September 13th, 2013 | Posted by: Stephen Goeman
In August, Daniel Trilling introduced himself as the incoming editor for New Humanist, stating that he would take over in September in a blog post at the Rationalist Association. New Humanist is actually one of the oldest continually published magazines, having been spreading the gospel of critical inquiry, science, and human rights since 1885; the magazine is published by the Rationalist Association, a UK-based secular advocacy group. Trilling’s blog post prefigures a heightened humanistic commitment to fighting oppression, and it’s important that humanists take note.
Though it operates generally as a rejection of broad tendencies exhibited by Richard Dawkins and as a promise that New Humanist will not be doing any of that, the introductory piece also identifies a few radical ideas Trilling will be attempting to advance as editor. Perhaps the most controversial idea Trilling lists is the fact that criticisms of Islam can be racist. Inevitably when this subject is raised, irrational atheists clog their ears, shout “Islam isn’t a race,” and conveniently ignore systematic subjugation and violence perpetuated against Muslim-looking individuals. Trilling anticipates this knee-jerk response and urges his new readership to explore political context rather than ignore it, and be wary of rhetoric which “paints the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims as a monolithic bloc, or tries to make out they are uniquely savage, or violent, as a result of their religion.”
Trilling urges his readers to apply skepticism liberally at studies purporting to show the intellectual superiority of atheists, noting that the metrics such studies take are highly suspect and rooted in factors like income, employment, and education—clear traits of high socio-economic standing. He also advocates a unity between the religious and nonbelievers, going as far to say that the “key to political progress is an ability to find common ground between people of different religious beliefs and none.” These comments are extraordinarily welcome to us interfaithers (but perhaps not too surprising given that New Humanist previously found Chris’s vision of religious pluralism favorable enough to give Faitheist a 5-star review).
For me, the most promising part of Trilling’s introductory piece came at the end, when he noted that while he hopes the Rationalist Association can work with Dawkins in the future, it’s more important that he can work with individual lay-folk. This pledge to value average atheists rather than placate big names comes at a time when the atheist movement is doing just the opposite.
Naturally, Trilling received a lot of flak in the comments for calling attention to Big Atheism’s problems as personified by Dawkins—all the more reason why what he has to say is so important.
Previously, Trilling has written for The Guardian and served as the assistant editor at New Statesman; he has also written a book on the rise of fascism and racism in Britain. While his work largely focuses on far-right politics in Europe, there are astonishing parallels to be drawn which make his writing relevant across the pond. Of particular interest are his analysis of the developing popularity of xenophobic language in politics, the need to defend the rights of protesters from a police state, and how expecting immigrants to acclimate to the English language perpetuates classist inequalities. Though Trilling has written extensively on these issues in the past, it is significant that he will now be controlling and directing such content explicitly towards nonbelievers considering how hostile we largely are to social justice issues (especially violence against Muslims, a group oft targeted by fascist British rhetoric).
Trilling’s paper trail is one that shows a commitment not just to free thought, but to an intersectional and inclusive ethic concerned with fighting global oppression. As the editor for New Humanist, he promises to advance atheism beyond its holier-than-thou narrative which has reigned for far too long. At a time when leaders in the atheist movement are increasingly failing to represent the values of compassion and nuance, Trilling’s direction is much needed. You should follow him on twitter. You can subscribe to New Humanist here.
The interfaith movement seeks to encompass people of all spiritual paths: indeed, atheists, but those too whose faith is rooted in conversion. Faith Line Protestants is an online journal of evangelical Christians involved in interfaith work and interesting in better integrating the evangelical and pluralistic communities. Two and a half years since its inception, and after being on hiatus since October, FLP has returned with several new contributors to continue the discussion on modern evangelism and a pluralistic society.
Amber Hacker, the Alumni Relations Coordinator at the IFYC and one of the new SLP contributing authors, wrote on the tension between the centrality of proselytization to the evangelical worldview and the importance of mutual acceptance and respect in interfaith communities. “There are many places where proselytizing is appropriate, but interfaith work is not one of them,” she writes. “Being involved in interfaith service is bringing people of different religious and nonreligious backgrounds together to be partners in making the world a better place.” She further explains that the call to service–another dimension of the Christian identity–is an element central to the evangelical spirituality that is more important to engage in interfaith circles. Read her entire piece on the FLP blog.
