What do you call interfaith volunteering where atheists participate?


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.


  1. says

    Billy: My invisible friend is awesome! He thinks Sophie is a big poopy-head!Katie: Not as awesome as my invisible friend! She thinks Sophie is a big stinky poopy-head!Greg: No, both of your invisible friends suck, and you’re both stupid. Mine is the best, and he says Sophie is a giant butt-face!Sophie: I am not! You guys are just making stuff up! There’s no-one there to say those things!*shocked silence*Billy: That was really mean!Katie: Yeah. *sniff* You hurt my feelings.Greg: We’re gonna go tell the teacher on you!*later in the day the teacher put Sophie on detention for making Katie cry*

  2. says

    You are dead on there Jen. It’s one thing to be a courteous person, it’s another to sacrifice your core values in the name of “congeniality” or compromise.Keep fighting that fight.

  3. says

    I agree with you for the most part, but here’s something to consider in the realm of politics:When you’re a political minority, being included in some kind of conversation in a positive light, that’s a victory. I agree with you on the fact we’re not a faith nor should be considered one, BUT the majority determines social capital. If we are going to have any political legitimacy it might as well start here. We can get away from the faith label later when we have sizable social capital to work with. Right now, we’re sitting at a table with a bag of quarters, with a bunch of groups that have large stacks of $1 bills when it comes to social capital. Another issue is that we’re not looked at very favorably by many groups. We are mostly favorable only with groups that we have overlapping membership with (I could run some statistics that I have and show you at some point). Politically, that’s a start. Building a positive relationship with groups with much larger social capital will help us later. What needs to happen is we need more prominent figures to be atheist inside and outside of the atheist community. I like we’re being included in the conversation, but we can’t fuss about the faith label yet. If we do as a whole, we’re just going to be viewed as the negative stereotypes we don’t want.

  4. says

    I volunteered at an animal shelter for almost a year – it wasn’t a Christian animal shelter or an interfaith animal shelter or an atheist animal shelter.It was what what it was: secular. And we all got along fine, though I was probably one of very few atheists. It didn’t really come up much.Unless religion is intrinsic in the mission of the organization or project, I don’t see why it should be made an issue. It seems like just another example of religion crowding out what should be the real purpose, and I don’t see why secularists are going along with it.

  5. says

    There is a certain type of firebrand that I don’t care for. The American Atheists putting up the “you KNOW it’s a myth” billboards is a great example. I see their point and I understand that they are trying to spark a discussion. But it seems to me that they are being pointlessly antagonistic, and I end up having to defend them. I never wanted to defend them. I don’t particularly agree with their approach, and yet, they are making me look bad (in my opinion) by association.That is the crux of the problem, to me. I don’t mind the firebrands existing. But I don’t want to have to defend them.Of course, someone else could easily say the same about the diplomats. “Debating them just lends them legitimacy! Argh!” I can just hear it now.At the end of the day, I agree with you, Jen, that there is room for both approaches. But it doesn’t do any good to pretend that they are entirely compatible when they simply aren’t.

  6. says

    I like what Mike says. I also have to admit I’ve become an admirer of Chris’ work. In the last few weeks I’ve found myself defending him, in part because I totally understand where he comes from as an ex- born-againer. I find he says (and acts on) a lot of things that many (not all) deconverts get – and appreciate. I also understand the struggle and hard work of trying to find a healthy balance as an atheist/secular humanist after being burned out on hard-core religion. I’m also a huge critic of faith-based initiatives so it very difficult to totally defend all interfaith elbow-rubbing. You could say that the Former Fundamentalist support group I organize is interfaith – because there are atheists, agnostics, mystics, and progressive Christians all rubbing elbows, with the common knowledge of both the good and bad parts of excessive Certainty… but we Try – and we are empathetic – and that is what I like about Chris interfaith/humanistic call to action for atheists. There are more than one way to approach – and he is coming from a place that puts him in a unique position to reach out to the interfaith community. I say – Let him!

  7. says

    While I think it’s ultimately, of course, up to each individual person if they want to join these groups, I have a few issues with the interfaith groups as well.The constitutional/legal issue is the government funding, with people arguing that it’s fair since many religious groups, not just one, are getting funding and government support.I definitely think that it’s a good idea for atheists and religious people to work together to help others through charity work. I think working together in secular charities is a better way to do this, so the focus is on helping people rather than faith.Plus, I have questions about how an interfaith group would handle a situation in which a person’s ability to participate in the charity work was compromised by their faith. For example, how would an interfaith group respond if a member wanted to give incorrect medical information or discriminate in who they would help?”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.”Good point.

  8. says

    You certainly have a point…but I still don’t think it’s related to interfaith volunteering in particular. Religion has permeated so much of US culture that we have PLENTY of other opportunities to get prominent atheists outside of the atheist community and included in the conversation. Why go *specifically* to the things that are inherently, by definition, something we don’t belong in?

