The atheist-shaped hole in the interfaith movement?


Rory Fenton writes an article in Today’s Guardian that is titled ” There is a gaping, atheist-shaped hole in the interfaith movement“.

If indeed you are a non-believer like me, your first reaction is perhaps the same as mine, “Why should I bother engaging with a bunch of folks who hold irrational beliefs?”. Well OK, lets step back for a moment and tell you a bit about Rory. He is an Atheist himself (so that’s an immediate tick there), and he also grew up in Northern Ireland so you would expect him to have had more than his fair share of meaningless religiously inspired babbling. The recent history of the province is by itself tragic, I need not spell it out, except to observe that they are still awash with religious wingnuts.

Being also Irish myself, I’m curious to see if he falls into the usual trap and equates all that happened to Protestant vs Catholic, so I was delighted to see that he nails it in one when he writes :

I saw the segregation and violence like most did, but the Troubles itself was not religious. We killed over history, not heresy and the border, not the Bible. In truth the Troubles was tribal – a decent into “us” and “them”.

I can indeed confirm that, it was indeed basically two white tribes at each others throats, and while a religious divide was a symptom, it was never the root cause.

He also writes …

…we mustn’t repeat the mistakes of Northern Ireland; we mustn’t allow differences to become tribal markings …

Through actively engaging one another in controversial topics, moral and personal, religious and non-religious people alike were able to gain a deeper, more genuine understanding of each other. None of this has changed my own view: I remain as faithless as before and I doubt I have “deconverted” anyone either. But as a humanist I believe in the good in people

Having read it all, I find my initial reaction remains unchanged, non-belief is not a faith, so given that well-established fact, then what does it mean for a non-believer to engage in interfaith? Well, I have a couple of thoughts…

  • I suspect in the short-term there will never be a time when all are non-believers, there will always be believers in some nonsense, but that does not preclude us evolving into more rational creatures in the medium term.
  • Ideas do not have rights and so all ideas should be open to criticism, yet people do have rights, so we should respect their right to believe whatever they wish.
  • Fundamentally, with or without belief, most people are decent honorable individuals, and yet irrational belief can motivate some good people to do some truly appalling things (I’ve seen it)
  • We, the non-believers, do need to take a public stand and continue with our criticism of utterly irrational ideas. At the same time, while we recognise the right of others to retain complete freedom of thought, we also need to insist that they do not get to impose their insanity on others.

I suspect, like myself, many non-believers will self-exclude because this whole notion of interfaith is quite frankly ridiculous. Remember that all religions consider themselves to be the retainers of truth, and usually such truths are not negotiable, so in that context what meaning does interfaith have, especially for those of us who find such terms to be utterly meaningless.

Am I wrong, can we just ignore them and continue to speak out against their irrational beliefs, or should we be sitting around the table with them?

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