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Ditchin' Religion

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, recently kicked off an interesting advertising campaign in metro Detroit — and I, for one, am hoping people pay attention.

Forgive me for saying this, but, as much as I love this town, we put too much faith in these ministers, their big churches and the feel-good rhetoric they sell on Sundays. (And yes, I do mean "sell.") Personally, I stopped believing in the supernatural long ago — the Lions' minor miracle notwithstanding — but this isn't about personal philosophy. Indeed, were it just that, I wouldn't see nearly as much need for the billboard campaign.

But in Detroit, we often pride ourselves on our narrow-minded and overzealous embrace of religious dogma. We let religion deter us from common-sense decisions, such as teaching our children science instead of creationist nonsense or truly respecting the separation of church and state. We too easily give a pass to anyone who hides behind the language of Christianity or Islam, and ne'er-do-well political and business hucksters who know this too often play us like fools for it.

For instance, when former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick finally decided Detroiters deserved to hear him publicly discuss the sex-and-perjury allegations against him, he didn't speak from the mayor's office. Instead, he holed up in a church, just him, his wife and a lone TV camera, and spoke unchallenged about his desire for voters' forgiveness. Even through the subsequent efforts to oust him, he was constantly seeking cover behind assorted "ministerial alliances" to provide him with the veneer of respectability. And too often, the preachers were more than willing to give him that cover if it meant greater political access.

You can't walk two city blocks here without passing somebody's church, most of them open just long enough for Sunday services, choir rehearsals and the occasional gospel brunch. (As as kid, I used to hear even church-goers compare the many churches in town to the many liquor stores and wonder aloud what good either really did for us.) Meanwhile, in almost every neighborhood where these churches abound and thrive, the rest of community continues to crumble.

I don't blame the churches for the structural problems in Detroit, of course. But I can't help but wonder how much better our communities could be if we put even half the energy that we invest in keeping these pastors well-heeled into our public schools, politics, finances or businesses. Like the people behind the billboard campaign, I can't help but imagine a Detroit without the false faith.

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