  9. says

    The English language has flaws that sometimes require meanings to be taken less than literally. For example, the adjective bald used to describe hair color, though odd, it relays the correct message. Just as it is incorrect to refer to Atheism as a faith, the intention of interfaith works to bring everyone together, regardless of personal beliefs. As such, it should be able to include Atheists. There is no accurate term for such, so really you should coin one.

  10. says

    This is Very much like the debates that evangelical Christians would have – For example: Is it EVER okay for a Christian to have a beer – in a bar – or elsewhere – with a non-Christian? Some said – “Absolutely not!!! Never put yourself in a position that makes you complicit to a less than holy lifestyle that might open you up to further sin!!! Make them meet you on your terms. ” Others said – “Jesus was not afraid of alcohol and sinners. How are we supposed to reach the ones who need his message most if we shun every aspect of the secular life? If we are strong in our faith, a beer at the bar with a sinner is not going to hurt anyone and in fact might be the very situation needed to bring someone to Christ.” Still others said – “WHO CARES! If you feel called to do this and are strong in your faith – this decision is between you and God – and no one else has the right to judge how you live your life as a Witness.” So – I’d be tempted to be somewhere in the last two responses – Let Chris go where he sees the need. His going there should not, and does not, threaten my atheism. In fact – I see a lot of strength there that I admire.

  11. says

    I agree with you on this Jen. I liked Stedman’s article on the surface, but I think your point is much better. We should start an inter-reason community outreach program. That might be what UnitedCoR is trying to do, but I don’t think Fred would would it that way.

  12. says

    My explanation for that is that we are seen as religious by the religious. Even if they recognize that we are not religious, they’re going to still regard it as a “religious choice” or “spiritual journey.” When you hear anyone talk about atheism in a political context it becomes a religion argument. Just watch any segment or interview about atheists on Fox News or CNN. There will be some form of religious rebuttal or mention in the segment (moreso on Fox). Any issue dealing with separation of church and state is regarded as religious, and evolution is a religious issue in the political sphere because most that don’t want it taught in schools are incredibly religious.Even if we wanted to permeate into other parts of society, it will all come back to a religion question later down the line when atheism is approached. In the sciences, academics, etc. atheism is more known in the capacity you and I are more familiar with. However in a non-science, non-academic sphere of influence, you’re going to have the problem that it’s seen as a religion issue. The way to solve this issue is to re-frame the issue in a non-religious light, which we need much more social capital to do.

  13. jflcroft says

    I truly respect your writing here, Jen, but I don;t think you can possibly have read Chris’ post carefully if you took it to mean you should “shut up because I dare to criticize how someone’s beliefs are harmful”. I see nothing at all in the article which could be taken in such a way. What was it that Chris wrote that you took to mean that you should “shut up”?

  14. says

    It’s not just based on this article, but:”Can we set aside intellectualizing and debating, even just for a moment, and start putting our money where other people’s mouths are?”I’m also largely basing it on what he spent a whole hour talking about on the interfaith panel at the last SSA conference. And it’s not just Chris – it’s other interfaith people as well.

  15. Stephen Goeman says

    I’m an empiricist. The change that I see being made in the modern Humanist setting really is inspiring– we actually have tactics to get conservative (and obviously liberal) theists to see that nonbelievers are thoughtful, caring, and involved citizens. I don’t think it would be possible to do this without inter-community dialogue and action which characterizes the Humanist Chaplaincy movement you lambaste. The word “faith” bothers me, too. But this is the framework that exists, and we can’t change it from the outside. Atheists have “spiritual” needs– some of us want community, some of us want identity affirmation, some of us want secular ritual, some of us want a figure we can turn to in times of crisis. I, for one, do. I know I would have loved to have known Greg Epstein or Chris Stedman when I was undergoing chemotherapy in high school. Facing my mortality alongside a difficult deconversion from fundamentalist christianity was not easy, and the long term effects of such a crisis could have been averted had I had access to such a Humanist community. It is for this reason I work to establish a Humanist Chaplaincy on my campus. I don’t understand why some atheists want to restrict me this privilege. It is also grossly unfair for you to characterize interfaith as “kumbaya” hand-holding. This is the kind of blanket statement you only ever see made by one who has not actually examined what the pluralistic interfaith movement does. To paraphrase the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel, interfaith is neither forced consensus nor mere coexisting. It’s standing up for each other, it’s bridging the gap between divergent communities. It’s defeating stereotypes and inflammatory language. Understanding this definition, it is CLEAR that faith is not an essential component of interfaith. It is, for sure, a shame that the label “interfaith” reflects this. But only by showing how integral we can be to the pluralistic movement can we hope to change this to a truly inclusive and accurate label. I would recommend you follow your own advice: “There is no one right way to make progress in a movement, so stop telling people they’re doing it wrong.”On that note, I am having difficulty locating just where in Stedman’s article he claimed that debaters should “shut up.” It seems like you are making an unfair generalization as it is abundantly clear that Stedman acknowledges the role that both hard and soft atheists play in the movement.

