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Faitheist: Bringing Atheists and Nonbelievers into the Interfaith fold

Updated on July 31, 2013

One of my favorite memories of college was participating in an interfaith conference my senior year. Representatives from almost every faith tradition you could imagine came to my university, to discuss issues of understanding other faith traditions and working together to accomplish goals of fixing the world. I am therefore definitely in support of interfaith activism.

That is why I was so interested in "Faitheist," a book by atheist Chris Stedman about why he feels it is so important for atheists to actively reach out to interfaith movements, and interfaith movements to reach out to atheists, in order to increase understanding between two groups (nonbelievers and the religious) that have often acrimoniously misunderstood one another, in order to benefit both groups.

Really, on the last two chapters or so directly address this goal, however, as Stedman spends most of the short and very readable book talking about his own story and background, so as to give his beliefs context. From growing up in a tolerant and non-theistic household, to his conversion to evangelical Christianity as a teenager, to his realizing of his homosexuality and shifting over to more liberal Christianity, to his discovering he had lost his faith when he got to college and becoming a virulent antitheist, to his discovering the power and importance of the interfaith movement, Stedman is able to underline his points with his own story so much that he doesn't need to be explicit about them.

Stedman's argument is mostly pitched towards atheists who might be trending towards anti-theism (e.g. the belief that religion is inherently harmful or bad), and underlines why exactly he feels that viewpoint is isolating, destructive, and comparable in many ways to the sort of religious viewpoint it criticizes, and that it provides only an inaccurate caricature of what many people's religious experiences actually are. He also mentions that anti-theism makes it harder for the nonreligious to identify as atheists and drives away many potential allies to atheists seeking to better the world. As a non-atheist (although admittedly not particularly theistic person either) who already heavily believed in and supported the interfaith movement, he was perhaps already preaching to the choir in my case, but I found his arguments strong and compelling.

Stedman is likely to be heavily criticized for his viewpoints, as he already has been, but I for one applaud his bravery to be so brave and open about his views, and I hope that he succeeds in getting more atheists to engage with the religious and with interfaith efforts to increase religious understanding. I certainly believe that this book may be a step in the right direction. Definitely check it out if you're interested in interfaith efforts or to understand at least one atheist mindset.


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