How Should Atheists Work with Religious Groups?

Lots of audience participation today :)

Next Monday, I will be speaking at the Interfaith Youth Core conference in Chicago alongside Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein.

This is a “conference bringing together individuals and organizations from around the world who are building religious pluralism.”

Regardless of how you feel about religion, this is a wonderful opportunity to talk about atheism and Humanism to a crowd sympathetic to the idea of working together with people from all faith/no-faith backgrounds.

Greg and I will be speaking on the topic of Engaging Non-Religious Communities in Interfaith Youth Work. Here’s the brief synopsis of our talk:

“1 in 5 Americans aged 18-25 are non-religious. And many of the millions of Humanists, atheists, and agnostics strongly support the concept of Interfaith cooperation for pluralism and justice. But how can one get involved with the organized Humanistic community, and/or get it involved in multifaith efforts? Epstein and Mehta will introduce the richly diverse tradition of Humanism and atheism, then lead a discussion on how Humanists and the religious can find common ground rather than just grounds for endless debate.”

As part of our presentation, we’d like to get your input.

What are the dos and don’ts for religious organizations wishing to work with atheist/Humanist/etc. groups?

What should they do to encourage us to work together with them?

What would be a complete turn-off for us?

Your responses will help us tremendously with our presentation.

Thank you in advance!

(And I’ll post the advice here soon after the presentation.)

By the way, if you’d like to attend the conference, you can register here!


[tags]atheist, atheism, IFYC, interfaith, religion, religious, cooperation[/tags]

  • http://nomorehornets.blogspot.com The Exterminator

    Hemant, you said: Next Monday, I will be speaking at the Interfaith Youth Core conference…This is a “conference bringing together individuals and organizations from around the world who are building religious pluralism.” (I’ve added the emphases.)

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see any way that an atheist could contribute to such a conference. If they wanted to call it the Non-Faith-Specific Youth Core Conference or the “Let’s Do Something Positive and Productive in This World” Youth Conference and if they were interested in building religious and nonreligious pluralism I might be able to see it. Otherwise, by representing atheists at this event, you’re implicitly buying into the claptrap that atheism is a religion — which, of course, it’s not.

    I know that you’d love to have the opportunity to present an atheist’s point of view. But words do have meanings, and I think the title and stated mission of the conference run counter to everything we atheists stand for. I know you love having the opportunity to share your ideas, most of which I agree with wholeheartedly, and I’m glad you’re out there spreading good godless cheer. You’re a great representative for atheism. But I think you’d be making a big mistake to tacitly accept the assumptions clearly implied by the conference title and mission statement.

  • http://www.theasideas2.blogspot.com Althea

    The bottom line isn’t so much “Hey, calling all Atheists! You’re invited even though this is an interfaith organization! Don’t let that stop you!” I think the real deal is usually a personal one. Do you believe in what the group is doing and is it truly not a waste of your precious time? Do they have realistic, measurable and specific objectives and goals? Do you have friends whom you respect within the organization and have they shown you respect all along before their invitation to get involved with their project? Is the organization in question well-organized and well-informed about the task they are taking on? Or, are they all just “talk”?

    And most of all, why are you being invited? Are they going to value your contributions, talents, and abilities as you offer your help to get involved? Do you have leadership skills, expertise or contacts that would be effective in meeting the group’s project goals that you would gladly share and they would gladly appreciate?

    Usually, these kinds of things work–partnerships between religious and non-religious people–when people stop looking at each other as “atheist” or “humanist” or “muslim” or “christian” and start looking at each other as “Hemant” or “Greg” or “Althea” or “Joe”. Which, by the way, is not a bad reason to get involved.

    Good luck.

  • Aj

    I don’t see why an atheist would be interested in interfaith dialogue or religious pluralism, surely those terms only useful if they’re for excluding atheists. I’d only work together for secular goals, so I would say humanist principles would be the minimal consensus. Epstein for engagement of the non-religious, the only thing I’ve heard from him was an interesting approach, it almost looked like doing the opposite.

  • Mriana

    What are the dos and don’ts for religious organizations wishing to work with atheist/Humanist/etc. groups?

    I don’t think they care about do’s and don’ts. They’d probably break my #1 turn off- preaching, esp about conversion.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I agree with Mriana. The only way I’ll participate in interfaith or religious charity works is if they completely and utterly leave the faith part out of it.

