Freedom from religion? Social media, and often times, our press is rife with posts clamouring for so-called “religious rights” — often a thinly veiled justification for a group’s desire to discriminate against others. And while the false claim that this country was founded upon the idea of freedom of religion continues to be embraced by the superstitious, the uneducated and the fundamentalist alike; history reveals that the real bedrock of a progressive society remains those who recognise the importance of freedom from religion.
I have recently come under renewed attack by those who feel that I have somehow betrayed my vocation, by formally renouncing all forms of organised religion. I’ve been called heretic, despicable, evil and my personal favourite, the antichrist by some, and an embarrassment, bad example, and disgrace by others. Most recently, a man who pretends to be a “Catholic priest” (despite having had no proper formation, and highly irregular “holy orders” at best), admonished me that I should “prayerfully consider” the vows I took, fourteen years ago today, when I was consecrated as an archbishop, and sworn to live a life exemplary of our roles as “priest, prophet and king”.
Why is it that my insistence that freedom from religion is an evolutionary leap forward represents such a threat to those who cling to their superstitions, dogma and beliefs so tightly that anyone whose path differs threatens them?
When I was first ordained to the priesthood, almost twenty years ago, I believed that it would be the most efficient way to fulfill the inner directive that I’ve always felt was my higher purpose in this life — as H. L. Mencken once wrote, “… to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.” What better place to expose the gross injustices of discrimination, homophobia, religious intolerance, inhumane treatment of the mentally ill, of prisoners, and of those fighting for the right to choose what to do with their own bodies that have been inflicted upon society by religion, than from within the institution itself? A young man’s ego perhaps, led me to believe that I could help people discover that the very purpose of religion was to reveal its obsolescence in a post-modern world — to reveal that freedom from religion opens the door to a more authentic spiritual journey.
Upon being elected by those I served, and by the House of Bishops, to become the Archbishop and Prefect of the Franciscan-Buddhist Communities within the Old Catholic Church in North America, I spent months contemplating what purpose I would serve in that role. My very election was the cause of a great deal of drama and division within our own communities, as those whose thirst for authority, and need for the spotlight conspired against me and the very principles upon which our contemplative community was built.
On the night of my consecration, Bishop Carlos Harvin spoke to me, before we walked down the aisle of Imani Temple (African American Catholic Congregation), in Washington, D.C. Telling me, “Tonight, when we lay hands upon you, you will accept the mantle of prophet. Are you ready, my brother?”
And there it was… the very word that struck me over and over throughout the three month silent retreat I undertook, prior to that night.
The Jewish philosopher, social justice activist and community organiser, Rabbi Abraham Heschel — a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote: “The prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently holy, revered and awesome. Beliefs cherished as certainties, institutions endowed with supreme sanctity, he exposes as scandalous pretensions.”
Recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Humanities, Rabbi Herschel was an outspoken critic of racism, teaching: “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” His writings, along with the teaching of my Root Guru, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, and my fundamental understanding of theistic traditions representing the attempts by primitive cultures to explain and define those things which were beyond their comprehension, would form the basis of the work to which I dedicated by life.
Horrors such as racism, slavery, wars and torture have their roots in religion. Freedom from religion means freedom from those concepts that inflict harm on one another.
A Sovereign (whether king or queen) is one who acts independently of outside influence, with supreme authority. Put another way, a sovereign is the author of his or her life and the domain entrusted to him or her.
No one else holds the keys to our personal and emotional freedom. We alone create the life we experience. No external forces or powers have authority over us.
I recognised that as the Great Rabbi Yeshua ben Yusef would teach, “The Sovereign domain of the Sacred exists wholly within.” Therefore, I could find no justification for membership in an institutional framework that continues to misinterpret, mislead and shackle people to a manipulative system of ideas that disempower, marginalise and inspire violence, bloodshed and abuse.
Freedom from Religion
It has not escaped me that my anniversary of consecration comes at a time when one of the most dangerous, pathological and vile human beings of the modern era, Donald J. Trump, threatens to enact new protections for healthcare workers who refuse to perform abortions, treat transgender, atheist, Muslim, Wiccan, Buddhist and LGBTQ patients. The office in charge of civil rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has no business protecting those who discriminate against others, based on their primitive religious superstitions.
The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” The two parts, known as the “establishment clause” and the “free exercise clause” respectively, are arguably the cornerstone principles upon which this Democratic Republic was built. This philosophic and jurisprudential concept for defining political distance in the relationship between religious organisations and the nation state ought to be held as inviolable by the President, and indeed, by all civil servants.
As a Secular Humanist, I find it both objectionable and dangerous for Congress to remain silent over such gross violations of our Constitutional rights. I’ve redoubled my efforts to inspire in others a belief in themselves, and a conscious decision to join me in declaring their freedom from religion. While comfortable with Paul Tillich’s concept of the ground of being, my personal worldview is non-theistic, which means that I reject theistic understandings of God as a personal being with expanded supernatural, human, and parental qualities, as reflected by every major religious institution of the Western world.”
Freedom from Manipulation
I understand that there will always be those who disapprove of my path. I suppose that’s all part of exposing the scandalous pretensions that Rabbi Herschel mentioned. But I mean no harm. I refuse to apologise for taking this position, but similarly stand ready to defend others’ right to follow their own paths. I draw the line when it comes to performing one’s job, or ensuring the basic human rights of others by government.
I choose to live a life that embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism; while specifically rejecting religious dogma, pseudoscience, new age fluff, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making. I am an unapologetic nonconformist, and believe that I am in good company.
This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless calvaries; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism…human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. (American Sermons: The Pilgrims To Martin Luther King Jr.).
My conviction is, as John J. Dunphy, observed in his award winning essay, The Humanist (1983), “The battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom, by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytisers of a new faith: A religion of humanity — utilising a classroom instead of a pulpit to carry humanist values into wherever they teach. The classroom must, and will become, an arena of conflict between the old and the new — the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.”
As for religion… it has no place in my life. I embrace a spiritual path that is devoid of religion. Religion is nothing more than a vehicle for manipulation, based on superstition and fear. It does little more than harden hearts and enslave minds.
And for this, I am willing to listen, as priest… to engage and confront, as prophet… and to dedicate my energy to reign triumphantly as sovereign.