Interfaith Placation

Can atheists really participate in “interfaith” work?

It’s been a touchy subject lately, and I’m not convinced we can.

No doubt people from different backgrounds can work together to advance common goals, and President Obama alluded to this late last week with a new proposal:

The White House is launching the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, an initiative inviting institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith cooperation and community service programming on campus. This programming might take the form of campus Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular student organizations implementing a specific year-long community service project. It might also involve students from a campus partnering with local religious groups to tackle a specific community challenge together.

Obama even mentions us by name in the first few seconds of this video:

It’s not only lip service, though. We were physically included in a recent White House discussion on interfaith cooperation. Harvard’s Humanist chaplain Greg Epstein was very excited about that… perhaps too excited. He writes:

As with his other main speeches on interfaith cooperation, President Obama has gone out of his way to make clear that this initiative must be fully open to and inclusive atheists, and agnostics, and Humanists.

Joshua Dubois, the convener of that gathering and Director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, greeted us.

Dubois, a young African American Pentacostalist, took the podium and talked about how the group gathered that day was one of the most diverse in the history of the White House. It included many different kinds of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others — and, he emphasized, there were even secular activists in attendance (I was joined by my good friend August Brunsman, Director of the Secular Student Alliance.) To emphasize that point, Dubois even mentioned me by name and title, had me raise my hand, and everyone in the room applauded at the idea that we were there. I felt chills — despite polls consistently showing atheists like us to be the least electable demographic group in the US, here was a key representative of the highest authority in the land, looking us in the eye, in public, and making it indisputably clear that our beliefs, our Humanist values, and our secular colleagues were every bit as American as anyone else. And in the months that followed, some of my students and staff have joined other Humanists in attending White House-sponsored training sessions on interfaith service. We’ve been full partners in a lively and constructive debate about how people from diverse religious and ethical traditions can build a better society together.

Well, a room filled with people who want to be involved in interfaith cooperation aren’t really the same people — the majority of Americans — who think we’re unelectable and untrustworthy.

Despite the term “interfaith,” the fact that we’re included in such a mix ought to be a given. Of course we’re Americans. Is the fact that this administration is admitting that really a “step forward”? I know a lot of us were excited when Obama mentioned non-believers in his Inaugural Address… and when atheist leaders had a meeting with White House staffers, but I haven’t seen much more than lip service toward our requests.

When I visited the White House in February, 2010, we had three things to discuss with staffers there. Has anything changed?

Military proselytization. We wanted it to stop. Christians are given unfair privileges in our military and atheists are shunned. The lack of support from military leaders at Fort Bragg for the atheist Rock Beyond Belief event just shows we have a long way to go before we’re treated the same as Christians.

Religious exemptions for child abuse. There have been no steps to ban religious exemptions for child abuse at the federal level. (Though the Oregon House of Representatives recently voted to eliminate the exemption.)

Faith Based Discrimination. Do Christian groups still get tax-payer money? Do they still discriminate against non-Christians and gay people? If anything, the practice has only gotten worse.

Keep in mind that there’s a President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Lots of Protestants on the list. And Catholics. And Muslims and Jews.

Still not a single atheist.

Tell me again why we’re so excited to be “included” in talks about interfaith community service projects when we’re excluded on things that involve money or advising the president?

Ophelia Benson says it well:

… “we” have not been included in a company of that kind; chaplains and interfaith student leaders: that doesn’t include us. You may have been included, and your “we” may have, but I haven’t.

“We” are allowed to tag along with the much larger group of normal people. That’s called tokenism, and it’s insulting. Epstein seems to have internalized so much of the routine atheist-phobia of the US that he all but bursts into tears just because he gets a name-check from a crowd of godbotherers. He’s way too easily pleased.

The name-checks were nice after years under George W. Bush. That time came and went quickly. The White House has acknowledged our existence and included a couple moderate representatives from our community in larger forums where the government reps talk about how faith is a virtue. It isn’t.

