Can Interfaith Communities Work for Atheists? April 21, 2010

Can Interfaith Communities Work for Atheists?

For years, I’ve been torn about the Interfaith movement.

I’m not sure whether to embrace them or reject them.

In response to last week’s Chicago Tribune article about college atheists, Eboo Patel and Samantha Kirby of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) wrote a piece for the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog.

They argue that young atheists are going in a good direction — from the “aggressive” anti-theism of the New Atheists to the more cooperative, interfaith-minded Humanism of the newer atheists.

To help make their case, they say nice things about me:

Atheists today are partnering with religious groups to do service projects; dialoguing and engaging with other religious groups and organizations on campus; and changing the public discourse through blogs, like Mehta’s Friendly Atheist and Chris Stedman’s Non-Prophet Status.

Sounds a heck of a lot like interfaith leadership to me.

So these days when non-religious folks come up after a speech and ask how they can be involved we point them to one place — their peers, who are pioneering interfaith leadership as atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

They also quote the Tribune article:

Hemant Mehta, chair of the Secular Student Alliance’s board of directors, reveals…: “And, personally, if my neighbor’s religious, I don’t really care. I’m less interested in the controversy, and I’m more interested in, what can we do with the beliefs that we do share?” Indeed, a recent Pew study found that 20% of young Americans identify as atheist, agnostic or have “no religion.” As Mehta and others point out, this doesn’t mean they lack values in common with their religious peers.

That quotation is true, but it needs clarification.

A lot of college-aged atheists do support dialoguing with people of different faiths and the Secular Student Alliance does encourage our affiliates to participate in service projects (including those done in conjunction with religious groups). We think it’s important to show that we can indeed be good without a god. We want to prove that the stereotypes people have about us are misleading and incorrect and one way to do that is through close interaction with people from religious backgrounds.


At the same time, it doesn’t mean we’re complacent about the religious beliefs of the people we’re working with. And I don’t know if IFYC would approve of my other thoughts about religion.

I think those beliefs can lead to wars, “honor” killings, science-denial, oppression, and bigotry, among other dangers. Religion is not always a force for good.

I don’t want to just “let our differences slide” or “agree to disagree.”

I want to persuade religious people that they are mistaken when it comes to their mythology. Not through proselytization or trickery, but through rational, reasoned discussion.

We can work together and we can do wonderful things to help our communities and we ought to do that. But not in lieu of reasoned debate and a desire to point out the problems with the other person’s beliefs.

As far as I can tell, those are not thoughts which IFYC supports. My impression is that they want “religious pluralism.” They want religious people to grow in their faith. They avoid confrontation when it comes to conflicts/contradictions between religious beliefs.

Is there room for people like me who think Islam, Mormonism, and Christianity are false? And who try to tackle sacred cows like reincarnation, Heaven, and karma?

I want people to lose their faith just as much as the New Atheists do. At the very least, I want them to promote secular values like church/state separation and appreciate the scientific method to finding truth. Maybe the way to do that is to plant those seeds among the more moderate religious types (at interfaith gatherings) and hope they can pass it along to the more extreme types.

So I’m in this awkward position, caught somewhere between “aggressive atheism” and happy/smiling/rainbows-and-unicorns/all-inclusive interfaith groups — not quite happy with either side of the spectrum.

What do you think?

Should atheists be more active in the interfaith movement or should we avoid it altogether?

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  • Pandora’s Box

    Totally agree. I think an in between position is best, honestly. Sometimes the New Atheists can be so ugly in their arguments that they drive moderates deeper into their faith and seem to justify religion. That ugliness and lack of patience needs to be avoided.

    At the same time moderate religionists need to be given a gentle drip drip drip of information to help them see more vividly the dangers of the extremists that they tend to lend tacit support to.

    In the day to day struggle of life, it can be very difficult for alot of people to ever give serious effort to thinking these things through on their own. Naturally moderates -though half-way there- will default to what they see as more their own kind, if we don’t point out a better way for them.

  • No, stay away from religious people. It dumbs us down. If they want to stay stuck on stupid, let them do it one their own. Atheists should have their own groups. Stand tall, be a proud Atheist. Make Dawkins and Hitchens’ efforts worth their trouble. If you cater to religion, it will never change. We need to tip the table and get more people knowing that Atheists are very good people and love to help society. If anyone is pandering to religious folk, they need to read god is not great by hitchens and keep studying until they get strong enough to reject people with religions as far as working with them on projects. what good is atheism if the majority of humans are going to just stay stuck with religious dogma for eternity.

  • I sympathize with your (and our) position… I feel like they took your quotes somewhat out of context. There’s nothing “interfaithed” about Atheism. We have an immense tolerance of religious people and faiths in general, because we must to survive in this country. They’re such a large majority, and without tolerance and an agreement to act in accordance with them (to a certain degree) we’d face even more discrimination and harships than we do now.

    Maybe I don’t speak for all Atheists here, but personally, I think religion is, as Bill Maher put it: organized ignorance. By many, it’s a die-hard commitment to ignorance and the refusal of discovery, analysis, and knowledge. As such, adherence to religion is corrupt on a mental and societal level, and in many cases, it can lead to immorality – many of us have experienced it personally via discrimination and other acts, and we can find countless instances throughout history.

    I suppose that part of the beauty of Atheism is that we don’t all have one unified set of rules or values. I don’t think we should be out-of-this-world, crazy, “radical”, but “interfaith” is an insulting word when freedom FROM faith is what so many of us seek.

  • Rajesh Shenoy

    Hemant, regardless of all fervent claims and pleas (and prayers!) to the contrary, science and faith ARE incompatible with each other. In fact they are the exact opposite in meaning (and spirit) of each other. Think about this carefully. I know many (like me) wish fervently this weren’t so – it would just alienate us from lots of near and dear ones – but after much soul-searching I have found out that this is a bitter pill that just has to be swallowed, if you wish to retain your rationality. Best of luck!

  • Hemant, I undersand your dilemma. I attend a Unitarian church, and the one part that most troubles me is that I don’t know where the space is there for calling out bad ideas.

    Obviously, a reasonable balance is possible. You speak out against nonsense here, yet religious people are still willing to talk to you and work with you toward understanding.

    It’s the old “accept the person; reject the belief” strategy. Some communities and individuals seem to insist that accepting the belief is a necessary part of accepting the person. While this is clearly false, I still struggle to find ways (from a psychological perspective) of communicating rejection of a belief without inadvertently communicating a rejection of the person holding that belief.

  • codemenkey

    @tim, why bend over backwards? it’s pretty much a no-win situation when someone chooses to identify himself as his beliefs. religious people who engage here, i can reasonably assume, have a healthy disconnect between their selves and their religion (i.e. religion does not consume their lives and identity).

    @steph, atheism is a rejection of the fundamental beliefs of most people, and as such, atheists are inherently radical… but certainly not crazy. it’s not good to tie those two ideas together.

  • SteveC

    “I think those beliefs can lead to wars, “honor” killings, science-denial, oppression, and bigotry, among other dangers. Religion is not always a force for good.”

    Be wary of making an appeal to consequences. You are treading close to saying something akin to “the beliefs of atheists can lead to nihilism, and life has no meaning without God.”