    Anything that combines one ounce of religious teaching with, say, feeding the homeless (as in a previous post), loses my support.

  • http://www.drzach.net Zachary Moore

    I think the opposite question is just as interesting: “How do atheist or freethinking groups approach theistic groups to work together?”

    I’m active in the North Texas Church of Freethought, and have approached many Christian leaders in the area with the hope of partnering for some kind of community outreach, but so far I’ve been largely rejected.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    What are the dos and don’ts for religious organizations wishing to work with atheist/Humanist/etc. groups?

    First, don’t be rude, arrogant, jerks.

    Second, stick to a productive agenda and don’t get distracted by differences.

    Third, don’t ask questions that slant the discussion to your side. The one above is a perfect model of what to avoid.

    People who have no interest in working together for progress should stay home, they will just waste your time. I’ve never known that type to produce anything else.

  • Arlen

    I think it’s critically important to both atheists and Christians that they work together and engage in dialog. I’m not sure why anyone would pass up this opportunity. That the organizers of this event would even think to include atheists speaks volumes about where their hearts are.

    In response to Aj and others, atheists and non-fundamentalist Christians have more in common that most people would think, and they would both benefit from a working alliance to combat any Evangelical, anti-science threat.

    As far as advice for getting along, I would suggest being abundantly clear to both the organizers and the youth that this is an opportunity for mutual learning and understanding, not for proselytizing (in either direction). Try not to make any assumptions about the beliefs of those whom you meet, and try as hard as you can to be patient and friendly with any and all questions about your own beliefs that you encounter.

  • globalizati

    It’s sad that so many of the commenters here are against the idea of Hemant’s participation. This is surely one of the best opportunities to get across the message that atheists are good people too, and to encourage religious people to adopt liberal ideals instead of fundamentalist ones. While I understand the reasons ya’ll are hesitant to be involved in “Interfaith Dialogue,” I think you should look at the value of the event beyond its title. Also, it would be easier to describe Epstein’s Humanism as a type of faith than it is to describe atheism as one. While atheism is nonbelief in God, humanism (as defined by most its adherents) has tenents which are ultimately unprovable. In other words, while it is nontheistic and isn’t based on revelation, humanism is still a worldview that involves faith.
    I admire what Eboo Patel (the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core) does, and think we would all be wiser to listen to aspects of his message:

    I believe that the twenty-first century will be shaped by the question of the faith line. On one side of the faith line are the religious totalitarians. Their conviction is that only one interpretation of one religion is a legitimate way of being, believing, and belonging on earth. Everyone else needs to be cowed, or converted, or condemned, or killed. On the other side of the faith line are the religious pluralists, who hold that people believing in different creeds and belonging to different communities need to learn to live together.

    (from Walking the Faith Line)

    I think one could divide many atheists/agnostics/humanists into those two categories as well. There are those who want to convert all religious people to secularism and are actively trying to do so, and there are those who realize that process may be counterproductive–that religion is going to be with us for a long time and we should therefore ally with groups like the Interfaith Youth Core to be sure the type of religion we have to live with is more palatable.

    So, is the conference/movement perfect? No. But is it a net positive? I think so.

  • http://bjornisageek.blogspot.com Bjorn Watland

    It could be a great opportunity for dialog, not only from speakers, but from the people on the ground doing the work. That’s what pluralism is about. Sure, there are atheists who feel strongly about religion, any religion, and know that the world would be better off without faith. I’d say that’s a minority of atheists. The majority of atheists aren’t open, or activist, and many would like to find some form of friendly organization to join to do some good in the community. Just as Christians who don’t agree with pluralism will stay home, so will the atheists. But, for everyone else, it’s a good idea.

    What should they do? Be open to dialog. When choosing projects, the goal should be helping anyone in need, regardless of where they stand theologically.

    I wouldn’t be turned off by anything a Christian group did while out doing good work. If they feel like singing songs, praying, or what have you, good for them. If they feel like talking to me about their religious experience, good for them. Pluralism is about finding common ground, not about converting the heathen Muslim, or heathen Atheists to Christianity. I just don’t buy the fear of conversion. “Oh no! they might try to get me to join their Bible study!” Just say “No thanks.” But I doubt that would even happen. The positives out weigh the negatives. If your goal is to make the world a better place, then pluralism is one way to accomplish that. But, if you are dead set on the method, rather then the goal, you may be stuck with stamping out religion where ever you see it. There is a difference between a Fundamentalist Christian, and one who happens to not take the Bible literally, and finds value in human equality, critical thought, science, etc. Don’t confuse the two.

