What the atheist and theist can do together

A friend left this comment on my facebook the other day.  It will get use from me in the future.

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. You don’t have to relinquish your beliefs to have that conversation, you just have to not include them. That’s the point and the problem. The “middle ground” for an atheist and a believer is not actually somewhere in between: it’s where the atheist already is.

Yup.  Anytime you hear a report of “Oh look!  Believers and atheists working together to better the world!” you can bet they’ll be doing something like feeding the poor which has absolutely zero to do with faith.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd Christina

    Like, like and like some more!

    We need to point this out whenever we can – secularity IS neutrality.

  • Laurence

    That’s a really good quote.

  • SuperM


  • SuperM

    Got in a twitter chat with Reza Aslan the other day. All he could do was tweet tired, prepared, material, completely lacking any substance… sad.

  • The Lorax

    “Here’s the answer is to what theists and atheists can do together: secular work.”

    … That’s as far as I got before my brain BSOD’d.

  • Vicki

    This should be a “yes, of course.” The person collecting signatures to get someone on the primary ballot doesn’t ask me whether I’m an atheist, they ask if I’m a registered Democrat. If I’m picking up random trash in the park, I’m doing it because I want a clean park; if the next person who does the same is a theist, fine, they’re still doing something good. And so on for a huge number of useful things; transit funding or clean air or Medicare don’t have anything to do with whether someone believes in gods.

  • http://inmyunbelief.wordpress.com TCC (fka The Christian Cynic)

    But in the same respect, many religious people do put aside their beliefs, even when they’re not working alongside atheists. I’m not sure that this tells us anything useful about how theists and atheists should interact, to be honest.

    Also, I think there is a little bit of asymmetry here: obviously atheists cannot have religious beliefs to leave behind at the door when they do secular work, but certainly atheists don’t need to attack or mock theists that they work with. That’s just common courtesy, anyway, and I doubt it is a problem for atheists in general (although I’ve met some atheists, likely a very tiny minority, who I would have to advise to tone down that kind of stuff). I’m not even sure it’s a widespread problem for theists, to be fair: you just see it more frequently because there are more theists. I’ve done some volunteering for at least nominally secular charities (even though they partnered with churches and were run mostly, if not entirely, by religious individuals), and maybe it was because they assumed I was religious (I was at the time) because they knew my minister father, but religion was never really brought up when I made deliveries of produce and other goods.

    So I guess I don’t disagree, per se, but I’m not sure this is as much of a “gotcha” as implied.

    • Robert B.

      Uh, actually I think your supposed asymmetry is bogus. Atheists definitely do have beliefs they should set aside for a moment while working with theists. One obvious example: “there is no God.” Ntm, a lot of atheists don’t see “there is no God” as a core belief, but as secondary to their skepticism or rationalism or humanism, and those all come (for many of their adherents) with a great many ideas that don’t play well with religion. Certainly when I’m with my religious friends and coworkers, I don’t talk about my belief that faith is poisonous to reason.

      And the idea that atheists are the ones – by implication, the only ones – who have to refrain from attacking or mocking the other side is ludicrously and obviously false. Just like in any big conflict, atheists and religious people both attack and mock each other. Not everyone in either group does this, but it definitely comes from both sides. (Sometimes mockery is justified or even necessary, but obviously when your goal is to work together with someone, attacking them would be just unproductive and rude, and that kind of behavior needs to be set aside for a moment.) To pretend that atheists are the only ones that ever fail in what you rightly call “common courtesy” is insulting, and the sort of thoughtless statement that entrenches religious privilege.

      I don’t think Luke Gyure meant that when atheists and religious people work together, the athiests don’t have any beliefs to not include. I think he meant that atheists already know how to stop talking religion and start getting work done, setting aside our beliefs for a moment but not abandoning or compromising them, and that (more) religious believers ought to learn to do that, too.

  • tubi

    If you are reading the next post and look at the links below that point to the preceding and following posts, it reads:

    “What the atheist and theist can do together…Christian porn”

    That kind of threw me for a moment.

  • Mark

    For a Christian, it should be less about who does the work and more about Who gets the glory.