Although of course conversion isn’t necessarily central to the atheist or humanist identity, it often does manifest, in the form of a drive towards spirited debate. And though the fact that interfaith efforts discourage that sort of engagement can be disconcerting, many atheists involved in pluralistic service and dialogue have taken a stance not dissimilar from Hacker’s: interfaith work is a place for our commitment to service and mutual understanding should take the fore, not our desire to strengthen our numbers or seek self-validation. We admit that we don’t know everything, and that we can be wrong–humbly listening to others, while working towards a world safer for diversity and for humanity, is perhaps the most enlightening experience we can have.
Walker Bristol is a nontheist Quaker living in Somerville, Massachusetts. A rising senior at Tufts University reading religion and philosophy, he covers social activism and class inequality in the Tufts Daily and has worked in on-campus movements promoting religious diversity, sexual assault awareness and prevention, and worker’s rights. Formerly, he was the Communications Coordinator at Foundation Beyond Belief and the president of the Tufts Freethought Society. He tweets at @WalkerBristol.
I’m very excited to announce that on Sunday, June 30th, I’ll be the guest speaker for New York City’s first ever Sunday Assembly.
At this point you very well may be asking yourself: What exactly is a Sunday Assembly? Per a recent article in the NY Daily News:
After six months of packed houses at monthly services in London, an atheist congregation called The Sunday Assembly is bringing its movement to the U.S.
The co-founders [comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans] will soon embark on a cross-country tour to decide which cities might support their own permanent Sunday Assembly franchise, and the first test run will be held in a Manhattan dive bar.
That’s no typo—they’re essentially an “atheist church,” and they’ve become quite the phenomenon in the U.K. and other parts of the world. (For more on what they do, check out this profile of their efforts from The Guardian). Now, they’re coming to the U.S. to host a service at Tobacco Road in NYC on Sunday, June 30th at 12:30 PM.
Given that this event is happening the weekend of NYC’s LGBT Pride, and that some in attendance may be “coming out” as an atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious person for the first time, the service’s theme will be on coming out. As the guest speaker I’ll be sharing some of my story as a former Evangelical Christian who has come out as both a queer person and an atheist. And as I write about in Faitheist, I’ll also discuss what might happen if we all “came out” to one another—religious and nonreligious alike—and built the kinds of relationships that would enable us to work together to improve the world, challenging anti-atheist bias and other forms of intolerance in the process.
If you’d like to attend the first ever Sunday Assembly in the U.S., check out (and RSVP at) their Facebook event. If you want to get involved in organizing future NYC Sunday Assembly events, click here. If you can’t get to NYC, you may still be in luck: co-founder Sanderson Jones is also visiting Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago in the next week to meet with people interested in starting up Sunday Assembly groups. Click here to learn more about his trip. Finally, if you want to contact Sunday Assembly for any reason, click here!
Oh, and click here to check out the rest of my summer speaking schedule (with more events still to be announced).
Hope to see you soon in NYC for “atheist church”!
June 13th, 2013 | Posted by: Chris Stedman
Religion Newswriters Association—a non-partisan service for journalists who write about religion provided by journalists who write about religion—lifts up Faitheist in the introduction to their new resource entitled “Freethinkers: The next generation of nontheists emerges.”
“Others argue for greater engagement with believers – for finding ‘common moral ground between theists and atheists,’ as Chris Stedman, a humanist chaplain at Harvard University, puts it. Stedman is the author of the 2012 memoir Faitheist, which is often a term of derision used by atheists for other nonbelievers who they say try too hard to accommodate belief.”
Click here for a list of what the RNA sees as the top emerging stories and studies about young nontheists, as well as some of the leading nontheist organizations, scholars, and resources. What do you think about the issues that they’ve highlighted? Is there anything not listed that you would have included?
Actor and LGBT activist Darryl Stephens (star of TV’s “Noah’s Arc”) has publicly come out as agnostic after reading Faitheist. Click here to read his vulnerable, honest reflection on his journey and his desire to find common ground with the religious.
“[Faitheist] has inspired me to be less judgmental of people of faith… The kindness one exhibits, the empathy one feels, the integrity with which one lives their life – these are the qualities that we should be concerned about, not where he or she spends their Sunday mornings… No one has all the answers. And just because we’re reading different books doesn’t mean our stories won’t overlap at times and that we can’t find strength and solace in our similarities.”