Response to James Croft

I was live-blogging the interfaith panel at Reasonfest the other day.  I had a consistent gripe that was very simple.

The common ground between  theists and non-theists lies precisely where the atheist already resides: in secularism.  Interfaith people are all about doing good, an act which requires zero belief in god.  The problem is that since faith is in the name [interfaith] allows faith, a poison to humanity, to get the credit for helping.  This is bad.

Charitable work is a secular thing: anybody can do it.  By calling it interfaith it allows faith, a force for the maintenance of irrationality, to leech the merit.

My frustration with the panel was that even though this was brought up by Greg Lammers early in the panel it was never suitably addressed (which is likely why I got a substantial round of applause for bringing it up during the Q&A).

James Croft came onto my blog to offer another rebuttal that says nothing about this problem and it is getting very frustrating.

So we don’t attend, let people of faith do all the work alone, and allow them to legitimately claim ALL the credit? SCORE! It’s not like they will stop doing the work because we choose not to show up. Better to get stuck in and show people you can be good, principled atheists who can work beside others without compromising our views.

Who on earth is suggesting we let the interfaith people do **ALL** the work?  Atheists and theists work together for charitable causes all the time without the banner of interfaith.

James seems to think that all cooperation will stop unless it’s under that misleading moniker. It won’t.  Faith will just stop getting acclaim it hasn’t earned for the efforts we atheists are putting in.  Since faith creates so many problems for the world, we have a vested interest in preventing it from getting that acclaim.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1698151270 John-Henry Beck

    During the panel discussion there was a part that came up about how interfaith groups seemed happy to change the name to something more appropriate. (At least once they could think of a term.)

    The ‘interfaith’ term certainly drives me away. It does sound far too much like giving credit to faith for good people doing good things.

    Seems to me there’s plenty of room to do good works under secular initiatives, or things like Foundation Beyond Belief that advances non-belief, without having to appear to condone faith. There’s enough of us to do our own thing.

    • Janstince

      How about “Orthofaith”?

      It’s nerdy, keeps the 3-syllable max, and, to my mind, represents what we are all about: working outside of faith.

      Then again, I guess people who have no idea about math won’t understand, and will only credit the “faith” part. Sigh.

      • Rieux

        But doesn’t “ortho” mean “straight” or “correct” (as in orthodoxy, orthodontia, orthography)? I don’t think that’s an improvement.

        I believe a Secular Students group at the University of Illinois recently tried “transfaith” for this same purpose. I’d say the group had their hearts in the right place, and “transfaith” is about 5% less bad than “interfaith,” but that’s still pretty bad.

        Work with people of faith, but not for faith — we can cooperate for real-world effectiveness, but not to whitewash superstitious bullshit.

        I will not work with anyone under the banner of “xxxxFaith”, no matter what the prefix.

        Except, maybe, “anti”.

        – the Cephalopod King

        • Janstince

          I was going for the “orthogonal” meaning. Essentially, I would see it as a line with the god-folk on one side, the godless on the other, and the helping people out line would sprout orthogonally to that line, as in both contribute, but it doesn’t support either position – it’s just helping people.

        • http://www.illinissa.com Edward Clint

          Hello Rieux,

          I am the one who spoke about Transfaith, and I do find it superior to “interfaith”. I am now more amenable to alternatives to “transfaith”, but you’d not guess why. It isn’t because atheists don’t like it.. it’s because people within interfaith have told me they want to get away from the “faith” substrate.

          We’ve begun to call intergroup cooperative and service work “E Pluribus (Illini)” on my campus. Not a single one of the 10 or so religious groups involved balked at using the name instead of “interfaith”. They simply don’t care, and responded positively to EP.

          • Rieux

            Hi, Ed.

            We’ve voiced our disagreement about “transfaith” before (I think it was on Hemant Mehta’s blog), of course.

            Your news about “E Pluribus Illini” is frankly fantastic, just like everything else I’ve heard about/from your UIUC atheist group… other than the “transfaith” term. Congratulations, and please keep up the good work.

