January 19, 2011
Today’s guest post, by my friend Frank Fredericks (Co-Founder of Religious Freedom USA and Founder of World Faith), addresses the gaping cultural divide 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 understand his atheist friends and neighbors. As someone who knows Frank and respects his work, I’m delighted to share his thought-provoking reflection here. Take it away, Frank:
The discourse between evangelical Christians and atheists has been antipodal at best. Whether it is Richard Dawkins calling faith “the great cop-out,” or countless professed Christians using “godless” like an offensive epithet, we’ve reached new lows. In fact, generally the discussion quickly descends into a volley of talking points and apologetics. I abhor those conversations with the same disdain I reserve for being stuck in the crossfire between a toe-the-line Republican and slogan-happy Democrat, rehashing last week’s pundit talking points.
I believe we need to revolutionize the way we interact. As an evangelical Christian, I recognize that my community equates atheism with pedophilia, like some dark spiritual vacuum that sucks out any trace of compassion or morality. Even in interfaith circles, where peace and tolerance (and soft kittens) rule the day, the atheists are often eyed with suspicion in the corner — if they’re even invited.
I thank God for atheists. During my college years at New York University, I had the superb opportunity to have powerful conversations with atheists who challenged me to have an honest conversation about faith. I appreciate and a value how atheist friends of mine encouraged inquiry. Remarkably, while this may not have been their intent, it only strengthened my faith. While I was able to begin weeding out the empty talking points from the substantive discourse, I hope they also got a glimpse of the love of Christ from an evangelical who wasn’t preaching damnation or waiting to find the next available segway into a three-fold pamphlet about how they need Jesus in their life. The point is, Christians need to stop seeing their atheist neighbors, co-workers, and even family members as morally lost, eternally damned, or a possible convert.
What lies at the bottom of this is the assumption, as pushed by many Christian leaders, is that religious people have the monopoly on morality and values. That, in a sense, you can’t be good without God. This is troubling on several levels. While at first glance this seems theologically sound to assume the traditional concept of salvation, most haven’t grappled with the problematic idea that Hitler could be in heaven and Gandhi could be in hell. That should be troubling for us. Also, the cultural and social ramifications of this leads to an antagonizing relationship. The Bible is littered with examples of non-religious, non-Christian, or non-Jewish people who do good in the eyes of God. It shouldn’t be shocking to see atheists teach their children integrity, or volunteer in a soup kitchen.
While I reserve the bulk of my frustration for those misusing my own faith, atheists aren’t blameless in this tectonic paradigm. Rather than taking the inclusive road of respectful disagreement, many of the largest voices for atheism find it more enjoyable to belittle faith, mock religion, and disregard their cultural and sociological value. In fact, many consider it their duty to evangelize their beliefs with the same judgmental fervor they fled from their religious past. Knowing that many came to define themselves as atheists against rigid religious upbringing, I don’t judge their disdain and frustration. However, like venom in veins, it keeps them from moving forward to having a more productive discourse. So often, when the religious and non-religious traditions grapple with the big question, like ontological definition, theorized cosmology, or the inherent nature of man, these discussion happen separately, without an engagement that is both fruitful and intriguing. I know many of those atheists have something wonderful to bring to that discussion, if they would stop throwing rocks at the window and come sit at the table.
So this is what I propose to my Christian and atheist friends: If we Christians challenge ourselves, our communities and congregations, to treat our atheist brothers and sisters as equitable members of our communities, nation, and in the pursuit of truth, will atheists recognize the value of faith to those who believe, even while they may respectfully disagree? As atheism quickly becomes the second largest philosophical tradition in America, the two communities will only have a greater need of a Memorandum of Understanding to frame how we can collectively work together to challenge the greater issues that face us, which starts by recognizing that it’s not each other.
Not sure where to start? Let’s feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and protect human dignity. While community service can be utterly rational, I am also pretty sure Jesus would be down for that, too.
Frank Fredericks is the founder of World Faith and Çöñár Records; in his career in music management, he has worked with such artists as Lady Gaga, Honey Larochelle, and Element57. Frank has been interviewed in New York Magazine, Tikkun and on Good Morning America, NPR, and other news outlets internationally. He also contributes to the interView series on the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. He currently resides in Astoria, New York, leading World Faith and working as an Online Marketing Consultant.