    Whether religion leads to those things or not is independent of whether the claims made by a particular religion are true, false, or even ridiculously false.

    Not to say that the divisive consequences of various relgious beliefs should be ignored. Some people believe in a lucky rabbits foot or a four leaf clover, but nobody gets too upset about these because the consequences of those beliefs are practically nil.

    Just mentioning this because on occasion when I’ve pointed out that theists rely heavily on an appeal to consequences, they’ve turned it around on me and said, “well then, you can’t use the argument that religion causes wars, as that is an appeal to consquences as well.” (except of course that I only meant such a claim as a reason to find religion undesirable, not false — to which they may reply that their appeal to consequences only server to make relgious belief desirable.) Ok, i’ll shut up now.

  • codemenkey

    @stevec: to say that religion is the root of evil acts such as honor killings and holy wars — which it is — is different than saying that religion causes it. no, religion doesn’t cause it, but without religion, it probably wouldn’t have happened.

  • Alex

    Around my area interfaith groups do not welcome or allow secular or non-belief groups to participate.

  • mkb

    I think that we should respect religious people, but be skeptical about their beliefs and we should ally with them when our objectives are the same, but not join them. It doesn’t make sense to me for atheists as atheists to be part of an interfaith alliance (I added the “as atheists” phrase because the issue may be different for the section of atheists who consider themselves to be religious humanists).

  • Honestly I think working with Interfaith groups is a great place to start the process of freeing people from religion. Most super-conservative-you’re-going-to-hell types are so closed off in their beliefs that they will only cooperate with people of their particular brand of religion, meaning that interfaith cooperation groups are likely to bring you up close and personal with the people who are most likely to listen when you talk.
    I think the only chance we have of helping people de-convert is to form relationships with them and let them get comfortable enough with us to openly and honestly talk (and listen) about beliefs. Just as “Bible Thumpers” are a major turn-off for atheists, “God Delusion Thumpers” are a major turn-off for religious people.

  • I think each individual Atheist will make their own call about how much ‘interfaith’ crap they can take. But as long as we are viewed by older generations of religious nuts as bad apples, I feel that no matter how much we volunteer and donate, we will still be painted in a bad light.

    I can see how we could benefit from putting our differences aside, gritting our teeth and working with the delusional. It’s tough not to want to use our rational thought to explain things to them, but then I feel like we are no better than the Mormons who pound on my door at 8am on Saturday mornings.

    I think we should focus on large Atheist groups in major cities doing good. Even a day set for Blood Donation or things that people can participate in, even if they aren’t close to a major city. Having one place to donate money to for charity, or at least have a specific list of charities that don’t cram the bible down people’s throats. I think we need a bigger community. Maybe I feel this way because I have children, but I feel that just because we are small in numbers doesn’t mean we should join sides with Goliath.

    If doing good was only possible by joining up with the religious, I would probably hold my tongue and join in, but it’s not. I am not saying that we should only do good things when we get credit as Atheists, but I know we need to show people we are just as good, if not better, at good works as the religious. I want future generations of Atheists to have a path that the older generations of Atheists laid out for them. I want it to be easier for my children to find that sense of purposeful, charitable community, than it was for me.

    Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  • plutosdad

    I think both are important, we all have to live together, to “not engage” theists is ridiculous, unless you want to go live in your own enclave with a few other atheists that want to shut out most of the world. I don’t think that’s a very good strategy. And whether we like it or not, religion used to be intertwined with philosphy and science and ethics to the point it cannot be separated from them when studying almost anything pre-Enlightenment. We simply have to acknowledge and engage not only organized religion but “spiritual beliefs” for lack of a better term.

    Also (my experience which is anecdotal) lots of modern atheists are mostly against evengelical and fundamentalist christianity. They are not be so viscerally angry with Aquinas or Origen or Denys (or would not be if they read them), who rejected emprical claims about God since he is “unknowable” and rejected literal interpretation of the bible texts. Many of the complaints of modern religion (such as the Argument from Consequence fallacies SteveC points out) barely even apply to Nirvana and Brahmin.

    Secondly, this goes far beyond this issue, many people falsely believe diversity is an end in itself: that no one is “wrong”, that we have to accept all beliefs as equal. Diversity is great, but only when it’s a means to an end. The purpose being to gather more data from people unlike us to help to form better opinions and plans. But nowdays we think it’s wrong (morally) to tell people they are wrong (incorrect). If we go down that road, we end all progress in philosphy, ethics, and science.

    I am lately realizing it is not theism or atheism that is ultimately important, it is acceptance of the scientific method as a way to judge truth. we just reject any idolatry in all forms, whether our faith and belief is in a God, or in a political system. that is what Hitchens gets wrong: putting anything on a pedastal and worshipping it is deadly and results in abuse and often mass murder. The theists get it wrong too. The fascists and communists didn’t murder because they were atheists, they did it because they were idolaters. Their philosphy was more important than human life and consequently became perversions of the original ideas.

    Finally, we have to realize we all have faith. Even scientists have faith: such as the unprovable axioms at the base of mathematics, anyone who has a degree in Math (like me 🙂 ) can tell you this. There are basic axioms which cannot and never will be proven, it’s why they are called axioms. The other kind of faith we and scientists have is when they adopt new theories, such as general relativity being unproven for decades yet most scientists had faith it was true. This second type of faith is of course scientific, general relativity was disprovable, we just didn’t have the technology to test it. But still, they had a belief before the tests were made, few were agnostic about the issue.

    Because in the end, every single thing we think we know WILL be disproven as our science evolves and new ideas replace the old. The most famous example of this is Newtonian gravity which works up to a certain point, but we now know it is wrong; we still use it because the calculations are easy and approximate reality sufficiently most of the time.

    So basically, “we know nothing.” And if we know nothing, how can we get angry and hurt another over nothing? So it should be impossible to become idolotrous over the given accepted theories of the day, instead we must remain commited to the method of improving our knowledge: the scientific method.

  • L.Long

    As some have stated above….
    STAY AWAY!!!! from them.
    They may be cooperating among themselves but ALL religious nutballs HATE atheists!!!
    Our very existence -without g0d sending lightning bolts thru us- is a big wart on the thin skin of their beliefs.
    Individually they may be OK but as a group it is just a lynch mob waiting to happen.

  • Mike

    Excellent SteveC. I was thinking the same thing. The only problem I have with your argument is about the “nobody gets too upset about these because the consequences of those beliefs are practically nil” comment. The consequences are pretty severe for the rabbit… 😉

    “I want to persuade religious people that they are mistaken when it comes to their mythology. Not through proselytization or trickery, but through rational, reasoned discussion.”

    Why? For the vast majority of religious persons, their faith is of little (negative) consequence. Who am I do deprive someone of their harmless (yet highly personal) illusions? If someone engages me in the discussion, I will happily argue through rational, reasoned discussion. But if they are happy in their beliefs, I will leave it be and treat it like a little white lie. To do otherwise is proselytization.

  • Vad

    I actually went to an “Interfaith Coffee and Conversation” event last night and I really enjoyed it. I thought I would be the only atheist crashing the party, but there were several other people representing secularism. The conversation was good and I was asked about my deconversion and about my views about death/the purpose of life in the absence of an afterlife. Even if I didn’t get to deconvert anyone, at least I got to dispel some myths about atheism and open up dialogue.