  • Karen

    Hemant, congratulations to you and Greg for being invited to this event. I think it speaks volumes that groups like this one are recognizing the prevalence of non-theism among their target audience (youth). It shows how open they are to inclusion, and also it shows that non-theism is gaining ground both in sheer numbers and in recognition. Yay for us!

    I’m proud to have you acting as a spokesperson for atheists in places like this. You’ll serve us well!

    In terms of advice for religious groups: Obvious turnoffs would be proselytizing for religion or advertising for their particular church or parachurch organization while doing community service; mixing budgets so that money donated to concrete projects gets siphoned off into evangelism or religious services; assuming that morality comes from religion and that the non-religious are immoral or selfish and therefore unconcerned about the community.

    If you’re working with atheists and humanists, make them feel comfortable bowing out of opening prayers or bible reading (which happens at Habitat for Humanity projects), and be prepared to make it clear that their money and time won’t be used for strictly religious purposes.

    Advice for atheists and humanists: If you’re agreeing to work alongside faith-based organizations, expect them to do things like pray or read the bible as part of their preparations and don’t get offended by that – it’s what they do. You should not be made to feel like second-class citizens if you graciously decline to participate, however. Use the opportunity to model atheism or humanism as a valid life choice by being friendly, open, honest and non-threatening. Don’t start relationships by debating the existence of god but do explain kindly why you don’t believe if someone asks you.

  • Darryl

    Globalizati lays out the case pretty well. This is about promoting pluralism, something we desperately need. Just showing up and representing atheists at events like this will go a long way toward convincing religious people that our motives are good and that we care about pluralism and diversity. Atheists get charicatured every day in the media; these are opportunities for the faithful to be disarmed by smiling, friendly atheists.

    Global is right; religion is not going anywhere, and we’re not going to reason our way to a faith-free world any time soon. We’ve got to face facts. The question for an atheist is this: will I participate in pluralism promotion or won’t I; will I engage with religious people or won’t I? Everyone is noticing the trends–especially the fundamentalists who stand to lose by them–younger people, religious or not, are more pluralistic, more open, than their parents and their grandparents. People under the age of 30, here in America, are much more likely to work together across cultural boundaries than older folks. Atheists have to take advantage of this opportunity while it presents itself.

    Do’s and Don’ts? Religious people are going to make blunders as they approach atheists and humanists. So what? We’ve got to overlook their mistakes and engage on whatever common ground we can find.

    What should they do to encourage us to work together with them? We should not require any encouragement from them; we should be approaching them.

    What would be a complete turn-off for us? If they were acting in bad faith and using such an event for reconnaissance or proselytizing.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    @ Exterminator

    One could make the argument that religious pluralism by definition would include those “without” religion.

    Anyway,

    What are the dos and don’ts for religious organizations wishing to work with atheist/Humanist/etc. groups?

    Do treat others as you wish to be treated, so don’t proselytize me and I won’t do it to you.

    Don’t define a charity work or other event as a [insert religion] event. For example, and this one is real, “Walk for Christ” events in which proceeds benefit soup kitchens and food drives. Umm… if I don’t participate is that because I hate poor people or because I don’t accept the Jesus myth? Why can’t this be “Walk to End Hunger” sponsored by the Church of God.

    What should they do to encourage us to work together with them?

    Many events are put on by churches, etc. that ask for volunteers that whether implicitly or explicitly label all of the participants as members or supporters of a particular religion or more likely a specific flavor of a particular religion. The kickoff meetings for these things almost always involve prayers and sermons, etc. I don’t need the hassle.

    Ask yourself, “What is the goal of this particular event?” If you attempt to layer some religious purpose or reason on it you will likely lose me.
    For example, my family participates every year in the Angel Tree program in which we find 2 boys of similar ages to our own and we shop for clothes and toys for that little boy, it’s one small thing that we do to show our boys the benefits of altruism and giving (without Jebus). I know that this is sponsored through The Salvation Army, but to me this doesn’t matter. This is a great example of an entirely humanistic endeavor that my family can participate in without being colored by the sponsoring organizations religious motivations.

