Working on an Interfaith Project? Then Leave God at the Door

Here’s something that gets repeated a lot: Even though atheists fight against religion, there are plenty of opportunities to work with religious people toward common goals.

Here’s something you don’t hear a lot, courtesy of Luke Gyure at WWJTD:

Here’s the answer is to what theists and atheists can do together: secular work. If you’re really as committed to working together and finding common ground as you claim to be, then you have to concede that the common ground is found in nonreligious conversation… The “middle ground” for an atheist and a believer is not actually somewhere in between: it’s where the atheist already is.

Never thought of it that way, but it’s accurate. Whenever I’ve participated in interfaith projects, they’ve been things like hosting debates/discussions (something atheist groups do all the time), volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter (ditto), donating blood (yep), etc. It’s never anything unique to one faith or another, because there’s no common ground there.

When you want to do good — with other people from different backgrounds — god stays out of the picture.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    This is by definition. Both theists and atheists believe that concrete actions taken by real people can have observable positive effects in the world. Almost all religious people have secular beliefs and practices. Atheists ONLY have secular beliefs and practices.

    The common ground is the one we can feel under our feet, not the one theists imagine in their heads.

  • http://twitter.com/SneerReview Sneer Review

    This is exactly what ‘interfaith’ cooperation between atheists and the religious should be, either working on some charitable activity that doesn’t require particular religious affiliation, or, if religion is involved at all, the promotion of secular principles and freedom of religious belief.  Too often it appears to be something quite different, namely the promotion of ‘moderate’ religions and the disparagement of both fundamentalist beliefs and outspoken atheism.

  • BenZ

    I’ve been advocating for years to remove the label of “interfaith” entirely and replace it with the more accurate and more inclusive “humanism”. The only objection I’ve heard to such a chance is that “humanism” is equated with atheism in the public mind. I say, “so what?”

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    Just keep in mind that leaving God at the door works both ways. Atheists also need to set aside their arguments against religion and any disdain for religious believers.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

      Only to the extent where theists spout their nonsense, then you take them aside, and remind them of the purpose of the activity. You do not need to bring up arguments for atheism, but you need to remind the theists that this is neither the time nor place for the preaching.

      Right before I moved to California, I was working as a firefighter and Search & Rescue tech (SAR Tech) in a small Alaska town. We would work with the local churches to do community service like street washing, charitable drives etc…I cannot count how many times so idiot religious type would come up and say “Oh you [firefighters/SAR techs] are sent by Jesus/God/Angels” etc…I would cringe and have to remind her that we were not, we were simply men and women who worked a difficult job. It is a hard line to toe when confronted by seemingly well-meaning people who say things like this. But I would always remind them that by claiming we were the arm of “the lord” it really detracted from what we trained for and did. Basically, I would say, “Give us the credit, not your imaginary friend”.

      • Pseudonym

        In other words, neither side should initiate a descent into arseholery.

        • Michael

          The problem seems to be that nobody has an accepted way to halt and reverse the descent once it begins.

          • Pseudonym

            There’s a proven technique for developing such ways, and it’s called “interfaith dialogue”. It’s worked for the moderate-to-liberal religious for over 100 years.

    • Pseudonym

      This is true, but it depends on the atheist. Atheism does not imply beliefs such as that all religious
      people have some kind of mental illness, that religion poisons
      everything and so on, but some atheists do believe such things.

      For those who do hold these beliefs, the middle ground is to leave those at the door as well.

  • Stephen Goeman

    This is exactly what interfaith cooperation between atheists and the religious is and has been. The IFYC and World Faith (the most visible interfaith groups) use this very secular methodology, and it’s just one of the reasons why so many atheists participate in their leadership summits.


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