      • davidct

        I find the basic idea of “Faith” to be intellectual poison. Efforts to tart it up in some way with different words should be rejected by secular people.

  • http://weareatheism.com Amanda Brown

    I completely agree JT and was a little disappointed that greg didn’t speak up more about this during the panel. Interfaith isn’t a moniker that is a necessity for atheists or theists to do charitable works or to do those works together. It has recently been used in order to force a platform for those of “faith” to feel like its ok to say its that faith that is helping them do these charitable works while making atheists look like we are compromising in order to do these good works instead of what it is. Helping people for the sake of helping people and finding the closest outlet to do so. Hence why I am the director of philanthropy for Kansas City Atheist coalition rather than doing interfaith. Atheists can do great things in the charitable works department without doing and can make a bigger statement while doing it.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    I will write a whole post today on interfaith work addressing this and other issues, but for now:

    It seems like your problem with interfaith work is, essentially, calling it interfaith work. Is that accurate? Is the name the element which turns you off?

    If so, what is so objectionable about it, exactly? By what mechanism does atheist participation in events labeled “interfaith”, having negotiated opportunities to present our perspective, lead to a reinforcement of faith? It seems to me the presence of the explicitly faithless would do the opposite.

    If interfaith efforts already exist which do good work without atheist involvement, do you think it helps or harms our cause to get involved while maintaining an explicitly atheistic position? Example: I spoke last year, and will speak again this year, at the Boston Pride Interfaith Service. Should I not do so?

    Interfaith work generally involves some component designed to improve understanding between different religious and nonreligious groups. How do you feel about this work?

    How do you propose to close the well-documented gap in giving, volunteerism and civic-engagement between people engaged in religious communities and those who are not, especially if we pass up opportunities because of the interfaith label?

    Answers to these questions will help me compose my thoughts on this. Thanks!

    • Robert B.

      By what mechanism does atheist participation in events labeled “interfaith”, having negotiated opportunities to present our perspective, lead to a reinforcement of faith?

      Well, because it’s a lie. If athiests call cooperation between the religious and non-religious “interfaith,” we are saying that they have a faith, and we have a faith, and there is cooperation between those two faiths. That’s what the word “interfaith” was constructed to mean. (The prefix “inter,” of course, means “between,” as in the “internet” between computers and the “international” waters between nations.)

      Athiests do not have a faith. The claim that we do is one of the most common (and infuriatingly false) arguments against us. Faith is exactly what we reject and oppose. If we work under the name, the metaphorical banner, of “faith”, we are endorsing it, legitimizing the concept, and implicitly surrendering to the claim that atheism is just another religion.

      Or to put it another way, the presence of the explicitly faithless is always nice, but faithlessness isn’t all that explicit if the faithless are calling themselves faithful at the same time. You can’t cancel the meaning of the word “interfaith” by saying “but I’m an atheist!”

      • http://humanistcommunityproject.org James Croft

        Thanks for your response Robert B. Your position is commonly-expressed. The idea that, by participating under an “interfaith” banner atheists will be essentially unable to differentiate themselves from faith-perspectives, and will legitimize the concept of atheism AS a faith, is one that sometimes concerns me and is something I take into account whenever I decide if I will participate in an interfaith event or not. That’s why I included in my question the important condition that atheists who participate are given the opportunity to present their perspective (which includes representation in advertising literature, press coverage etc.).

        However, I ultimately find this case unconvincing. I don’t see my participation in the Boston Pride Interfaith Service, for example, as a form of “lying” – I find that a ridiculous claim, frankly. At no point did I or would I say that I have a “faith” in a religious sense, or endorse or support the idea of unjustified beliefs. Indeed, whenever I participate in such events I make it absolutely clear that I am a rationalist, a naturalist, a Humanist and an atheist. This is not “lying”. It is forthright expression of my own beliefs in a setting which otherwise would be closed to Humanist voices. This is the most courageous form of truth-telling there is: speaking truth to a powerful, established and potentially hostile audience.

