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In Theory: How should we react to mistaken assumptions about faith?

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that advocates for civil rights, recently agreed to settle a $3.375-million lawsuit and apologize to British activist Maajid Nawaz for listing him on its website as an anti-Islamic extremist.

Nawaz, a former radical who changed his point of view after five years as a political prisoner in Egypt, rejects fundamentalist Islam and identifies as a liberal “reform Muslim” who works to counter extremism.

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Nawaz says his work and the SPLC listing have made him a target of “Muslim extremists who want me dead.” In a piece written for the Daily Beast, he calls efforts by the “regressive left” to mislabel anyone who challenges strict Islamic doctrine dangerous: “In a Muslim version of the Inquisition, the punishments meted out by these jihadists to Muslims they accuse of ‘heresy’ are by now so well known that they require no introduction.”

Q. Have you ever faced consequences for being at odds with members of a group with which you identify? Like Nawaz, have outsiders made mistaken assertions about your beliefs? How would you advise others in similar circumstances?

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We weren’t asked this, but I am surprised the Southern Poverty Law Center did not quickly apologize and correct their admitted error when it was pointed out to them.

I avoid associating with rigid sectarian groups pushing one strict version of truth and demanding adherence to that worldview in thought, word and deed. Especially now after my retirement from paid work, every manner of association to me is an option, not a demand. Even atheism has an institutional structure and numerous organizations, none of which attract me. Too many emails and meetings!

I recommend this kind of retirement, and wish that everyone would get to experience such after a lifetime of work. Obviously, it would make no sense to align yourself with an organization unless you share its basic aims, but my advice is to seek compatible company and only participate when freedom of thought and inquiry is respected.

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Recently I was accused, not by an outsider but by a close relative who is fanatically religious, of being hostile and disrespectful toward Christians. Ordinarily, I would consider the source and ignore this nonsense, but I couldn’t let this go unchallenged.

Take it from a lifelong peace activist, an important segment of our small and fragmented movement rests in the faith community. Secular peace groups come and go, but the churches — some denominations more than others — plug along, not always loudly but persistently working for peace here at home and in our foreign dealings. And I’m right there because you don’t have to believe in a supernatural supreme being to like the man who was called the Prince of Peace.

Turns out when my relative and I ran our numbers going back several years, I had logged much more time in houses of worship and other church spaces, with no evidence of hostility or disrespect available, because there is none.

Roberta Medford

Atheist

Montrose

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Like many Californians, many Unitarian Universalists come from someplace else. In the faith tradition I was born into, there were numerous times I encountered practical contradictions to the “Do unto others as you would have done to yourself” and “Love your neighbor” charges directed from the pulpit. Assumptions were made about the earthly prosecution of perceived transgressions against heaven. As I grew older, I realized that “god” was often just a convenient straw man for someone’s own prejudices.

UUs subscribe (if such a rigid term can be ascribed to us) to Seven Principles loosely based on the concepts of the inherent worth and dignity of all people and an understanding of the interdependent connections we share. Therefore the conflicts that arise between us are usually along the lines of “Well, you don’t respect my inherent worth and dignity enough.”

Belief systems centered on a quasi-historical figure and what (he) may or may not have gleaned from a bush, a plate, a snake, or Xenu are problematic because we are quick to over-identify with the individual and confuse his failures with the demands of the god he claims to represent on Earth.

I am lucky never to have been targeted for my religious beliefs, but my counsel to anyone attacked for their beliefs is the same: Consider the source and react — or don’t — accordingly.

Marty Barrett, President

Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills (UUVerdugo)

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The Southern Poverty Law Center is a far-left-wing hate organization that stirs up more discord than it quells. It has on its online “hate map” a slew of good Christian organizations (right along with many bad groups that everyone despises that seem to be listed to give the organization some legitimacy). Please don’t support this pagan institution. It is bad for society and for the love of anyone. It hates.

But if you ask my opinion on matters regarding misinformed opinions of my own faith, let me affirm that this is most assuredly true. Pagans often decry “foul” regarding Christian positions; calling us “hypocrites” for sometimes failing in the very areas we claim are sacrosanct. The problem is that Christians will always be hypocrites because our bar is high and we don’t always make it. That doesn’t mean we aren’t trying, it just means we are fallible. Pagans, on the other hand, have no bar save that of their own design. They fail miserably, but they have no divine ethical code so they never fall short of being their pagan selves. Yay for them?

I have belonged to several Christian denominations, and you will find they all have certain beliefs that bind Christians together, and you will see we have diverse opinion on many theological issues not clearly annunciated in Scripture. Because of that, we have denominated, and because of that many outsiders criticize what they do not understand. We don’t hate each other, we only differ in opinion about some things. Are we allowed that? And Christians differ regarding social issues. Are we allowed, or is it a hate crime to have an opinion? Is child porn evil? Is bestiality gross and damnable? We will probably say “Yes!” Does the SPLC agree? I dunno. If they do, then are they the same as the “haters” they despise, or are they popular in their own minds because these sexual perversions aren’t the accepted ones even unspiritual Americans approve? I’m a Christian. I believe certain things because Jesus told me they are the true things to believe. If I am with God I agree, and if I am not of God, I go with the Southern Poverty Law Center and those that hate the things of God and his people.

Rev. Bryan A. Griem

Tujunga

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