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Should Atheists Participate in Interfaith?

Earlier this summer, I attended the 2011 Center for Inquiry Leadership Conference in Amherst, NY. During this conference, the question arose of whether Atheists should participate in Interfaith events. Many people said yes, because we should put our differences aside and work towards a greater goal. Few said no, because, as CFI intern Cody Hashman said, “we need to  preserve our own resources and focus on building our own architecture.” Is this a yes or no question, though? I think not.

That is a false dichotomy. Many people, when presented with a problem and a set of solutions think it’s one or the other.

Let’s look at the reasons Atheists should not participate in interfaith. For one, we don’t like the religious right and neither do they like us. They’ve caused us a lot of trouble throughout history and continue to do so. They often reject what  anyone else has to say (and sometimes kill them) when tried to reason with. They want to impose their morality on us, and even though we give them every right to believe, but argue that it is in everyone’s interest to establish a secular society, they refuse. But let’s face it, the religious right continue to do many great things, such as humanitarian work, blood drives, helping the poor, etc. Is this an excuse to join forces and participate in these affairs? Don’t be fooled by how beautiful these things sound, it might not be to our advantage.

Maybe – just maybe, they’re so good at doing all these great things is that they themselves join forces with their own huge circle of friends. They’ve got a lot of resources, organizations, and people to back them up. They’re popular in contributing towards a better society. Here’s the problem: we’re not.

We don’t have as many resources, organizations, and people backing us up, and the more we continue on giving the religious right all we have, we’ll end up with the ability to do nothing. And who are we empowering? The same people who wish us dead, the same people who want to build churches on every corner of the street, and the same people who want to impose their morality on us. Rather, let us focus on growing our own resources, getting more people on our side, and build our own architecture. In the end, we won’t be seen as the evil-doers by society anymore, and finally receive some credit for all the work that the religious right take credit for, while they ironically continue to destroy humanity at the same time.

So, are there any benefits to participating in interfaith? I think so. Again, this isn’t a black or white issue. The best use of interfaith is discussion and dialogue. Discussion excites the mind, bring about solutions, understanding, and knowledge. Without discussion and engagement in thought provoking matters, viewing things from others’ perspectives and coming to the best conclusions, we would catch the dreaded disease of group-think. Group-think is when a group tries to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. There would be no movement, no development, and stagnation of advancement would prevail. Quite contrary to the mission of the Atheist, Secularist, and especially for those who are still looking or confused about the answers (which what secular/Atheist organizations are perfect for).

So, what should we Atheists do, you ask? I say we look at each event, each cause, and each circumstance separately, with a keen eye for our objective. If our objective is to arouse discussion and knowledge, I say go for it. If the objective is something as simple as humanitarian relief, for example, I say let us stick to loading ammunition of our own resources to the cause or event. If it is for an urgent or necessary issue, such as recovering from an earthquake, I think it’s best to put aside our  differences and work in harmony for our common good.