    What would be a complete turn-off for us?

    Anything that involves a sermon or other form of overt preaching. I’m there to help not to be converted. Quit wasting my time and yours.

  • Jonas

    Hemant,

    Speaking of the meaning of words, consider the term ‘Interdenominational’ which tends to mean varieties of Christianity, (Catholic prodestant etc). In that sense I can understand the earlier comments about how ‘Interfaith’ has to do with a ‘faith-based’ or primarily religious view. I can understand the invitation of Greg Epstein, as the AHA conference had many ritualistic elements similar to those in religions. — But I also can understand how other ‘Freethought’ groups are anything but ‘Faith-Based’. (i.e. FFRF, Alabama Freethought Association, or Atlanta Freethought Society)

    Ethical Culture of Boston (www.bostonethical.org) for example spends no part of it’s meeting in ‘worship’, ‘reflection’ or ‘meditation’ — or I should say it is not advertised as such, while it does share some of the same liberal attitudes as UU and other liberal religions.

    Not to demonize Greg, but instead to recognize the difference between his ‘Religious Humanist’ which makes a place for rituals, and secular humanism which does not. I do find it a myth that the ‘religious’ ritual is needed, and to some atheism is a rejection of that myth (i.e. ‘To be human is to be religious’ – Kron – UU Diversity Leader)

    All of that said, there are certainly projects on which both religious and non-religious can relate and work together. — ‘Rally for Reason’ being a good example, recently or Women’s Health Issues (reproductive freedom)

    - Notice though in both these examples there exists at least one ‘Faith’ with the opposite and incompatible view. — and as is the nature of Faith, you can’t argue with it. Therefore I can as easily say liberal secular will align with liberal religious, and conservative secular with conservative religious.

  • http://nomorehornets.blogspot.com The Exterminator

    Skeptigator said: One could make the argument that religious pluralism by definition would include those “without” religion.

    And one could also make the argument that “anti-Semitic pluralism” by definition would include Jews. But one would be wrong. A thing is what it is, whether it’s called pluralistic or not. If the organizers of the conference wanted to include atheism in their wide tent, they should have found another word to use in place of “religious.”

  • Maria

    I think it’s critically important to both atheists and Christians that they work together and engage in dialog. I’m not sure why anyone would pass up this opportunity. That the organizers of this event would even think to include atheists speaks volumes about where their hearts are.

    In response to Aj and others, atheists and non-fundamentalist Christians have more in common that most people would think, and they would both benefit from a working alliance to combat any Evangelical, anti-science threat.

    As far as advice for getting along, I would suggest being abundantly clear to both the organizers and the youth that this is an opportunity for mutual learning and understanding, not for proselytizing (in either direction). Try not to make any assumptions about the beliefs of those whom you meet, and try as hard as you can to be patient and friendly with any and all questions about your own beliefs that you encounter.

    I agree with Arlen.

  • Gadren

    Dialogue is very important, but be wary of groups whose attitude is: “We all believe different things, but we can find a common connection in our reliance on a Higher Power.” That doesn’t apply to us, and while their hearts may be in the right place, their words are turning their spirit of goodwill into a demonstration of common belief.

  • Aj

    In response to Aj and others, atheists and non-fundamentalist Christians have more in common that most people would think, and they would both benefit from a working alliance to combat any Evangelical, anti-science threat.

    I don’t see how anyone can construe my comment as saying atheists and faithheads can’t work together for common goals. Although many secularists would see it as a large compromise for the greater good, considering the tax dodging and government hand outs religious organisations get that secular groups have a hard time with.

    If someone grabs a purse, do I care if it’s an atheist or a muslim helping me chase down the thief? As long as the goal is the same as mine I don’t care about the motive. My ally in the chase is probably going to give all credit from both of us to Allah, Islam, and faith. Which is probably going to completely piss me off, but it’s a small price. There’s no way around that, religious groups won’t stop that kind of insult, even if they’re working with atheists.

    Interfaith dialogue means dialogue between people of faith, naturally excluding most atheists, the agnostic atheists. Religious pluralism means pluralism within religious organisations or communities, not between religious and non-religious communities. We shouldn’t want religious pluralism, we should want pluralism, and on our terms.

