have been invited to take part in an ‘interfaith’ panel to be held at the Cuyahoga Community College’s Western Campus, as part of their Diversity Day Program. The program is open to the public and is titled Voices – A Spiritual Mosaic of Humanity. It will be held on Thursday, April 14, 2016 at noon in the Galleria (Student Services building—center of campus). 11000 Pleasant Valley Road in Parma, OH.
The program will last approximately 90 minutes and be followed by a question and answer session. I am told that parking is free on any of the lots that surround the central buildings as long as you avoid the spots that require a faculty/staff parking tag.
The panel will consist of people from five religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam) with me providing an atheist perspective. The format consists of each panel member addressing the following questions:
- How do I get to heaven?
- Are the gods of all the religions the same?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- What happens to us when we die?
- How does your religion address others from different faiths?
- What is the nature of evil?
As an atheist, my responses to #1 and #4 will be quite short. Question #3 is premised on the assumption of the existence of some form of cosmic justice and a cosmic judge, and my not accepting the assumption makes the question moot. Question #6 seems to assume that ‘evil’ exists as some kind of autonomous and independent entity, which if course I reject. I will treat #5 politically and sociologically and not theologically. What I am curious to hear is the response of the other panelists to #2 which is an awkward one to answer except for fundamentalists who think that their own religion is right and everyone else’s is wrong. On ecumenical panels like this where people are unlikely to take such a position, people tend to avoid this question or duck the problems that immediately arise by assuming that all gods are the same.
I am curious as to what the readers here have to say about these questions.
Atheists are now seen as a significant enough group in the US that we are included in these discussions. It was not always thus and it is an encouraging development because it allows the atheist perspective be more widely known. The only catch is that the usual umbrella term of ‘interfaith’ becomes inappropriate when we are included, though a better term is yet to be found.