        In my experience (and I’m interested – what experience do you have with interfaith work yourself?), the presence of the explicitly faithless serves to destabilize and problematize the term “interfaith”. Staying away allows the term to go untroubled, and allows the religious to perpetuate the falsehood that only religious people are capable of working together for the common good. When nonreligious people are there it causes constant destabilization of the enterprise, semantically speaking. People need always to remember to include you. They have to change the language they use. They have to think about the advertising materials and the discussion protocol. This is good for us. It forces religious people to contend with the fact that here are atheists just as morally-committed and powerfully-spoken as they are (of course you need morally-committed and powerfully-spoken atheists for this to work). This helps break down prejudice and broaden horizons, all in our favor.

        I think we need atheist champions willing to head into the lion’s den of interfaith work and stand up for atheism, rather than carping from the sidelines in semantic terror. I refuse to bow to religious privilege: my atheism is quite strong enough to defeat common meanings of a term like “interfaith”, to remain steadfast in religious spaces, and to advocate secular values among religious voices.

        In practice, in my experience, it is better to get involved in established interfaith organizations and events and present an unapologetic atheism than to allow such events to go ahead without us and let their faithiness go unchallenged. The argument “but faith is in the name strikes me as feeble and, dare I say it, accommodationist.

    • http://weareatheism.com Amanda Brown

      As the Director of Philanthropy for a non-profit organization who has tried to participate in interfaith and now we most likely will only work with one religiously affiliated organization due to the issues of being non-religious and trying to do good things I think my opinion will help.

      Being a member of the nonreligious already makes you an outcast and here in KS the Interfaith Groups do not want you involved let alone to be near their youth. So trying to find a place was difficult. Once we did and I tried to help the people realize we are all just here to do the same thing, Help People, they began to calm down. But the religious saw it not as a chance to understand the nonreligious or to help us all work together like the interfaith groups would suggest. They used it as an opportunity to proselytize and made it nearly impossible to get the work done.

      We tried again with just an organization that was religious (Christian) but didn’t force anyone to be of a certain faith to be apart of their organization. (Kansas City Rescue Mission – homeless shelter). We delivered meals with them in order to feed needy families who just didn’t have enough this year to celebrate Thanksgiving or really feed themselves in general. No one proselytized, but we did help people to understand that we were just good people doing good things and that no faith was needed in order to do this. So in the end, interfaith where many religious ppl of different religions coming together proved more impossible than working with those who just wanted to help people. I don’t think Interfaith is necessary when there are things like KCAC, FBB, etc. that can do good works directly and be examples right there in the community.

      The term “Interfaith” to me requires FAITH in order for it to fit under its own label. Secular people whether they are atheist or humanist etc. do not fit this requirement. Nor is there any need for us to try to fit into the interfaith system. There are plenty of good people doing good things without going through an interfaith project. I just think in the end the nonreligious do not need to be represented in interfaith. We have no faith that “forces” us to do these good works, we do them because we want to and feel we should.

      Now should we work with religious people at all? That’s debatable. I don’t think it harms anyone to work with people from different viewpoints. I mean that would be like telling members of teh LGBTQIA community not to be involved in community works as well right because they are an out group too. So I think the way interfaith works and how it goes about doing things doesn’t fit well with what I know a lot of atheists here in KC want to do, which is just help people with out religion getting involved and interfaith does precisely that, it involves the religious. I think there are enough atheists out there to do many of the same things religious institutions have done we just haven’t given them the opportunity. We haven’t given atheists the chance to run a homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter free from religion. Please name one that exists and I bet you’d have hundred of thousands of atheists flocking there to donate their time and money or both. Why don’t we just start doing out own thing and leave religion out of it since we don’t agree with it anyway and most of us find religion in general to be harmful overall. Why do we want to keep allowing it to progress when we really shouldn’t be?

    • Rieux

      It seems like your problem with interfaith work is, essentially, calling it interfaith work.