    A lot of non-fundamentalist Christians aren’t up to the job of combating the anti-Science threat. In a recent video of Shermer, an “agnostic”, I heard him try to persuade a Christian by saying something like “What if God used evolution?”, that’s either highly dishonest or a betrayal of reason. Collins said on Point of Inquiry something about DNA being the plans from a designer. Miller might be one of the stars of opposition to Creationism but his views on the universe are directly inline with conservative Catholicism’s, God is reason itself type stuff. I think it’s prudent to keep a safe distance from this type of thinking. Sure, there are large short terms gains from working with these people (winning court cases), but in the long term we really need to start defeating these ideas, like Dawkins and Harris are trying to do.

  • Darryl

    A lot of non-fundamentalist Christians aren’t up to the job of combating the anti-Science threat. In a recent video of Shermer, an “agnostic”, I heard him try to persuade a Christian by saying something like “What if God used evolution?”, that’s either highly dishonest or a betrayal of reason. Collins said on Point of Inquiry something about DNA being the plans from a designer. Miller might be one of the stars of opposition to Creationism but his views on the universe are directly inline with conservative Catholicism’s, God is reason itself type stuff. I think it’s prudent to keep a safe distance from this type of thinking. Sure, there are large short terms gains from working with these people (winning court cases), but in the long term we really need to start defeating these ideas, like Dawkins and Harris are trying to do.

    We’ve no choice but to work with the Francis Collins types. They may never drop God from their calculus.

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  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    @Exterminator

    Touche, my friend… I stand disarmed with no witty return.

  • http://www.ifyc.org April Kunze

    As one of the organizers for the Interfaith Youth Core conference, I’m excited to see such rich conversation about this. On behalf of the Interfaith Youth Core, I will say first, that we are excited to have Greg and Hermant with us. Second, I will clarify that our intention is not to be exclusive – our name indicates that when we started this organization we were more explicitly focused on young people within religious communities. We have since recognized that building religious pluralism is in the best interest of and requires the involvement of non-religious and religious people alike. This particular workshop session is already one of the most popular in the conference – I believe we’ve already reached our audience capacity.

    Hermant, I hope that you will invite those who participate in your session to join in this online conversation as well.

  • katya

    Exterminator and others who question the point of atheist participation at the Interfaith Work Conference.-

    “A thing is what it is, whether it’s called pluralistic or not. If the organizers of the conference wanted to include atheism in their wide tent, they should have found another word to use in place of ‘religious.’”

    Please take a moment to read up on the Interfaith Youth Core. To make it easy I’ll quote the purpose of the core:
    “Interfaith Youth Core builds mutual respect and pluralism among young people from different religious and moral perspectives by building a movement that empowers them to work together to serve others.”

    The IFYC is trying to change how people of faith view others who may or may not have a different faith tradition. I understand and respect your opinion that atheism is not a religion. The IFYC is working on trying to bridge the gap. Just as most atheists don’t want to all be seen as die hard anti-religious zealots, most people with faith traditions don’t want to be seen as atheist hating fundamentalists. The IFYC offers space for those ideas to grow. Religion is not inherently anti-atheist, and atheism is not inherently anti-religion. These moral prospective have common ground.
    The IFYC isn’t about converting people, nor is it about praying together or listening to sermons, its about change attitudes about human connection.

    If you want to learn more about IFYC, please go to http://www.ifyc.org or if you would like to have a different kind of conversation about religion see their new site http://www.differentconversation.org. Atheists are welcome to dialogue, and welcome to join the safe space of communication IFYC is creating.

    peace
    -k

  • Mercredi

    One thing that needs to be made clear in such endeavors is that it’s unacceptable for groups to use such events to find conversion fodder. Furthermore, groups that /pretend/ to be affiliated so they can find conversion targets need to be loudly denounced by the actual group as unaffiliated and not representing the actual group’s views.

    (I speak from embittered experience; last spring Campus Crusade for Christ either was affiliated or pretended to be affiliated with a genuine interfaith discussion event, and used that as a pretext to get people to talk to them about their views on religion, so they could be told they were wrong and should worship the CCC idea of Jesus instead.)