  • Ron in Houston

    I find the whole “us” versus “them” part of this discussion interesting. It reminds of, well, religion!

    Personally, I don’t care what anyone believes so long as they don’t engage in negative behavior. Show me what the group does (their behavior) and it it’s positive then I’ll support it.

  • I think you should read “Acts of Faith” Eboo’s biography. I think it’ll help you to understand his position better.

    It’s not about “letting the differences slide” or turning blind eye to things you disagree with. You can most definitely be repulsed by fundamentalism and still encourage interfaith.

    Of course, if your main goal is to proselytize to Christians and Muslims and to constant through the “falseness” of their religion in their face, then, yes, you probably don’t like interfaith.

    To me, it is the middle ground. It’s the acknowledgment of “I disagree with you. I am different. And that’s why we are not the same faith. But, we can still get along. We still have some things in common, and let’s focus on those things.”

    It’s isn’t about changing yourself, or trying to change others. It’s about accepting that others feel different than you, but getting past that to see that we’re all human.

  • I see some advantage in building up the “atheist brand” as a kind of alternative “denomination” for more acceptance within the population at large. By a “denomination”, I mean merely a loosely organized group of people who engage in various community service projects. Things like planting trees, cleaning up trash, painting buildings, helping with the food bank, volunteering at shelters… I think it is more important to personally participate in these type of activities than sit back and write checks (so no tithing). No need for a paid minister or church property. Such a loosely organized group of people could elect representatives who could participate in interfaith meetings with religious organizations to discuss and plan public service projects. I see only positive things coming out of this.

  • Lead by example. That’s how I became an atheist. I met some, and they were normal people, who were happy, talented, and involved with the community. I was like, “Atheism… people DO that? How does that work?” And then curiosity killed the cat. Painfully. Leaving religion is not fun. It tends to show its true nature when you try to leave.

    So I play in a band with a bunch of fundies, who are also some of my best friends. Literally, this band was formed AS A WORSHIP BAND ten years ago, and had just evolved into a middle-of-the-road rock-and-roll that sometimes mentions Jesus before I’d joined.

    It was an expansion of worldview for them to even hire me. Before, they had agreed amongst themselves that anybody in the band needed to be “saved.” Well, I met them, they were the tightest band I’d ever seen at the local level, we got to be friends, and their lead guitarist quit and I replaced him before we ever really talked about religious views.

    I think they kinda assumed I was a Christian because I was a nice guy (and because, having been raised a Jehovah’s Witness, I knew a lot of doctrine.

    These dudes are my family, no two ways about it. The music’s religiously neutral now, too. I’m pretty happy with the relationships I’ve built with these guys… But sometimes I see them filter the world through their (VERY FUNDAMENTALIST) Christian beliefs and I cringe. Most of the time, though, they end up being pretty reasonable.

    Yeah, there’s a little cognitive dissonance associated with that… but if I ever really felt religious, it was through music. I space out when I’m playing, and all that new-agey nonsense about meditation, transcending reality, bla bla bla APPLIES. I’m also really good at it. It’s kind of the thing that wakes me up in the morning.

    So that’s our common goal (somebody mentioned focusing on your goals on common with the faithful). Making amazing music. Putting it first. Sometimes it’s hard being stuck in a van with these guys when they’re yelling about conservative/fundie nonsense, but the fact is that we all want to be there. There’s something to that.

    It’s do-able. And for me, worth it. These guys have plenty of redeeming qualities, including being the most talented musicians I’ve ever personally encountered, and just great people. I’ve even been able to get them to be a little more rational about some things. (Too much to go into now, this is already long)

    Are interfaith groups do-able? Probably. Necessary? Probably not, unless you have as much passion for the common goal as I have for music, and you can’t find anybody else to get it done with.

    What do you make of it? I’m all ears.

  • Ted Peterson

    “We can work together and we can do wonderful things to help our communities and we ought to do that. But not in lieu of reasoned debate and a desire to point out the problems with the other person’s beliefs.”

    Use a semicolon instead of a period there. I think a comma might also work, but I think a semicolon fits better.

  • cathy

    They think young atheist don’t like the ‘new atheists’? Funny, I’ve seen PZ pack an auditorium on a week’s notice and people are already asking a semester ahead about Hitchins. I know a woman who works with the intergroup dialoges on our campus, and she told me what I already suspected, the ‘interfaith’ dialogues and events have few to no atheists. The very rare atheist that actually goes to these things (which are, in my experience, all about talking about how wonderful religion is and never criticizing it) is more likely to be a passive fence sitter. The me’s of the group make sarcastic comments about how the chapel declares itself ‘interfaith’ but only has Christian services (Jews, Hindus and Muslims have services, but they have to go to tiny buildings off campus, despite the fact that Jewish students make up a huge portion of our students). While atheist students aren’t officially banned, they are de facto unwelcome. Willing to sit through prayers, never criticize, and, above all, keep your mouth shut, interfaith groups might accept you. Otherwise, no hope.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    So I’m in this awkward position, caught somewhere between “aggressive atheism” and happy/smiling/rainbows-and-unicorns/all-inclusive interfaith groups — not quite happy with either side of the spectrum.

    Happiness is overrated.

  • I think being more active in interfaith communities can only help the bad PR that atheist have. This weekend a friend of mine needed an extra volunteer to serve food and clean on an Episcopal church retreat. In the job that I was doing, religion didn’t even come up but in the church ride on the way home I shared with one of the other adult leaders that I was an atheist. He was shocked that such a loving person could be an atheist and told me that he was going to tell his Bible study all about the sweet atheist he met over the weekend.

  • Jonas

    I have mixed feelings on this. Take for instance the Harvard Secular group introducing Adam, and Jamie the other day.

    They re-iterated both religious and non-religious share common values, and Harvard’s Greg Epstein has often “extended the olive leaf” to the religious, for help in various humanitarian causes.

    **But** I wonder how much an organization like ‘The Salvation Army’ is working with a fundamental principle that being Christian is preferred, or humans are sinful at heart, based on biblical reasons.

    **Also** obviously the young atheists at Harvard were ignoring the lies of the Catholic Church, (Condoms, AIDS, etc) or the ‘More Crazies’ (Pat Robertson on Haiti, or the more recent Iranian Cleric on earthquakes)

    To be fair, I’ve spent a lot of time in churches, as that’s where activities I’ve wanted to go to are located. Those churches, including UU, and UCC appear to me socially liberal,and I see common causes with them.

  • Luther

    I have mixed feelings. Its fine to cooperate with religious groups on humanist activities and discussions.

    Yet, I have concerns that it can be interpreted as endorsing the idea of religion, just as teaching creation along with evolution gives creation a certain status. The next step might be arguments for incorporating religion along with reason in the Government.

    Its always a situational judgment call.

  • ckitching

    Interfaith charities, sure. No problem with those. Interfaith conferences, no way. All they seem to be is a bunch of people from different religions getting together to pat each other on the back for not going into genocidal rages against each other (I may be overstating things a bit).

