September 18th, 2004


secular saints

I was having a conversation about family religions with some lab colleagues. One told a story of her Roman Catholic father and Protestant German mother, and how she was raised with some question about whether Protestants were really Christians. Another lab-mate shared his story about an old high school classmate who is now a Republican organizer, who claimed that "90% of Christians who attend church every Sunday are Republicans", but when pressed, conceded that he was talking about Protestants, not Christians.

I realized that I don't have this perspective on family religion. In my house, I was raised with a collection of venerated icons on the walls of the house, as I imagine that some families might put up small shrines to Saint Michael or Mary Mother of God. Except that in my house, the icons were selected from the radical pantheon: Mohandas K. Gandhi, Emma Goldman and Che Guevara; Bernice Johnson Reagon, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger; Fanny Lou Hamer, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Junior.

I'm lucky -- most people who find their way to this pantheon have to reject the family line, whether that be faith in government, religion, or sexism. I am blessed by being born into a family that already sees the way of engaged compassion as something to strive for.