Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Allergic to Religion


You may have heard about the latest religion-related shenanigans coming out of Florida. If not, here's the news:

A chaplain at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton has resigned, she says, over a ban on use of the words "God" or "Lord" in public settings.

Chaplains still speak freely of the Almighty in private sessions with patients or families but, the Rev. Mirta Signorelli said: "I can't do chaplain's work if I can't say 'God' — if I'm scripted."

Hospice CEO Paula Alderson said the ban on religious references applies only to the inspirational messages that chaplains deliver in staff meetings. The hospice remains fully comfortable with ministers, priests and rabbis offering religious counsel to the dying and grieving.

"I was sensitive to the fact that we don't impose religion on our staff, and that it is not appropriate in the context of a staff meeting to use certain phrases or 'God' or 'Holy Father,' because some of our staff don't believe at all," Alderson said.

Signorelli, of Royal Palm Beach, said the hospice policy has a chilling effect that goes beyond the monthly staff meetings. She would have to watch her language, she said, when leading a prayer in the hospice chapel, when meeting patients in the public setting of a nursing home and in weekly patient conferences with doctors, nurses and social workers.

"If you take God away from me," she said, "it's like taking a medical tool away from a nurse."

A devout Christian who acquired a master's degree in theology after a career as a psychologist, running a program for abused and neglected children, Signorelli has been ministering to the dying for 13 years. She worked at the Hospice of Palm Beach County before moving seven years ago to Hospice by the Sea, a community-based nonprofit organization that cares for terminally ill patients in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Signorelli said that she and other chaplains were told Feb. 23 to "cease and desist from using God in prayers."

Signorelli said her supervisor recently singled her out for delivering a spiritual reflection in the chapel that included the word "Lord" and had "a Christian connotation."

"But that was the 23rd Psalm," Signorelli said — not, strictly speaking, Christian, as it appears in the Old Testament.

"And I am well aware that there were people from the Jewish tradition in attendance. I didn't say Jesus or Allah or Jehovah. I used 'Lord' and 'God,' which I think are politically correct. I think that's as generic as you can get." (Read the whole thing here)

This incident got me thinking about a tendency that I've noticed where efforts to be sensitive to the needs of non-religious people or people who don't share certain beliefs end up undermining religious expression. For some, religious language is like a toxic substance that people have to be protected from being exposed to regardless of context or common sense. Surely reasonable people can tell the difference between an effort to aggressively impose ones religious beliefs on others and simple expressions of faith that are inseparable from religious and spiritual identity itself. Those who are unable or unwilling to make this distinction should not be allowed to determine the limits of religious expression.

"God has endowed man with reason that he may perceive what is true. If we insist that such and such a subject is not to be reasoned out and tested according to the established logical modes of the intellect, what is the use of the reason which God has given man?" (Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 63)

4 comments:

  1. Phillipe, you've hit the proverbial nail on the head here. There's a kind of hypersensitivity and a readiness to take offense that is utterly inimical to dialogue or a willingness to explore different expressions of truth. And when starts to stop chaplains referring to God we really are in a very sad place. Sadly this sort of nonsense happens here in the UK too.

    It is interesting that the hospice CEO justifies the ban on reference to religion in staff meetings as "not imposing religion" on the staff. What, in effect, she is doing is to impose non-religion or secularism on the staff.

    Mirta Signorelli is right. This has a chilling effect on discourse.

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  2. Thanks for weighing in Barney. The other thing I find myself asking is, if you are trying to not have religious language at staff meetings, which in itself if not unreasonable, why on earth would you invite a CHAPLAIN to speak to the staff in the first place. That's what chaplains do! It's like inviting an "exotic" dancer to a staff meeting but telling them "don't get too exotic now, someone might take offense". It's ludicrous to the point of comedy.

    What do other people think?

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  3. It would be interesting to see just how the CEO thinks it is possible to "impose" religion by talking about it (same thing I was accused of, incidentally). It makes about as much sense as the story about the Babis: they tell fantastic stories until the audience is sitting open-mouthed, and then flick magic pills into their open mouths, that convert the audience into Babis.

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  4. That story is so absurd I cannot stop laughing about the absurdity of the restrictions...

    WHat's even worse is that it is TRUE!!!

    Next thing you know Algebra and College math teachers will be forbidden from talking about Mathematics because we have to sensitive to students who are bad at arithmetic....

    Science Teachers will be forbidden from teaching Biology, Chemistry Physics and other sciences because we need to be sensitive to the students that cannot handle science...

    Philosophy teachers cannot discuss logic and reason because we need to be sensitive to the students that cannot reason for themselves....

    And the list goes on..!!!.

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