  • Betsy

    If one is trying to challenge deeply held core principles on an individual level, I think acceptance of the challenged person’s belief system isn’t a bad place to start. The problem with the mythology/rationality argument is that you can’t disprove the existence of a god/gods. As atheists, we lay claim to all the evidence to disprove famously “recorded” myths. And we are right. But since the origins of life on the planet are not quite nailed down (never mind that pesky, mysterious universe); and since we have not died, rotted, and sent a note saying, “Hi! – back from the dead – just like I thought it would be!” We can’t tell them that we know to a certainty that their reality is nonsense. (Of course, if we were able to accomplish the back-from-the-dead feat, it would completely blow the argument.) As for me, I will continue to expect the fear, derision, and indignation I have become accustomed to; continue to insist that religion has no place in government; continue to not tell my dear neighbor that she won’t see her husband again. ..My advice is to not roll over, don’t let anyone try to soften or redefine your message, but don’t say no to opportunity.

  • Potco

    Seems appropriate.

  • yggdrasil ash

    As an atheist religious studies instructor I’m big on the idea that a multiplicity of approaches by different people in different contexts is the way to go. A strong, public, relatively uncompromising stance lets people know you take an issue seriously, but when educating people in a diverse environment, I agree with Neal DeGrasse Tyson that you need to meet people where they are, and one place where people open to new ideas are is in interfaith dialogue. I, for example, went from being a moderate Christian to being a liberal Christian to thinking it was all a useful metaphoric frame through which to view the world to being an atheist plain and simple.

  • Hey Hemant and Friendly Atheist readers – I posted a response to this over on my blog, NonProphet Status (the other blog mentioned in that Washington Post op/ed). Check it out if you’re interested:

  • MER

    I come down on the side of staying away from “interfaith” organizations.
    Atheism is not a faith; it requires no suspension of disbelief, and stands up to the scientific method.

    To befriend is to acquiesce.

  • Consider this: the religious people attending these interfaith thingies feel very similarly to you: if they are Christian, they think Islam, Hinduism, Buddhists and all others are “false.” If they are Islamic, they believe Christians, Hindus, et al. are wrong. They want people to lose their faith in those “wrong” religions and see only the “right” one. They will each happily witness for their faith in an effort to convert others. But they are attending the interfaith thingy to show they can get along with anyone and to show that peace and tolerance and cooperation among everyone *is* possible, even though each of them thinks the “others” are going to hell unless they convert to the right religion. So I say go! Go and be honest — you are there because, at the very least, you want them to promote secular values like church/state separation and appreciate the scientific method to finding truth even as they believe in their invisible friends, and just as they themselves hope for their own ways of thinking, you hope that you just *might* convert a few folks.

  • It will take different attitudes/approaches by many people using many different methods in order to effect change. No one mindset and method is going to do it.

  • Meredith

    Atheists should be involved in interfaith activities as a way to get ourselves at the table at coordinated events we might not otherwise be invited to. For example, any sort of political, collegiate, community, or other “interfaith councils”, “interfaith roundtables”, “interfaith committees”, etc. should include atheist voices.

  • Brokenleaf

    I think Jeff P hit on something important when he brought up the utility of having an atheist “denomination” of some sort so that people have a place to go and be involved. I recently explored an athiest group of about 20-30 members and I found it lacking. The sense I got from being in the group was that mostly everyone was friendly, but also that mostly everyone was very negative.

    I understand that Atheism is inherently negative. Without religion, Atheism does not really exist or have any purpose. Unfortunately, this negativity is the reason that I do not think that an Athiest “church” structure of any sort will work, at least not in the long run.

    In churches, people are held together by the things that they love. It is much, much harder to hold people together through the things they despise. It is for this reason that I propose that interfaith groups are a superior model for community involvement and outreach. The people in such groups are drawn together by the things that they love – largely freedom of belief and helping others.

    As previously mentioned by others, Unitarian Universalism has a steady framework for this sort of thing, and has almost no consistent dogma. While some of the things they do are ritualistic or “spiritual” in some sense, secular logic is almost always given more weight. I do not see it interfering with science anytime soon. If anything, being in an interfaith group increases skepticism of one’s own dogma. And it does it without being offensive or defensive.

    This is a big claim, but I think it’s justified: Unitarian Universalism, and not Atheism, is the “religion” of the future.

  • Trace

    “I’m not sure whether to embrace them or reject them”

    As Joda would say: “reject them, you must”

  • flawdprefect

    I think it is a great idea. At the very least, we can show as non-believers that we come together for humanitarian efforts, and that we are committed to helping our fellow man. Should the discussion about belief arise, be proud to be a non-believer. I don’t think explanation is necessary, as your deeds in the interfaith projects should speak for themselves. Let people quietly make up their own minds about us. Small, gradual steps.

  • Parse

    Around here, ‘Interfaith Communities’ is like playing both kinds of music, Country and Western. Any kind of faith you want, so long as it’s Christian.

    That being said, if the purpose to get together is for service for the community/others/etc, go for it. If it’s to get to understand each other’s viewpoints, and to recognize that “Even though they’re going to hell, the infidels are decent people!”, then go for it. But if it’s to get together to worship their common definition of God, avoid it like the plague.

  • Tracy

    I am very active in my community, and my community is largely rural, conservative and religious. I donate many hours of my time and a good many dollars to the local events and charities that fit my interests. I have a reputation for being an effective, detail-oriented event planner for various non-profit groups.

    I have educated many by simply doing what I do, being who I am, and stating (when the subject arrises) that I am an atheist. I take pleasure in the shock that almost always appears on the faces of my “interfaith partners.” I believe that reaction has more value than hours of discussion.

    Personal integrity is paramount. Community service is something I strongly believe in. I have never, and will never, specifically partner with a faith-based group on any endeavor. I shun every cause that has its foundation in religion because I find irrationality abhorrent. While I want atheists and their contributions to be acknowledged, I am concerned about any attempt at “consensus building” between two groups who are so fundamentally opposite. I don’t want to fight them, but nor do I want to join them.

    Actions speak louder than words. Get involved.

  • muggle


    Mostly those labelling themselves interfaith are of the god of your choice nature, meaning any god as long as you have some god. They, unfortunately, seem to be the ones who are visible and infiltrate public events and I hate it. They always manage to — in the name of interfaith — somehow get Christian prayers and hymns included and it makes my blood boil. They are smug, arogant and condescending. Their bigotry is wrapped in interfaith and they hide behind that curtain if you dare call them on it and make you come out looking like the hateful Atheist.

    So I usually shun anything that labels itself interfaith.

    That said, there are those groups that are well, let’s say diverse instead of interfaith. Who truly welcome any age, color, gender, sexual preference or creed for a united cause. These are the ones to join up with and build bridges with whether it’s a community cleanup, a walk for the cure, a food drive or a protest for whatever issue you would like to see the government address. They almost never label themselves interfaith or anything else (though sometimes the interfaith groups will join in) other than the purpose that is being acted on. But they are diverse in every way.

    Look for the groups that are too. I belong to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, yes but I also belong to Americans United for Separation for Church and State. I love them both for fighting for my passion — church-state separation and acceptance of the godless. I also cherish FFRF because they are atheists and agnostic but I likewise cherish AU because they’re not, for their diversity.

    What I don’t get is so many Atheists driving need to convince everyone else how silly it is to believe in God. It drives me bonkers when they get absolutely unaccepting of anyone else’s view. When they do this, they are no better than the intolerant theists they so rightly condemn. You really can’t point fingers if your behavior is the same.