They want everyone to get along while ignoring the very beliefs everyone else has that makes getting along impossible. Most of the people in that room with Greg believe he’s going straight to Hell. But let’s set that aside while we build some houses…

I suppose it’s better than the alternative where we’re not included at all or where the White House reaches out only to Christians, but this doesn’t sound like true outreach at all. The White House doesn’t care what we think. They want to placate us.

Working on common goals and community service projects is a good thing. But there’s no reason it takes religious groups (along with a couple token non-religious people) to accomplish that.

  • Anonymous

    We had a secular, inclusive volunteer group introduced by the president decades ago – it was called the Peace Corps. Somehow we’re still striving to catch up to 1961.

  • Interfaith is still faith-based

    The word says it all: interfaith. One definition is a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” So interfaith is for people who have firm beliefs about sky gods for which they have no evidence. Sorry, I don’t what any part in that. It recognizes atheism as a faith rather than recognizing that faith is the definition of believing in BS.

  • http://brickwindow.wordpress.com Brick Window

    Hemant, I had to look up to see who wrote this. I was surprised to see it was you. You are sounding particularly unfriendly and cynical today.

    FWIW, most of the people in the room believe all the rest are going to hell, not just the atheist.

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    It’s a bit unclear what you see as the solution to this: no partnerships; partnerships with a greater atheist emphasis; secular partnerships or something else.

    The root problem is the idea of “interfaith”. Used in its original sense of some activity between faiths who contribute their time and resources it becomes a matter of private concern. Unless it involves witch-burning, child-sacrificing or gay-bashing.

    When governments organize explicitly faith-based programs then the government is making a values judgment about faith and moving away from a society based on respect and equality.

    If it seeks to bring all faiths together why isn’t Fred Phelps there? Because they want “faith” represented by those who make it look good; who can influence their contituencies positively toward government and who have an impact at the ballot box at election time.

    These folks and their “faith” is being bought and paid for. They should be disgusted and Americans should be upset that it is being done on the government dime. If atheists can find an area of common ground to work with other groups, that’s wonderful, but on principle these sorts of compromises should be avoided.

  • Ron in Houston

    If you look at it from a political perspective atheists are not a large political group that is easy to reach.

    I really don’t think it’s intentional exclusion just that atheists are a small enough group to sometimes get left out.

  • Randy

    I really don’t think it’s intentional exclusion just that atheists are a small enough group to sometimes get left out.

    Or maybe our reputation for being hostile with believers -stereotype or not — causes others to say, “Meh. Why bother?” Besides, as a whole, we aren’t organized in any meaningful way.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I don’t mind getting left out. What irritates me is that religious groups are included at all. Why should there be interfaith advisory councils and why should these groups be given any kind of secular recognition?

  • Michelle

    I’m torn. While I can see where you are coming from, I can also see that it is easier to work from the inside than the outside.
    Yes, there is still a long way to go, but for me it is worth taking steps forward where they can be found. I’m not all about compliance, but sometimes there seems to be a zero sum idealism present in Atheism (like it is in other places) and that is a bad bet for anyone. Refusal to compromise isn’t a useful long term strategy for achieving goals.

  • Nordog

    Religious exemptions for child abuse. There have been no steps to ban religious exemptions for child abuse at the federal level.

    I have no idea what the federal role is in fighting child abuse, however, if there’s a religious exemption, it should go away.

    Having said that, not a few here think that teaching children religion is child abuse. If you are advocating making it a federal crime for parents to raise their children within a given faith, well, good luck with that.

  • ACN

    Nordog,

    I think he is mostly referring to stuff like this.

  • Nordog

    ACN, yes, parents cannot be allowed to refuse life saving treatment to their children because they think God will provide.

    Oh, and though I had seen that, thanks for the link.

    On that other point, what is the current federal role as regards child abuse? The only thing I’m aware of is the recent Obama summit about bullies.