  16. says

    While I agree with you, Jen, that there isn’t necessarily one way to make progress in a movement, I have also seen in my own organizing work that there are clear ways *not* to make progress in a movement–and I appreciate that Chris is criticizing an approach he sees as failing. This is not to say that there isn’t room for a multi-pronged strategy or that everyone should do it like he does; in fact, I think as a movement we need to do a better job of encouraging one another to organize and advocate in a variety of different ways that suite our own unique skills as individual human beings. But overall, I think Chris is right about the need for more productive, compassionate engagement with the people who disagree with us; emphasizing our common ground as human beings is so much more inspiring and constructive than emphasizing our differences. The oppositional approach is not serving us very well.And we need to continue to hold one another accountable when a particular strategy seems to be hurting the movement as a whole. For this reason, I find your criticisms essential to those of us engaging in interfaith work. Nontheistic interfaith advocates need to be conscious of the way we present ourselves, the language we use and the potential for misunderstanding. We need to be cautious not to provoke divisiveness in our community as we strive for solidarity in the larger human community. Activists in our movement need to continue the honest dialogue on what we see as helpful or hurtful to our cause.And obviously, it is important that we stand up for our values–but it is also important that we find creative, constructive ways of doing this so that people are able to hear and understand our perspective. When we are only antagonistic, many religious people become so defensive they refuse to listen. When we create a space where people can safely entertain a different philosophy, then we are given the opportunity to effect real change.

  17. says

    Actually tax exempt status is based on the idea that you don’t interfere with the religion/church, so you don’t tax them. And they don’t have to follow your rules. It’s crazy, I think, and I think they should absolutely be incorporated as 501c3’s and subject to those limitations. As it is, they get mandatory exemptions and no restrictions on their political blather (yep, that’s how the mormon church and the catholic church keep getting away with it).

  18. Jason Loxton says

    Well, it is true that ‘interfaith’ has got ‘faith’ it. But, given that Buddhists happily sit on these boards, and Unitarians, and God-is-a-metaphor Anglicans, I see no reason at all why Secular Humanists shouldn’t as well. Honestly, I can only see good things coming out of a dialogue between faith groups and atheists. Even if the ultimate mission deconversion (it isn’t mine, but whatever, it is some people’s), we all have to hang out together in the meantime, and it seems worthwhile to figure out what our common ethical ground is, come to understandings regarding how our communities should be structured (where they overlap), etc.

  19. Jason Loxton says

    it would be better if they were called ‘positive-ethical-belief-system’ panels. But, we’re stuck with Interfaith for historical reasons.

  20. jflcroft says

    I didn’t see the panel, obviously, but it seems to me that asking people to take some time out from debates and discussions to do a bit of service work is a FAR cry from saying “shut up and stop criticizing religious people”.

  21. says

    Hmm…Okay. You’ve convinced me to take another look.My prior opinion of interfaith was a dim one:Interfaith: “Let’s stop killing one another for a bit let God sort it out once we’ve died of old age.”Atheist: “Uhh… Yeah. About that God thing. How do you even know God exists in the first place?”Interfaith: “Piss off, you’re ruining the vibe we’re going for here. If we start up that path, they’ll all be arguing for why their God is the True God, and it’s back to crusades and jihads again for a couple hundred years.”Atheist: “But, you know, truth and evidence and reason and stuff.”Interfaith: “So? Piss off, we don’t want that kind of talk here.”But okay. I can accept that I could afford to take a closer look again and re-evaluate that with an open mind.

  22. Walker Bristol says

    Jen, I don’t disagree that we should speak out against special “faith”-based tax exemptions for all religious organizations, including Humanist chaplaincies. However, organizations like the Humanist chaplaincies at Harvard and Rutgers are 501c3 nonprofits who seek tax exemption through legitimate, legal processes that don’t give special credence based on association with faith traditions. I think it’s wrong to attack Humanist chaplaincies as religious organizations when they largely share the same principles and goals as you, if only because they are tax exempt nonprofits.

