Atheists Can Have Faith, Too
In her post, “Interfaitheism“, Abigail Clauhs remembers how confronting doctrine-imposed limits on the term “interfaith” can cause us to reject people whose faith is different from our own. From the State of Formation blog an offshoot of the Journal of Inter-Religious Studies (JIRS). –Ed.
Read an excerpt here:
I hadn’t been interfaith-rejected before. And then there, sitting in my inbox, was this message.
So this is what I want to talk about.
First off. Let’s discuss this word “interfaith.” That fateful email told me that having atheists present was “a mockery to the idea of interfaith.” Now, we within the interfaith movement acknowledge that “interfaith” is a problematic term. Using “faith” anywhere near religion is a dangerous thing, as the idea of “faith” is a very Christian (and Protestant) centric idea of having “faith” in God. There are plenty of religions that do not require faith, or even theism.
If my academic study of religion has taught me anything, it is that whenever you step into a religion class, you are reminded that we don’t really have a definition of religion. What kind of box can hold both Christianity and Confucianism, Baha’i and Buddhism, shamanism and Shintoism? As soon as you start putting strictures on what counts as “religion,” you run into trouble …
… Where are we going to draw the line for who is allowed inside the circle of engagement which that word signifies? People who are “spiritual but not religious”? Theistic believers? Abrahamic ones (and where then would the atheistic Jews be…)? Who is in, and who is out, when we are all human and have some way of seeing the world and gleaning meaning from it?
This religious leader wrote in the email that it was impossible to be at an event using the word “faith” with those of no faith.
It was a statement that, as a person of faith myself, hurt me. If one cannot be part of an event where there are nonbelievers, how are you supposed to function in our world? There are non-religious people all around you, from the sidewalk to the subway to the pew. No one could have missed the media kerfuffle over the recent Pew survey that found one in five Americans to be “nones” (people unaffiliated with any religious tradition).
In a pluralistic world, we have to realize that we must co-exist not only with people who adhere to a label that can be found in a World Religions textbook, but also those who fit no label. The group I invited to the interfaith event was the secular humanists. I know many secular humanists, and if we are looking for faith, these are people who have faith in the human spirit. They run the gamut in terms of their cosmology—some believe in a higher spirit, some are agnostic, some are just plain atheist. As a Unitarian Universalist, I know many humanist UUs. Does that mean that my religion is invalid for participating in “interfaith” work?
We have to push our boundaries of acceptance, and not be bound by semantics…