Monday, December 1, 2008

Has Anyone Wondered Where Ted Haggard Is These Days?

I know I sure have. If I'm to be honest, it's out of sheer prurience. What I found is that when I read the Wikipedia summary of what he's been up to since his departure from mega-church stardom, I couldn't help but feel intense pity for him.

Here's the deal: at his zenith Haggard certainly went out of his way to galvanize his flock against atheism, as we saw in his encounter with Richard Dawkins, and (hypocritically) against homosexuality. I'm sure as a result he's had more than his share of hoots in public places, rude emails and phone messages, and generally gleeful secular types like ourselves. I can't say I don't share those feelings to some degree. The problem is they don't do anybody any good - not Ted Haggard, and not us.

His removal from the pinnacle has surely been devastating - the adoration of a cheering crowd will bend even the clearest mind. Now imagine a broken Ted Haggard, staying in a hotel room somewhere to keep a low profile over the last year, taking a break from selling insurance over the phone and opening mail forwarded to him by his few remaining friends. Half of it is curses and death threats from Christians; these he tries to ignore and puts aside with a sigh.

But imagine that interspersed with these are letters from atheists, identifying themselves as such. "Ted," they say, "I know you're going through a tough time right now, but you should know that as a human being, gay or straight, as an atheist I still see value in you." Many of these letters go on to tell the story of their own ejection from a similar fundamentalist dogma, and how they've found an even better world in which they can base their morality on reason and the consequences of their actions on human suffering. In fact, I'm sure he got some of these.

Imagine the power of somebody who had been in Ted Haggard's position, someone whose face many of his supporters still recognize as a leader, stepping forward and saying "I have something to tell you. It was all a lie, and I'm sorry, but as a human being I have to say that there's a better way to live your life and I invite you to join me."

Fat chance? Maybe. But incredibly powerful? You betcha. It also has the bonus of being the morally right thing to do. For now, by reaching back to his college days, Ted has found enough allies in the social world of professional faith that just last month he gave his first sermon since the scandal. But this isn't the last Ted Haggard figure that this will happen to, I assure you, and others will come unmoored enough from their faith social ties that they'll need somewhere to turn. A secular group must step up to take that opportunity to reach a whole new audience.

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