A Sermon for Sanctuaries
Destroying places of peace and unity—sanctuaries—appears to be a thing today. In both physical form and ideation, sanctuaries have been under attack in this age of deceit. Whether it be the accidental burning of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, the murderous rampage at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the numerous bombings and burnings of African American churches across the South, or this Easter morning’s church and hotel bombings claiming more than 200 souls in Sri Lanka, sanctuaries are under siege. Even our president has attempted to defile the concept of sanctuary as he continually casts “sanctuary cities” as places where dirty liberals harbor even dirtier immigrants rather than comply with his vile impulse to banish the weakest among us from American soil. But then, peace and unity are anathema to his fascist affections.
As an agnostic myself, I generally concur with American industrialist Andrew Carnegie who lamented the fact Americans built more churches than libraries. I share his wonder for how different America might be today had those numbers been flipped. And, while the Easter story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (let alone the virgin birth) never passed my giggle-test as a young churchgoer, and made even less sense as an adult, I do not condemn true believers even while they have often sought to condemn and persecute me. Notwithstanding the fantastical promise of everlasting life that millions of folks have easily embraced, the values espoused by Jesus Christ are indeed worthy of the sanctity of sanctuaries. On this Easter Sunday, my hope is American Christians—especially as their numbers wane—will set aside their penchant for judgment and condemnation in their feeble attempts at personal puffery and seek instead to reinvigorate the lessons of Jesus who would have never considered the weakest among us to be enemies of the state. In so doing, perhaps they may even reverse the current decline in religious membership, which Gallup Research has shown is declining at an accelerating rate; curiously aligned (for the first time in American history) with party affiliation. Apparently, Trumplicans are now the most fervently religious among us.
Salvation may be impossible for those Catholic clergy engaged for decades in pedophilic perversions and attendant coverups across the globe. Evangelicals who have sold their souls to support Trump—who arguably comes as close to the anti-Christ as any American leader may have ever come—may find redemption beyond their reach. Jews who look upon Palestinians in the same manner as Trump does Mexicans might also want to look in their spiritual mirrors. Buddhists killing Rohinga refugees in Myanmar will undoubtedly face a perilous reckoning. Jihadi Muslims who twist the Koran to justify their murderous ways may find the fires of damnation awaiting them rather than seventy-two willing virgins. All are quick—too quick—to forget the teachings of their chosen spiritual leaders whether Christ, Moses, Buddha or Muhammad to, as a start, treat others as they wish to be treated themselves. None of these behaviors—as pervasive and deplorable as they are—are consistent with the peace and unity that are the foundational elements of sanctuaries.
Ironically, the fate of peace and unity, which has been the clarion call of religions across the world for centuries, today rests with the secular rational humanists among us: the areligious. The soul of sanctuaries and the values of Christ, et al, are in the hands of atheists, agnostics, and what Gallup and Pew Research calls “nones.” Not all true believers, nor all nones are all good or all bad, but the pendulum is swinging hard in favor of the nones. Those of us who prefer humanity in all its glory and failings over those who succumb to the impulse of self-aggrandizement, fear, and hate are the new caretakers of historically religious values. We may prefer to walk alone in different sanctuaries than those constructed under the yoke of slavery or celebrity-styled donations, but we are often the first among many to respond to those in need. We may be reluctant to stand in the judgment of others, being familiar and accepting of our own failures, but we may also be better teachers than those who loudly proclaim their righteousness. We may not have our names engraved on the pews of great churches across the land, but we may be the first to sacrifice our place in the sanctuary of peace and unity to someone who needs the comfort of fellowship. We may not check all the boxes of conformance to be admitted at the gates of heaven, but it may be because we never needed the promise of everlasting life to be good and moral people in the here and now. We may be considered wayward souls by our religious brethren, but our preference for doing good over just feeling good remains always in the present.
Sanctuaries, in churches or as cities, or just a big beautiful canopy of evergreens splitting a crystal blue sky, must be protected and nurtured to assure the prospect of peace and unity. Vile politicians, perverted priests, angry rabbis, sanctimonious ministers, or imams preaching violence deserve their increasingly certain fate of irrelevancy. The goodness of morality and virtue—wherever and within whomever it may be found—must prevail over these pious pretenders.
Happy Easter, or Passover, or maybe just spring.