As the first atheist church opens in London, is there room for atheists and humanists at the interfaith table, or would it be a bridge too far for believers?
Previously, blogger, author and secular humanist Chris Stedman wrote, "Interfaith proponents must...expand their efforts to include people of other faiths -- Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc. -- and those who fall outside traditional religious paradigms, including the nonreligious. Secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the like must be an integral part of such conversations."
Then we posed the big question: What do you think? What might secular humanists and atheists bring to conversations among people of faith around common concerns?
We asked our Odyssey members for their reactions and these are some of the responses we received...
- "Sorry, I don't want to give them more exposure and possible credence by some than they have already. The NYT does enough of that."
Rev. Peter Panagore, First Radio Parish Church of America said:
- "Some of my readers and viewers are atheists and secular humanists with whom I've had wonderful conversation. I'd welcome atheists and secular humanists to the table so long as they don't think of me as a fool. I think most atheists would think me a fool."
- "My answer is rather simple: Yes! 'Nones' are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population (from a religious perspective) and now comprise well over 15% of the population. They are also starting to organize themselves as more of a religious-style of community. It would be a shame to overlook them as a legitimate group at the table of interfaith dialogue."
Ann Hafften said:
- "I would suggest that there [are] times and places for people of faith to talk with one another in the context of faith, which would naturally exclude people of non-faith. In other settings there might be a place for gathering people of good will, and atheists, etc., probably have valuable content to bring to that meeting. I don't think it's coherent to equate good will with faith."
Mary Aktay, Director of Communications for Xaverian Missionaries said:
- I attended the World Interfaith Harmony Week celebration at the United Nations On February 7th. The founders of the event and authors of the UN resolution have stated: World Interfaith Harmony Week is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative. This initiative, which started in 2007, called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God, and Love of the Neighbour, without nevertheless compromising any of their own religious tenets. The Two commandments are at the heart of the three Monotheistic religions and therefore provide the most solid theological ground possible. The World Interfaith Harmony Week extends the Two Commandments by adding ‘Love of the Good, and Love of the Neighbour’. This formula includes all people of goodwill. It includes those of other faiths, and those with no faith.
We end the week by talking to Chris Stedman himself. Chris is the inaugural Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University, the Emeritus Managing Director of State of Formation at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, and the founder of the first blog dedicated to exploring atheist-interfaith engagement, NonProphet Status. He spoke to Odyssey via Skype from Boston.