    What we need is tolerance — on all sides. If someone shows an interest in your reasons for not believing, it’s fine to explain it. If they ask, you should definitely answer honestly but, unless they ask hostilely instead of as if they’re just wondering, temper this with the good grace of tact. Formalized debate is fine and, of course, we have to politic for fair treatment.

    These are the grounds where the seed of doubt or at least acceptance might take root. By and large, if they’re hostile and we fight — and I’m no better; I often lose it with fundy nuts — it’s futile. We just wind up in shouting matches with them — or worse.

    I say work with diverse groups. And build acceptance by making ourselves a part of society.

    One disclaimer: I’m coming from a city perspective. I found all the arguments above — both pro and con — interesting and containing well made points. My answer reflects my own tendency to the middle road, which, to my mind, seems the best case scenario. However, I have lived in the country as well and can understand that those in small, rural communities simply have to approach it differently. They might not have any outlet but the interfaith for working side by side with theists on anything they have common ground with. In those communities, interfaith is actually pretty much the opposite of what it is in the urban environment. Instead of being the god of your choice, faith of some sort, in the country, interfaith is more apt to have been formed to honestly reach out to bridge differences and accept diversity where it’s not generally accustomed to being.

  • CiCi

    That’s a very interesting conflict I’ve been trying to figure out in my own head as well – how does one draw the line between tolerance and the desire to assert more militant atheism? In fact, I sometimes feel that there’s “too much” pluralism, though that may be politically incorrect to say. As an undergrad at Dartmouth, I appreciate the openness with which students discuss religion and beliefs, and know that they’ll be treated with respect, but at the same time, there seems to be an aversion to confrontation here. Everyone is polite to the point that I feel like students shy away from asking critical questions, and refrain from seeming overly challenging a peer’s religious beliefs.

    So my thoughts have recently been torn about the same issue you posted about – Sure, pluralism is great, but there’s a value to truth as well. We can’t all be right. More people, myself included, need to find a balance between respecting our peers who hold those beliefs, while not being afraid of raising critical questions within the realm of polite academia.

  • Chakolate

    Should atheists be more active in the interfaith movement or should we avoid it altogether?

    If we were a monolithic movement, we would certainly have to choose. Happily, we’re not, and some will choose to be active in interfaith, and some will choose to avoid it. And that’s definitely the best way, isn’t it?

  • Country Squire Atheist

    No, I don’t want interaction with the wretched interfaith movement. Enough already. Those who cling to religion need to be liberated not consoled or patted on the head and told they are “nice.” Let’s
    get on with the show and not worry about
    those who feel they can’t make it through the day without Jesus, Mohammed, Vishnu,
    Yahweh or whomever…….Isis, Diana, Zeus,
    Adonis (hummmmmm) or Zarathustra.

  • marty

    But where do they stand on the whole “Eating Babies” thing?

  • SteveC

    Mike writes: “Why? For the vast majority of religious persons, their faith is of little (negative) consequence. Who am I do deprive someone of their harmless (yet highly personal) illusions? If someone engages me in the discussion, I will happily argue through rational, reasoned discussion. But if they are happy in their beliefs, I will leave it be and treat it like a little white lie. To do otherwise is proselytization.”

    I actually disagree with this. Their “harmless” beliefs are often not nearly as harmless as they might at first seem. If they, for example, cause poeple to vote for e.g. George Bush, rather than someone with a working brain, that’s not harmless. I’ve been personally burned by folks with these “harmless” beliefs *because of* those “harmless” beliefs enough tto be very wary of someone claiming that obviously false yet institutionalized beliefs are harmless.

    Religion and faith are to me as the six fingered man is to Inigo Montoya.

    Faith should be taken from the faithful as cancer should be taken from the cancerous, whether they want it taken or not. Irradiate them with reason, nevermind if they find it painful. Not to say that coercion should be used, far from it, just that rhetorical punches should not be pulled to spare feelings.

    “to do otherwise is proselytization”

    So? If you think something is true, and someone else thinks something else is true, you don’t just say, “we’ll agree to disagree,” since to do otherwise would be “proselytization”, you hash it out.

    This ban on proselytization is nothing more than demanding respect and squashing criticism of unsupportable ideas. If your ideas are sound, they can withstand a bit of “proselytization.” If they can’t, then, I guess they weren’t that good.

    And, btw, the comment sytem here seems to be using a javascript emulator that’s running on a remote system in the Betelguese section of the galazy, or soemthing. Whatever, it’s dead slow, and the programmer needs to be contacted about the wretched performance. It’s like typing on a 300 baud modem, only slower.

  • What is it that the religious offer us as atheists? “They” are all theists of one form or another and believe in gods of some kind. “We” hold no such beliefs. “They” all fit within one broad group and can bolster one another’s position through interpreting their books and signs and through emotionally connecting their own brand of woo. What do we do? Point and laugh? Question their every action? Try to stop them?

    If we seek deconverts then we’re not engaged in dialogue but what does dialogue actually offer atheists? Beyond amusement value I mean, what do we get of substance from engaging with the religious?

    I’m asking because I don’t know. I do it because I want to understand how people can believe things that are so obviously false. I’m sure some theists think the same of us.

  • novare

    This discussion is very interesting and one of the few on such a topic that I’ve seen that is really thoughtful and doesn’t descend into internet flame wars. Which is why I felt compelled to put my two cents in.

    I’m an atheist. I work for Interfaith Youth Core with Eboo Patel, the organization that started this conversation. At IFYC we struggle daily with the kinds of questions you are asking. The great thing about IFYC is that we don’t always think we are right, there are moments like this, where we won’t have a pat answer to “solve” the issue.

    That being said, as an atheist, I definitely have a place in the movement. My story, the story of how I felt my moral perspective led me to do service work with others regardless of their backgrounds is considered as valid as any of my Muslim, Jewish or Christian friends. And as we work together, those friends may be thinking of ways to covert me, and I could be thinking of ways to puncture their faith, but in the end, the question is what is more important: that I’m right and they know it or that we are helping to end hunger in our community, or helping to raise funds for Malaria prevention, or helping a local literacy center serve low income families?

    If it’s more important for us as atheists, to be right, then I don’t think we belong in the interfaith movement.

    The whole point of being an atheist is that faith shouldn’t guide the way we engage with our world and our community. What is this then, but us falling into the trap we claim to avoid. Is what we believe, that there is no god, is more important to us than another human being? This kind of thinking should be antithetical to what we stand for.

    Let’s as a community, think a little about what it says about us that devout Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Christians can put aside their differences and work together for the common good, but we are prepared to sit on the sidelines and whisper about how they are the ones ruining the world.

    I don’t think that’s a picture that any of us wants. We could start our own community service groups, but the fact remains that faith communities have resources and networks that we, as a non-institutionalize group do not, so we can have a greater impact through working within the system as it exists.

    We are a group of good, committed people who honestly have the good of humanity in mind. So lets take that impulse to help others, and pitch in.

  • Mike

    SteveC, point taken. However, I suspect that for most “moderate” Christians, to use your example, their Christianity simply supports the value system that would cause them to vote for George, rather than creating the value system. So I think even without their Christianity, they still would have voted for him. It’s kind of like the study that showed that Fox news did not cause it’s viewer base to be (insanely) conservative, but rather it pandered to the beliefs that already existed. I could certainly be wrong, but that’s what I believe.

