A Committed Christian's Atheist Heroes

September 7th, 2010 | Posted by:

Today’s post in our ongoing series of guest bloggers comes from the amazing Amber Hacker, Network Engagement Coordinator at the Interfaith Youth Core. Below, Amber reflects on a few atheists who inspire her and the kinds of honest and respectful conversations atheists and Christians can have. Take it away, Amber!

crossA few months ago I told my friend Chris Stedman, a former Christian and current atheist, that there’s nothing I’d love to see more than for him to come back to Christ.

This is true, except a part of me would be disappointed if that happened, because Chris is such an important leader in the interfaith youth movement who represents a much needed non-religious voice.

Our conversation is not a typical one between a conservative Christian and an atheist. The reason Chris and I were able to have that difficult conversation is because of the relationship we’ve built with one other through working at the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).

A big part of my job at IFYC is answering calls and e-mails from folks interested in getting involved in the interfaith youth movement, but aren’t sure if they have a place. I can’t tell you how often I hear “I’m really inspired by this message, but can I be involved in interfaith work if I am [insert blank here -- atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, non-religious, seeking, etc.]?”

My answer? “Yes! You absolutely have a seat at the table, and we need you in this movement.”

Let me tell you about these folks that inspire me on a daily basis – my secular/atheist/agnostic heroes.

greg-epsteinGreg Epstein, Harvard Humanist Chaplain and recent author of the bestseller “Good Without God,” is a good friend to IFYC and an important voice for those that identify as non-religious. I got to know Greg when I organized IFYC’s 2009 conference, Leadership for a Religiously Diverse World. Greg was one of our most popular conference speakers because people in this movement, both religious and non-religious, are hungry for his message — that secular humanism should have with respectful relationship with religion (and I would argue, vice-versa).

ChristinaGreta Christina, author of the widely-read Greta Christina’s Blog. While I don’t know Greta personally, she taught me that we have a lot more in common than what we have different. For example, 95 percent of what makes Greta angry makes me angry too.

Mary Ellen GiessMary Ellen Giess, an incredibly skilled staff member here at the IFYC. Mary Ellen, who is a humanist, helps me better articulate my identity as a Christian. She is such an important ally for the non-religious to this movement.

The Author

And of course, Chris Stedman, who is a dear friend and founder of NonProphet Status, one of the most talented interfaith leaders to come through the IFYC’s programs, and someone who continually inspires me on a daily basis.

Bottom line: I believe the faith divide isn’t between the religious or non-religious. For that matter, it isn’t between Christians and Jews, or Muslims and Hindus. It’s between those who believe in pluralism — that we can live together in equal dignity and mutual loyalty — and those who seek to dominate and divide.

We may not agree about heaven or hell (or for that matter, if there is even an afterlife). I don’t think we should gloss over these differences — Chris and I certainly haven’t. What I hope we can agree on is the importance of being in relationship with one another. And as I say on the phone to potential young non-religious interfaith leaders and what I want to say to you today:

We need you in the interfaith youth movement. Because we certainly have a lot of work to do — addressing poverty, hunger, human trafficking, the environment, you name it — and I think we can do it better together.

Amber HackerAmber Hacker is the Network Engagement Coordinator for the Interfaith Youth Core, where she organizes the organization’s biennial Conference, internship program, and alumni network. In her spare time, she works as a Youth Group Leader at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @IFYCAmber.

5 Responses to “A Committed Christian's Atheist Heroes”

  1. Hitch Says:

    I think you articulate a very interesting point.

    “I believe the faith divide isn’t between the religious or non-religious. For that matter, it isn’t between Christians and Jews, or Muslims and Hindus. It’s between those who believe in pluralism — that we can live together in equal dignity and mutual loyalty — and those who seek to dominate and divide.”

    I would largely agree with this, though I would word it slightly differently (given that some of the words are loaded).

    But the problem I see is that indeed it is perfectly OK to divide out some individual/groups/identities routinely. Pluralism means that we disagree. Else there is no pluralism. But disagreeing on matters of religion is too often framed as by definition divisive, hence secular people, unless they are willing to relinquish that aspects are turned into the out-group.

    But pluralism is exactly to work with and through differences and not make them into divisions. And pluralism does not mean that one has no opinion or stands by when bad things happen, even if some in the pluralistic society dislike or fervently oppose it.

    Pluralism is the most important, but also the hardest when people disagree. World hunger is a fairly easy topic. No group says: No, I want world hunger. But what about the Aids epidemic in Africa. Some say condoms are bad, some say that condoms are the best known single thing to interfere with infections. The dividing lines are often aligned with religious identification. This is where pluralism matters. This is where we have to do the hard work and accept difference and not make it into demonization. But this is also where we have to be able to say: Look what you promote is wrong and harmful, even if you think it’s holy and god-sanctioned.

    It’s the hard topics, those with conflicts and disagreement that need pluralism.

    But people who address these hard problems, are too often depicted as extreme. For they say what is actually the case, namely that a papal doctrine has a causal relationship to a struggle that we probably cannot be silent about, or that violent passages in a holy book are used by extremists to justify real world violence. To not speak to these things means to basically do pluralism without the effort.

    Outspoken atheists often have a point. But rather than be concerned with the point we are concerned with language, or with the reception. So it becomes OK to divide out atheists. After all they weren’t supposed to say that perhaps a religious component has anything to do with what is the trouble in some situations. That, it seems, is not to be tolerated sometimes.

    And if a believer says that an atheist will fry in hell, we hardly see a proportional response to that. That’s “faith” and to be tolerated in a pluralistic society.

    I think we have much to do by way of really learning what pluralism, cosmopolitanism, multi-cultural toleration, and problem solution under conflicting points of view.

    And if outspoken atheists are truly welcome as equal peers, even if they may be anti-theists, then we have made advances. Because truly pluralistic voices are then welcome at the table!

  2. Lucy Says:

    Oh my god, Amber, I love you so much.

  3. Amber Says:

    Lucy-haha, you are so sweet.

    Hitch-thanks so much for your thoughts. I think you bring up some really relevant points and some hard questions. I agree that we do have a long way to go, but all of these voices have to be welcome at the table to make any strides.

  4. Inter-Religious Dialogue - “Should the Nonreligious Join in Interfaith Work?” By Chris Stedman Says:

    [...] The truth is that many segments of the interfaith movement already explicitly welcome and highlight secular participation. My personal experiences as a leader in the interfaith movement have shown me firsthand that leaders in the interfaith movement celebrate nonreligious participation. [...]

  5. God, We Need Atheists « NonProphet Status Says:

    [...] between Christians and atheists. Like Amber Hacker’s NonProphet Status guest post, “A Committed Christian’s Atheist Heroes,” Frank writes as a dedicated Christian interested in finding ways to work with and better [...]

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