I’ve struggled with the word “atheist”. It’s accurate; I don’t believe in God. Strictly speaking, that does make me an atheist, so why do I always add a caveat? (I’ve done it just this week in a blog post.) In part, I suppose I am a bit of a coward. I know that word frightens people, so I just avoid it. But it’s more complicated than that.
The most prominent atheists of our time have largely been individuals who not just didn’t believe in God, but were advocates of an anti-religion movement. Richard Dawkins, whose The God Delusion is perhaps the most famous modern atheist text, is (in my most humble opinion) quite a bit of a jackass. While I find value in many of his arguments for the non-existence of God, I find his manner, tone and ultimate goals to be rather detestable.
I am ashamed to admit to my own moments of religion bashing. When faced with the (primarily Christian) fundamentalist rhetoric in our country, I have reacted and pushed back against organized religion as a whole. It has been the significant relationships with Christian friends who are open to conversations about faith and morality that have caused me to realize that religion isn’t the problem.
Enter Chris Stedman and his new book, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. I didn’t even know how much I wanted this book to exist until I absorbed it within 20 hours of stumbling across it during a book buying binge.
The image to the left is my actual copy of the book, taken so that I can point out the 23 post-it flags sticking out of the pages. Occasionally I’ll grab a post-it flag to note a quote or passage that I really love – something that I want to highlight when I talk about the book or pass it along to someone else. I felt compelled to do that 23 different times as I was reading this book.
The book is, at its core, a memoir of Mr. Stedman’s journey from his irreligious childhood, through a born-again Christian period in his early teen years, to an angry, reactive atheism and finally to the realization that by seeking the commonalities in all of us, people of all faiths, beliefs and non-beliefs can come together to accomplish our common goals.
This idea that it is worthwhile to make an intentional effort to find common ground is, to me, the difference between mere diversity and engaged pluralism.
The idea of engaged pluralism is what I’ve been striving and yearning for, admittedly from a more political than religious perspective, in recent months. We have common goals – prosperity, safety, love – basic ideals that we all want to accomplish, regardless of our political or religious affiliations. We can’t accomplish them independently, not to mention when we’re in opposition with each other. We need to come together and find the common ground.
Mr. Stedman’s proposal for how to do that is simple: Learn about each other. Talk to each other. Tell your story.
There is so much about this book that I love and long to share and talk about with others. (I hope that you might buy the book and join me in conversation in the comments.) The desire to bring atheism out of the darkness and help people to understand that not believing in God does not mean that our moral character is any weaker. The yearning for conversation across differences with the intention of finding the commonalities.
I also feel as though I’ve been given some language to talk about my own beliefs. The “faitheism” label was originally bestowed on Mr. Stedman as an insult, but one that he accepted with some pride. I want to write it across a t-shirt or get it tattooed on my forehead. The one thing that I was a bit disappointed by in the book – and perhaps in the entire movement – is that the word “faith” continues to be applied to those with a religious affiliation. It’s just a word, I know, but it’s one that means a lot to me on a deeply personal level. To me, faith is believing that I have a purpose – even if it is one that I define and not one that is divinely bestowed.
I told a friend of mine today that it was likely that I would be talking about this book ad nauseum for some time to come. I really hope that I might entice you to join me in that discussion – via blog comments or Facebook (if we happen to be connected personally).