GBHI’m excited to share that I will be speaking by invitation of the Greater Boston Humanists this Sunday, December 12th at 1:30 PM! The topic: “Interfaith Action: A Deeper Humanism?” If you’re in the Boston area, please consider coming. More information here.

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tikkundailyPlease check out my new post over at Tikkun Daily on the new initiative I’m heading up for the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue (JIRD), in partnership with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. The project, called State of Formation, will be a forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders to engage the pressing issues of our time. The deadline for nominations is October 15th, so if you are or know an emerging ethical or religious leader, please don’t hesitate to fill out the nomination form here.

Below is an excerpt of the piece (which was also republished by JIRD’s InterViews here and My Out Spirit here); it can be read in full at Tikkun Daily:

“What qualifies you to do this?” I asked myself as I rode the train home one day to write my first contribution to the Washington Post’s On Faith last year. I listened to the wheels rumble beneath me, looked at those sitting around me, and knew I was headed in a new direction.

I was 22-years-old, an atheist, and a seminary student. Though I don’t believe in God, I decided to go to seminary because I wanted to find a way to bridge the divide between religious and secular communities. The summer after my first year at seminary I began interning at the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that aims to mobilize a movement of young people positively engaging religious pluralism. The organization’s founder, Eboo Patel, maintained a blog for On Faith and invited me to submit a guest post for it.

At the time, I was beginning to recognize that the organized atheist movement often talked about religion in ways that created more division instead of less. As an atheist, I was frustrated by what I saw as a total lack of interest from my fellow atheists in respectfully engaging religious identities. So I sat down and wrote about it.

As I was working on my essay, I began to browse the rest of the site. On Faith features a panel of contributors that are among the most respected and knowledgeable experts in the fields of religion and ethics. But I didn’t see many blogs on their site by people who weren’t already established as authorities. I wondered if I was actually qualified to write for the website.

After my submission was posted, I started getting some unexpected feedback. “This is exactly what I think, but I didn’t know anyone else agreed with me,” wrote one reader. “Thank you for saying something our community really needs to hear,” wrote another. These readers happened to be young people.

bullhornI hadn’t thought that there were others who felt the same way I did, let alone other young people. I talked to a friend who maintained a blog of his own, and he suggested I create a blog to continue sorting through this issue.

I started NonProphet Status, and suddenly became a part of a larger conversation on the issue of religion and atheism. The blog quickly began to get traction in interfaith and atheist circles, and soon I was being asked to speak at conferences, received invitations to write in other venues, and watched my blog views grow from week to week. I, a young seminary student with a small but growing vision for respectful engagement across lines of secular and religious identity, suddenly had a platform.

Emerging leaders in formation, especially young ones, deserve to have a voice. In a time defined by deep political and religious divisions, we need to hear from those who will shape our ethical future. The current American discourse on religion and ethics is primarily defined by established leaders – ministers, rabbis, academics and journalists. While their perspectives are invaluable, this leaves an entire population of important stakeholders without a platform: the up-and-comers. Continue reading at Tikkun Daily.

Chris at Vocalo

My Chicago Public Radio money shot.

Who says radio is dead? Certainly not Chicago Public Radio offshoot Vocalo.org!

I’ve been collaborating with Vocalo / WBEW 89.5 FM since last fall, providing religious-themed content for their on-air programming (you can sample some of these roundtables here, here and here). But today I had the privilege of appearing on the air to discuss NonProphet Status’ ongoing Share Your Secular Story contest, my personal views on secular community-building and story-sharing, the current non-religious identity crisis, why I don’t particularly care for the term “nonbeliever,” and, of course, rap outfit Three 6 Mafia and rock ensemble The Grateful Dead.

Be warned, potential listeners — with my Master’s thesis due a week from today, I was wildly sleep-deprived for this interview. (Also, I made an awkward attempt to both cast the message of religion-friendly secularism as a prophetic stance and not call myself a prophet in the process. Well, at least we had a good laugh about it.) Fortunately, my near-catatonic delivery was enlivened by Vocalo’s electric on-air personality Tom, and I was joined mid-way through by brilliant Share Your Secular Story judge panelist Nick Mattos, who woke up terribly early to get in on the fun via phone from Portland, OR because, well, flights are expensive and he’s a busy man. Nick shared some stories from his religious past and highlighted why he thinks this contest is important even though he is a Buddhist. Wrapping up the program, I highlighted some of the details of and reasons for the story contest. All told, I had a blast talking about the contest and my work and getting to hear Nick speak more about his experiences and perspective.