  • Josh Kutchinsky

    Hi Hemant,

    A sideways view from across the pond over here in the not very religious UK with its established church (which I suppose is a bit of a secular mystery or paradox :-)).
    I have taken part in a number of interfaith and multifaith forums. I prefer the term multifaith as interfaith has tended to mean the Church of England inviting those from other religions to share a platform and then feeling smug about it. All the same I have made a point of trying not to let definitions get in the way of engagement. If we arrive at the point of signing up (metaphorically or actually) to something then it may become significant to be sure that we are talking the same language. So, for example, when I was working on a teaching syllabus about religions and beliefs to be taught in schools in my district we worked out the following definition of faith:
    “In the context of this syllabus the term ‘faith’ is used to refer to that which motivates people, shapes the way they live, informs their choices and without which it would be difficult to carry on living. Teachers need to recognise that faith develops and changes through people’s lives in response to questions posed and life experiences. For many their faith and beliefs are clearly identified with a named religious or ethical system and they may belong to its community, participating fully or maybe only occasionally. Others may not find it so easy to identify their beliefs and faith with an existing organisation. Some may be on a search for a community of believers with which to identify. The investigation and understanding of this whole range of beliefs, of faith, of ways of belonging and of practice is at the core of this syllabus. ”
    If you would like to see the humanist and non religious input in this syllabus go to http://hampstead.humanists.net/brent.htm
    Best of luck with your meeting and give my regards to Greg whom I met at that amazing conference at Harvard. As a parting thought I would just like to suggest that what you believe is far less important than what you do.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    As a parting thought I would just like to suggest that what you believe is far less important than what you do.

    Bless you, Josh Kutchinsky, for saying that. Not only is it far less important, what you DO is what you really believe, it is the only tangible expression of what you believe, it is the reality of the situation.

    across the pond over here in the not very religious UK with its established church (which I suppose is a bit of a secular mystery or paradox :-)).

    Hey, what about all those people who never set foot into church but believe in some pagan this or that or the other. There’s a lot more of it about than you might suspect if the empty pews are what you’re looking at. I can see it even from this side. ;^)

  • Aj

    -katja

    Just as most atheists don’t want to all be seen as die hard anti-religious zealots, most people with faith traditions don’t want to be seen as atheist hating fundamentalists.

    And who are these zealots?

    -Josh Kutchinsky

    In the context of this syllabus the term ‘faith’ is used to refer to that which motivates people, shapes the way they live, informs their choices and without which it would be difficult to carry on living.

    Seriously?

  • Maria

    And who are these zealots?

    Well, those who say anyone who believes in God belongs in a mental institution is a good example.

  • Donna

    Well, those who say anyone who believes in God belongs in a mental institution is a good example.

    Those who say any mention of any religion to children is “child abuse” and would take away kids from religious parents are another.

  • Josh Kutchinsky

    As an atheist who appreciates plain speaking and honest dealing I too prefer not to loosely employ the word ‘faith’. However for two reasons I won’t allow the religious to monopolise, appropriate and be the arbiters of the definitions of the words of my language.

    For example I’ll give to them the word ‘prayer’ but point out that the non-religious can wish for things and for felicitous outcomes and can also appreciate their good fortune. However one aspect of prayer they don’t do is propitiating gods. So as propitiation of gods is a central aspect of prayer the religious can have exclusive use of that word. But take, for example, the word ‘spiritual’. It can be properly defined as appertaining to the human spirit and regarded as that aspect of our consciousness which transcends the mundane. I can sign up to an activity like looking at a Rembrandt or listening to a symphony or gazing at the stars on a dark and crystal night and find the word spiritual useful to describe the experience.
    Depending on the circumstances I might think it important to make clear my understanding of the term ‘spiritual’ to avoid confusion.

    So, what are my two reasons for not allowing the word ‘faith’ to be solely used by the religious? Well firstly because language when appropriated by the religious is often used for the purpose of excluding the non-religious and secondly I am not about to allow anyone to steal from me subtle and beautiful language invented by my ancestors. In the syllabus that I mentioned in an earlier post you would find this in relation to the teaching about Humanism to 5 year olds:

    “Humanists believe that the world could be a better place. There is much that can make human beings unhappy and it does not take a lot of imagination to think what some of them are: thirst and hunger when not having enough food or water, being cold and wet and unable to get warm and dry, not being loved, being punished for something you didn’t do, being unwell. Something else that one may not think of straight away is having any of these things happen to someone we care about. Humanists believe that being able to feel pain and suffering in such circumstances is common to us all. If our friends or family were suffering we would care. Humanists believe this life is the only one there is and we should make the most of it. We should appreciate our good fortune if we are not suffering in these ways. However part of the enjoyment of our circumstances should be to help and care for others. In making other people less sad we actually make ourselves happier. If a good friend, or close family member is suffering it is difficult to be very jolly even if they are not in the same room with you.”