  23. says

    I agree with you to an extent. As atheists we need to always be critical of religious claims. We cannot get caught up in defending irrational thoughts or the actions that accompany them. However, pragmatism is a useful tool. Supporting ecumenicism leads people to questioning their own beliefs. The question of pluralism is one of the most difficult problems within the philosophy of religion. On top of this, people tend to convert out of religious traditions when their tradition is either evangelical or liberal but rarely when it is moderate. In my experience, interfaith movements typically support church state separation, science based education over religious education, and the limitation of radical evangelism that can affect politics. I will leave you with a word of caution not to conflate idealism with what is actually stubbornness.As a side note, I want to tackle a small, albeit common, misconception about tax exemption as you seem to not quite grasp why that is actually important. Tax exemption for religious institutions legally classifies them as non-profits. This means that they cannot directly fund candidates for political office nor support them during an election cycle. Tax exemption is a key pillar in maintaining the separation between church and state. Taxing churches would then classify them as autonomous corporations granting them the same legal rights as citizens. Few people understand this save for the few of us who have put in the time working for non-profits.

  24. says

    Not necessarily. It is actually illegal for religious institutions to directly contribute to political candidates or support them during an election cycle. A number of churches have gotten in trouble for this in recent memory. The Catholics and Mormons get away with supporting particular legislation, something 501(c)3s can do as much as they wish.

  25. Wally Real says

    @Jen: “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.”See that’s your problem Jen and this is the same problem I have with all the prominent liberal atheist bloggers…You treat the State as if it were a Supreme Being much like christians treat God the Father, muslims treat Mohammed, randroids treat Ayn Rand…You are sucking up to the State (government) by appealing to the concept of “separation of church and state”. Guess what? That makes the government your Slave Master just like when the bible calls christians slaves for Christ.I’ll attribute this to your public education because yes at your young age I too was a liberal educated by the same route. Misinformed, lied to, and brainwashed by statist bullshit.Have you ever considered anarchism (or at least anti-statism) in your worldview? Well if you did, then the idea of separation of church/state would be moot. Remove the state and churches would be just voluntary associations of religious people that do not have ANY major influence on politics as we know it.This is what make me laugh at organizations like Freedom from Religious Foundation. I understand their fight but in the long run it is not effective. Atheists have contempt over religious organizations because of their tax exempt status. Well excuse me, but we didn’t even have an IRS before 1913.There would be no “government funding of religion” in an anarchist model. Yes you are doing it wrong.

  26. says

    Where did I “lambast”? Reread the part where I say I’m TOTALLY FINE with the people who want a more compassionate approach – but that they just shouldn’t say that’s the only way and everyone MUST do interfaith. If the atheist movement is overridden with discussion about tone and not offending, then that’s not a movement I can be a part of.

  27. says

    Interesting.As a non-American, I was always under the impression that churches in America would always send out messages to their congregation when it came to the electoral cycle.Priest (from pulpit): Don’t vote for candidate X, they support abortion.Congregation: *disapproving mutter*Priest (from pulpit): Candidate Y is a good Catholic that is opposed abortion, so vote for him instead!Congregation: *approving mutter with much nodding of heads*I could almost be persuaded that tax exemption for religion was a good thing based on what you’ve said.But my perception is that it hasn’t been working that way in practice… Is my perception out of whack? Would the support just become more overt if the tax exemption was removed?In practice, what kind of changes could we see in the political arena if that exemption was removed?

  28. says

    Who’s attacking? I think the Humanist chaplaincies do great work and fill a niche. I just don’t think people from the Humanist chaplaincies should say they’re the only people doing it right, and I don’t like the word “interfaith.”

  29. says

    Churches are technically 501(c)3 non-profits (they don’t even need to apply for the status necessarily), but they only seem to get prosecuted if they get called out by someone for getting involved in politicking. For non-church non-profits it can mean losing non-profit status, pretty much ending the life of that organization. For this reason most 501(c)3s disallow discussion of politics during an election cycle during work hours. For churches it is a bit more nuanced but I remember a Florida pastor who got taken to court because he was running ads with church funds against some mayoral candidate. Removing tax exempt status means the organizations can be classified as corporate entities. Considering the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations are granted all constitutional rights of naturalized citizens this is dangerous as it would allow for unrestricted access into the political arena. People are worried about what that means for Exxon and Coca-Cola let alone what it would mean if the Southern Baptist Convention or Vatican had that sort of access to influence.

  30. says

    Wait, what? I didn’t accuse you of lambasting anyone. I think you’re replying to a different comment? I definitely appreciate your validation of the more compassionate approach. I’m not really disagreeing with you on much, except that I’ve never heard Chris Stedman say interfaith is the ONLY way; what I hear from him is that interfaith is an essential component, and that the antagonist approach is failing.

  31. says

    As Jen already noted, it’s poorly enforced.And then there are also legal workarounds that many do, like supporting positions that effectively attacks one party or supports the other.But then I don’t see churches as in any way non-profit to start with. I say just let them take tax exemptions for any actual charitable work they do. Much better than the game of not enforcing the tax exemption rules so they mostly get to ignore the rules.

