Chris Stedman Responds to his Critics

Two days ago on The Friendly Atheist Chris Stedman offered the long-awaited response to criticism of his book Faitheist: read it here. I find it a thoughtful, balanced, and indeed rather wise expression of important Humanist values. Some choice excerpts below.

On New Atheism:

 I’d like to make it clear that I intended merely to point to a specific set of behaviors, not New Atheism as a whole. I agree with New Atheists on many points, as when I wrote in that excerpt: “I believe that many New Atheist critiques of religion are correct and have helped many people find liberation from oppressive beliefs.” Additionally, I observed that the behaviors and memes I’m critical of in my book are probably promoted by a highly visible minority of atheists, not by all New Atheists. I take issue with a very particular sort of New Atheist activism: I believe that an exclusive focus on religion as the source of human problems is short-sighted, and that painting religious believers with sweeping generalizations is inaccurate and unfair. I can’t fairly dismiss all self-identified New Atheists, and I wouldn’t want to, because I work closely with many.

On Atheist Participation in Interfaith Efforts:

Interfaith engagement is unique because it puts religious differences to the forefront. We can no longer be tokenized as the atheist neighbor who happens to be a good person; instead, with our atheism at the forefront, we show how our Humanist beliefs inspire us to be good people. We demonstrate not only our shared values and a sense of common humanity, but we help legitimize atheists as a moral community.

On Truth:

The pursuit of truth matters. I believe that a naturalistic worldview that prioritizes scientific skepticism provides the best lens to consider our world. I have often relished debates about the legitimacy of religious claims. My worldview includes a commitment to critical inquiry — for example, I write in Faitheist about a conversation I had with a professor who urged me to consider using the word God when talking about justice. She argued for its symbolic weight, but I couldn’t sacrifice intellectual integrity. Ideas and words have consequences. Blind confidence in unsubstantiated beliefs can directly contribute to the problems our society faces. Well-reasoned conclusions, not faith-based dogma, ought to be the basis for public policy.

On Balancing Moral Commitments:

A commitment to knowledge is important, but it is not the only important commitment. In a world full of suffering and splintered by religious disagreements, I think we should sometimes prioritize the pursuit of justice over pursuing philosophical agreement — especially because hostile arguments over matters of truth frequently do little more than convince all involved of their own correctness. In the face of hostility, few people become more open; more often than not, we become defensive.

In Conclusion:

Another kind of conversation about religion and atheism is possible — one that seeks to balance disagreement with accuracy, truth with compassion, and a focus on our very real differences with a desire to work together for a better, less tribalistic, more rational world.


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About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.