      I can’t speak for JT, but that is certainly the chief basis of my “problem with interfaith work,” yes.

      If so, what is so objectionable about it, exactly?

      Because it unavoidably promotes the legitimacy and salience, and therefore the power and privilege, of religion. Promoting faith inescapably means marginalizing and disempowering atheists.

      By what mechanism does atheist participation in events labeled “interfaith”, having negotiated opportunities to present our perspective, lead to a reinforcement of faith?

      First, I am aware of no basis for anyone to take such “opportunities to present our perspective” seriously. At best, those are “opportunities” for a doubter or two to state a few deferential mewling sentences, ones forgotten immediately by all and sundry at the hooray-for-faith pep rally, about how atheists sorta like good stuff too.

      At worst, in light of the fact that there is a strong correlation between (1) atheist support for interfaith activities and (2) atheist complicity in savage back-stabbing attacks on fellow atheists who dare to defy religious privilege, the “opportunity” is only for a sneering Uncle Tom to gain a soapbox to lead said faith pep rally in another Two Minutes Hate directed those scummy subhumans who dare to question the wonderfulness of religion.

      Either way, the upshot is that religion gains salience, power, and privilege, and atheists are marginalized and pathologized.

      Then, as for your question of “mechanism,” it’s hard to see how anyone could miss it. Calling such efforts “interfaith” is indistinguishable from paying for billboard space to blare the message “FAITH IS GOOD.” You might as well inquire after the “mechanism” by which atheists paying money to help fund such a billboard would “lead to a reinforcement of faith”—it’s exactly the same issue.

      The very purpose, not to mention the inevitable effect, of calling an organization or an effort “interfaith” is to promote and strengthen faith. As a result, any resources (including time and energy) committed to such an effort necessarily and unavoidably promote and strengthen faith.

      It seems to me the presence of the explicitly faithless would do the opposite.

      Then it would appear to me that you have an absurdly inflated vision of your ability to make your (presumably) conditional support of “interfaith” efforts clear to a privileged and at best indifferent audience.

      Returning to the “FAITH IS GOOD” billboard analogy above, you might as well ask whether an atheist (one who had donated heavily to the fund to pay for said billboard) standing on the ground underneath the billboard, mumbling vague notions about freedom of conscience and critical inquiry while rush-hour drivers speed by on the highway, would have any effect on the billboard’s faith-promotion potency. That you think such an atheist would have “the opposite” effect seems to me to demonstrate severe myopia.

      If interfaith efforts already exist which do good work….

      It begs to be noted that “good work” is only part of such efforts’ story, of course. “Interfaith efforts” to feed homeless people or support marriage equality are “good” insofar as they actually feed homeless people or support marriage equality—but at the same time they are bad in that they promote the salience, legitimacy, and power of religion and religious classifications at the same time. As a result, mentioning only the “good work” angle amounts to eliding the much more fundamental and unavoidable result of interfaith efforts (secular efforts can feed homeless people and support marriage equality just as effectively, whereas there’s nothing about “interfaith” that ensures it’ll lead to any legitimately “good work” at all).

      If the people running your favorite “interfaith efforts” were primarily concerned with actual “good work” and not religious privilege, they wouldn’t call those efforts “interfaith.” They’d just do the good work.

      …without atheist involvement, do you think it helps or harms our cause to get involved while maintaining an explicitly atheistic position?

      Harms, obviously. It, by definition, promotes religion. “An explicitly atheistic position” in such social contexts is a tree falling in the forest with no one around to care about, much less hear, it.

      According to Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola’s work, there are hundreds if not thousands of American clergy who hold “an explicitly atheistic position” in their heads even while they preach religious sermons, distribute communion, baptize children, and all of the other centrally religious functions of their jobs. I’ve yet to see any indication that the “position” you mention has any more effect on society than that silent “position” of theirs does—which is to say, any at all.

      Example: I spoke last year, and will speak again this year, at the Boston Pride Interfaith Service. Should I not do so?

      No, you shouldn’t. You are lending your time and energy to the very forces that marginalize and pathologize nonbelievers. You are strengthening faith, which necessarily means disempowering the faithless. I wish you’d stop.

      Religious efforts to horn in on the movement for civil rights for LBGT people are just the latest version of a story that’s been continuing as long as U.S. history has. First, justice movements (abolition, feminism, Civil Rights, you name it) begin as heavily skeptical entities attacking mainstream American Christian bigotry. Then, over decades or centuries, they slowly carve out larger and larger chunks of the arrogant and self-centered religious majority until finally they’ve tempted enough Christians to abandon bigoted superstition in favor of basic human rights for the movement to be socially relevant. With religious support thus secured (and inevitably placed up front because of the crushing weight of religious privilege), the movement wins some battles, frequently changing society for the better. …And then a short while afterward, Christianity claims credit for the entire movement, utterly ignoring the fact that the movement was initially overwhelmingly irreligious and was always more so than the surrounding populace. Result: yet another point in favor of “Christianity is good for us,” despite the all-but-uniform religiosity of the opposition to every such movement and the slothful reluctance of the Religious Middle to value humanity over mythological nonsense.

      “Pride Interfaith Services” are just that same narrative playing out again. All you’re doing is helping make an ignorant Christian apologist’s case, circa 2062, for her.

      Interfaith work generally involves some component designed to improve understanding between different religious and nonreligious groups. How do you feel about this work?

      If it’s under the banner of “interfaith,” the reference in that supposed “design” to “nonreligious groups” is utterly disingenuous. It makes as much sense as purported efforts to achieve racial reconciliation under the banner of “White Power.”

      How do you propose to close the well-documented gap in giving, volunteerism and civic-engagement between people engaged in religious communities and those who are not,

      Discredit and destroy religious privilege. Strengthen atheist visibility and identity. Build atheist communities. In the longer term, discredit religious faith and authority.

      especially if we pass up opportunities because of the interfaith label?

      “The interfaith label” is directly antagonistic to every single one of the above efforts. It strengthens religious privilege, faith, and authority, batters atheist visibility, dilutes atheist community, and denies (indeed flatly eliminates) atheist identity. It’s lending direct aid and comfort to the enemy at every turn.

      Atheists, both individually and communally, are perfectly capable of “doing good work,” including in conjunction with religious people and organizations, without knuckling under the identity-obliterating banner of “interfaith.” Atheists doing work as atheists are standing up for ourselves. Atheists doing work that promotes faith are voting with their hands and feet that we do not and need not exist.

      • Desert Son, OM

        Rieux,

        To invoke a phrase I’ve seen bandied about the Intarwebs: your post is Made of Win.

        Still learning,

        Robert

      • http://humanistcommunityproject.org James Croft

        Thank you – I’ll respond to these points in full in my post, but here I’ll just respond to this, because here I think is the crux of our disagreement:

        it would appear to me that you have an absurdly inflated vision of your ability to make your (presumably) conditional support of “interfaith” efforts clear to a privileged and at best indifferent audience.

        I think the inverse is true: you have a very meager and defeatist vision of atheists’ ability to articulate a clear moral vision which is compelling to believers and non-believers alike. I think it is increasingly ironic that my position is frequently labeled “accommodationist” when I argue that atheists can make a difference, and that Humanism can be compelling, powerful, and captivating, and those who oppose interfaith think the religious and their narratives are so strong that we cannot take the fight to them on their own ground. Where’s your backbone?

        I think we can do battle in the lands of the faithful, and I believe we can win. I think this is one of the very best ways we can destabilize religious privilege. If you don’t believe Humanist voices in interfaith spaces can be strong enough to hold their own, then please, do not raise your voice. But don’t try to stop me from doing so just because you think you can’t win.

        • Rieux

          The site doesn’t seem to be letting me reply at the moment. I blame God.

          If this one goes through, I’ll make a third attempt at posting my response to James.

          • Rieux

            Worked the third time. Possibly it was a link to Dan Savage’s Spreading Santorum site (removed in Try #3) that was getting the comment clogged in a spam filter or something.

        • Rieux

          [This is potentially triple-posted; my first two attempts, many minutes ago, don't seem to have worked. JT, please delete all-but-one of these identical replies of mine if they all eventually show up together.]

          it would appear to me that you have an absurdly inflated vision of your ability to make your (presumably) conditional support of “interfaith” efforts clear to a privileged and at best indifferent audience.

          I think the inverse is true: you have a very meager and defeatist vision of atheists’ ability to articulate a clear moral vision which is compelling to believers and non-believers alike.

          What? That’s nonsense; I have no doubts about “atheists’ ability to articulate” damn near anything at all. What your paraphrase entirely omits is the context of this “articulation” of yours—your attempt to deliver a worthwhile message at an event that’s fundamentally dedicated to promoting the exact opposite.

          You might as well be arguing for the fabulously smart political tactic of attending a Mitt Romney rally—while, in the process, buying a “MITT IS IT” T-shirt, having your picture taken by Romney campaign photographers standing in front of a “ROMNEY 2012″ banner, cheering at Romney’s stump speech, and so forth. Then, as the crowd exits the hall, you mention to a few Republicans in your immediate vicinity that Barack Obama is a swell President who deserves to be re-elected.

          As an Obama supporter, I’d say that that’s a notably worthless way to “support” the President. And yet it’s precisely the manner in which you think you’re supporting atheists: you contend that a few words that your audience will simply disregard—because what you’re arguing is directly contrary to the purpose of the event you and they are attending, and indeed the institution that created said event—somehow makes up for the fact that every other ounce of your participation communicates exactly the converse message, and promotes precisely the opposite cause, of your speech.

          I think we can do battle in the lands of the faithful, and I believe we can win.

          “Do battle”?!?

          Look, if you’re serious about that idea, then I’ll take it all back. If your plan is to get up at an interfaith event and denounce the privileged and oppressive nature of interfaith, which promotes religion at the expense of the social justice efforts the event is supposedly dedicated to, then everything changes. If you’re at that rally to heckle Romney, to call him out on all of his absurd misrepresentations of Obama’s record, then that may or may not be good political strategy, but at least it isn’t licking the hegemon’s boots and pretending that that’s constructive. (It’s more like planting some, er, other bodily fluid on said boots.)

          But that’s not the presentation I’ve taken you to be advocating. Surely you’re contemplating a “hey, interfaith people: interfaith is good, but atheists are good, too” approach, no?

          That’s not “battle,” James. It is, as I said, “a few deferential mewling sentences, ones forgotten immediately by all and sundry at the hooray-for-faith pep rally, about how atheists sorta like good stuff too.”

          Of course atheists have an “ability to articulate a clear moral vision which is compelling to believers and non-believers alike.” But that’s only the case if we stay on our feet, meet our audience eye-to-eye, and present clearly and proudly who we are and what we do and don’t believe. “We’re here, we’re atheists; get used to it.”

          That’s simply impossible in an uncritically “interfaith” context, because unashamed atheism and religious privilege are fundamentally incompatible. Which means that atheist support of “interfaith” is the antithesis of standing upright: it’s bended-knee, bowed-head capitulation to the hegemon and his self-serving prejudices. You can tell (1) “interfaith” religionists or (2) atheists who oppose it all the sweet tales you’d like with your mouth; regardless, all that either group is going to hear is the far louder message you’re delivering with your knee and head.

          • http://humanistcommunityproject.org James Croft

            If your plan is to get up at an interfaith event and denounce the privileged and oppressive nature of interfaith, which promotes religion at the expense of the social justice efforts the event is supposedly dedicated to, then everything changes.

            My approach changes somewhat depending on the event – there are times for steel and times for velvet – but yes, this is precisely the sort of thing I often do at interfaith events. Indeed, something like this is sometimes what Chris Stedman does at interfaith events too.