  32. says

    Jen,I’m a bit confused about the “interfaith” bent the post and your comments keep taking. Chris mentions the word three times in his article: once in his job title, once in his identification as an interfaith activist, and once in describing past conferences he’s attended. That seems to hardly be an overwhelming appeal for atheists to “shut up and sing kumbaya.”Chris has made a lot more controversial statements about firebrand atheism–and I’m sure you haven’t been keen on them either (I don’t know of this speech you mention to James). But this article this time seemed to say “We need to act on our convictions as well as speaking to each other about them,” especially in light of talk-heavy conferences like AHA was. That seems like a pretty benign no-brainer to me. Why use this article to talk about interfaith creep in atheism?

  33. says

    Then the answer is enforcement, not abolition of tax exemption. As I make clear above if Churches were not 501(c)3 organizations then they would be autonomous corporate entities, which is a far more dangerous and volatile position.

  34. Walker Bristol says

    From the implication of the article, your understanding of why most Humanist chaplaincies seek tax exemption is so that they could share the benefits of religious organizations despite the fact that religious organizations might not deserve them, which is not the case. I certainly agree that Humanist chaplaincies do great work and fill a niche; I don’t think, however, that Stedman was saying Humanist chaplaincies are the “only people doing it right”, just that the priorities of the movement, in large part, have recently been towards discourse and intellectualism, and that we should shift to a more progressive, service-based attitude in the future.As far as the word “interfaith” goes, I’m not a huge fan either, but for now it’s in the public vocabulary, and in order to get involved with religious groups and make changes to the misconceptions regarding our movement and activism in general (like the idea that atheists don’t participate in community service, which is absurd), I believe we have to start with participation in religious pluralism, even if the wording is sketchy. It serves the greater goal.

  35. says

    Because I can’t find the video from the panel in question and I don’t have the time dig through all the past articles I’ve read about this. Honestly, I should just remove the link because it’s irrelevant to the discussion and causing massive thread derailing.

  36. says

    Jen: “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.”See, though, if a Baptist showed up at an interfaith volunteer event and started ranting about how the Catholic Church was a tool of the devil, or a Muslim started calling all the Christians “infidels,” then that person would be the asshole. Interfaith work breaks down when it turns into jihad; instead it’s more like creating a neutral space where people leave their differences behind, bite their tongues if need be, and work together. In that context, if you showed up and started pointing out all the holes in their beliefs, yes, you would be the asshole. Also, regarding “faith,” from Merriam-Webster:Definition of FAITH1a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions2a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the faith=”” protestant=””> I think misunderstandings happen when people assume it’s always meaning 2, especially 2.b.(1) — of *course* firm belief without proof is irrational. The term “interfaith” refers to meaning 3. Is there nothing you believe in with strong conviction? The power of reason, e.g.?</the>

  37. says

    The problem with “Everyone Draw Muhammed Day” is that it *is* intentionally mocking Islam. You’re not disproving Islam — it honestly just comes off as you being rude and putting it in someone’s face. If you’re going to criticize Christians and others for being “in-your-face” about their beliefs, it doesn’t help your argument to turn around and do the thing you’re criticizing.I know that this comment is going to draw criticism but you can’t have it both ways. I as a Christian am *MORE* than happy to leave you alone and let you believe that I’m completely wrong and that there is no God. I won’t even mock you for it. However, mocking me for what I believe or mocking what I believe is not giving me the same respect I’m giving you.(And for the record, I’m a convert so I do know how completely irritating it is to have someone throw their religion in your face and tell you that you’re going to hell because you disagree.)

  38. says

    Hey, can we talk about dinosaurs now, or feminism, or perhaps we can bust out a dictionary and start giving lessons on word meanings…oh wait – we’re doing that already. Minus the dinosaurs and feminism (give it a day and I’m sure they will be here as well).

  39. says

    RE: your first point – people didn’t come to interfaith events drawing Mohammed. They did it as a separate event, just like other religious groups can have separate events. And people were saying they shouldn’t participate in interfaith because they dare to criticize religion *ever.*RE: pulling out the dictionary – it’s pretty obvious what definition of faith we’re using when it involves a room full of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus… *religious* faith.

  40. Brian says

    At this stage in the atheist movement, I think our best bet is to politely work with other organizations as needed without making permanent alliances or strongly tying atheism with religions, even for charitable reasons. Here’s why I think so:First of all, we will be overshadowed in any ‘interfaith’ alliance we take part in. Our numbers, resources and the amount the public is aware of us is massively overshadowed by single denominations of Christianity, such as Baptists. If we are to stand even a slim chance of, say, seeing a non-theist president in our lifetime, people need to know that we are good people too. And people won’t be able to learn that if our efforts are spent in the shadow of religion.Second, the ‘New Atheist’ movement is still in its infancy. We need to develop on our own. Organizations like Foundation Beyond Belief are what we need to be backing right now. This provides our non-religion/philosophy/life-outlook/what-have-you with credibility. “Atheists did this. We made and nurtured and expanded this great charity.”Sure it sucks that we end up having to do the sad “Look at me, I’m feeding a homeless guy” shtick that politicians and religious groups do to make themselves look good. In a perfect world that wouldn’t be necessary and atheists would stand equal chances of election and job opportunities. But this world ain’t perfect, unless I missed that memo.Finally, Jen’s right. There’s not a seat at that table for us. We don’t belong there. They do good deeds because their Invisible Sky Daddy tells them to. We do it because we’re decent people. I’d just as soon avoid guilt by association.