  • Daniel Miles

    Political change happens slowly. It’s sad, but true. Every maneuver a politician makes costs influence in another sphere and the truly effective politicians are the ones who know how to manage their political capital well. That doesn’t make it OK that we’re still marginalized or that our most important national decision-makers are people who think it’s a virtue to act without reasons. I’m not trying to suggest that we should “just chill out” and wait for change to happen on its own schedule, we need to keep pushing as hard as we can.

    However, we also need to avoid feeling discouraged. We need to recognize our small victories as significant, not because they’re enough, but because they’re more than we had ten years ago and because the energy it takes to achieve even small victories in national politics is tremendous. I think congratulations is in order as well as disappointment.

  • Blacksheep

    Hover,

    What irritates me is that religious groups are included at all. Why should there be interfaith advisory councils and why should these groups be given any kind of secular recognition?

    Religious groups don’t need any kind of secular recognition to keep doing what they have been for so long.

    I think much of the construct simply stems from which groups have trditionally put the most energy and emphasis on various service initiatives, and if something is working – and helping people – it’s good to harness it.

    I actually thought it was a step toward communication and understanding…

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    It’s a bit unclear what you see as the solution to this: no partnerships; partnerships with a greater atheist emphasis; secular partnerships or something else.

    @The “Eh”theist: If it’s not one thing, I’m sure the never satisfied will find something else to complain about. I doubt Hemant even knows what he wants, other than to get some attention by making a fuss about some thing or other. What shall we complain about this week?

    If you look at it from a political perspective atheists are not a large political group that is easy to reach.

    @Ron in Houston: Shhhh! That may be true, but you’re not supposed to actually say that! You’re supposed to smile for the photo op and pretend that the opposite is true. (Remember, marketing is where it’s at, not truth!)

    Personally, I’ll know we made it when atheists can lead invocations in Congress, atheists can attend prayer breakfasts, and atheists can deliver sermons before local council sessions :)

  • mkb

    Non-litigous atheist, I’ll know that we have made it when no one leads invocations before Congress or delivers sermons before local council sessions and when prayer breakfasts are totally private affairs that a politican would only attend if he or she wanted to pray, not to receive attention for praying.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I think it’s obvious what Hemant is asking for: actual meaningful steps on the state-church issues that matter to us, and not just empty symbolic gestures and inclusion in pointless photo-ops.

  • ACN

    I’ll know that we have made it when no one leads invocations before Congress or delivers sermons before local council sessions and when prayer breakfasts are totally private affairs that a politican would only attend if he or she wanted to pray, not to receive attention for praying.

    Hear, hear.

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    @Ebonmuse

    I think it’s obvious what Hemant is asking for: actual meaningful steps on the state-church issues that matter to us, and not just empty symbolic gestures and inclusion in pointless photo-ops.

    I respectfully disagree. Let’s look at the three issues mentioned:

    Military proselytization.

    First the Rock Beyond Belief issue-in my comment on the cancellation post, I pointed out that most of the atheist groups involved had flip-flopped on this one. First the religious concern was bad and non-constitutional; then it was ok if you give us money and a concert too; and then it was bad again when that didn’t work out.

    Next what would a ban on military proselytization look like? A religious version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” Or would only superiors be restricted from coercing their soldiers into religious activities? Should chaplains be abolished? What if a group of soldiers want to pray together? Read Christopher Hitchens together?

    Religious exemptions for child abuse.
    My understanding of American law, while admittedly weak and open to correction, suggests that this sort of legislation is normally at the state level. So what would a Federal ban look like? A constitutional amendment? A new Federal statute enforced by the FBI? What would we define as abuse in this case? Would it be a hate crime against children? People can’t choose to support something that isn’t clear.

    Faith Based Discrimination.
    Again, what would this look like? Christian groups that don’t discriminate would still get funding while those that discriminate don’t? Eliminate all funding to faith groups? Who would decide which beliefs were discriminatory? Wouldn’t this be a violation of the Establishment clause?

