using public funds to pay a church that, to put it bluntly, views LGBTQ people as second-class citizens.
Earth to City officials: It isn't always about money!
The Human Rights Commission has said that even if it costs more to lease a different building, this should be done, because it is the right thing to do.
That's secular faith -- having the courage to stand up for a cause, and at-risk people, even when this is inconvenient, bothersome, and expensive in monetary terms. After all, what's the point of saving money if a value that makes life worth living is frittered away?
I'll end with another quote from Martin Hägglund's book.
The commitment to mutual social freedom as an end in itself -- as a spiritual cause that commands us to act -- is our secular achievement and not due to any religious revelation.
Freedom as an end in itself is not promoted by any of the world's religions or by any of its founding figures. Neither Jesus nor Buddha or Muhammad has anything to say about freedom as an end in itself. This is not an accident but consistent with their teachings.
What ultimately matters from a religious perspective is not freedom, but salvation; what ultimately matters is not to lead a life but to be saved from being alive.