Home > Atheism, Interfaith dialogue > Interfaith Wins and Losses for August

Interfaith Wins and Losses for August

Terry Sanderson, president of the U.K. National Secular Society, stated his pessimism over the potential for real interfaith tolerance in last week’s Humanist Network News (newsletter of the American Humanist Society). To support his point, he runs down some of the latest incidences of blatant–occasionally violent–intolerance around the globe. A town razed to the ground; anti-Semitism from within the Catholic Church; heated debate within the Anglican Communion as to “whether homosexuals should be welcomed or damned to hell.”

This morning, abortion coverage, health care, and Obama’s statement that reform opponents have been “bearing false witness” to liberal clergy topped my list of possible topics. However, that will have to wait, because I consider interfaith relationship building a vital task for secular progressives.

Now, the terminology of this is still a bit tricky. What role does an atheist have in interfaith relations? Atheism is not a faith, right? Be that as it may, interfaith dialogue at its best is about understanding other people’s beliefs, and creating an environment of tolerance and acceptance. Interfaith organizations’ support for separation of church and state, in order to protect diverse religions, makes them the natural allies of atheists. Many seek to include atheist, agnostics, and freethinkers in their work, attempting to get the full spectrum of beliefs and opinions on faith.

BusAd3Demonstrating this partnership, the Interfaith Alliance recently criticized the Des Moines Bus Authority’s decision to pull ads off the side of buses reading, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” The press release reads: “We live in a nation where people are free to express themselves, regardless of whether or not they are religious. People of faith put their own religious freedom at risk when they trample on the right of others to believe differently.”

Sure, get a bunch of religions together in a room, and sometimes the one thing that they can agree on is how bad us godless heathens are. But only if you’re cherry picking the conservative ones. Sanderson’s article was superficial, proving nothing substantial about the success or failure of interfaith relations, if not downright harmful.

Granted, there’s nothing positive about a town burned to the ground–it’s a tragic, condemnable act by intolerant religious actors. But other of Sanderson’s examples twist the truth about interfaith progress. Yes, the homophobia so many religions bear is terrible, and I like the idea of a blank atheist slate–but at least the Church of England is reconsidering its prejudices, something that atheists should support. After all, despite heated arguments and controversy, in July the Episcopal Church reaffirmed its commitment to ordaining gay bishops (Gene Robinson, who has served in New Hampshire since 2004, was their first openly gay bishop), and allowing clergy to bless same-sex unions if they so choose. And the anti-Semitic comments within the Catholic Church came from a fringe conservative group, attacking the Vatican’s distancing itself from Holocaust denied. Progress.

More progress: The Friendly Atheist, a blog regularly featured on Humanist Network News, has a post on the first Muslim in the Maryland state legislature, Saqib Ali, who just came out in support of same-sex marriage. Salib writes of the decision:

My stance on this issue isn’t politically expedient. …Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Islam. As such I have evinced much grief from my most conservative supporters.

But I recognize that I represent people of all faiths and no faith at all. If I tried to enforce religion by law — as in a theocracy — I would be doing a disservice to my both constituents and to my religion.

  1. August 20, 2009 at 8:59 am

    It’s the Anglican Communion, not the Anglican Church. There are over 40 Anglican churches that together make up one communion. Also, in July, we recommited ourselves to ordaining gay bishops – remember, we already have one. (Mainstream media coverage of the church is pretty lousy.)

    Otherwise, great post! And way to go, Interfaith Alliance! That’s very heartening about their reaction to the buses.

  1. August 20, 2009 at 3:59 am

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