When I moved from the United States to Northern Ireland I never expected the Huffington Post to signal one of the most tangible shifts in the cultural view of religion. The HuffPost is one of my regular news sources. Then I moved to Northern Ireland, and my bookmark tab automatically shifted to the HuffPost’s U.K. version. Suddenly, my home page was filled with news of Stormont and London, rugby and the happenings of the royal family.
All was fine until I decided to look towards my usual tab of the religious voices and happenings of the world … and I found nothing. Nothing. There are, however, tabs for “Celebrity,” “Comedy,” and “Entertainment.” I searched religion in their search bar. The top return was “Religious People are Less Intelligent than Atheists.”
Nothing had so visibly shown the difference in how religion is discussed, viewed and integrated into culture in the U.K. versus the U.S.
A lot of horrible things are done in the name of religion; I get it. And those are certainly reported in the U.S. as well. But there is also space in the U.S. for contemporary religious voices commenting and critiquing our society in a positive way. We have voices like Wayne Meisel who champions social justice outreach and mobilizes the religious population to address pressing needs in our country.
There are writers like Rachel Held Evans who gives voice to many progressive evangelical Christians, challenging the ultra-conservative, patriarchal and sexist traditions and interpretations.
There are voices like Tara Woodard Lehman who call out the inherent contradiction between the prosperity gospel found in megachurches and televangelism and what Jesus actually says about wealth in the Bible.
There is space allowed for constructive religious self-criticism as well as for voicing opinions and perspective on political and world events. It is a balance to all the more often quoted, reported and remembered stories of the horrific things done in the name of religion. Just think about the amount of airtime one fundamentalist group, the Westboro Baptist Church, gets while the majority of Christians in America are disgusted and horrified by them. All this to say: I think the U.K. religious faithful are being cheated of any genuine or credible voices. If all there is to read and report is sensational and horrifying prejudice and discrimination, it’s no wonder religion is so distrusted. I know there are Wayne Meisels and Rachel Held Evans of the U.K. And I’m asking you, please, for the love of God, Allah, Jehovah: SPEAK UP and let your voices also be heard.
Tara Porr is a third year M.Div student of Princeton Theological Seminary presently doing a year-long internship at Groomsport Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland.