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.