            I think one real problem here is that many of the critics have never actually seen what happens at these events we are discussing. You have no fucking data. My post will seek to remedy this somewhat.

            Interfaith events are one of the best places to attack religious privilege – it’s a whole lot of fun!

          • Rieux

            You have no fucking data.

            Okay, touché. You show me a guns-(and gnus)-blazin’, we’re-here-we’re-queer-get-used-to-it-style presentation you’ve given in an “interfaith” context that calls the sponsors of that context on their destructive privilege and sticks it to The Man, and I’ll agree that you personally don’t deserve to be a target of the bile I’ve offered here.

            You show me such a presentation that’s been given by Chris Stedman, and I may have to eat my hat—but few people will notice me doing so, due to the potent distraction provided by all the flying pigs.

            I’m still feeling a little wary about your “velvet” approach, and I’m not sure why you’ve taken the defense-of-interfaith posture you have here if your approach in a non-negligible number of such settings has amounted to stomping in with figurative guns ablaze—but you’ve out-empiricisted me for now, so I’m happy to check out the relevant “data” in question.

        • Beth

          atheists’ ability to articulate a clear moral vision which is compelling to believers and non-believers alike. I think it is increasingly ironic that my position is frequently labeled “accommodationist” when I argue that atheists can make a difference, and that Humanism can be compelling, powerful, and captivating,

          While I agree that atheists can certainly articulate such a vision, I think at that point they have moved beyond mere atheism and are now championing Humanism or some other ‘ism’.

          While I personally applaud your efforts at integrating atheists into interfaith channels, I think such efforts are better suited under the humanist label, which has no inherent animosity towards faith.

          I think it is also worth mentioning that atheists may also be participating under the labels of Buddhism, Judaism, and even Christianity. There are sects (is that the right word?) in each of those faith traditions that are quite comfortable with atheistic members. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that such sects exist in the Hindu and Muslim faiths as well. In addition, Scientologists are technically atheists, although I don’t know if they tend to participate in interfaith efforts.

          So, atheists can be assumed to be participating in such efforts, even if they aren’t doing so under that explicit label. Given the animosity that many atheists have expressed in that regard and the fact that atheism, by itself, does NOT have a professed set of values, it just makes more sense to me for atheists to participate under what ‘ism’ they individually have faith in.

          I’ll look forward to seeing your post on this subject.

        • screechy monkey

          I think it is increasingly ironic that my position is frequently labeled “accommodationist” when I argue that atheists can make a difference, and that Humanism can be compelling, powerful, and captivating, and those who oppose interfaith think the religious and their narratives are so strong that we cannot take the fight to them on their own ground. Where’s your backbone?

          Oh, bullshit. People label you an accommodationist because we don’t think we can “take the fight to them on their own ground.” People label you an accommodationist because we don’t think that you are willing to do anything vaguely resembling a “fight,” except perhaps to criticize those atheists who do.

          • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

            This just demonstrates your wholesale ignorance of my work. Get informed, then try again.

          • screechymonkey

            Right, because ignorance is the only possible way for anyone to disagree with you. God, you’re a smug fucking asshole.

          • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

            If you think I’m not willing to fight for my principles, you are ignorant about me and my work. You didn’t articulate a disagreement. You made an attack. I rebuff your baseless attack and say again – get informed.

          • screechymonkey

            Like by reading the post you linked below, in which you pat yourself on the back repeatedly for your “courage” in “muscling your way in” to the “lion’s den”?

            Yeah, read that. Wasn’t impressed with it or your description of your “work.”

          • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

            Present your arguments. This is just mewling. By the way, I’m writing from Cranston, RI, where I’m speaking up for Jessica Ahlquist’s. What are you up to this evening, anonymous screecher?

          • screechymonkey

            Ah, I knew we’d get to that soon enough.

            I’m not a self-proclaimed movement leader. So what I do with my free time is, frankly, none of your damn business.