    Clear goals are like those proposed by @mkb:

    I’ll know that we have made it when no one leads invocations before Congress or delivers sermons before local council sessions and when prayer breakfasts are totally private affairs that a politican would only attend if he or she wanted to pray, not to receive attention for praying.

    At the end of the day I can tell if these have happened and people can choose to support them or not.

    Complaining that your issues aren’t addressed when you haven’t clearly articulated what are acceptable solutions while the organizations flip back and forth from claiming to be non-religious to asking for seats at religious tables isn’t a formula for success.

  • Demonhype

    I don’t know. It is definitely tokenism, but not too long ago no one even felt the need to extend even tokenism to the atheists in this country–more the exact opposite, with us being just barely tolerated through clenched teeth, with the more fanatical lamenting their inability to kill, jail, or at least punish us in various official and non-official ways and the more moderate just turning their heads and whistling with contrived innocence when the fanatics started screaming fatwa, which didn’t do a hell of a lot to convince me that they genuinely opposed harm being done to the atheists in our country.

    The very fact that they feel an obligation to extend tokenism is kind of a step up from the earlier “why should we allow you an equal voice when you don’t even deserve to live–being a baby-raping serial-killer, as all you atheists are” attitudes of several years ago. Sure, tokenism is a bit insulting, but at least we’re visible now and it’s harder to ignore someone you’ve finally allowed to sit at the same discussion table as yourself.

    Still a long way to go and, as has been mentioned above, political change comes slowly anyway. But this can at least be seen as some indication that atheist visibility is making some difference and is convincing more and more people that atheists are, at least, normal people who are not going to eat your children (despite many snarky jokes to the contrary!) and who do not deserve to be excluded from participating in this sort of thing.

    I guess I’m saying that while it’s not much in practice and we shouldn’t just clap our hands and declare victory, it indicates a lot of progress (public perception is half the battle), and we should keep up what we’re doing and continue changing the public perception of us until this tokenism is transformed into a real voice.

  • Apollo

    @the Eh theist

    Military proselytization.

    First the Rock Beyond Belief issue-in my comment on the cancellation post, I pointed out that most of the atheist groups involved had flip-flopped on this one. First the religious concert was bad and non-constitutional; then it was ok if you give us money and a concert too; and then it was bad again when that didn’t work out.

    The excuse given to justify the religious rock concert was that the same level of support was open to any group, not just the evangelical Christian group. The Rock Beyond Belief folks called their bluff and organized a non-religious event, which was then shit all over by those in charge. I’d say that it proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that one religious group was being favored over another, which is a clear violation of the establishment clause of the US Constitution.

    Next what would a ban on military proselytization look like? A religious version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” Or would only superiors be restricted from coercing their soldiers into religious activities? Should chaplains be abolished? What if a group of soldiers want to pray together? Read Christopher Hitchens together?

    A ban on military proselytization would look like people being treated the same regardless of religious belief. No one Christian or non-Christian religious group would be given any special privileges. CO’s would receive proper reprimand and/or punishment for treating troops differently for religious reasons. Nobody here has ever seriously suggested that soldiers shouldn’t be allowed to talk about their own religion or that they shouldn’t be allowed to pray together (and I would be quite suprised if it was ever brought up as anything but a straw man argument like you are attempting to make).

    Religious exemptions for child abuse.
    My understanding of American law, while admittedly weak and open to correction, suggests that this sort of legislation is normally at the state level. So what would a Federal ban look like? A constitutional amendment? A new Federal statute enforced by the FBI? What would we define as abuse in this case? Would it be a hate crime against children? People can’t choose to support something that isn’t clear.

    A clear example is children being denied proper medical care because parents believe in “faith based healing” which is code for “don’t do anything and let your kid die because you are a bunch of morons”. Earlier in these comments there are links posted. Ending this exemption alone would be a great start.

    Faith Based Discrimination.
    Again, what would this look like? Christian groups that don’t discriminate would still get funding while those that discriminate don’t? Eliminate all funding to faith groups? Who would decide which beliefs were discriminatory? Wouldn’t this be a violation of the Establishment clause?

