Like most decent human beings, I enjoyed Saints tight end Ben Watson’s Facebook post about Ferguson. It was an empathetic and thorough breakdown of his (and many of our) feelings from multiple angles that would have been impressive from a professional pundit, never mind a pro athlete playing in an increasingly sanitized league.
I am admittedly at odds with his conclusion that we need more God to keep this from happening again. I’d scoff at that from a Rick Santorum type, so it's fair not to shut a critical eye just because it was said by one of the few Saints who still gives a damn (pun obviously not intended).
But I’ve followed Watson on Twitter for awhile, so I know he means what he says. The teachings of Jesus — which are fantastic, no matter whether or not you ascribe divinity to them — clearly factor heavily into his life and outlook. And as his Facebook post proves, they don’t hinder his capacity to think clearly and thoughtfully.
Religion becomes a problem when it narrows thinking. When it convinces people that the world is a separate, unimportant entity, whose people are out to harm and condemn the true believers. When it convinces people that they are the chosen ones and that no one else matters. When it convinces fanatics already inclined toward control, murder and destruction that such actions are justified. And, most commonly, when it short-circuits the human capacity for introspection.
Watson, on the other hand, is the kind of Christian who makes atheists like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins look insufferably obnoxious. Those guys are convinced that everyone with religious beliefs is any combination of selfish, delusional, ignorant and tyrannical. While there certainly lots of religious people who fit those descriptions, it’s foolish to dismiss all of them as such. Like Watson, for one.
Considering all the paragraphs that came before it, his call for more Gospel seems like a genuine call for peace and goodwill than the social control it so often represents these days. What Watson concluded might not be what I would say, but I respect it. I welcome it, even, because all too often we only hear the shallow, black-and-white thoughts of the fanatics and the charlatans. Those people make it easy to forget that the faithful aren’t a monolithic bloc.
As someone who subscribes to no faith apart from humanity, I would rather be around a good-hearted religious person — someone who employs their faith as a personal guidepost and not as a bludgeon — than a smug atheist who does nothing but point fingers from on high. Because extreme atheism has the same capacity for narrowing thought as religion, and that — not what faith someone adheres to — is the real problem.
Watson’s words are worth everyone’s time. Religious notions of sin are in the eye of the beholder, but hate, abuse and misunderstanding are real-world sins. Few yet have made that as clear as he has.