November 19, 2010
Guilty as charged! I’m sorry, but I hope you’ve been enjoying the awesome commentary from guest bloggers. I’ve had a lot going on; here’s a taste of what I’ve been up to:
1. State of Formation
Over the summer, I was hired by the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue to be the Managing Director of State of Formation, a new forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders co-sponsored by Hebrew College, Andover Newton, and the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. We’ve been working hard since then to recruit amazing contributors and get the site together — and, last week, it began its rolling launch! Please check it out; I’m incredibly proud of the fantastic content by our contributors already up on the site.
2. Book deal!
This fall, I’ve been working with a publisher on a book proposal, and I was very pleased to learn that my proposal was accepted this week! I officially have a book deal! Every bloggers dream, eh? Haha. It’s been an amazing process so far, and I can’t wait to finish the book and share it with you all. I challenge you to guess what the book will be about… Ha.
3. The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard
I’ve also been working with the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, and am so thrilled to announce that I am coming on board this year as the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow! In this position, I will coach and empower Humanist students to initiate and organize community service work in partnership with faith communities at Harvard. Read the announcement on HCH website here.
4. The Common Ground Campaign
I’ve been working hard with some awesome folks on the Common Ground Campaign, a youth-led movement standing up in response to the recent wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence in America. Stay tuned for several announcements about those efforts coming soon!
So that’s all for now! I’ve got more in the works, but I’ll keep it short and sweet for now. I just want to add that, as I announced some of this news over the week on Facebook, I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response to my news about my book and about HCH. I’m feeling especially grateful right now for all of your support, friends. It’s what got me here.
Today’s guest post comes from Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago (SHAC) member Miranda Hovemeyer. Miranda is a first year Master of Arts in Religion student at Meadville Lombard Theological School who is an improvisational comedian, vintage radio enthusiast, and works as a respite care provider for disabled children. Miranda, who is SHAC’s Special Events Coordinator, is a Community Ambassador for One Chicago, One Nation (OCON) an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust,One Nation, Link TV, the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). This program, which I spoke to organizers Hind Makki and Erin Williams about a few months back, aims to facilitate religious pluralism. Below, Miranda discusses her role as a Community Ambassador and her experience of being asked to speak at the OCON launch.
This past Saturday I was honored to speak at the 2010 “Takin’ it to the Streets” festival. The festival began with the induction of the One Chicago, One Nation Community Ambassadors, of which I am a member. We are a group of people from various walks of life who are working together toward a common goal: making Chicago a more peaceful city. One Chicago, One Nation is under the direction of IFYC and IMAN. In attendance at the induction ceremony were Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley, Illinois state Senator Jackie Collins, IFYC Executive Director Dr. Eboo Patel, IMAN Executive Director Dr. Rami Nashashibi, along with many others.
I was personally invited to speak on behalf of the secular community, which I found to be a somewhat difficult task. My speech sought to address the ways in which the religious and secular worlds can and should work together toward common goals. Before I went up on stage I was told by some of my fellow Community Ambassadors that I was going to have an important message, but a tough crowd. This turned out to be all too true. Certain parts of my speech were similar to the scenes in popular movies when someone does or says something completely unexpected. When I mentioned how Secular Humanists don’t believe in god, all at once the DJ stopped the record with a scratch, someone spewed water out of their mouth in a style similar to Old Faithful, and all that could be heard was a perfectly tuned chorus of crickets chirping.
Ok, so maybe I am exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad, but I am a comedian so I always try to see the humor in everything. The truth is that my fellow Community Ambassadors warmly accepted my speech. The people who were most taken aback were the older crowd of devout religious individuals, who really weren’t sure what to make of me. Their confusion became clearer to me when I was congratulated by my fellow Ambassadors, but largely ignored by the older, more religious attendees. It didn’t bother me, however, because mine was a message that people may need some time to ponder.
Later on in the day, as the heat grew and music filled the air, I was confronted by an older Muslim woman who had been in attendance for my speech that morning. She caught me off guard when she told me how much she’d enjoyed my message, then asked whether or not I had any copies of my speech, which I gave her. She told me that my speech had incited a discussion between her and some of her friends about whether or not a person who believes in god can be good. My message, she claimed, had firmly changed her mind about the goodness of secular people, and she thanked me for sharing my story. So maybe my theory that people can be good with or without god, and can work together to improve their world, is one that will just take time to sink in, but with a little contemplation will someday be our reality.