    Ideally, properly vetted secular groups would get the first dibs on any taxpayer funding. Following that, there are faith-based groups that do not discriminate against homosexuals, blacks, Muslims, Jews, women, midgets, dog-owners, or people that use excessive/silly examples. Giving taxpayer money to those groups is vastly superior to giving taxpayer money to groups that DO discriminate.

  • Tom

    Many of you guys have no idea about how to persuade others. Or even that it is a practical necessity to persuade others before we can get what we want in America. Kudos to Greg, keep it up.

  • Steve

    I think the President is playing the long game with that. He likely knows what he’d be up against with the Christian Oppression Delusion if he REALLY made strides towards de-marginalizing the faithless, so he’s trying to inject it into the public consciousness with these token statements, y’know?

    Give it time. If the next president does the same thing, then the next will, and more people will acknowledge we’re among them.

  • ckitching

    Military proselytization.
    I pointed out that most of the atheist groups involved had flip-flopped on this one. First the religious concern was bad and non-constitutional; then it was ok if you give us money and a concert too; and then it was bad again when that didn’t work out.

    Flip-flopped? I think they’ve been rather consistent: Religious proselytizing events should not be funded, but, if they are, they have to fund any and all of them. That means if the Scientologists, Satanists, or even atheists want to hold an event, they should get the same support (or lack thereof) as the Evangelical Christians. I don’t think anyone was really surprised it turned out this way.

    Next what would a ban on military proselytization look like?

    Allow people to use their Sunday morning any way they please. Punish those who punish their subordinates for refusing to participate in religious events. The chaplaincy should probably be ended, but it’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the use of authority to push specific religions at people.

    Religious exemptions for child abuse.
    My understanding of American law, while admittedly weak and open to correction, suggests that this sort of legislation is normally at the state level

    There are already laws protecting children from abuse. However, they are often ignored when a religious justification is given. This can range from children dying after contracting herpes after a circumcision by a orthodox mohel, or routine abuse of infants classified by as “discipline”. I don’t believe there are even that many laws on the books that explicitly grant exceptions. Nearly all of it is simply selective enforcement.

    Faith Based Discrimination.
    Again, what would this look like? Christian groups that don’t discriminate would still get funding while those that discriminate don’t?

    Should be easy. If you want federal funding, you agree to abide by the same rules the government would abide by when dispensing this aid. Much the same way secular organizations are expected to follow the same set of rules when dispensing the very same aid.

  • Pseudonym

    A few comments on specific comments first.

    Interfaith is still faith-based:

    The word says it all: interfaith. One definition is a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”

    One definition out of many. If you despise cherrypicking in religious texts, don’t do it in dictionaries.

    The “Eh”-theist:

    If it seeks to bring all faiths together why isn’t Fred Phelps there?

    Because even if he accepted the invitation, he’d only troll the meetings. He doesn’t buy into the idea that people with different beliefs have common goals that they could work on together. Moreover, he has a vested interest in ensuring that the time of atheists and theists alike is spent in unproductive argumentation.

    I agree that the word “interfaith” is far from optimal, which is why Obama used the phrase “Interfaith and Community Service”. I do like that phrase, as it covers all bases, though it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I’m not seeing any better suggestions on this thread.

    Here’s the bottom line for me: If you are not willing to even meet with religious organisations in a forum designed to work together on common goals, then you cannot expect those organisations to work with you on common goals.

    This is precisely the sort of opportunity you’ve been waiting for. The only thing stopping you is you.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    First the Rock Beyond Belief issue-in my comment on the cancellation post, I pointed out that most of the atheist groups involved had flip-flopped on this one. First the religious concern was bad and non-constitutional; then it was ok if you give us money and a concert too; and then it was bad again when that didn’t work out.

