Interfaith Cooperation and Some Not-So-Friendly Feedback

August 16, 2010

While I was in Minnesota last week for a wedding, the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) posted a video of the panel I was on at their National Conference last month. Hemant Mehta, Friendly Atheist blogger, was also on the panel (along with Jonathan Weyer, a Christian Reverend who has done interfaith work, and Lewis Marshall from Stanford’s Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics) and posted the video to his blog. I checked out his post today and the majority of the comments aren’t exactly, well, friendly. Per Friendly Atheist readers, I am “an insufferable moron” who uses “weasel language” and “has no fucking clue.”

A bit scathing, eh? I’ll let you be the judge and watch the video for yourself (though be warned, it is very long):

Reflecting on the panel, I feel that I did a good job representing what I believe and standing my ground on the issue of interfaith cooperation despite being in the minority and finding myself on the receiving end of some very pointed questions (as one Friendly Atheist commenter kindly stated: “I have to say Chris took the heckling with dignity“) …and, you know, having seen a dead body just an hour before.

Each time I speak on this apparently contentious issue, I become better at articulating what I believe. At 23 years old I still have a lot of learning to do, so I appreciate the opportunities I get to articulate and refine my stance. I’m not just interested in writing about this issue – I want to actively discuss it with people and so I am glad that we are able to, even when we find ourselves in profound disagreement.

It seems we won’t be coming to a consensus any time soon, but I am glad we are at least discussing it in a civil manner (the above blog comments aside, I guess). We’re not all going to agree on this issue, but I appreciate those who have offered constructive critiques rather than just mean-spirited criticisms. I have definitely taken the pushback I’ve gotten into consideration as I weigh how to offer my opinions, just as I have the positive feedback I got from a handful of participants, including one who cited me as her inspiration (a very heartwarming moment for me, to be sure!). In all I do, I try to learn — to me, this is a key part of being a Secular Humanist. And this is what drives me to interfaith instead of so-called “aggressive” Atheism: a desire to learn from others instead of set out to “prove wrong” those who disagree with me.

The bottom line: many, many thanks to the SSA and to all the folks who asked clarifying questions during the Q&A for listening respectfully and engaging my perspective – I look forward to continued dialogue!

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14 Responses to “Interfaith Cooperation and Some Not-So-Friendly Feedback”

  1. Hitch said

    Dialogue is not refining ones own stance. It’s trying to discover and sympathize with the stance of the other (and check the “I” at the door a little).

    Btw, everybody on that panel was for interfaith cooperation. No need for you to stand ground on that!

    I suggest you listen to what Jonathan Weyer says. Noone should be required to check their identity at the door to be welcome at the table. That covers a good part why people are upset with you. Not all of it. The stereotyping covers the rest.

    So if you want to have people listen, how about not trying to shame them into a particular behavior pattern (when you do not expect the same of others, e.g. that right wing bigot you praised or the MSA students). That’d help!

    And perhaps you read why people are upset, and not just quote their expression of frustration. You amplify again what is not helping to bring dialogue. People have valid feedback for you. Those are the things you do not quote however.

  2. Free Thinker said

    “I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him” ~Galileo Galilie….. As I read the aforementioned blog comments, I attempt to keep that in mind….:-) Keep up the good work Chris. It is a wonderful perpective to realize you don’t have all the answers. As you have said before, being “right” isn’t always the answer. .. goodness, understanding and kindness have much to offer as well; for ourselves and those we disagree with.

  3. A Hitch in Your Get Along said

    Why is this Hitch person such a Hater? It’s soooo lame that Hitch spends so much time attacking Stedman in multiple forums and has never revealed their true identity. SACK UP AND TELL US WHO YOU REALLY ARE! Then maybe someone would take you seriously. You can’t have dialogue if you’re hiding behind the internet. At least Stedman puts himself in the hot seat and actually talks with the people who disagree with him. Wimp.

    Stedman, although you may not always hit it directly on the mark, I think most of what you say is True. Atheists have a bad wrap in America and it’s half their fault. We probably do need to do more interfatih work so I’m glad you’re doing it.

    Ban this Hitch person. I’m sick of his trolly rants. He’s probably hiding in your bushes right now…Watch your back!

  4. Lucy said

    “Btw, everybody on that panel was for interfaith cooperation. No need for you to stand ground on that!”

