What do you call interfaith volunteering where atheists participate?

Volunteering.

That’s partially why I think the push for atheist inclusion in interfaith panels and organizations is so silly. Atheism is not a faith. In fact, it’s the complete absence of faith. Therefore, it is not interfaith. Case closed.

If that simple dictionary definition wasn’t enough, getting atheists involved with Interfaith This and That perpetuates the idea that atheism is just another religion, a stereotype that many atheists have grown weary of debunking. Even if you want to use the label “Humanist” instead, the core principles still remain that we are free of dogma and faith – that our values are based on reason. We can set up chaplaincies and talk about ethics until we’re blue in the face, but we’re still not a faith – at best we’re a philosophy.

Now, I have nothing against atheists, humanists, and pastafarians doing volunteering – it helps to reduce stereotypes of atheists being cruel, unsympathetic people. And I have no problem with atheists doing these things alongside theists, because it also shows that we can temporarily put aside our differences when working toward a common goal. That we may think you’re silly for believing in a zombie savior, but at least we can agree on feeding the hungry or curing diseases.

But that still doesn’t make it interfaith, sorry.

You know what I do have a problem with, though? The interfaith people who say the debaters and the intellectuals need to shut up and just sing kumbaya with religion. I like Chris Stedman, but he had me raging at the last SSA conference where he made the same argument. Where we shouldn’t criticize religion ever, because it’s going to hurt someone’s feelings, and how interfaith was so superior than those firebrand atheists. Even in an otherwise nice piece, he can’t help but add:

Can we set aside intellectualizing and debating, even just for a moment, and start putting our money where other people’s mouths are?

Um, no.

For one, everyone is good at different things. I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but some people are good at being firebrands, and some people are good at being diplomats. There is no one right way to make progress in a movement, so stop telling people they’re doing it wrong. Feel free to volunteer and be bffs with all the religious people you want. But don’t tell me to shut up because I dare to criticize how someone’s beliefs are harmful not just to them, but to our country and our world.

But two…right now, the “accepting” interfaith movement is full of hypocrisy. It’s totally fine for religious people in the interfaith movement to disagree about things – that’s the whole concept of interfaith work. But an atheist disagrees with them? Then they’re just being an asshole and need to shut up. We saw this sort of reaction with Everybody Draw Mohammed Day – when the atheists stood by their values, they were the ones in the wrong. They were the ones who needed to shut up lest they offend the others in the group.

A friend of mine who’s very active in getting atheists involved in interfaith says he agrees with me to an extent – but that he argues from practicality, while I’m arguing from idealism. He says atheist involvement in interfaith is just a way of sapping some resources from religion and getting our ideas out there. That we need to start setting up tax exempt Humanist chaplaincies, and get other government money that’s targeted toward religious volunteering groups.

Funny. I rather uphold the separation of church and state and remove tax exempt status and government funding of religion. Maybe that’s the dirtier, longer fight, but I think it’s ultimately the right one.

But that’s just me being an idealist.