    The word ‘faith’ when stripped of its theistic overtones still contains enough meaning to be acceptable to describe the state of mind which encompasses the complex of beliefs that go to make up the humanist view.

    And finally I ask this: if one is in a multi-faith forum and being invited to contribute to policy making, is it more politic to make a stand against the use of the word ‘faith’ and thereby exclude oneself or to insist that others accept that ‘faith’ can also be a descriptor for a non-religious world-view?

    Whilst willing to accept that I have a humanist faith, it doesn’t make me a zealot either about the language or about the world-view.

  • Jen

    And who are these zealots?

    well, a friend of mine just showed me a message the atheist rapper mr gawn put out on myspace saying he would advocate killing any theists who are seriously religious. if that’s not an extremist, I don’t know who is. Luckily, he’s the only one I’ve seen to date.

  • Aj

    -Maria

    Well, those who say anyone who believes in God belongs in a mental institution is a good example.

    Never heard that one.

    -Donna

    Those who say any mention of any religion to children is “child abuse” and would take away kids from religious parents are another.

    Or that one.

    Perhaps you could elaborate on where you heard such things.

    -Josh Kutchinsky

    The word ‘faith’ when stripped of its theistic overtones still contains enough meaning to be acceptable to describe the state of mind which encompasses the complex of beliefs that go to make up the humanist view.

    Faith is about belief, not theism. Faith in terms of religion means belief without evidence, irrational belief. Faith can also mean trust, belief, based on evidence or not, about what or who you can trust in. People of faith, i.e. at an interfaith conference, are talking about world views that are based on faith, belief without evidence.

    You don’t have to be a theist to have faith, but you have to have faith to be a theist. Humanists can be religious, or non-religious, and have faith. Secular humanists and like-minded rationalists, nationalists, sceptics, and freethinkers are not going to call themselves a faith group.

  • Jen

    And who are these zealots?

    Well, a friend of mine got a bulletin from the so called atheist rapper who calls himself Mr Gawn, in which he openly said he would advocate the execution of theists who are very religious. When my friend asked him if he was serious, he said he was, and bragged about how he had to “cleanse the world” of them, and said to not do so would be “cowardly”. If that’s not extremism, I don’t know what is. Luckily he’s the only one that goes that far that I’ve heard of to date.

    Or that one.

    Perhaps you could elaborate on where you heard such things.

    Well, I don’t know about where they heard them, but I’ve heard both in the forums of the “Rational Response Squad”. That’s why I and many people I know stopped supporting them. They state openly that they are trying to have theism put in the DSM -IV and have it classified as a mental disorder. Some of their members go even further.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Aj said,

    October 24, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    -Maria

    Well, those who say anyone who believes in God belongs in a mental institution is a good example.

    Never heard that one.

    -Donna

    Those who say any mention of any religion to children is “child abuse” and would take away kids from religious parents are another.

    Or that one.

    Oh, give me a friggin’ break. Dawkins got a lot of heat for signing onto a petition to make it a crime for anyone, including parents to teach children under the age of 16 about their religious faith. Then he recanted under severe criticism from many, including atheists.

    Read it, AJ and stop proceeding in ignorance.

    As for the first, I don’t believe you for a second that you haven’t seen that one on this very blog. If I had the time I’d look for your posts on these comment threads expecting to find something like that.

  • Jen

    this is really weird. my last comment shows up in firefox, but not IE……can anyone using IE see my last comment?

  • Aj

    I don’t think I should repond to such people personally. I’ve already established that they don’t care about the truth, they will, swear blind numerous times that something is in the God Delusion when it is not.

    I’ve already posted Dawkins’s response to the accusations of this highly dishonest person, who seems to have forgotten about it. They have clearly not read The God Delusion, and anyone who has would not in honesty say that Dawkins is not in favour of teaching religion, or “mentioning it” to under 16 year olds.

