Well, here we are again, in another series of our endless discussions about whether secularists “should” use words like believe, faith, religion and spiritual. I put the word “should” in quotation marks because the fact that we are having these discussions at all is stunning, and silly. I would prefer not to use the term “word police” but it does come to mind.
Like it or not, these words still resonate in our culture. They are not going away. So our choice is how to respond to our environment, and make our way within that environment productively. We’re not all going to do it in the same way. That is one element that makes argument not to use certain words so hard to understand. As a group of people who value freethought and individual expression, what hubris it must take to tell other people how to speak and write!
Some people here claim that if we use these words, we will be misunderstood. I have yet to see a shred of evidence to support that claim. If you insist on making that claim, we have every right to do what you do when theists make claims: ask you for supporting evidence.
We can make a better case for faith, spirituality, religion, belief and even God than the old religions can. My model is Bill Clinton’s treatment of the term “family values” in the 1992 campaign. He could have said “those words have been corrupted, so I’m not going to use them.” Instead, being a brilliant political tactician, he took the words, made a better case for them than his opponents were making, and took ownership of them. And he did it in a way that was completely authentic and honest. We have opportunities to do the same thing, though not everywhere and probably not through the preacher model of the old religions. And of course, those who are not comfortable with these words shouldn’t try to use them. But let’s stop these silly categorical discussions that aren’t about the integrity of the language or effective communication at all; they’re about the visceral reaction that some people have to the words themselves. That approach is not just non-rational, it’s irrational.
Instead of rehashing the same unproductive arguments about whether we “should” use certain words, we should look for creative opportunities to reach people where they are. Whether we like it or not, the old language still resonates, broadly and deeply. We need to demonstrate that we have good, solid answers that resonate in the same dimensions.
So have at it. Only this time, if you insist that bad things will happen if we use certain words, provide some evidence to support your claims.