The Luddite approach is not a winning one for religion. Denial of access to contraception and the right of religion to freely discriminate strutting under the guise of religious liberty is no liberty at all. It is a churlish death wish competing against a more generous spirituality of freedom rooted in kindness and compassion.
Choosing to define yourself by what you hate, abhor and rail against might play well to a core group but it is not a recipe for attracting those looking for a spirituality of purpose and meaning amidst the more hued complexities of being human. Exclusionary religion may explain why the Pew Research Organization reports that 25 percent of those under 30 now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated.
In the age of internet access to wisdom on demand the prelates and leaders who proclaim that social norms and arrangements are immutable create a caricature of themselves similar to the nineteenth century Luddites who resisted all of the seismic changes of the Industrial Revolution.
The debate over whether religiously affiliated institutions have to provide access to contraception is presented by some as a desperate defense of religious liberty. Cardinal Dolan of New York bolsters that position by asserting that the bishops are the only ones who "speak for the truths of the faith." Beyond questions of religious polity, his assertion attempts to silence the divergent voices of faithful lay people and Catholic institutions alike. The liberty being defended is revealed to be no liberty at all unless you agree with him.
The daily lives of ordinary people are replete with opportunities to make ethical, moral and social choices in the context of their liberty to so with good conscience. The fact that "98 percent of sexually experienced women of child bearing age and who describe themselves as Catholic" use contraceptives does not make them bad people. Most would see little value in connecting their choice and the authority of the men who "speak for the truths of the faith." Instead their choice reveals the truth that spiritual wisdom for daily living is revealed in the competent decisions and choices of people.
In Colorado, Focus on the Family is building a coalition to put an initiative on the ballot that would allow religious organizations and individuals the right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. Presented as a ballot in support of religious liberty it would effectively deny all protections from discrimination if approved. The denial of liberty that would result is no liberty at all.
The churlish death wish of these modern day Luddites reflects fear, lack of trust and an entitled presumption that they know best for others. It effectively defines their religious beliefs by what they are against rather than what they are for.
A spirituality of inviting generous inclusion of all can be found in the core texts of most religious groups. Its companions of kindness, compassion and love honor each human being and our liberty to make wise, informed choices. This liberty imagines living beyond fear of what we do not understand or agree with. It invites attentive listening and compassionate hearts for one another. It assumes a way of life in which we value placing trust in the inherent goodness of each person as expressed in our disagreements. It also honors the polity and structures of organizations but does not confuse them with the Holy. This liberty acknowledges the important role of leaders while honoring the unique leadership of each person.
The current debates over religious liberty reveal a fault line on one side of which some wish to build a moat to protect their deeply held positions or beliefs. On the other side of the fault line are those willing to risk a messier, less centralized way of making sense of life, meaning and spirituality. In between stand a large number of people who make a choice to silence the noise of the debate in order to go about finding their way to being the kind, good and compassionate people that they are.
The choices made reflect which path leads to being fully alive and fully human in the context of the messy, magnificent human family.
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