    Those are perfectly consistent positions, as ckitching’s comment explained. Atheists would prefer that the government not fund any sectarian events at all; but if they do, then they’ve created an open public forum and we want equal time. When we objected to government sponsorship of Rock the Fort, we were told that it was legal and constitutional because the same opportunity would be extended to any other group who asked. We put that promise to the test, and it turned out to be a lie.

    Next what would a ban on military proselytization look like? A religious version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” Or would only superiors be restricted from coercing their soldiers into religious activities? Should chaplains be abolished? What if a group of soldiers want to pray together? Read Christopher Hitchens together?

    I would say that, at a bare minimum, groups like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation are asking for the following:

    (1) Enforce the preexisting ban on military officials, especially chaplains, participating in sectarian religious and political advertising campaigns in uniform or in their official capacity. For example, religious right groups have in the past had unfettered access to the Pentagon and have gotten uniformed officers to appear in their ads and promotional videos.

    (2) Ensure that military chaplains aren’t permitted to proselytize while on duty. They’re there to support the religious needs of soldiers who already believe the same as them, not to make converts.

    (3) Ensure that atheist soldiers and veterans aren’t coerced by their superiors into participating in any religious exercise. There are countless stories of soldiers being harassed, bullied, and punished by their superior officers for being openly atheist, for seeking to start atheist groups on the base, or for not participating in religious events sponsored by senior officers, and other cases where attendance at such events has been made mandatory. For example, there was another, similar case where soldiers alleged that they were punished for not attending a base-sponsored Christian rock concert.

    My understanding of American law, while admittedly weak and open to correction, suggests that this sort of legislation is normally at the state level. So what would a Federal ban look like? A constitutional amendment? A new Federal statute enforced by the FBI?

    Sure, that’s possible. Or the federal government could put conditions on federal highway funding, for example, saying that states which allow religious exemptions to child-abuse laws won’t be eligible for federal money. Other conditions similar to this are routinely attached to budget bills.

    Again, what would this look like? Christian groups that don’t discriminate would still get funding while those that discriminate don’t? Eliminate all funding to faith groups? Who would decide which beliefs were discriminatory? Wouldn’t this be a violation of the Establishment clause?

    Here’s the simple answer: All bona fide charitable groups are equally eligible for government funding, but any group that gets said funding has to follow all non-discrimination rules, including rules forbidding discrimination on the basis of religion. In other words, any church wishing to participate in public-funded charitable activity has to create a secular arm that will hire any qualified individual, not just people who belong to that church.

    This isn’t a new or radical concept; this is how it was for years with groups like Catholic Charities. George W. Bush changed the policy so that churches could take tax money and then discriminate on the basis of religion by refusing to hire people whose religious beliefs they judged to be doctrinally unsound, even if irrelevant to their ability to do the job. Barack Obama promised to undo this atrocious policy, but has broken that promise. Doubtless he, like Bush, sees the political usefulness of this plan as a vote-buying scheme.

  • Lion IRC

    Interfaith dialogue including atheists? – well of course!

  • Erp

    (2) Ensure that military chaplains aren’t permitted to proselytize while on duty. They’re there to support the religious needs of soldiers who already believe the same as them, not to make converts.

    Actually they are there to support the religious needs of all the soldiers and only secondarily to provide specialized services for members of their own faith. In other words a Catholic chaplain should ensure that the Jewish soldiers in his unit gets appropriate food for a Passover seder. A Unitarian Universalist chaplain arranges for the Pentecostals in her unit to attend a Pentecostal service if possible. An evangelical Christian chaplain should see that a Muslim in his unit who is killed receives the funeral rites the soldier and his family would want. A Jewish chaplain should help a non-religious (or any) soldier get compassionate leave if his wife is dying. Reality seems to be a bit different.

    I would distinguish between different types of interfaith work. Some is government supported but some interfaith work is not (e.g., groups getting together to change government policy such as very liberal religions plus atheists trying to change the law on same-sex marriage).

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The "Eh"theist

    My apologies for taking so long to reply, I’ve been staying in a hotel with awful “Internet” and had just given up-I’m now somewhere decent and home tonight so I’ll be able to follow things better.

