Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptic Society and publisher of Skeptic magazine published an op-ed in Tuesday’s LA Times that caught my attention. I don’t at all dispute the role of science and reason in moral progress, but it rubbed me the wrong way that he chose to use two ordained ministers, including Martin Luther King, Jr., to articulate his whole point without acknowledging the role of their Christian faith in their vision. So, mildly irritated, I took a second look at his article and noticed that he had misrepresented the abolitionist movement–one of Christianity’s proudest successes–as secular and gotten his timing wrong besides, so hackles raised, I decided to write a letter to the editor, which they very kindly published today. However, my original was better:
“Mr. Schermer is incorrect when he claims that, “the abolitionist movement was primarily inspired by such secular documents as the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.” English Quakers began speaking out against the slave trade in the early 1700s, and Granville Sharp, a lay theologian working with a group of Quakers and Anglicans, was instrumental, financially and morally, in the success of Somerset’s case, the first legal ruling which freed a slave in 1772 without any assistance from either the 1776 American or 1789 French declarations. It was, in fact, Christian activists who initiated and drove the abolitionist movement, and it was two ordained ministers, Theodore Parker and Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Schermer uses at the beginning of his piece to articulate the truth he illustrates: that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. Religion should be rightly criticized when it seeks to inhibit human progress, as is the case with those who oppose the right to marry of gays and lesbians. But where religion inspires, articulates, and tirelessly works for the advancement of human rights, credit should be given where it is due.”
Interesting side note–they sent me a draft of the edited version which deleted my reference to the right to marry. I wrote back how disappointed I was in that decision because, as clergy, I felt it was imperative to speak out loudly and wherever possible on the issue of same sex marriage rights….and they put it back in! So thank you to the LA Times for listening.
Oh, and to spell it out: just because someone uses the mantle of science and reason wrapped around everything they do does not necessarily mean they’ve gotten their facts straight…