Religious leaders to discuss world with no religion

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If you go

What: "Imagine No Religion," part of the free Exploring the Sacred discussion series

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Where: Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave.

Call: Marchele McCarthy at 846-8504

— Seven religious scholars will discuss an unholy topic tonight: What would the world look like with no religion?

Marchele McCarthy, who with her husband, Tim, has organized the Exploring the Sacred series for more than four years, said the topic arose from a series of billboards erected across the country with the same message.

"It's getting at : what does religion provide for us? Is it necessary? Can a person be ethical without religion?" she said. "People think that if we don't have religion it would solve problems, but another thing that comes up in our meetings is that that comes from our own selfishness. We would divide ourselves on national lines or on what people look like. There are a million things we can be divisive about, and religion just happens to be one of them."

The free event is at 6:30 p.m. today at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Pastor Tim Selby of the United Methodist Church, who also is a panel member, said he hopes the discussion covers the good and bad influences of religion.

"Religion, rightly or wrongly, can often get a bad rap for a lot of things that go on in the world. As religious people, we have to acknowledge our part in those things that happen," he said. "In a nutshell, I think religion has done some great things in the world and has been a part of really tragic events, and our role as people of faith is to be better and to represent our faith traditions in a better way."

Selby agreed with McCarthy, saying some other force would probably take the place of religion if it did not exist but said the world also would lack some of the services religion provides.

"I think that without religion, the world might not look a whole lot different than it is," Selby said. "I think there are a lot of very beneficial things that faith communities do in simple, important ways around the world that would really leave a gap if those religious people were not there."

McCarthy said the format will be similar to other discussion panels with time at the beginning for the religious leaders to make opening statements, followed by a question-and-answer session with the public.

Tim Olmsted of the Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs also will be on the panel. He said the way Buddhism approaches religion will provide a contrast to the discussion.

"From a Buddhist point of view, religion is a means, not an end," he said. "It's more that religion for us is a training guide, a guideline."

Even so, Olmsted said he thinks Buddhists need religion or a guide of some kind to come to their eventual goal of awakening and understanding.

"It's hard to imagine no religion because, even in a vacuum, we will create things that give us meaning and a challenge," he said.

The "Imagine No Religion" topic is based off billboards by Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization of atheists and agnostics based in Madison, Wis.

McCarthy said there were no atheists or agnostics on the discussion panel because speakers are all religious leaders in Steamboat Springs.

"We don't have someone representing the atheist community, but we hope the audience will bring that to the table, which they usually do," she said.

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