    @apollo @ckitching, on the issue of the “Rock” concerts, the christian one was initially decried as unconstitutional by the groups in question. Please provide an example where having more of something changes it from unconsitutional to constitutional.

    That’s my point:government favoring two religious groups doesn’t make it constitutional, instead it’s two violations of the constitution. So making it open to all who ask doesn’t solve the problem because the non-askers are still being violated at the end of the day. And it doesn’t address the issue that government-sponsored proselytization took place at the first concert. Or does that become ok if the second concert has an atheist altar call? I still think it’s an inconsistent position.

    @ckitching agree 100% with your points about protecting subordinates from undue influence and selective enforcement, I think government could be successfulltasked to ensure the cases are being prosecuted, perhaps even tying some sort of funding to it, as @ebonmuse suggests.

    From there the next step would be to extend the law to eliminate all loopholes-knowing that it will be enforced.

    @pseudonym if the government makes the value judgment that Mr. Phelps’ organization is troll-like, and thus to be excluded, they’ve violated a religious test that faiths must meet to be recognized by government-which was my point to begin with. If interfaith initiatives are truly faith-led they can choose to work with whomever they want and feel they can work with. This government-led vote trawl and photo-op discriminates between faiths, rendering it unconsitutional from the start.

    @ebonmuse, the “Rock” issue is still problematic because a)even if any can ask, it still mixes church and state (think of aome of the other stories on here, such as the prayer banner in the school and the 10 commandments in front of buildings-are those suddenly ok if no one else has asked to put something up?)

    You are left with the dilemma of either declaring the first concert a social event using elements of religious culture that doesn’t violate the establishment clause (with all the potential negative impact that has on future legal cases) or saying that state-sponsored religious activity is ok as long as others get their cut.

    I like the points you’ve proposed re: the military and witholding federal funding to states who make exemptions to abuse-I think tying the former tothe fight against sexual harrassment in the military and the latter to other federal precedents of a similar nature would get public support, Here in Canada our federal government often influences provincial actions by linking certain actions with funding initiatives.

    Agreed with the idea regarding establishing secular arms of religious orgs or at least insisting on full financial disclosure like a normal non-profit as well as non-discrimination, keeping mind that catholic charities and some of their health corps still wrote anti-gay and anti-contraception policies into their “arms-length” manuals. Audits are essential.

    Sorry for writing so much, it was just nice to get back and see so many solid, specific proposals.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    It’s a tough nut to crack. On the issue of hell, those participating in interfaith activism generally tend to be fairly quiet about that sort of thing, if not closet universalists. Which leads to a different sort of 1st-amendment challenge that it’s a bone that seemingly favors religious liberals over conservatives.

    The problem is that while religious liberals will be ambiguous on the nature of God, experiment with non-theistic language, flirt with universalism, and waffle on hell, they’ll still idealize the “spiritual” life as being filled with beauty and wonder, psychologically adaptive, charitable, moral, and happy. They’ll use us as an object lesson in anger, rudeness, material greed, and lacking in beauty, poetry, and vision. And that, I’ll argue is more damaging to fellowship than disagreement about god or hell.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    On the other hand, I don’t see a way to challenge views about atheists without dialog and engagement.

  • http://www.harvardhumanist.org Jonathan Figdor

    Here are a few great reasons to do interfaith service:

    1. It accomplishes service. Who cares if it means we have to hijack someone’s religious delusions to compel them to help us build a park. The point is, we get a park built.

    2. It lets people know about Humanism and Atheism. A lot of people don’t even know that we exist. This helps raise our profile.

    3. It disproves the stupid assertion that atheists are immoral. If we build parks and hospitals just like believers, we’re just as good morally.

    4. It gives us an opportunity to talk to believers about their faith and show them that they don’t have to believe in an invisible man in the sky to live ethical lives.

    Best,

    Jonathan Figdor
    Assistant Humanist/New Atheist Chaplain at Harvard


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