I was copied onto a website yesterday where most of the conversation focused on ridiculing religion. No one ever defined what they meant by the word “religion.” Instead, most of the people on the site used the word like some conservatives use the word “liberal,” and some liberals use the word “conservative.” It was an ill-defined grunt meaning “stupid” or “evil.”  I am equally weary of religious people ridiculing their cartoon version of atheism, and of atheists who ridicule a cartoon version of religion.

Religion remains one of the hardest words to define in any language. There are theist and non-theist religions. There are religions of unchangeable tradition, and religions of explosive spontaneity. There are religions of belief, and religions of blistering skepticism. It is our duty to criticize all religion, but it is a dereliction of that same duty to merely ridicule each other instead.

If some future cult began to take Shakespeare literally, I am sure some other cult of rationalism would assume that anyone who turned to Shakespeare took his writings in the same ridiculous way. They might form a community forged by the bonds of mutual contempt for all things Shakespearean. They might have a long list of Shakespeare’s scientific errors and ethical short comings. They might keep a list of great villains who liked Shakespeare. Both cults would have more in common with each other than they would with the mass of humankind trying to live a decent life and trying to get along.

I am so glad that the people on this blog, atheists and non-atheists alike, can get along and respect one another. We are focused on working together to heal our world, not on laughing at each other. For that mutual respect, I am deeply grateful. I do not have the slightest concern whether people believe in God. To me religion isn’t about believing, it’s about caring. Our world is in crisis. I refuse to make any human being my enemy who will join in the struggle to make it better.

We have a duty to rescue each other from magical rituals, but we also have a duty not to lose the art of living.

We have a duty to purge the earth of hierarchy and oppression, but we also have a duty not to lose compassion.

We have a duty to purge human thought of superstition, but we also have a duty to be humble and to rejoice at the mystery undergirding it all.