    Hitch, I apologize–where you at the conference? Because your statement above is absolutely, completely, 100% untrue.

    Chris, you inspire me every day. I’ve never in my life heard someone communicate their thoughts and beliefs so eloquently. You have the most awe-inspiring balls of steel I’ve ever encountered. In short–goddamn, dude, you fucking rock.

    And jesus, the comments on Hem’s blog are insufferable; I hope you don’t read anything into them. Except the comment I wrote–you can take that at face value 😉

  5. Hitch said

    Lucy, who on the panel spoke against interfaith cooperation in your view?

    Weyer praised it, Hemant praised it, Chris praised it and Lewis praised it. You’ll find it easy to quote all of the panel at length discussing the benefits. So let me repeat my claim. The panel is unanimous in the benefits of interfaith cooperation. Despite what you say.

    Virtually the only point of contention as I see it is DMD. Yes people are critical how Chris and Eboo have portrait the secular students around DMD and people are critical and frankly also upset. But let’s not confuse criticism for Eboo’s and Chris’s positions with criticism of interfaith cooperation. It is not.

    On the video there is one audience question in the very end (around 55:00) that suggests to oppose it. All other questions explored the difficulties, but that is not anti-interfaith at all. On DMD people were critical of Chris, but as said that is not the same as opposing interfaith cooperation at all. And yes on the topic there was one question directed at Chris, that I’d see as part heckling. The larger point was the difference between diplomacy and outspokenenss. But as Weyer so beautifully articulated, both really should be welcome at the table in interfaith, and happily Chris agrees!

    But yes, everybody should watch the video and make up their own mind. I don’t see that I have mischaracterized the video at all, so I don’t know how you come up with your contrary claim. So let me repeat: Everybody on that panel was for interfaith cooperation.

  6. Taylor N. said

    Keep fighting the good fight, amigo. Love from yours in Chicago.

  7. […] NonProphet Status « Interfaith Cooperation and Some Not-So-Friendly Feedback […]

  8. @A Hitch in Your Get Along:

    “You can’t have dialogue if you’re hiding behind the internet. At least Stedman puts himself in the hot seat and actually talks with the people who disagree with him.”

    I have to say, I too am beyond curious as to why Hitch insists on responding to my work so regularly without even identifying her/himself. Doesn’t seem very fair, does it?

    And thank you Free Thinker, A Hitch in Your Get Along, Lucy, and Taylor for your kind words. They truly mean a lot. 🙂

    • Hitch said

      Chris, I want to be fair to you. If anything I said is unfair. Point it out and I will either elaborate, or apologize.

      I do however point out to you things that I consider unfair. So far you do not really respond to this. In fact recently people try to troll-bait me and you now join into it claiming that identity is more important than content.

  9. What a great panel. I think that, without Chris’s participation, and (oddly!) without the…shall we say pointed questions put to him, it would have been far less interesting. Thanks for that, Chris.

    I’m a little surprised by the vitriol in the comments on The Friendly Atheist’s site (lots of unfriendly atheists over there), as I thought that most of what was interesting in the panel were the disagreements, and I thought everybody managed to disagree in mostly interesting ways.

    Hitch certainly has a bee in his bonnet, and consistently comes off in the comments here as somebody who feels passionate about what he thinks is correct. Unfortunately, he also pretty consistently comes off as somebody who also has a personal axe to grind (rather than simply an ideological axe to grind, which of course we all have!), which often detracts from some of his good points.

    • Hitch said

      I don’t really mind how “I come off”. I try very hard to articulate my grievance. But rather than engage with my grievance people now switch to characterize my supposed intend as you do.

      So if there are good points, why not engage with them rather than talk about me. I would very much welcome that.

      If there are points that are perceived as unfair, let me know and I am very happy to clarify or apologize as needed. I have no need to give any impression at all, or to have anything stick without it being challenged.

  10. […] into theists and atheists is actually going to stop us from achieving anything good in the world. It’s been made abundantly clear on this blog that there are heinous dissenters in both worlds. If we continue to adhere to these traditional […]

  11. […] had the honor of being on a panel discussion about operating an atheist student group in an interfaith organization at the Secular Student […]

  12. […] of calling each other insufferable morons or atheist fundamentalists, we might consider valuing the unique perspectives we all bring to the […]

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