This piece is part of a series of blogs in partnership with Secular Student Alliance to highlight the importance of secular students in the interfaith movement and to celebrate the release of Chris Stedman's new book, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. For more information on interfaith work for secular students, download From Story to Action: Tips for Bridging the Religious-Nonreligious Divide.
Why should atheists be involved in interfaith? Shouldn’t the fact that we have no faith exclude us from talks between people of different faiths? These are the reasons some atheists give for not being involved in interfaith work. But I’d like to explain why it’s so important for atheists to get involved.
A recent Gallup poll from June, 2012, showed that only 54% of Americans would ever, under any circumstances, vote for an atheist for president. This is the first time that this is over 50%. Another recent study from University of British Columbia and University of Oregon showed that atheists are the most distrusted group in America. We are looked down upon as a group of people just for our lack of belief in a supernatural deity.
This is why I started The Secular Association of Skeptical Students (SASS), and also why I am involved in interfaith work. To take a quote directly from SASS’ mission statement, “We want to have an outlet for people of non-religious views to add to the interfaith discussion and to help alleviate the stigma against non-theists that exists in society.” Participating in interfaith dialogue is the best way to help lessen the stigma against atheists. By having conversations with people, you can show them that atheists aren’t inherently evil and are, in fact, as human as everyone else.
I love to have meaningful conversations with people about my beliefs and why I hold them, and I love hearing about other people’s beliefs. That’s why I attended Interfaith Youth Core’s (IFYC) Interfaith Leadership Institute (ILI). I was surprised by how little people knew about atheists and atheism. There were a lot of people that had never met an atheist before, and were quite surprised to see that I don’t spew venom.
I was surprised by how few atheists there were at the ILI. There is definitely a need for more atheist involvement in the interfaith movement. Although, I didn’t meet any other nonreligious students while there, I did get to talk to Chris Stedman, the incredible speaker on atheist involvement in the interfaith movement, and the author of the new book Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. Chris Stedman is an incredible speaker and a great guy who advocates for atheist involvement in the interfaith movement. His work building bridges between the religious and nonreligious has helped humanize atheists and break down the stereotypes that marginalize us.
As an atheist, I get to view a lot of religious conflict from the outside. As such, I see interfaith work as the best way to help end religious violence. Through IFYC’s Voice, Engage, Act platform, we can show the world that we are better together.
If you are an atheist, I hope you are convinced to get involved in interfaith. If there isn’t already a Secular Student Alliance group at your school, start one and involve it heavily in interfaith work. If there isn’t an interfaith group at your school, start one. If you have the opportunity to attend an ILI, go. You won’t regret it.
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