    As for my “proselytization” comments, Hemant had stated that he didn’t want to proselytize. I was simply pointing out that that was exactly what he was advocating.

  • duhsciple

    Sheesh. We’re all in the same world. There is only one biosphere. If we don’t find a way to work together across (non)faiths, then the particular evolutionary path known as humanity is about to become a stump. It sounds like many here are advocating apartheid or separate but non-equal when it comes to faith versus non-faith. Am I hearing correctly? Perhaps I a misunderstanding big time. Help me out.

  • Jennifer

    My biggest problem with the idea of cooperation with and religious group is will the atheist/humanist get any credit. Why should we participate and then end up bolstering the view that some religious entity has done something wonderful again, while still being scorned at every turn? The best answer, as stated above by several people, is to do our own charity work and get the word out who we are. Perhaps that would change some minds about what we are about.

  • duhsciple

    I think it is fantastic for each group to do its own thing, making a real difference. And I think it is good for folks who have disagree to work together sometimes. So often there is a tendency for groups to demonize into US versus THEM. I am most familiar with how Christians do this. Yet as I read various groups on the internet I am discovering this is a very human trait.

    Unless humanity gets to a non-zero sum game, then we are cooked. Looking for evidence of progress at this friendly site has not been encouraging to me

  • Brokenleaf

    To those viewing this forum who believe that atheists should not participate in faith-based groups:

    I want to talk about strategy. I do not believe that many atheists would protest the idea that the atheist “prime directive” is to rid the world of the evils that are caused by religion. This supersedes considerations about the validity of religious thought, because being right has no value unless it leads to either more good or less evil (feel free to correct me on this). Working off the assumption that it is more important to combat the evils of religion than religion itself, I would like to assert that joining interfaith/universalism groups is a good move toward achieving this goal.

    1)These groups are ineffective at promoting ideologies other than freedom of belief/social justice. This should be self-evident, as other beliefs would not be held in common by group members. Therefore, joining such a group does not increase religious evil.

    2)Joining such a group increases atheist exposure. If you are in such a group, you will be surrounded by people with viewpoints that differ from yours. One can have more opportunities to spread atheism to other people in such an environment.

    3)The very nature of these groups increases skepticism, secularism, and humanism. Diversity leads to skepticism because of the exposure to different perspectives. It also leads to secularism every time a group member holds their own religious beliefs over other people’s beliefs and logic. These ideas are strongly discouraged. The volunteerism in such groups leads to humanism largely because it is far to complicated to connect to anything else.

    Notice how all these things occur without a fight – essentially, it bypasses what I believe to be the fundamental flaw of atheism – its tendency to engage in direct debate.

  • Thanks for this post. I have been saying much the same thing for years among my UU and atheist friends. We can work with believers on areas of common agreement without having to ignore the absurd beliefs, rationalize them, or stay silent.

    Some people think atheists need to leave our beliefs at the door so as not to offend believers when it is really the believer’s problem not mine.

  • Pseudonym

    If you don’t want to engage with Interfaith groups, then you have no right to complain that religious people don’t understand your position, won’t listen to you, etc. Period. If you want to be heard, get with the programme.

    Now, having said that:

    I want to persuade religious people that they are mistaken when it comes to their mythology. Not through proselytization or trickery, but through rational, reasoned discussion.

    I have to agree with Mike. Why? What is it to you?

    Yes, a dangerous belief should be challenged. But if you believe that religion is inherently dangerous (a belief invariably held without evidence), then maybe you really should get involved in interfaith dialogue if only to disabuse you.

    Sorry to be so blunt, but I think this attitude is, while a bit quaint, also a bit childish. The world of mainline/liberal religion went through pretty much the same hand-wringing a hundred years ago. Then we got over ourselves and just went ahead and did it.

  • Brokenleaf

    Doug – What you say sounds true to me. I spent years hiding the fact that I was an atheist from my friends just so I could continue to do ministry(mostly just helping people) in the church that I was raised. I see now that this was a mistake. It is better to be open about what you believe and try to find a group that is okay with you being open about what you believe.

    Psuedonym – You brought up a very good central question: is religion always dangerous.

    I have always been of the belief that it is far more effective to challenge specific beliefs than entire philosophies. I have never successfully convinced anyone that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. I have, however, successfully convinced people that homosexuality is not a blatant offense against God, and that the bible does not have to be taken literally.

    Do I care if the way that someone manifests their religion is through helping others? No. It’s the law-based parts of religion that I target. But if someone wants to try to link the very idea of God to some degree of evil in the world I am all ears.

  • Amanda

    They don’t respect you telling them God doesn’t exist any more than you respect them telling you he does. And, if most atheists are “agnostic atheists” as so many people on this site have said, that means that you don’t believe in God simply because you cannot prove his existence. This basis is not enough for hard-hitting believers to accept. You’re using the same argument for not believing in God as they do for believing in God. You can’t prove that he DOESN’T exist, either. That isn’t enough to get someone to sway from their faith, its a circular argument. “You can’t prove he doesn’t exist.” “You can’t prove he exists.” And most Christians would rather be saved than be smug on Earth because they stuck to their glorious logic, even when the subject it was applied to is out of the bounds of understanding.

  • Mike

    that means that you don’t believe in God simply because you cannot prove his existence.

    While I agree with most of what you said, I do not agree with this. I am agnostic; I do not believe the existence or non-existence of God can be proven. I am an Atheist; i do not believe God(s) exist. However, it is not my agnosticism that is the basis for my atheism.

    I also believe the existence or non-existence of extra-terrestrials can not be proven. But I do believe that extra-terrestrial life, intelligent or otherwise, does exist.

    In both cases I am agnostic. But in one case I believe and in the other I do not.

    I suspect that most of the other agnostic atheists here would also say that their belief in the non-existence of God is not based simply on the fact that they cannot prove he/she exists. In fact, I think it would be interesting to hear why the posters here believe God does not exist…

  • Amanda

    I am sorry for my assumption, Mike. My apologies. I had assumed that since you can not prove an existence in a God that that must have been at least one basis for your disbelief. After all, if existence was proven, you would be forced (for lack of a better word) into believing.

    On your other point: I am interested in why you believe extra-terrestrials exist and God doesn’t if in both cases you do not believe it can be proven?

    Surely there is more “evidence” for God (laws that our Earth adheres to, the perfect balance of all life on Earth, etc) than extra terrestrials (sketchy UFO sitings, ‘infinite’ universe, etc). It is just my humble opinion, though. That’s why I’m interested in your viewpoint/logic.


  • Amanda

    ^ For the record, I also believe that extra terrestrial life exists.

  • Mike

    Amanda, no apologies necessary; I was not offended. I just have a different opinion.

    Actually, I kind of have issues with the concept of “proof.” What is proof after all, other than convincing others through logic and “facts” that you are correct? Or large groups of people agreeing that “these are the facts,” and therefore such and such is “true.”

