May 20, 2013
In this lengthy interview with Disinformation, I discuss Faitheist, the Humanist Community at Harvard, and more. Fun fact: one of the first books I bought (and put on display in my room) after deciding I was an atheist was their book Everything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion. Check out the excerpt below, and click here to read it in full.
Recently in a bookstore, killing time before going to my day job, I came across the book Fathiest: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, by Chris Stedman.
The concept really resonated with me. Here was an atheist reaching out to religious people, to find common ground and work for equality and social justice. It seemed like a very refreshing approach. I’m familiar with The New atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. I frankly felt these guys were missing a lot of the aspects of religion that are worthy of support, such as feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, working with people struggling with addiction – work I had been involved in as an evangelical. Though I definitely wouldn’t categorize myself as a scientific materialist, I actually am on board with the scientific and philosophical objections vocal atheists espouse against Christian fundamentalists. I am actually a former evangelical due to being excommunicated from a Baptist church for questioning literal six day Young Earth Creationism.
May 17, 2013
A new piece in Metro Weekly about my event at the Newseum with the First Amendment Center next week. If you're in DC, I hope to see you there!
Chris Stedman's mother rifled through her teenage son's diary and read about his struggles with homosexuality. But unlike many other parents, her response was to introduce Stedman, who had been going to an anti-gay evangelical church, to a local pastor at a progressive church. "He gave me a different, affirming perspective on homosexuality and Christianity," Stedman says.
So while initially angry at his mother's violation of his privacy, Stedman couldn't stay mad for long. "I was very fortunate, actually, that my mother found out what was happening and intervened," he says. "I think she really sped up the process for me."
Stedman, who grew up in an "irreligious" home in Minnesota, turned to evangelicalism as a pre-teen in an effort to cope with his parents' divorce and to find a sense of community among his school's "popular kids for whom life seemed really easy." These days, the 26-year-old Stedman describes himself as "ethically and philosophically a humanist, but I use the term atheist a lot because it needs to be de-stigmatized."
And that is Stedman's chief focus, as the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University. He helps non-religious students with their personal struggles, as well as engaging them in discussion with their religious colleagues. "I think a lot of people, especially millennials, are just sick of the cable news style of discourse where people just shout past one another and don't even really listen to what the other person is saying," he says.
Stedman seeks to reclaim the word "atheist" in much the same way the LGBT movement has made the word "queer" less offensive. Stedman, who will talk about his work at the Newseum next Thursday, May 23, titled his new memoir Faitheist -- its subtitle: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious -- as one signal he's more open to the faith community than many other, more vocal atheists.
Says Stedman: "[Being] a faitheist means that I have faith in humanity's ability to transcend our differences over questions like, 'Does God exist or not?' I have faith in our ability to have a different kind of conversation about religion."
Chris Stedman speaks Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m., at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free, but limited space. Call 888-639-7386 or visit newseum.org.
May 14, 2013
My home state of Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage today. (And yes, my grandmother has already called to say that I "can move home now.") While I celebrate this sign of social progress, there is still much work to be done. In this spirit, my new piece for HuffPost Religion and Interfaith Youth Core calls for interfaith advocates to include LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) voices in their efforts to promote pluralism. Check out an excerpt below, and click here to read it in full.
As an atheist and interfaith activist, much of my work focuses on advocating for the inclusion of nonreligious voices in interfaith dialogue. But a related—and, for me, equally urgent—push for inclusion can be found in efforts to welcome LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people into interfaith spaces. I am passionate about LGBTQ acceptance, and I am passionate about interfaith cooperation. In my eyes, these passions are not in tension; they are intimately connected.
In Faitheist, I write about times that I experienced exclusion and demonization for being an atheist, and also times I was attacked for being queer. I included both to highlight the reality that fear of the “other” has frequently pushed me, and many others, to the margins of our society—this includes atheists and agnostics, but also LGBTQ people, Muslims, Sikhs, women, and many others. Interfaith work, which brings together people from diverse communities to better understand one another and build inter-community networks that advocate for the dignity of all people, must necessarily welcome all people.
May 12, 2013
Happy Mother's Day! Today and always, I am so grateful for my mother's wisdom and love—for all that she has taught me, and for the example she has set throughout my life. Below, two pieces I've written on her influence (the second is adapted from Faitheist).
Thought Catalog, "Tolerance Begins at Home"
My mom is almost never embarrassed to speak her mind. But she also makes an effort not to be mean, abrasive, or hurtful to others in doing so. She taught me to be strong, but she also showed me how to be kind. Surveying the innumerable and frequently volatile disagreements and conflicts over the veracity of religious claims in the world today, I think we could all stand to follow her lead a bit more often.