  41. Chris Stedman says

    Jen — Chris here. Frankly, I have to say I’m really disappointed to see this post. Less than a week ago, we exchanged messages on facebook, and I said I’d love to discuss my perspectives on “interfaith” work sometime soon. You agreed. I really wish you’d have waited until after our conversation to write this post; as it stands, this post really doesn’t reflect my perspective (or the writing I’ve done) at all…I’d still love to have that conversation sometime. (On a speaking tour right now… tired… etc.)Best,Chris

  42. says

    The point of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, Jen, is to demonstrate to Muslims that their religious beliefs don’t constitute binding law on everyone else. Similarly, if Hindu groups were demanding that everyone stop eating beef because their religious beliefs say it’s improper, I’d gladly participate in Everybody Eat a Big Mac Day, to show them that they can’t constrain the rest of us, whatever religious laws they choose to abide by for themselves.Is it in-your-face? Yes, but it has to be to make the point. The “rudeness” doesn’t come from us, the atheists; it comes from the people who demand that everyone else has to stop doing or saying whatever their religious beliefs disapprove of.

  43. says

    Well, on the framing, we need to tie religious belief to other ridiculous beliefs, such as Santa Claus. If we could do that, a whole bunch of problems would be solved. So, just sucking up to the religious people and buying into their framework is not something I see as helpful. I think a better campaign entirely is simply to assert that jeebus is not necessary. For anything. Ever. And then of course, I think once we have figured out how to shore up the underlying culture, we can then move on and figure out what to do going forward. But religious people are not going to help us get there. ever.

  44. says

    As “that friend making pragmatic arguments,” let me spell them out a little more fully. I see two most obvious reasons why we should participate in Interfaith Service: (1) to give atheists a voice in interfaith discussions, and (2) to show the world that we can be good without god.I think that we should claim tax-exempt status as Humanists since it is ridiculous that a belief in an invisible sky daddy-god somehow qualifies one for a tax benefit. I agree with Jen that the best case scenario is for religious institutions to cease getting a tax benefit. But in the mean time, I think we Atheists and Humanists should get our hands into the religious tax exemption money pot, and Robin-Hood-like, spread the wealth (and even to use some of that money to fight the idea of religious tax exemptions).JPF

  45. says

    Muslims only have issues with people depicting Muhammed because when it was done, it was done in a way that mocked him and mocked their faith. It would be akin to someone taking pig fat and rubbing it on a synagogue or someone taking a cross and deficating on it. There are just some things you don’t do in the name of tact and class.I find it interesting that people on this blog talk about how Christianity/Islam/religion persecute them and then they turn around and do the same thing to Christians/Muslims/people with faith. Why not be the bigger person and respect other peoples’ faith instead of mocking them?And for the record, I do agree with the separation of church and state and I do not support legislation to impose one religion or another. I’m a fierce advocate of keeping politics and religion separate and I was one of the people who wondered out loud why the Mormons didn’t lose their 501(c)3 status after all the politicking they did to get Prop 8 passed in California. While I am Christian, I do respect the fact that my atheist friends disagree with me and they respect the fact that I believe differently. Getting into peoples’ faces doesn’t do anything other than perpetuate fights and stereotypes about one group or another trying to impose their beliefs on another.

  46. says

    Finally, Jen’s right. There’s not a seat at that table for us. We don’t belong there. They do good deeds because their Invisible Sky Daddy tells them to. We do it because we’re decent people. I’d just as soon avoid guilt by association.You guys don’t have the monopoly on altruism. Some of us Christians volunteer because we’re decent people and leave the “God told me to do it” reason out of it.

  47. says

    Wait.Seriously?Drawing pictures of Mohammed is a form of persecution?Drawing a cartoon is the same thing as vandalizing private property (pig on a synagogue)?Look, I’m on board with most of what you’ve been writing when I see you post. But I think that calling a cartoon a form of persecution is a bit strong.Particularly when you look at what the Bible and the Qu’ran have to say about nonbelievers.