    Richard Dawkins (sadly, again):

    I did sign the petition, but I hadn’t thought it through when I did so, and I now regret it. I have asked the organizer to remove my name. Unfortunately, it seems that the list has already gone off to Downing Street but the organizer, Jamie Wallis, has kindly asked their web manager to remove my name. I suspect that he himself may be having second thoughts about the wording, and I respect him for that. It isn’t always easy to get the exact wording right.

    I signed it having read only the main petition: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.” I regret to say that I did not notice the supporting statement with the heading, “More details from petition creator”: “In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians.” If I had read that, I certainly would not have signed the petition, because, as explained in The God Delusion, I am in favour of teaching the Bible as literature, and I am in favour of teaching comparative religion. In any case, like any decent liberal, I am opposed to the element of government coercion in the wording. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, thank goodness, does not have the power to ‘make’ anything ‘illegal’. Only parliament has the power to do that.

    I signed the main petition, because I really am passionately opposed to DEFINING children by the religion of their parents (while ‘indoctrination’ is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it). I was so delighted to hear of somebody else who cared about the defining or labelling of children by the religion of their parents (how would you react if you heard a child described as a ‘seclular humanist child’ or a ‘neo-conservative child’?) that I signed it without reading on and without thinking. Mea culpa.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    AJ, I don’t believe Dawkins any more than I believe you. The guy is a professor at Oxford University, a person with a world wide reputation a practiced polemicist. He knew exactly what he was signing when he signed it. He probably was hoping for a lot of attention and he got that, it just wasn’t the universal adulation of atheist fundamentalists he’s grown so used to. So what if he changed his mind in the face of criticism. If your contention is that Dawkins shouldn’t be held to the most basic of standards expected of someone in his position holds, well, I’m used to your double standards. It doesn’t come as a shock.

    I’ll point out that even if Dawkins had never proved what a jerk he was by signing the thing, plenty of other atheists did sign it, an atheist sponsored it. And a lot of atheists agreed with it. That alone would make what you said untrue. Not that it will stop you from lying again.

    As for your assertions about my being dishonest, I’ve seldom been more reassured about my honesty in recent times. Thank you.

  • monkeymind

    AJ, why can’t you take Katya’s statement

    Just as most atheists don’t want to all be seen as die hard anti-religious zealots

    at face value? Why does saying “X group does not want to be seen as characterization Y” mean that the speaker lends credence to characterization Y?

    Insisting that an Interfaith group needs to change their name in order to invite an atheist to speak is like saying the NAACP needs to change its name before inviting white or Native American person to speak on a subject of common interest.

  • Aj

    -monkeymind

    How does my comments imply any of that? Apparantly you can make this shit up.

  • monkeymind

    Aj, come on!

    This is what you said:

    Katya said:

    Just as most atheists don’t want to all be seen as die hard anti-religious zealots…

    And you replied:

    And who are these zealots?

    Challenging Katya to enumerate these zealots, which can only mean that you believed that Katya believed there were really-existing anti-religious zealots, instead of perception of same.

    Get it?

  • monkeymind

    Aj, to clarify, the second paragraph of my last post was directed at the line of reasoning exemplified by Exterminator, who said:

    “A thing is what it is, whether it’s called pluralistic or not. If the organizers of the conference wanted to include atheism in their wide tent, they should have found another word to use in place of ‘religious.’”

    Perhaps I mistakenly assumed that you agreed with him when you said:

    I don’t see why an atheist would be interested in interfaith dialogue or religious pluralism, surely those terms only useful if they’re for excluding atheists

    That’s what I meant about requiring an organization to change its name before inviting an atheist to speak.

    You know, sometimes a simple, non-confrontational “That’s not what I meant,” might be more productive than “you’re making shit up.”

  • Aj

    Yes, if it had been the first time… but it wasn’t.

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    If ya’ll act like this in person, no wonder people stereotype atheists as being disrespectful and confrontational. “Why can’t we all just get along?” :-) Let’s lighten up, move on, and appreciate that Hemant seems to be one of the few atheist public figures who’s interested in dialoguing with religious groups to improve the public image of atheists.

  • Mriana

    That’s what I’ve been thinking too. Why are we arguing amongst ourselves about this anyway?

  • monkeymind

    Sorry, global, Mriana, Aj just seems to bring out the worst in me. I really don’t think I misunderstood him this time. I should just stop responding, I guess.

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