(Click here to read it in full.)
The Advocate, "Saved By Grace"
The next day, she took me to meet with a Christian minister who told me that God loves all people, queer and straight, and that I didn’t need to change. This moment changed my life forever, and set me on the course toward the work that I do now as an atheist-interfaith activist. My experiences of feeling isolated and misunderstood inform my conviction that it is imperative to work for a world where people of all sexual orientations, and all different faiths and beliefs, understand one another better — a society where all people can live openly and be who they are without fear.
But before we can reach out and try to build understanding and love across lines of religious difference, we must first love ourselves. I would never have known this unless my mother had saved me, loving me when I did not love myself. Her love was a gift, given at the moment I needed it most — and I intend to pass it on.
(Click here to read it in full.)
May 7, 2013
May 4, 2013
A new interview with the United Church Observer, the oldest continuously published magazine in North America:
Q Your new book, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, tells the story of your journey from born-again Christian to atheist. What’s the number-one thing that progressive Christians don’t quite get about atheists?
A Sometimes progressive Christians will assume that if I had better experiences [as a gay youth] early on in the church, I would still be a Christian. I think this idea exists among some progressive Christians: “If only more people knew about progressive Christianity instead of its more intolerant forms, then they would be more likely to be Christians themselves.”
That may be the case for some folks, but progressive Christians also need to understand that for some people — myself included — Christianity doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem right. The claims that even progressive Christianity makes, I don’t believe they’re true.
Q Could you be a bit more specific about what turned you away from Christianity?
A When I was 11, I became a fundamentalist Christian, and I just accepted it part and parcel. I began to question the blanket beliefs I was handed when I realized I was gay. And I think this turned me into a critical thinker. It trained me to not just accept things because someone in a position of authority said they were true.
When I got to college, [I was challenged] by my Christian professors to really evaluate my own beliefs. Going through that process, I realized what had drawn me to Christianity was the form and function of it: the community aspects and the idea that it’s important to have beliefs and act on them. But the metaphysical aspects, the theological commitments, the ideas about God?
I had accepted all the beliefs as a package deal when I was younger. Then I realized that I had always been interested in relationship, in community, in being a good person and caring for others — even before I believed in God. So I began to wonder how much I actually believed in God.
Q So there wasn’t a moment like, “Whoa. God doesn’t exist”?
A Not in the same way [as when I realized] I was gay. It was a gradual process. The way I describe it in the book was, “It was as if I realized one day that God had packed up his things and moved out weeks ago, and I had just been too busy to even notice.”
Q You’ve stated before that atheists should be included in interfaith dialogue. Don’t you need a faith to participate, though? And why would non-believers want to be included?
A I think it’s central to the core mission of interfaith work to include atheists. Interfaith work is about bringing together people who have different religious identities or convictions so that they can better understand one another, can identify their areas of shared concern and then work together toward common goals. That surely includes religious voices, but it must also include non-religious voices if [the point is to] foster greater understanding and co-operation across lines of religious difference. One of those lines is between people who are religious and people who are not.
May 3, 2013
"I would encourage anyone interested in building interfaith bridges to reach out to others, to speak from your own experience, and, most importantly, to actively listen. Allow yourself to consider things that you haven't; challenge yourself to empathize with ideas and experiences that seem alien and even scary. Be honest, but also be compassionate."
Check out my new interview at Religion News Service on Faitheist, The Humanist Community at Harvard, atheism and interfaith cooperation, and more. Click here to read it in full!
Apr 20, 2013
The newly-released April 2013 issue of The Interfaith Observer is entitled "Welcoming Atheists & Humanists into the Interfaith Community," and as a whole the issue is focused on engaging atheists in interfaith work.
It includes a piece by me, which is an updated version of my very first article the Huffington Post about atheists and interfaith work (published as I was beginning work on Faitheist). When I was approached about updating that piece for 2013, I agreed that it would be fitting to revisit it a few years later and add more recent examples, new data, and some additional thoughts. Check out an excerpt below, and click here to read the full thing:
As an interfaith activist, I’ve worked to bring an end to religious division. In recent years, this has increasingly meant speaking out against the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence sweeping America.
Advocating for religious believers has often put me at odds with my own community. As an atheist, I regularly encounter anti-religious rhetoric and activism. Speaking out against anti-pluralistic voices in my community hasn’t always been easy. Yet it is precisely because I am an atheist, and not in spite of it, that I am motivated to do interfaith work.
