Alex Gabriel of The Heresy Club has a great post up exploring a different way of doing interfaith (or “interview”) discussion – discussion characterized not so much by the search for common ground but by critical examination of each other’s’ beliefs. Sounds great! His criticism of much interfaith discussion is spot-on, and worth sharing:
I think that, frequently, [interfaith projects are] masturbatory in nature, staging vague discussions of ill-defined souls and spirit-realms to no real end. I think that, frequently, they’re over-ecumenical, making the most diverse belief sets, like Judaism and Hinduism, sound obviously compatible, when the world would look very different if that were obvious. I think they frequently enforce the idea any faith is better than none; I think since they tend to attract moderate believers, religion’s everyday results on planet Earth are often viewed with rose-tinted glasses and not faced head on – and I think by gathering in the name of faith, they often fail to acknowledge critiques of religion in general which skeptics would call obvious.
I’ve certainly attended such events: there was an air of faithy back-patting at the Forum on Tolerance I recently attended. It’s great, as Alex points out, to have other ways of engaging in discussion with people of different views. Alex might be interested in the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, which is a group dedicated to providing spaces to critically discuss religion with others without avoiding critical differences in view (which, he may be surprised to learn, was recommended to me by none other than Chris Stedman himself =P).
The one thing I’d add to Alex’s post is this: however problematic many interfaith spaces are, I still think it valuable to atheists to attend them. Staying away really does not serve our movement. No individual should go to any event which they wouldn’t feel comfortable attending, but it is important, in my view, for atheists to be present even in the midst of the hottest interfaith circle-jerks.