            As to presenting my criticisms, let’s be clear here. You put together a big fat strawman, claiming that people only call you an accomodationist because they don’t think atheism can stand up to opposition. You’re the one making the claim about your critics and what they believe, how about you back it up?

          • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

            All words no action. Figures. Not worth my time to respond to your blatant hypocrisy and mean-spirited nastiness. I’ll keep fighting the good fight. You keep posting on blogs.

          • screechymonkey

            Thanks, I will! And you can go on putting on your “Humanist garb” and lighting candles at your “Temple” while you brag about all the “fighting” you do. Sounds great to me.

          • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

            I have to admit this made me laugh =D. I know a lot of the stuff I do and how I write sounds goofy to many atheists. I’m ok with that, because it fits how I think of my own Humanism, but I laugh at myself long and hard and often!

            I think you may have a point about back-patting in my article. I was writing in response to a common narrative on these blogs and others which consistently denigrates people who take an approach like mine, so I wanted to stress that what I choose to do is principled and, sometimes, difficult. But I can see how it could come across as excessively self-congratulatory – point taken.

  • http://www.facebook.com/liberalism Katie Hartman

    If the point is to create opportunities for volunteerism without any particular doctrines looming overhead, JT’s right – we’re just looking for a synonym for ‘secular’ that doesn’t sound so goddamn godless. And why should we represent ourselves less if one of our primary stated goals is to be represented?

  • Matt Penfold

    A few years ago I was involved in a charity that provided short term accommodation for homeless young people. I suppose you could have called it interfaith, since we had support from Quakers, from Anglicans, from Catholics and from people of no faith or whose faith was unknown. However none us considered in an interfaith group, we just saw a need that was not being met and did our best to meet it.

    There was only one time I can recall religion being an issue and that was when a couple from an evangelical church volunteered to help. We accepted their help, but the trust we put in them was soon abused as we found they were using their position to proselytize the young people we were helping. It is the only time I come across a Quaker literally quaking with anger. We gor rid of the straight away. I am pleased to say that the decision was unanimous, with no dissent from any of the religious people in the charity. In fact they seemed more outraged that I, an atheist, was.

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    Here’s a necessary preliminary work to my upcoming post on interfaith work:

    http://harvardhumanist.org/2012/02/16/the-freethinkers-political-textbook-steel-velvet-and-the-honorable-duelist/

  • Pingback: Temple of the Future

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    And here is my mammoth post on interfaith work responding to the main criticisms I have encountered, especially from Rieux’s incisive points here.

    http://www.templeofthefuture.net/activism/inside-interfaith-principled-engagement-is-the-key

  • http://www.illinissa.com Edward Clint

    I’d urge you all to read James’ rather comprehensive reply. I entirely agree with what he has written, and to those of you who were at reasonfest, those were some of the points I wanted to get across.

    I would like to add one thing, however. I think the concept of “interfaith activity” (note I’m NOT talking about the IFYC or how Eboo Patel spends his holidays)implicit in criticisms made here and elsewhere are unduly constrained and exaggerated. For example, I spoke at SSA and CFI cons last summer about how atheist groups can conduct their own “interfaith” (and yes I don’t like the word, nor did we ever use it in our own activities)events. There is no subversion of atheist free speech nor tokenism nor failure to criticize religious notions when it is we, the New Atheists, who are running things. And run things we have.

    Second, some favor a highly insulting view of theists such that they are conniving game-players exploiting a coalition of mostly-the-religious to gain legitimacy or false esteem. This is almost surely true *sometimes*, but leveling the claim against “interfaith activity” makes about as much sense as making pejorative claims about the “secularists”. The claim is so broad it can’t fail to be wrong. Moreever, those of us who have done the work and met the people know that they are quite often terrific folks who don’t care whatever about gaining legitimacy (they already have god on their side, they hardly need us), and are in fact just doing interfaith to build community, to help those who desperately need it, and so on. I have counter-evidence. Where is yours?


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