    In any case, I find that all the arguments for the existence of God that I ever heard are not logical or reasonable. I have (personally) concluded therefore that the likelihood of the existence of God, especially as defined by the Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythology, is next to nil. I also believe and trust the people (scientists) who tell us how immense the universe is. I find it hard to believe with the nearly infinite numbers of galaxies, solar systems, and worlds that must exist, that our planet would be the only one that would meet the criteria necessary for life. I suspect that the universe is teeming with life (separated by vast distances).

    In fact, the examples you provided tend to lead me to the opposite conclusion:

    “Surely there is more “evidence” for God (laws that our Earth adheres to, the perfect balance of all life on Earth, etc)” To me this goes to Occam’s razor. If space and time are infinite, then those laws and balance had to happen somewhere, why not here? Why invent a God to create those factors?

    “than extra terrestrials (sketchy UFO sitings, ‘infinite’ universe, etc).” I believe that an ‘infinite’ universe would actually improve the likelihood of extra-terrestrials. I think of it this way. We typically say that the flipping of a coin is a 50-50 chance, but in actuality there is a third chance, that the coin would land on its edge and remain standing on its edge. The probability of that is extremely tiny. If you flipped the coin a million times, it might not happen (actually, I read one site where it said the odds were 1 in 6000. Not sure if that’s accurate). But, what if you flipped the coin an infinite amount of times? Wouldn’t it have to happen?

    So there you have it. My beliefs are based on what I find to be most reasonable, as opposed to what can be proven.

  • Amanda

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that an infinite universe would improve the likelihood of extra-terrestrials.

    I have a friend who believes that the Earth got really lucky within the universe of infinite probability. It is an interesting theory to here. However, personally, if one can believe that this Earth came to be “just because” in the universe of infinite possibility/probability, then it is just as easy for me to believe that there is a God!

    Have a great day! 🙂

  • However, personally, if one can believe that this Earth came to be “just because” in the universe of infinite possibility/probability, then it is just as easy for me to believe that there is a God!

    Forgive me for intruding, but I’m curious. At most, I can see how this would be an argument for deism, but theists rarely stop there. If this makes it easy for you to believe there is a god, what makes you believe in a particular god from a particular human culture? Or one god instead of multiple gods? Or a god instead of a goddess? I can see (sort of) believing in a vague “higher power” or supernatural source of the universe, but I simply don’t understand anthropomorphizing it, attributing human thoughts and emotions to it, or believing that people have an intimate reciprocal relationship with it.

    This idea of a singular male deity that has a personal plan for every human being and doles out rewards and punishments is just utterly beyond my comprehension. It does not seem to me that such a concept could have been anything other than created by human minds, and of course all human societies have created different deities and they all have varying ideas about those deities. There are thousands of them, and they’re not all personal creator gods. What makes one more likely to exist than another?

  • Mike

    Your comments are welcome Anna. And I wholeheartedly agree.

    Amanda, I would actually disagree with your friend. Considering the infinite nature of the universe, the probability that the earth would evolve to its current state pretty much HAD to happen (IMHO). Much like the probability of the coin landing on its edge. I also would not say that the earth came to be “just beacuse.” It came to be because of billions of years of change. In the beginning (according to Big Bang theory) the only element was hydrogen, and as time went by, more complex elements formed (from hydrogen, and then from the resulting “offspring”). The typical creation explanation for the existence of God is that he always was. Exactly as he is today. There’s a big difference between believing that something came to be because of an uncountable number of events over the course of billions of years and believing something always existed as a complex omnipotent sentient being.
    If I were to believe that there were a creature that had the power of God, as s/he is typically understood, I would have to believe that being came to be as a product of evolution (and by evolution I am not speaking solely of biological evolution). As such, that being would essentially count as an extra-terrestrial with extreme power, not as the creator of the universe.

  • Mike

    Amanda, not sure you are still checking this thread, but if so, I thought you’d find this interesting…,0,5527986.story

  • Amanda

    Sorry, I’ve been quite busy with school and studying.

    Anna: The reason that I am a Christian is complex, but I’ll cover a few points.

    First, there is more historic evidence for the writings of the Bible than any other religious book. It correlates with many historic events quite well.

    Second, Christianity is different than other religions in two main respects: 1. The resurrection 2. The person of God. In other religions (skip Judaism, which Christianity is just an extension of), God is not personal and you cannot communicate with him. In fact, you try to please him/it/them with good deeds. Christianity embraces that this is an impossibility, and then we get into the grace of God, etc, but I don’t want to preach, just share beliefs.

    The resurrection is quite unique in and of itself. There is no doubt that Jesus was dead (the Romans pierced his side to confirm). Without the resurrection, Christianity could be completely disproven. Someone said it in better words than I, so to quote him:

    “Legends take centuries to formulate…not decades. Even then, all of His closest friends were tortured and/or executed without diminishing any personal belief that it actually happened. If it didn’t happen, Jesus’ brainwashing technique would be priceless and should inevitably replace the value of trusting in Scripture as ultimate reality.”

    But of course I suppose to believe in the resurrection you must believe that the Bible is true, which is circular in the fact that it brings me back to my first point.

    Mike – I will check out that link, thanks. 🙂

  • Amanda, thanks for clarifying your belief system for me. Given what you’ve just said, I doubt any kind of discussion would prove fruitful, but I’m mystified by some of your claims. Have you done any research on world mythology and other world religions? Christianity did not originate the idea of resurrected deities, and there are other religious traditions that claim one can have personal and reciprocal relationships with those deities. There’s nothing unique about that at all. But I don’t really want to invest a great amount of time in pointing out examples, since in my experience, it usually falls on deaf ears. No offense meant, but since you admitted favoring circular reasoning, it just doesn’t bode well for this sort of discussion.

  • Amanda

    Anna – I do not FAVOR circular reasoning.

    Other religions may CLAIM resurrected deities, but that doesn’t mean they are true. All of my belief systems are based on the thought that the Bible is true in its historic accounts. The Bible does not contradict itself (as some may think, they misinterpret) it falls in line with historical events, and science coincides with many ideas in the Bible. (This is a great link: ).

    What religions in particular do you claim say that you can have a personal relationship with God other than Christianity ( or Judaism)?

  • Amanda

    Let me make it a point that I’m not trying to force my beliefs on you. I am just explaining why I am inclined to Christianity over other religions, like you asked me to. Simply: The Bible has more merit than other religious books in many ways.

  • duhsciple

    As a Jesus follower, I must say that the Bible does “contradict” itself in any reasonable, scientific, rationale sense. We are putting a modern value, complete consistency, upon an ancient document. Both secular and sacred fundamentalists do this. Who made “consistency” god over against “contradiction”?

    Look at the two creation stories, side by side, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. There are quite different. Why not be cool with that? Oops. Unless you are a consistency fundamentalist. Yet there is great beautiful if you allow the truth of both to stand.

    Let us not put God in a test tube rat experiment, expecting to poke and prod her/him for reliable results. Rather, let us experience God as the in-breaking, often disturbing, yet liberating/healing personality beyond personality that s/he is.

    The Bible is more poem rather than mathematical formula. I would think we are all more than ready for a more poetic world, embracing beauty and wildness. Instead, our rational logic brings us vast oil spills alongside chants of “drill, baby, drill”. Oops!

  • Amanda

    Here is a great website that tells us how Genesis 1 & 2 do not contradict, but coincide:

  • Anna – I do not FAVOR circular reasoning.

