So an atheist in interfaith, eh? As an atheist myself, a couple years ago, that would have sounded to me like nothing more than a contradiction in terms. This comes from the simple fact that when one hears the word “interfaith”, it’s easy and even somewhat reasonable to come away with the idea that the only people who are involved in interfaith work are those that have, in some way shape or form, faith. But, this is simply not true. If faith is the requirement for participation in Interfaith, than Buddhism, Shintoism and a plethora of other major world religions would be barred entry. This, I can assure you, is as far from the truth as possible. They do not have the concept of faith yet, being that they are religions are involved heavily with interfaith work.
In fact, I would argue that if an atheist or non-religious person avoids interfaith because they think faith is a necessary requirement to be involved, they are guilty of committing what is known in logic as the genetic fallacy. One commits the genetic fallacy when you draw a conclusion by disregarding current use of a word and the context in which the word is used and choose to go with what a word originally meant or previously meant. This happens because words can and do have their meanings change. For example, psychology, in its original Greek roughly translates to “study of the soul”. Most psychologists would be somewhat confused if you told them that they spend their time studying and researching the soul. In the same way, interfaith does not simply mean a gathering of people of faith. Interfaith means people with theological differences who come together to learn about each other and to work towards the common good based on shared values.
The interfaith community is one that prides itself on allowing each member to maintain their full religious identity and non-religious identity. The whole point of interfaith is not to change member’s theological beliefs, but to build bridges by emphasizing shared values such as compassion towards the poor, service to the needy and giving food to the hungry. This is in order to combat religious intolerance while, at the same time, doing service for the community. A great side effect of interfaith work that through interfaith work, stereotypes are broken, friendships are forged across religious lines and you simply learn a lot about people that you would never, in any other context, have a chance to meet.
The atheist, simply put, has nothing to fear and her or his presence and can only do good in the interfaith community. We are simply here to combat intolerance and to try to do our part to make the world a better place. You, as an atheist and a non-religious person, could help more than you know.
Adam Garner, IIA Service Coordinator
Further readings on atheists involved in interfaith work