Atheists in “interfaith” dialogue? I hope so.
We probably need to change the terminology. Loosely understood, “faith” is shorthand for some kind of religious belief– and “religious belief” is generally understood to include the existence of a god or gods (or goddesses). The defining feature of atheism is the affirmation that, in the realm of all that exists, divine beings are not included. At that level, it seems incorrect to call atheism a “faith.” Therefore, it seems incorrect to call a conversation between a theist and an atheist “interfaith” dialogue.
Terminology aside, I hope that theists and atheists alike would welcome the kind of open and searching conversation, that in other contexts is called interfaith dialogue. Such dialogue, properly understood and properly undertaken, is not about trying to convert the other. It’s not about trying to convince the other that her beliefs are benighted and her practices superstitious. Rather, true interfaith dialogue starts from the acceptance of the other, and moves into conversation in the spirit of openness and learning. Instead of defending one’s perspective, true dialogue moves in the much riskier direction of allowing for the possibility for change– most daringly, for the possibility for change in one’s very own self, through the encounter with the other. Theists and atheists have things to learn from one another.
Below is an excerpt, and the link, to an article entitled “Do Atheists Belong in the Interfaith Movement?”
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in the organized atheist, humanist, skeptic and freethought movements about the potential benefits and drawbacks of interfaith work.
Over at Patheos, the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt, recently made an excellent case that while the terminology of “interfaith” may be problematic and there are several other important issues to grapple with, it is worth atheists’ while to get involved. At Friendly Atheist, Secular Student Alliance Communications Director Jesse Galef offered a long list of reasons atheists might participate, and how their involvement might improve some of the problems within the interfaith movement. Despite Galef and Speckhardt’s serious concerns and reservations, they have been actively involved in intentionally interfaith efforts, and I suspect their participation has informed their conclusions about the idea….