Chris Stedman has an interview with my friend (and boss) Dale McGowan. Dale participated earlier this week in the kickoff event for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge at George Washington University, representing the secular and humanist community. In the interview, he makes a powerful argument about why it’s important for humanists to participate in interfaith events:
CS: This week you spoke as an atheist representative at the launch of the Fourth Annual President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Why should atheists participate in interfaith programs?
DM: Doing meaningful work together is the single most effective means of dismantling distrust and stereotypes. It’s also the best way to discover the immense common ground that can be disguised by our separate labels. And less distrust and more common ground is a recipe for a better society.
He also explained why Foundation Beyond Belief gives grants to religious charities that do good work without proselytizing:
CS: Almost four years ago, Foundation Beyond Belief launched Challenge the Gap, an interfaith initiative that was controversial at the time. How has that program has helped increase understanding between atheists and theists?
DM: The simple fact that atheists have raised over $100,000 for progressive religious charities is attention-getting in the best possible way. I’ve heard from countless atheists who were initially opposed to the program and now see the power of it. It’s an effective demonstration of our ability to discern between positive and negative expressions of religion. And theists often say this has changed the way they look at atheists.
When we supported a Christian medical organization in Afghanistan, an executive in the organization said, “Sometimes from my little corner of the world here in Kabul, it’s easy to think that the world is getting more fractious and polar. This has made my day.” There’s more power to change minds in that moment than in a thousand debates.
I don’t think it’s an either/or, though. We can criticize religion and do so loudly and often and, at the same time, join with religious people of good will to improve the lives of others all at the same time.