  48. Fjranelli says

    Jen produces a nice, lucid, sinewy and cogent refutation to Gould’s largely rejected NOMA theory. And, I, for one, do not want merely a seat at the the table with the religious, rather, I prefer nontheists work toward removing the table (religion) all together. Religion has been beyond reproach, taboo in fact, for far too long. Assimilation is tantamount to the capitulation of reason, which, as history shows clearly, allows ultimately for the steady accretion of superstition and dogma into public school systems, government, science and medicine, blunts higher edification and discovery, and finally corrupts our secular laws and legal system. In my view, it is a pernicious invitation to a slippery slope into a potential theocratic state. Iron and Bronze Age religious truth-claims simply do not have any disputatious place or purpose in either 21st century philosophy or reality.

  49. Brian says

    I should’ve worded it in a less generalized way. However, I think you could agree most faith-based charities, if not necessarily individual believers within those organizations, take that as a mantra.

  50. nondescript says

    I’m a complete confrontationalist. I think we should point out the nonsense of religion whenever we can, especially those parts that are both nonsense and harmful.That said, there are two good reasons to join an Interfaith group. First, Interfaith groups generally just do charity. Doing charity is a fairly non-religious activity. However, it has long been tied to religion because religious folks tend to do it a lot. They get a lot of PR out of it, which helps their religion gain status. Having an atheist doing Interfaith work shows visibly that atheists are also charitable. This breaks down that charity=religion mindset.Secondly, even though I think that religion is nonsense and not really a good source or morality, we still need them to be on our side. There are just too many of them. I’m not saying that we need them to convert to our beliefs, just respect us more as a group. When issues, such as Separation of Church and State, come up, it would be nice to have someone on that side to support us. This also holds true for discrimination against atheists. The more we work alongside religious people, the more that they will defend us in their own groups. It’s really hard to hate a group when you know people in that group personally. We don’t have to give up our stance just to have a conversation with them.Besides, the accommodationalist atmosphere in an Interfaith group goes both ways. In that group, it is all about working together and not offending others in the group. So, religious differences are not something discussed heatedly. Without us there, a comment about “Doing God’s work” is completely non-offensive and permissible. With us there, they have to caveat their own speech a bit to be inclusive of us. That will take more getting used to on their part than ours. We’re used to god-talk. They aren’t used to it being considered offensive. Imagine that.The confrontationalist versus accommodationalist debate is a silly one. It’s not an either/or situation. Both are useful for making atheism more mainstream. You can be accommodationalist without giving up an inch of your stance on religious issues. You can be confrontationalist without losing religious folks that would make good allies on other issues.

  51. Svlad Cjelli says

    It’s pragmatic to pick a small, attainable goal over a large, impossible goal. To pick a goal diametrically opposed to what you want, however, is not pragmatic. It’s owngoal.

  52. Svlad Cjelli says

    Government isn’t a boogeyman that might reside in Sidhe. Government is an organisation of humans. An activity of a people. Those moneys aren’t magic moneys; they are people moneys. Engineering is a business of crafting functions. This is the activity of social engineering, and it is a people business. It is people’s business.:P

  53. Zuche says

    It doesn’t help your argument that you equated one religion’s deity with another’s prophet. Nor does it help that you equate her support for keeping religious influence out of governance with slavish devotion to government.

  54. Georgia Sam says

    I agree that atheism is not a faith, and I disagree with those who say atheists should refrain from criticizing religion for fear of offending someone. On the other hand, if I’m going into surgery and a religious friend says “I’ll pray for you,” I don’t take it as an occasion to debate the efficacy of prayer. I just take it as an expression of concern and say “Thank you.” I participated in my son’s Bar Mitzvah and in my daughter’s extremely Christian wedding. As long as nobody tries to make me say or do anything I don’t believe in, I go with the flow. It’s not as if there were a clear, bright line between believers and nonbelievers, and everybody is unambiguously on one side or the other. There are a lot of sorta-kinda-not-really “religious” people between those two categories. Among my friends, those who are nominally affiliated with some religion but really humanist in their core beliefs outnumber those who explicitly call themselves atheist, humanist, or agnostic. I suppose I could challenge them to make up their minds and choose a side, but I don’t see the point. For many of the same reasons, although I prefer events that are sponsored by nonreligious organizations, I don’t *necessarily* rule out participation in interfaith activities. If the event’s purpose is a good one and doesn’t involve promoting a message I can’t support, and if the religious (or, as is often the case, sorta-kinda-not-really religious) participants show the same respect for atheists that they show toward each other, I’m OK with it.

  55. says

    I wasn’t using it as a form of persecution. I was using it as an example of mocking someone for what they believe. Ditto with rubbing pig fat on a synagogue though the pig fat would be vandalism. I apologize for not being clear on that.