Below is a copy of Miranda’s speech, which she has agreed to let me reproduce here:
I’d like to talk to you today about faith. I know you probably already have your own ideas about the word faith. Maybe what comes to mind is a faith in god, or a faith in your own religious tradition, but the faith I want to talk about today isn’t that kind of faith.
The faith I want to talk about is the faith between you and me. I have faith in every single one of you. I have faith that you can take what you’ve learned here as a community ambassador from IMAN and IFYC, and go out and heal the world. BUT, do you have faith in me?
You see, I don’t believe in god. I’m what’s called a Secular Humanist. Many of you may not know what that means… and you’re not alone. Secular Humanism is a rich tradition founded upon the conviction that people can be good without god. We do our best to improve the lives of others in our world because we have faith in the goodness of humanity.
So we may not have faith in the same god — we may not have faith in any god — but we have firm faith in the power of humanity to do good and to make Chicago a more peaceful and loving place, and I have FAITH in the community ambassadors.
You might be wondering why I’m here — why I chose to get involved with the interfaith movement if I’m not religious. The answer is, I chose to get involved because the initiative is interFAITH, not interreligious, and I have FAITH.
I remember being at the first One Chicago, One Nation Community Ambassador meeting and one Muslim woman asked the question, “how do we attempt to work with people who don’t believe in god, or people who have no faith?” To which I responded, “even though some of us don’t believe in god, we DO share a common faith, and that’s faith in humanity.”
And we also share faith in the same goal, and that goal is getting out there and engaging with the community, both religious and secular, and working to improve Chicago, our amazing city. If we can have faith in each other, then there is no one we can’t reach.
Last month I attended the launch event for the One Chicago, One Nation (OCON) project, a collaboration between the Chicago Community Trust, One Nation, Link TV, the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). This program aims to facilitate religious pluralism and, like our own recently announced Share Your Secular Story contest — which just started accepting submissions yesterday — features a contest component. Whereas we are looking for stories, OCON is seeking film submissions and is giving away $50,000 in prizes! (Okay, so they’ve got just a bit more bank than us.) But, as I learned when I recently sat down with two of the project’s prominent organizers, Hind Makki and Erin Williams of IFYC, the prizes aren’t the only reason OCON is important.
NonProphet Status: Thanks for speaking with me. Tell me: what are your personal motivations for being involved in this project?
Hind Makki: I’ve done interfaith dialogue since the 90’s and have done community service within my community. These experiences taught me that when I combine the two, it enriches both my own faith and my relationship with those around me. I want to share those experiences with others in Chicago.
NPS: So, tell me straight up — why should people apply to be a Community Ambassador for the OCON project?
Hind: Community Ambassadors (CAs) will be get to work as a part of a network of 99 other leaders throughout the city and the Chicagoland suburbs. As a CA, you’ll be connected to city, religous, civic, and educational leaders and will get the chance to build relationships with members of Chicago’s diverse communities. CAs will get to promote interfaith cooperation in their own communities, as well as get connected to existing Chicagoland interfaith networks — it’s a truly unique opportunity to get involved in Chicago’s exciting interfaith communities.
NPS: That sounds awesome. So, tell me more about this film contest. What kinds of things can we expect when the winners are announced?
Erin Williams: For the OCON Online Film Contest, which is hosted by Link TV, we’re looking for films that tell the stories of people from different backgrounds who are working together for the common good. The film contest reminds me of the Walter Lippman line that says: “The way in which the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do.” We’re hoping people will find inspiration in the stories of Chicagoans working collaboratively and then imagine new ways to do similar good work in their own communities. The filmmakers don’t have to be from Chicago, although the films should be based in or about greater Chicago. The categories for the film contest include comedy, documentary, drama, under 60 seconds, music video/spoken word/animation, and mobile digital media, and submissions are open until April 23rd. Filmmakers submit their films online at Link TV’s One Chicago page. Some of the winning films will be used in Chicagoland community conversations, which are intended to create connections in diverse neighborhoods and motive collaborative action.