For those of you who couldn’t eek out of bed to creak your radio knob at 8 AM (CST) this morning, Vocalo’s already got a post up about the interview that will soon contain an MP3 of the interview alongside Tom’s typically tongue-in-cheek musings, for your listening and reading pleasure. For now, you can check out a steaming full archive of this morning’s program (just fast-forward to around the 62 minute mark). [UPDATE: “Chris Stedman, Sort of Secular Prophet” is now up.] Thanks to Tom, Mr. Mattos, and to everyone who listened! Be sure to visit the Share Your Secular story contest page to learn more about the contest, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and regularly check back to NonProphet Status for updates.

roger-ebertEsquire has a moving piece on Chicago luminary Roger Ebert. In it, he discusses his battle with cancer and muses on his impending death. It contains this spectacular bit:

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear, he writes in a journal entry titled “Go Gently into That Good Night.” I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

This was the first time I had heard anything of Ebert’s philosophies on death and dying, but it is not the first time he has written on them. After coming across the Esquire piece I did some research and found that he’s actually been quite prolific on the subject. In a blog published in April of last year, Ebert discussed his views on religion and God, speaking from what is, to me, a clearly Secular Humanistic perspective. Yet in the blog Ebert articulated his challenge with identifying as such (though in the following selection he does claim to be a Secular Humanist):

Did I start calling myself an agnostic or an atheist? No, and I still don’t. I avoid that because I don’t want to provide a category for people to apply to me. I would not want my convictions reduced to a word. Chaz, who has a firm faith, leaves me to my beliefs. “But you know you’re one or the other,” she says. “I have never told you that,” I say. “Maybe not in so many words, but you are,” she says.

But I persist in believing I am not. During in all the endless discussions on several threads of this blog about evolution, intelligent design, God and the afterworld, now numbering altogether around 3,500 comments, I have never said, although readers have freely informed me I am an atheist, an agnostic, or at the very least a secular humanist–which I am. If I were to say I don’t believe God exists, that wouldn’t mean I believe God doesn’t exist. Nor does it I don’t know, which implies that I could know.

Ebert’s perspective resonates strongly with my own life experience. Our camp — home to Secular Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, Freethinkers and many more — is a disjointed and ambiguous one. I decided to plant my stakes in Secular Humanism. One tent over there is someone who holds a worldview that echoes my own but who calls herself an Atheist, which I do not. And this trouble with terminology is not just limited to our little patch of earth — across the lake, there are people who call themselves Christians but see things pretty much the same way I do. And so it goes.

Some of us elect to cast our allegiance to a particular label. I resisted doing so for a long time until I decided that it made sense for me. Ebert continues to resist and, while I applaud him for doing so, I will also claim him as “one of us.” My reasons for doing so may be selfish, but something tells me he might not actually mind all that much. Label the man what you will; his writings are well worth reading and we are lucky to have him contributing to our canon.

greg-epsteinABC has a new story on Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard and an acquaintance of mine. Greg’s doing some really great stuff, including releasing an excellent book (“Good Without God“) and speaking at the Interfaith Youth Core conference this fall, and in the story he discusses the idea of establishing Secular Humanist congregations nationwide.

Personally, I’m all for it. In my WaPo op-ed, I discussed my desire to find a community of like-minded “nonbelievers” gathered around shared values and shared identity — something akin to what I experienced in my younger years as a Christian — and I think, with the right organizing, it is a legitimate possibility. What do you think? Let me know!

Non-Religious Radio Roundtable

December 15, 2009

vocaloThis month I’ve been coordinating a series of on-air religion-related roundtables for Chicago Public Radio’s awesome mutant appendage Vocalo (sometimes affectionally dubbed YouTube for Radio). After bringing them in for a media training and coordinating their live broadcast (archive here) at the Interfaith Youth Core Conference I helped plan, I was invited to do bi-weekly roundtables for their December theme, Faith. I have had such a great time doing it — I’m responsible for coming up with each roundtable’s topic, populating the panels with interesting folks, crafting some prompt questions for participants to consider, and then participating in each panel along with the hour’s fantastic host, Tom.

This morning the panel’s topic was Non-Religious Identity. Though it took a few minutes for everyone to get warmed up, the panel was fantastic — lively, engaging, and unafraid to challenge one another, especially near the end. You can find an archive of the live broadcast here.

Also, here is a link to the first panel I coordinated, which was about Evangelical Christian Identity in America. Finally, here is my first on-air appearance with several other IFYC staff. We were on to promote the conference, and I spent a good deal of time talking about my non-religious motivations for doing interfaith work.

Stay tuned — the next panel is Tuesday, December 29th at 9 AM. You can listen live at vocalo.org or, if you live in Northwest Indiana or Chicago, on WBEW 89.5 FM.

I’m starting this blog because I wrote a guest piece for the Washington Post about an issue I feel very strongly about — the idea that I can inspect and respect religion while remaining secular — that got a lot of response. I’m interested in continuing the conversation, so here I am.

To get things going, I want to share here what I wrote for the Washington Post. I hope you enjoy it and that you’ll join me in this dialogue. Read the rest of this entry »

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