Atheism in interfaith: yea or nay?

By Joshua Kinne ’13

With the explosion of the interfaith movement in the United States, some religious communities are scratching their heads wondering, “Where do I belong?” It is no secret that atheism can be damaging and even hostile to some religious communities, but that does not mean that atheists should be excluded from promoting interfaith dialogue and peace. Atheists bring a vital, evidence-based perspective and diversity to the table. Despite what others may say, it is important that the interfaith community accepts atheists and non-believers into their community.

The ARIS report detailing the growth of the non-religious community in the United States. Click to enlarge.

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, atheism is growing quickly throughout the United States. Despite what is traditionally a Judeo-Christian dominated religious culture, non-belief and secularity are creating a divide in American religious communities.

Atheism, is not a defined religious culture. Atheism is a community made up of many ethnicities, nationalities, and sexualities. With this in mind, atheism can offer not only more religious diversity to the interfaith community, but also cultural diversity from its own broad ranging community.

It is important to recognize that the diversity of atheism could significantly impact the effects of interfaith outreach by appealing to the many different cultures that make up atheists.

In a 2007 report about atheism’s growth rate and patterns, it is made clear that atheism is becoming a key factor in American demographics and politics. With such a steady incline, atheism is on path to significantly impact future elections and American legislation.

According to the ARIS report, Americans who identify as having no religion number as high as 15 percent of the total population. Because the interfaith community’s goals include inter-religious peacekeeping and community outreach, simply ignoring the non-religious community would foster interfaith hostility and alienate the non-religious population.

If the interfaith community wishes to promote community outreach and peace, the involvement of atheists is key to building peaceful relationships between the non-religious community and those of faith.

Lyz Liddell, the Director of Campus Organizing for the Secular Student Alliance thinks that atheists are destined to play a vital roll in the interfaith community.

In a letter to campus groups around the country, she said despite clear differences between faith and non-religious communities, peace-building and outreach are mutual goals that are important to America’s future.

“When I bring up the idea of interfaith with my secular student groups, I often get some pushback. With a name like ‘interfaith,’ can nontheists really be welcome? Should we be getting involved? We aren’t really religious, after all– so do we have a place in interfaith? The answer is quite simple. YES.” -Lys Liddell

I agree with Lyz Liddell. One of the reasons I became an atheist was the hostility between religious groups after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Regardless of religion, life and freedom are important to human beings. In order to preserve life and freedom, atheists and religious communities must work together in order to ensure a peaceful future.

Some critics of atheism may say that it is not a faith, so how can atheism be involved in interfaith relations? I believe critics make a valid point.

The word interfaith alienates the non-religious community, but words are not a perfect form of expression. In the expanding world of diverse belief, finding a word that is all-inclusive is difficult.

Other critics cite atheism’s history of hostility toward religions as a clear example of its incompatibility with interfaith. It is true that atheists often show a harsh distaste for some religious practices, but simply ignoring their flaws does not make them disappear.

Morality transcends religious belief and when basic human rights are challenged by religious dogma it is important for atheists to stand up for what is right. Atheism in its basic form is the lack of belief in gods or God, but as a community of human beings atheists and interfaith have similar desires: peace and a prosperous community.

Categories: Student Life

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