Why? For one, without religious tolerance and pluralism, I wouldn’t be free to call myself an atheist without fear of retribution. Not that long ago, I could not have been a public, vocal atheist at all. But due to relationships with religious allies and increased atheist visibility, the times are changing.
Still, this expanded freedom shouldn’t suggest that everything is coming up roses for American atheists. In 2010, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, forbade the formation of a secular student group, claiming the group’s mission was in direct opposition with the school’s identity as an institution affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Concordia, which recognizes a Catholic student group, refused to reconsider their decision. As a graduate of Augsburg College, another Minnesota ELCA-affiliated school, I was alarmed by this news. But Concordia’s decision received little attention. Few came to the secular students’ defense. This was not the end to the Concordia story, though, as we shall see.
Chris Stedman’s Faitheist is a fine, compelling book written by a deeply faithful person, who by his own admission is more interested in building something than in tearing something down. His faithfulness is not to a set of religious beliefs but to a search to understand and honor his unique humanity and the unique humanity of others in ways that contribute positively to life on Earth.In clear prose, with often disarming honesty, Stedman chronicles his sometimes turbulent and anguished journey toward a self-identity he can embrace, regardless of what the larger society reflects back. This journey includes a collision between his identity as a born-again Christian and his awakening sense of himself as gay man that led him to the brink of suicide. It includes his stint as an atheist doing graduate work at a Christian seminary, and an internship at the Interfaith Youth Core, one of the U.S.’s preeminent interfaith organizations.
Woven throughout his story is Stedman’s passion for constructive, life-affirming, boundary-crossing community, a compassion for those that mainstream society marginalizes, a high ethic of service, and a deep commitment to building a future “where the mutual goals of love and service remain at the forefront of people’s thoughts and actions…” (p.179) This stance in life would be praiseworthy in anyone. In a person whose identities – as a gay man and an atheist – make him the target of indescribable bigotry that all too often explodes in hatred, this stance is both unexpected and inspirational.
Stedman is a courageous pioneer who models the following words from the charter of the United Religions Initiative – We listen and speak with respect to deepen mutual understanding and trust. For Chris Stedman this principle is the platform from which to create engaged community that welcomes all in a spirit of appreciation and inquiry and seeks to engender a shared commitment to cooperative action to make our world a better place for all life, especially for the most vulnerable.
If you’re someone who is concerned about the increasingly polarized state of our world and the serious challenges that face our Earth community – poverty, environmental calamity, and the wanton disregard for life evident in the escalation of militarism and violence, to name a few – I urge you to read Chris Stedman’s book.
Beyond that, I urge you to follow his example and reach out to those you are inclined to view as the “other.” If you do, I guarantee you’ll discover there are no other people in this world, only a marvelously and confoundingly diverse humanity waiting to be discovered, respected and invited to travel together on a shared journey whose destination is our fullest humanity and the good of all.
Additionaly, the issue contains "an overdue welcome to the atheist community" from Rev. Paul Chaffee (founder and editor of The Interfaith Observer), contributions from emerging atheist thinkers and activists like Kile Jones ("'Interview an Atheist at Church' Takes Off") and Vanessa Gomez Brake ("The Case for Atheist Chaplains"), Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel's foreword to Faitheist, and much more. Click here to check out the full issue!
Apr 15, 2013
In this new video profile, I talk to Odyssey Networks for their "Call On Faith" series about Faitheist, atheist community and narrative, and including queer voices in interfaith dialogue.
Apr 13, 2013
In an article about shifting trends in atheism-related books, Publishers Weekly lifts up Faitheist as an example:
Today books by and about nonbelievers—atheists, humanists, “brights” and other “freethinkers”—have taken a new turn. Books on the topic have matured...
The changes in books on the topic are on full display at Beacon Press with Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious by Chris Stedman, published last November. Stedman, who is 25, dubs the New Atheists destructive and calls on his fellow nonbelievers to work with the religious to improve society. Amy Caldwell, Beacon’s executive editor, says Faitheist is a response to the disparagement of religion. “Chris knows that if you want to work for the common good you need to work with folks who are religious and to respect their beliefs,” Caldwell says. “I think there are a lot of people who feel that way, and this new crop of books on atheism speaks to those folks.”
The book has done well for Beacon, Caldwell says, and is growing in strength as Stedman, a prolific blogger, writes guest posts for CNN.com and other outlets. Caldwell says Beacon, a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association, will seek more titles for “nones.” “I do think there’s a shift, and we’ll be publishing for it.”