This Major Interfaith Organization Now Includes More Non-Theists Than Ever Before

The Interfaith Youth Core, a group that supports religious pluralism and promotes dialogue about faith and service projects on college campuses, has long had a reputation for being antagonistic to atheists. While their staff and membership always included some people without religious faith and there’s nothing wrong with promoting cooperation and dialogue and service, IFYC would ignore the simple fact that many religious beliefs are simply harmful — in addition to being just plain wrong. While everyone supports respecting religious people, many atheists cannot, for good reason, get behind respecting certain religious ideas. IFYC prefers singing “Kumbaya” than face the reality of what religion has wrought.

It didn’t help that IFYC’s founder, Eboo Patel, compared drawing stick figures of Muhammad (an act of free speech) to screaming “Nigger” in the middle of Harlem, or strawmanned the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris by suggesting they were incapable of performing an “intimate act of mercy” for a dying religious person, or argued that Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins were primarily interested in “offending religious people” and not pointing out that religious beliefs often have no basis in evidence-based truth.

Despite the tone-deaf Patel’s obvious ignorance of the intentions of the atheist authors and his desire to slam notable atheists whenever he gets a chance (with the exception of the few he’s worked with on a regular basis, myself included), IFYC as an organization has done better in recent years with including atheists in their projects. They’ve even partnered with the Secular Student Alliance on occasion.

In a recent survey of its alumni — not a scientific poll, by any means, but a reflection of the people who graduated from their programs — IFYC revealed something astonishing: Nearly a quarter of the respondents were non-religious:

Yes, that 25% includes people who are “spiritual but not religious,” but the percentage is pretty high even when you exclude them.

“The number of IFYC alums that identify as atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist is about as much as our Roman Catholic, Hindu, and Buddhist alumni combined,” said IFYC Director of Alumni Relations Amber Hacker in a recent interview.

The large number of nontheist or nonreligious IFYC alums may come as a surprise to some — perhaps especially those wondering whether nonreligious people are actually welcome in interfaith work.

Chris Stedman, an atheist who’s worked with IFYC in the past, notes that this is a dramatic shift from a few years ago. Even the IFYC staff is about 20% non-religious now.

I see that as a huge net positive for us. You can think religious beliefs make no sense at all while still supporting service projects that are inclusive of people of all faiths and no faith. In fact, it’s better to have non-theistic perspectives in the mix, to make sure no one gets away with saying things like “faith is a virtue” or that you need God to be good. If the interfaith crowd realizes that atheists bring something of value to the table, the better for all of us.

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  • anniewhoo

    What I like best about the IFYC is their motto of respect for all. Period. There is no reason we cannot work with others to achieve a common goal of helping those in need. I’m so glad to read that atheists are not only welcome in this group, but that they also make up a substantial percent of the membership.

  • Whitney Currie

    Always nice to see people getting along, especially under what can quickly become very difficult circumstances. The willingness to be part of the community, even with those who may not agree with you, is inspiring. It’s always good for people to have honest discourse on what they believe and why, rather than just shoot first and ask questions later.

  • Dave

    Pointing out that religion is not evidence based is offensive? If it was evidence based you wouldn’t need faith.
    Good work IFYC. Glad to see it is working out for you all.

  • Kelley

    I think if you are counting ‘spiritual but not religious’, you could count the Unitarian Universalists as well?

  • skyblue

    Good point, at least in my experience with UUs, there’s probably a good number that would also call themselves humanists or atheists. Also, there would be non-theists among the Buddhists as well. Perhaps some of the “seekers” too.

  • Keyra

    Doesn’t make it any less true

  • rtanen

    Doesn’t make what any less true? You don’t actually explain what this is a response to. Did you mean to reply to some other commenter?

  • allein

    Doesn’t make what any less true?

    Christianity, silly! (Well, Keyra’s brand of Christianity, at least). Whatever the argument against it might be…

  • rtanen

    In fairness, there is a lower limit to truth. You cannot have less than 0 truth.

  • allein

    Very true. 😉

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    we’re approaching 30% in polls like this. is it scientific? probably not. but it’s interesting and notable. counting all the members of the spectrum on this side of “i don’t need an organization, a holy book, or a belief in the supernatural” and that’s a big old number of the gen pop. i’ll take it. more like this please.

  • Jeremiah Traeger

    If things turn out well, I’m hoping eventually things may end up like the gay rights movement. Being gay is not exactly the most accepted demographic but in the past couple years there seems to have been a relatively massive cultural shift in acceptance of gay rights. People know more and more “out” atheists and people recognize we aren’t the demons they said we were.

  • Georgina

    Lots of Atheist WQuakers out there.

  • guest

    “It didn’t help that IFYC’s founder, Eboo Patel, compared drawing stick figures of Muhammad (an act of free speech) to screaming “Nigger” in the middle of Harlem”

    I’m trying to understand this analogy. If someone screams “nigger” to a black person then gets attacked, would we place some of the blame on the provoker? What’s the difference? This is an honest question from a black atheist :-)