This coming weekend hundreds of religious congregations from all corners of the globe will take steps to re-focus the political discussion about religion. Their goals are actually as simple as they are important.
Their three most important imperatives are:
1. To protect mainstream religion from those who are attempting to define religious belief so narrowly that millions of deeply pious individuals are excluded;
2. To demonstrate that religion and science need not be at odds with each other and to show that a vast majority of religious individuals have both understanding of and respect for the principles of modern science; and
3. To create an opportunity for people to think critically and articulate carefully about these important topics. In short, they are looking to elevate the quality of the debate by pushing aside the veil of ignorance that so many purposefully have used to confuse the issue.
Indeed, this coming weekend, Feb. 10-12, 2012, is the Seventh Annual Evolution Weekend sponsored by The Clergy Letter Project. As has been the case for the past six years, hundreds of congregations will each undertake some activity to promote these simple goals. And as has been the case for the past six years, the religious leaders who are sponsoring these activities will find themselves under attack, sometimes mercilessly, for their actions.
Some of those attacks will undoubtedly come from narrow-minded religious fundamentalists who, as they have so frequently, will claim that those participating in Evolution Weekend activities are not truly religious. Those attacking ask, "How could they be religious if, after all, they disagree with our beliefs?" But the fact is, there isn't a single correct way to be religious.
In case you have any doubt about this with respect to the relationship between religion and science, take a look at those who have agreed to celebrate Evolution Weekend. Participants represent every US state as well as 10 countries. They represent some tiny, rural congregations as well some large, urban congregations. Even more to the point, though, is the fact that Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities will all be represented, in addition to Unitarian Universalists and Religious Science practitioners. The range of beliefs is incredibly impressive. Within Christianity, for example, at least 22 different denominations will be participating. In addition to mainstream Christian denominations Southern Baptist, Mennonite and Quaker congregations will be celebrating, to name just a few.
Some of the attacks on participants in Evolution Weekend 2012 will also undoubtedly come from "new atheists" who like to lump all religious individuals in with fanatical fundamentalists. In their eyes, anyone who expresses religious sentiments to even the slightest degree is no different from a Biblical literalist. These new atheists will attack the clergy who are participating in Evolution Weekend even though those very same clergy should be their biggest allies when it comes to combating the assault on science taking place in our public schools. But these new atheists can't see past their own biases and recognize that only a combined effort will protect science.
And, as unfortunate as it is, the fact remains that science is under relentless attack from those who want their religion taught in public schools. Just this legislative season alone, anti-evolution bills have been introduced in Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire and Oklahoma, with others no doubt on the way.
The clergy members participating in Evolution Weekend and the thousands upon thousands who have signed one of The Clergy Letters supporting the teaching of evolutionary theory in public school science classes demonstrate conclusively that the entire evolution/creation dispute is not a real debate. Rather it is a contrived controversy being promoted by those advocating a single religious world view. The clergy members of The Clergy Letter Project are deeply religious, every bit as devout as the fundamentalists who oppose them, but they also recognize that practicing their religion should not have to mean turning their backs on the facts of science. Instead, they understand that a deeper understanding of the natural world will only enhance their faith. And they are not so insecure in their faith that they feel compelled to condemn all other belief as false and demand that everyone else be forced to accept their singular perspective.
Evolution Weekend is a chance to celebrate the intersection of religion and science and to do so in a mature manner. It is an opportunity for religious individuals to practice their faith while appreciating all science has taught us. It is a time for all of us to appreciate just how multifaceted religion can be.
Whether you are religious or not, find a participating congregation near you and join in the discussion. Doing so will help build a richer, more thoughtful and more interesting society.
Finally, please join me in thanking those religious leaders who are taking a stand in favor of religious pluralism and respect while protecting science. Their position is not always an easy one to promote in the face of the attacks they receive. They deserve our respect and praise.
Follow Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mzclergyletter