  56. says

    “Besides, the accommodationalist atmosphere in an Interfaith group goes both ways. In that group, it is all about working together and not offending others in the group. So, religious differences are not something discussed heatedly. Without us there, a comment about “Doing God’s work” is completely non-offensive and permissible. With us there, they have to caveat their own speech a bit to be inclusive of us. That will take more getting used to on their part than ours. We’re used to god-talk. They aren’t used to it being considered offensive. Imagine that.”I like this. However, when we correct their speech with, “Well really, it’s not GOD’s work, but OUR work,” does this make us atheists confrontational assholes again? Sometimes this seems like a un-winnable fight…most believer’s preconceptions toward nonbelievers are so ingrained. I’m a very nice person, polite, etc…but as soon as I mention that I’m an atheist, it’s all out the window. I’ve actually had someone say, “Well, you don’t ACT like an Atheist.” Anyway, all of a sudden I’m on the outside, just because of a little A word. Rubbing shoulders with a bunch of theists isn’t going to change this. Getting out there and making a name for ourselves (charitably, politically, culturally, whathaveyou) is something that we need to do ourselves, as a movement, in our own way. Counting on religious people to reverse their hatred of all things Atheist by roofing someone’s house together or co-ladling soup into someone’s bowl is not going to work.

  57. says

    We’re hoping to cohost a discussion/debate event with Campus Crusade, possibly other groups later, and we decided to refer to it as “trans-faith dialogue”. If “trans-” is to mean both “across” and “beyond” then it seems appropriate even for a dialogue (or other project) among several religions in addition to irreligion.

  58. says

    Look, I can easily accept that my reading of what you’re saying is different from what you’re intending to say. I’ve read a couple of your posts around the place, and this one sticks out to me like a sore thumb.So yeah, I can accept that the implications in the analogy between pig-on-synagog and the drawings of Mohammed was unintended. That’s fine – my objection on that ground is withdrawn.But I’m still a little bit unclear as to one final thing.By my reading of what you wrote, you implied (perhaps unintentionally) that mockery of religion is a form of persecution of religious people.I got that reading from what you said because you discuss the drawing-of-Mohammed thing in your first paragraph, then say this:”I find it interesting that people on this blog talk about how Christianity/Islam/religion persecute them and then they turn around and do the same thing to Christians/Muslims/people with faith.”Yet I don’t consider that anything that the atheist movement has been doing can legitimately be called ‘turning around and doing the same thing (persecuting) to Christians/Muslims/people with faith.’However, perhaps that was unintended as well. Like I said above, I can easily accept that you didn’t intend for that to come out the way it did. If that’s all it is, then I’m happy to withdraw that objection too.

  59. JM says

    Very good point. And if we called them “belief groups”, it would still be a bit uncomfortable for most of us. We use reason, logic, science, to form our understanding of the world, so it really is more knowing than believing. But then some would say that we *believe* in reason, logic, and science. English usage doesn’t deal with this well.But then I object to “atheist” because it defines my thinking in terms of someone else’s imaginary friend.

  60. says

    The reason some churches have been punished for such is that they did incorporate under 501c3. But churches are not actually required to incorporate as such, because in the IRC, they still have mandatory exemptions just by virtue of being a church — and those mandatory exemptions put no restraints on them. In other words, the IRC lets them go either way. It has not been amended to force all go to under the 501c3 umbrella, unfortunately.The movement to put churches under 501c3 status dates from 1954 under then senator Lyndon B Johnson who wanted to get all churches under that, but the IRC still contains the mandatory language, so some churches fall under and others don’t, depending on how they have been incorporated.I pointed out the relevant sections of the IRC here: http://browneyedgirl65.com/201…No, 501c3’s are prohibited from — and I quote the IRS — “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”The Mormon and Catholic Churches are not 501c3s (and they have contributed directly to any number of candidates and legislation — for example the pro prop8 forces in CA had *substantial* Mormon cash behind them).

  61. says

    Right, you can apply for 501c3 on grounds other than religion. Educational and charitable acts are not a priori religious works, and the 501c3 sections acknowledge this. (Having a hard time imagining my 501c3 dog rescue group viewed as a religious purpose group ;-) )

  62. says

    christians aren’t supposed to brag about helping others anywayMat 6:1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. –[NKJV]

  63. Derbasementcat says

    Iam Religious. I am a Theist though not a very heavy or dogmatic one it’scomplicated. (See the personifaction of concepts as deties with out nessisarly beliving in the existance of these deities…more on this later) I say this not as an appeal to authority but to point out thatsome theists see your point.  No you donot have to shut up Jen. Atheism is lack of theism. That is literally what theword means. There is nothing wrong with that. You are not being an asshole. Youdo not have to be BFFs with any one. People should also not be Assholes to you.You have the right to your opinion and to voice it and defend it just like anyoneelse, you know what more than a lot of people because yours MAKES FUCKINGSENSE!  /Rant


Leave a Reply