Why an Atheist in Interfaith?


A few years ago I never would have tried involving myself in anything interfaith. After all, faith is in the name. I don’t have a faith, so there is no space in the interfaith movement for me. Right? It was a couple of friends of mine who convinced me to check out the multi-faith center at my school. Neither friend is an atheist, but I have a lot of respect for both. They were both also regular visitors at the multi-faith center. I have now been a volunteer there for almost a year. 

So, why an atheist in interfaith? At the time I just wanted to meet new people. I wanted to get to know people with different backgrounds from my own so that I can learn how to work with different people. I didn’t realize how important my involvement would be until later. From discussions I have had with others, as well as books that I have read both from atheists and from people in the interfaith community, I have come to discover how important my involvement actually is. 

Many atheists are strongly against interfaith work. I believe that a lot of that has to do with their dislike of the religious aspects. According to Greta Christina, interfaith brings religious people together, but it creates an other in atheists. It allows the people involved in interfaith to demonize atheists. All the more reason for atheists to get involved. We don’t have to agree with their religious beliefs to work with them. After all, the people are all from different backgrounds as is: they don’t agree with each others’ beliefs. We can disagree with each other and still respect each other. And if atheists join interfaith groups then we cease to be the other. We become people that are cared for and respected. It’s hard to demonize a group when you know people who are in that group and you respect them. The same could be said about how atheists view religious people. Their is this trend of creating an other of religious people. Yes, I think religious beliefs are silly. Yes, I believe that there are dangers with allowing religions political power. But the people who are part of those religions are usually good people. They usually share many other beliefs with me. In short, they are not the institution that they are apart of. I believe that working with religious people is the best way to get atheists to see that. Once we as a group don’t see religious people as an other, and once we create an environment where we aren’t seen as others, then we can create a society that is more tolerant of atheists.

If you are an atheist, please do not write off working with religious people because they are religious. Talk with them, get to know them. See them as people first and let them know that you are also first and foremost a person. You can find a place in interfaith if you want to. Or you can find other ways to get to know religious people. But please don’t turn them into others. And don’t isolate yourself so that you are an other. Otherwise nothing will change and atheists will always be seen as societal demons.

If you are religious, please do not feel that you cannot talk to me. We may not agree where religion is concerned, but that does not mean that we cannot get along. I believe that getting along is far more important for improving society than agreeing on everything is. If you are part of an interfaith community, please allow yourself to be open to atheists. Like I said before, we are people first and foremost. I hope that we can see each other as such and have mutual respect for one another.

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11 responses to “Why an Atheist in Interfaith?

  • myatheistlife

    Community is essential to almost all humans, this is undeniable. Using interfaith as a method of community is just convenience. When the brass tacks are on the table, faith is a point of failure because it has the premise of giving credence to ideas that are dangerous. If one wants to say that religions are valid then one also has to credit belief in sasquatch and alien visitations as valid. So when you say interfaith, I hear ‘bunches of people sitting around talking about how to respect each others delusions. It’s kind of like sitting around having a meeting to discuss how to escape the building while it is fully on fire.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I felt that way too. But after getting to know the group I quickly discovered that I can have the same discussions with them as I have with my freethinker community. We can sit down and have a discussion about the pope covering up child molestation and there will be three catholics who are just as disgusted as I am. I’m not saying that interfaith involvement will end the atrocities caused by religion either. I just think that before we can worry about ending religion or eliminating the atrocities caused by religion we need to focus on getting to know the people behind the religion and allow those people to get to know us. When we do that we will create a society where atheists are seen as people and not enemies. Then we can deal with the deeper issues.

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      • myatheistlife

        I don’t have to honor their delusions to get to know them. That’s the crux of the problem for me. I cannot give their delusions value. I don’t give the flat earthers ideas value either. You seem to be asking that I/we give certain people a pass. I do not operate in such a way.

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        • hessianwithteeth

          I don’t want to give anybody a pass. I want everybody to think critically about what they believe and why they believe it. That includes atheists. I agree that supernatural beliefs are problematic and we shouldn’t believe anything without first having evidence. Other people do not feel the same. I am not giving their beliefs a pass. I am putting myself in a situation where I am forced to get to know people that I otherwise wouldn’t know. I am practicing humanism. That is my point first and foremost. Debate their beliefs, fine. Try to convince them that you are right. But don’t forget that they are humans and not personally responsible for the atrocities of others. Basically, don’t put them into the category of the other and don’t create a situation where they put you into the category of the other.

          Liked by 1 person

  • nikeyo

    This is a fantastic post. I mean it. It was inspiring to me, and something I do feel like I needed to read as an Atheist. Sometimes, we seem to all get a little stuck in our own people groups… we need things like this to pull us back.

    You are absolutely right, by not getting ourselves involved, or at LEAST getting into the conversation, we stay as that “other,” that outsider even. By joining in, despite our pre-conceived ideas, we show the world that it does not matter what we think of what you do or believe, we’re all people.

    Really, great post. Thank you for writing and sharing your experience! I’m very interested to see how this work you are doing continues for you. 🙂

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    • hessianwithteeth

      Thank you 🙂 . I will definitely be keeping my blog updated with how things go. I have already agreed to participate in the group for another year. I will also be starting an interfaith club on my campus.

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  • Invisible Mikey

    Well, you can be an atheist and still have faith. You can believe in love, or in acting ethically, or in living a service-oriented life. Perhaps you believe in the power of art or music or theater, or in sustainable energy and voluntary simplicity. All those are faiths.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      That all depends on your definition of faith. For me, that is simply misusing the word belief. I don’t consider myself to have faith because I define faith as a belief without or regardless of the evidence. I don’t believe in love, I am in love. It can be tested and verified. It is a fact for me. I do believe in acting ethically, but I do not have faith in myself to do so because I know how I will respond to various situations. I don’t have faith in others acting ethically because I base my beliefs on what they will do on previous actions. I believe that most of the people I know will act ethically because that is the type of person that I surround myself with. If I don’t know someone, then I with hold my judgement until I have evidence. I’m not quite sure what you mean by the power of art/music/theater. I wouldn’t say that I believe in sustainable energy, but I would say that I believe that it is important to invest in and make use of sustainable energy. I’m not sure what you mean by voluntary simplicity either.
      I know that it’s largely semantics, but, given how I have been taught to perceive and define faith, I don’t have any.

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      • Invisible Mikey

        Hey, fine…you don’t have any. I’m not much interested in arguing if you don’t seek a relationship or understanding.

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      • hessianwithteeth

        Reminder that this is a two person blog for those who might be confused to the double reply.

        I will refer to myself a T and to my partner in crime as B

        -T
        @ Invisible Mikey
        So I can understand you may not like my partners definition of faith, that’s fine, but it’s important when discussing things that we understand which words we use differently. In this case both of use prefer to use language such as we have evidence or hold a substantiated belief that certain outcome will happen.

        This is largely because the word “faith” is used in a number of different ways including the very problematic notion that one holds to a belief without evidence or without substantial evidence, which both B and myself agree is not something we can adhere too.

        However if you (Mikey) would like to give a different definition to faith in light of how we define it feel free, understanding can only arrive once the parties involved stop talking pass one another. That is the proper place for these sort of semantics.

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