NPS: Wow, that sounds exciting. Looks like I might have to get my act together and submit something. Speaking of — as you know, I’m a secular humanist. I’m not religious, and this project is about religion. Tell me why OCON is important to secular folks and why we should get involved.
Hind: Chicago is a city of many faces, races, neighborhoods, beliefs and backgrounds – I can’t imagine this city without all of its components. Likewise, the world of religious diversity is composed of religious people, secular people, agnostics, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, etc. I can’t imagine a world of religious pluralism without secular folks.
NPS: That’s good to hear, and it echoes my beliefs on engaging with difference. So, I want to close out this interview on a somewhat unrelated note. I’m always looking for new music — what album are you listening to right now?
Hind: My coworker recently returned a CD that I let her borrow because I wanted her to listen to it. That was two years ago. It was in her desk the entire time! I popped it in my car a couple of days ago and now I can’t stop listening to Sahra by the Algerian King of Raï, Khaled. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve been listening to the Official World Cup song for the last 48 hours — almost literally back to back as I get obsessive about this stuff — K’naan‘s “Waving Flag.”
Erin: I haven’t been listening to albums as much as I’ve been listening to individual songs. Some of my favorites are “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons (I like the version from their bookshop sessions best), “Airplanes” by Local Natives, Ane Brun‘s “Rubber & Soul,” “Akheer” by Juggy D, and “re: Stacks” by Bon Iver.
NPS: Oh man, I love Local Natives and Bon Iver, and “Waving Flag” was one of my favorite guilty pleasure songs of 2009. I’ll have to check out the others. Thanks for speaking with me, and good luck on the project!
For more information on OCON, be sure to check out their website. Aspiring filmmakers: remember, if you’re interested in submitting to the film contest, the deadline is April 23, 2010. To apply to the Community Advisor program, which sounds like an exciting opportunity to get involved in Chicago’s robust interfaith community, be sure to get your application in by March 19, 2010 — which is coming up soon, so don’t delay!
February 9, 2010
It’s that time again — this morning was another “Interfaith Youth Core roundtable by Chris Stedman,” as Tom generously terms it, on Chicago Public Radio’s Vocalo.org (WBEW 89.5 FM). This week’s topic was Chicago Muslims and Civic Engagement, for which I invited Chicago-area Muslim leaders to discuss their faith and how it motivates them to serve. On the panel were Anisha Ismail Patel, Founder and Executive Director of the Muslim Women’s Alliance; Angela Salva, a teacher at a suburban Islamic school where she is a co-advisor of the school’s “Students for Social Justice” club; and Jihad Shoshara, a member of the advisory board of the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN) clinic, the only free medical clinic for the underserved in Chicago run by a Muslim charity. Jihad is also the coordinator of the Chicago Muslim Turkey Drive, which provides free turkeys to hundreds of needy families on Chicago’s South Side for the Thanksgiving holidays.
Unlike the topics of previous roundtables I assembled — Interfaith, Evangelical Christianity, Secularism, and Religion /Art — I have little in my identity to draw upon in speaking about Islam and civic engagement. On top of that, there was a technical problem that made it so that I had to share a mic with Jihad, and I wanted to limit the number of times I moved it from in front of him. So, instead, I mostly sat back and enjoyed the stories they shared — inserting myself for a question or two. The conversation covered a lot of ground, from recounting times when panelists bumped up against misconceptions of Islam to positive experiences of interfaith collaboration and intrafaith work. This was an inspiring group of articulate people, and I was delighted to give them an opportunity to share the work they’re doing with others. Many thanks to all of the participants, and to the host Tom for distilling my ideas into radio-friendly questions and handily facilitating the conversation.
You can listen to the archive of the entire 7 AM – 10 AM (CST) show by clicking here — my segment is from 9 AM – 10 AM, so fast forward to hear the panel. I’ll update this post with a splice of just my segment when it becomes available.
Thanks to everyone who tuned in, and again a special thank-you to the panelists who trudged through Chicago’s worst blizzard of the season to get to the studio. In spite of (or because of?) my secularism, I relish every opportunity that I get to better understand how the nuances of a person’s faith moves them to action in a religiously plural world.