    Amanda, you said so yourself!

    But of course I suppose to believe in the resurrection you must believe that the Bible is true, which is circular in the fact that it brings me back to my first point.

    The Bible is true because it says it’s true. Your deity exists because your holy book says that your deity exists. It doesn’t get more circular than that. I’m not trying to change your mind or disparage you. But frankly, I don’t think this discussion is going to be anything other than headache inducing. When I asked the original question, I thought you were a more moderate type of Christian, and I wasn’t intending to get into a theological debate. Theological debates are pointless for atheists because (I’m probably stealing this from someone else) it’s like arguing about the color of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

    What religions in particular do you claim say that you can have a personal relationship with God other than Christianity ( or Judaism)?

    I must ask you again, how much research have you done on other religions and world mythology? The concept of a personal deity is not unique to Christianity or Judaism. People claim to interact with gods and goddesses in many different traditions. People claim to have relationships with deities and aspects of deities in many different traditions. I don’t want to waste a lot of time finding examples, but there’s plenty out there if you’re curious.

    Although what this has to do with the validity of any religion is beyond me. Just because something is unique to one religion does not make it either plausible or moral. The tortures of the Zoroastrian hell are rather unique, but that doesn’t make them likely to exist. And it doesn’t make the Zoroastrian concept of hell any more or less vile than other concepts. So even if the claim to a “personal relationship” with a deity was unique to one religion (it isn’t), it says nothing about whether that deity actually exists or whether the religion is true or moral.

  • duhsciple


    for a quick study of the two creation accounts.

    Genesis 1= creation out of chaos
    Genesis 2= creation fashioned out of a desert

    Genesis 1= humanity created as “male and female” together in the image of God are brought into existence simultaneously
    Genesis 2= Adam is formed first from the dust of the earth. Eve is formed from Adam’s rib. Adam first, Eve as the “helper” (note: every other time the word “helper” is used in the OT it is used for God)

    Genesis 1= God is more majestic
    Genesis 2= God is more intimately involved– gets “His” hands dirty

    I see the two Genesis creation accounts as complimenting one another, two angles on the truth. Meanwhile, the scientific version of creation is true and beautiful: from the singularity to the Big Bang to hydrogen/helium to stars to elements to earth to life to humanity. The creation is emerging, a process known as evolution.

    I find meaning/truth is all the accounts. Of course, both fundamental secular materialists and fundamental Christians see it differently. Our ways of seeing the world stand in tension. Yet we are in this together. (I got the “in this together” from both the Bible and the Gulf Coast oil spill. They compliment one another)

  • Mike

    Anna, I think that Amanda was simply saying that her second point brought her back to her first point, which was that she believes the Bible is true. “Circular,” I believe, was just an unfortunate choice of words.

    I have to agree with Anna though, that uniqueness of a religious story has little to do with the validity of that story. I could also say that Christianity’s claim of a resurrected deity does not make it true, nor does the correlation of the Bible’s narrative with actual historical events.

    However, none of that matters. If you are simply sharing your beliefs, you could simply say that you believe the Bible is true and leave it there. You need no further justification.

  • Amanda

    Anna, you are misunderstanding me. I do consider myself a moderate Christian.

    Of COURSE, you must believe in the Bible if you believe what the Bible says is true. That part alone is circular. However, my stance is attempting to NOT be circular in the fact that I have looked at WHERE the Bible came from, and how it compares in historical valid context compared to other holy books. It has significantly higher marks across all fields. If we can somehow “prove” the Bible is true (we can’t), then we can rely on what it says. I cannot prove to you that it is true, I’m not trying to. I answered your original question: I’m saying that the reason I chose Christianity over other religions because of the Bible’s track record compared to others.

    I do believe you are misunderstanding me on the deity part as well. Since Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity share many ideals, I hardly count those against each other. The only difference between Christianity and the others is JESUS.
    My roommate is a Hindu, and I have had much learning on the Hindu religion this year. However, Hinduism, much like many other religions, has the person doing good deeds to achieve their ‘salvation’ (moksha) through the reincarnation process. I can see where Hinduism may be categorized into having a personal relationship with god, since it teaches that you are one with God.

    But, like you said, I don’t want to get into a long theological debate. Of course, there are great arguments on each side. This forum is not here for you to try to convert me away from Christianity. You asked a question, I have answered it. I am sorry for any confusion I have presented. 🙂

  • Amanda, thanks for clarifying. Please understand I have no desire to convert you away from Christianity. I’m no evangelist, and I do appreciate you sharing your views. If you believe that the Bible is more historically accurate than other ancient scriptures, that’s up to you. I don’t believe that view is warranted. Even if it was warranted, I still don’t see how that would provide evidence of the supernatural, which is why I don’t personally hold that belief. However, I have no interest in making that choice for other people.

    I also don’t come from a Christian background, so the theology is very strange and foreign to me, which no doubt colors my perspective. When discussing these issues with Christians, it always seems like they are jumping the gun. They try to prove a particular religion is true without first providing evidence of a supernatural realm. And I don’t consider their (or any) holy book to be evidence of a supernatural realm. To my mind, they must first prove theism is true before they try to prove their religion.

    The only difference between Christianity and the others is JESUS.

    I do understand that, and I see how for Christians it must seem like a profound distinction, but I suppose I just don’t understand the difference between Jesus and other religious prophets or messiah figures. Of course, even if Jesus was the only resurrected deity in the pantheon of world religion and ancient mythology, that doesn’t say anything about the veracity of the Christian religion.

    I have to agree with Anna though, that uniqueness of a religious story has little to do with the validity of that story. I could also say that Christianity’s claim of a resurrected deity does not make it true, nor does the correlation of the Bible’s narrative with actual historical events.

    Thanks, Mike. That’s the crux of the problem for me. Just because someone has been socially conditioned to see something as unique and/or desirable doesn’t mean anything in terms of its veracity. So while I understand that Christians are taught to value the concept of a personal relationship with their deity, it doesn’t seem to be relevant to the discussion at all. If that person had been raised in a different culture, they would have been taught to value something else entirely.

  • Amanda

    Yeah, I understand. However, we weren’t discussing why I believed in a supernatural power, but why I chose Christianity out of other religions. I get many of your points, but for the purpose of this little comment board I think it would be a very long discussion to touch on them all.

    I’m actually about to read a recommended book by a friend called Case For Christ by Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel is a Yale graduate with a strong background in atheism as I hear it. It should be a very interesting read.

    I’m not telling you about it to shove my beliefs and throw literature at you, but he touches on a lot of things (such as archaelogical and psychiatric points) that may be interesting to you, especially since his original purpose was to set out to disprove Christ. One drawback: It doesn’t have any interviews with atheists or “2 sided arguments”. I haven’t read it yet myself, but I heard it was worth the time.

    If you’re interested in skimming it, you can find it here:

    Thanks for the enlightening discussion, all!

    Byebye 🙂

  • Jeff Dale

    Amanda, I don’t know if you’ll see this, but just in case, here’s a link to critique of one of Strobel’s books:

    The Case Against Faith

    There are plenty of books that can give the impression of supporting your faith. But you have to look for the critiques to see what those books aren’t telling you.

    Best wishes.

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