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.