We need more a inclusive label than ‘interfaith’ and ‘multi-faith’

My office recently received a flyer to advertise a program to combat violence. It was labeled as “Women of Faith: Voices Against Violence” and the program was described as a “Consciousness-Raising Multi-Faith Service and Ceremonial Walk Celebrating Women’s Power and Presence”.

The flyer described who was being invited to take part: “We are Baha’i, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hare Krishnas, Humanists, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, and more.” And it had separate comprehensive lists for the various ethnicities and professions.

Note the inclusion of humanists in the list. As the fact sinks in that nonbelievers are now a large fraction of the community, they are being explicitly invited to join in such coalitions to fight for common secular goals. In my own university, an administration effort to establish an interfaith alliance and an interfaith chaplaincy explicitly invited me, as the advisor to the campus skeptics group, to be part of the planning so that the needs of nonbelieving students would not be ignored. These are good things.

Many of these coalitions are for extremely worthy causes that I feel comfortable joining join. And identifying groups by name and asking them to come together is often an effective way of getting people to recognize that differences in one area need not prevent people working together in other areas. But atheists of all stripes do not really have a ‘faith’ and some might find it a bit off-putting to be part of an interfaith or multi-faith grouping. It is not really a deal breaker, at least for me personally. I would take part in such an effort even if it gave rise to the misconception that I am a ‘person of faith’, which I am manifestly not, because the cause is good and I can defend my lack of religious faith elsewhere in other forums.

But it would nice to have an inclusive umbrella label that would include believers and non-believers alike but for the life of me I have not been able to come up with one.

Any suggestions?


  1. says

    How about “Everyone”?

    I heard this on the radio this morning, too. I thought, too bad I wasn’t invited, but I won’t try to rain on their parade by complaining.

    If they are trying to be inclusive of those without faith as well, i.e. everyone, then why bring up people’s faith to begin with. Seems like an attempt to link religion with morality and being a good citizen. They can just list sponsors of the event who may be local religious groups and others. Any group of people gathered for a secular community purpose will likely be “multi-faith” to begin with. Is it special that people of multiple faiths are cooperating with one another in the community? 🙂 If so, that’s pretty sad.

    Consciousness-Raising Multi-Name Service and Ceremonial Walk Celebrating Women’s Power and Presence
    We are people named, Bob, Bill, Janice, Maria, James, Wanda… and many more!!

  2. says

    Why does the word “faith” have to be a part of the event’s name at all? Why not “Women’s Voices Against Violence” described as a “Consciousness-Raising and Ceremonial Walk Celebrating Women’s Power and Presence”?

  3. says

    Gregory in Seattle beat me to it. Those are essentially the suggestions I was going to make. (But I think it would then just be a “Consciousness-Raising Ceremonial Walk” without the “and.”)

  4. steve oberski says

    So let’s see if I understand this; women are being segregated as an out group and subjected to violence so the response to this is to segregate those who are against this violence by their belief systems.

  5. flex says

    I’m with G Pierce on this one, my initial thought was: People.

    What I wonder about is the inclusion of the word “service”. To me, this word used in this sense has a penumbra of meaning which includes significant religious overtones. If I went to such as event, I would expect to see a number of speakers of a multitude of religions, and each speaker leading the entire group in prayer.

    As usual in such situations, the people who are not members of the speakers religion will bow their heads in respect to the speaker when the “Amen’s” and “Hosanna’s” are called for.

    I don’t know that I really have a problem with people calling out in agreement with a speaker. It appears that this is really a rally, and from a group identity standpoint it helps to foster cohesion if approbation is expressed by members of the audience. Even if the approval is in the form of “Amen”.

    To go back to the OP, I doubt that an inclusive term to describe both people who have religious beliefs and people who lack religious beliefs can be found. These appear to be non-overlapping circles in the Venn diagram of religious thought. But that doesn’t mean that both religious and non-religious people cannot share other beliefs, and come to agreement in other issues, like celebrating women’s power and presence.

    Finally, as a side note which I had not considered before starting this comment, I would like to see atheists and humanists make an effort to change the common usage of the word, “service” until it no longer has the implications of religion. Today we talk about a secular service or a non-religious service to indicate that religion has no part in it. I would like it to be the other way around, that the word service means, in this sense, a moralizing speech/presentation. If the service is to be given by an official representative of a religion speaking as an religious authority on that religion, then it should be called a religious service.

    Okay, that last may be a pipe-dream.

  6. says

    @Leo Buzalsky #3 – I would include the “and” because, presumably, there are two separate events: a ceremony of some kind, followed by a separate walk. It is common to begin and/or end a march with a separate rally or ritual, in part so that people with mobility problems who cannot take part in the walk will still be encouraged to attend the other parts of the event.

  7. says

    @flex #5 – There is a tremendous power in rituals, social and symbolic, which is one of the big reasons why people remain in religious groups long after their actual belief has faded. They certainly do not have to be religious, but I think we lose if we try to get rid of community ceremonies entirely.

  8. flex says

    Gregory in Seattle wrote,

    They certainly do not have to be religious, but I think we lose if we try to get rid of community ceremonies entirely.

    I’m sorry if what I wrote implied that. I’m all for community ceremonies, I’m going to one on Friday.

  9. mouse says

    I agree 100% with the need for a different term, or for a way to eliminate the need for such a term altogether. But I’m not hopeful about its being embraced. I think people like to attach the word “faith” to what they’re doing precisely because they think (correctly) that it will add a gloss of automatic deference and perception of legitimacy to their activities. The notion that religion and “faith” equals “good” is deeply entrenched. I doubt that many of the “faithful” are going to be willing to give up the privileges they enjoy when they tack that word onto their names.

  10. jamessweet says

    I think that for the time-being the term is acceptable. Parsing it literally, it’s a misnomer when applied to humanists/atheists/etc., of course, but we have lots of words that don’t make sense if you parse them literally.

    Eventually one would hope that the need for such a term would disappear (and then the whole “Everyone” or “People” suggestion that people have), but for now the term has some usefulness, and I think “interfaith” is tolerable.

  11. Pen says

    It would be really good to encourage the notion of acting for the community, based on what’s good for the community, not who you are. I’m with the ‘everyone’ or ‘people’ type suggestions. I suppose the idea is to appeal to a force that makes some people want to be good. I just don’t feel it, in fact, it’s a bit of a turnoff to me, like porn as a device for seduction.

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