The current edition of the Secular Student Alliance newsletter has a debate on the topic of atheist cooperation in the interfaith community.
Jason C. Romero is the Co-President of Interfaith Atheists Agnostics & Humanists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and he believes atheist cooperation in interfaith groups is a good thing:
… when most people think of secular individuals, or at least hear the word atheist, what typically comes to mind is someone who is stubbornly overcritical of religion and who carries oneself with an unjustifiably smug air of authority. Our involvement in interfaith groups lets others know that this stereotype does not apply to all of us, and the argument for being involved to a great extent is a result of the sheer amount of work it is going to take to undo the myths surrounding the homogeny of secular folks.
Opposing Jason is Ed Clint, president of the Illini Secular Student Alliance at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He doesn’t think atheists should join interfaith councils.
Actually, he doesn’t believe anyone should join interfaith councils.
Interfaith activities unify, support, and foster religious groups that actively oppose equal rights and other pluralistic initiatives. Given the choice, interfaith members will always choose faith over reason as a means to achieve social progress. Major interfaith organizations remained silent as churches and groups poured money into California in 2008 to pass Proposition 8, which constitutionally defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The interfaith movement refuses to concern itself with critical, relevant issues, such as stem cell research, sex education, women’s rights, and U.S. educational standards… No atheist of conscience can make him- or herself part of an interfaith organization that willfully refuses to even discuss such egregious affronts to human dignity and human rights condoned or directly caused by faith-based organizations.
I lean more toward Clint’s side. My biggest problem is that interfaith groups always want to strengthen the faith of the participants. It’s my goal to weaken everybody’s faith. Interfaith proponents don’t want to hear religious criticism and (in my experience) they wince when atheists call out various religious groups for the injustices they perpetrate.
I have said repeatedly that there are many areas in which people of different faiths and no faith can — and should — work together. But I have yet to see an interfaith group that embraces atheists (and our views of faith) as much as they embrace the panoply of theists and their nonsensical beliefs.