Aaron from the SSA affiliate UNIFI just wrote a post on why atheists should not be involved in interfaith work. To start with I completely understand his issues, but I do not support his conclusion. There is absolutely no reason non-theists should not be involved with interfaith work, it does not make us sacrifice our ideals, it gives atheists a much-needed popularity boost in the media, and it get across that it is okay not to believe. We can disagree with the big names in the interfaith movement, I know I do not agree with Eboo Patel or Chris Stedman on most issues, but that does not preclude us from taking part.
I too agree with Aaron that I do not think religions can get along together nicely unless they are willing to change themselves to a more tolerant worldview. Competing claims on the identity of god and what should be done in his name do indeed cause many many global issues. However, who cares if interfaith is full of fluffy language and lovey-dovey words? I dont and neither should non-theists who want to be involved in the work. It is NONE OF OUR CONCERN if the religious organizations involved are sacrificing their worldviews to be involved; atheists DO NOT LOSE ANYTHING by being involved. There is nothing inherent in atheist or secularism or humanism that prevents us from working with religious groups; as long as we are not pursuing a goal that is harmful to other humans. An example would be Catholic opposition to birth control in Africa; an atheist would never take part in this as it allows and encourages the spread of AIDS throughout third-world nations… BUT this would not be a part of interfaith anyway! Look at previous examples of interfaith to see how the goals of the organization make sure to avoid such things and only focus on issues like community service or fundraising for disaster relief.
Aaron says “Working with the religious doesn’t have to entail enshrining their beliefs; and we don’t need to apologize for defending our values vigorously.” I agree completely and we do not need to enshrine their beliefs or sacrifice our own to work with religious groups. My own student group, Students for Freethought @ OSU, for several years went on a New Orleans service trip over spring break with a christian group called the Thomas Society. Neither group had to sacrifice its identity to do such a thing and both groups grew and matured as a result. This is only one small example of why working with the religious doesnt force an atheist to give ideological ground.
I dont see how Aaron can go from condemning the large interfaith movement to praising ISSA’s great interfaith dialogues and events. The large national movement is much better for everyone involved than doing it on just a small campus-level scale, which my group has always done and which I find to be very valuable. If you support working with religious groups then continue to enjoy doing so; it is a great experience and brings a lot of benefits for you, your group, and the wider movement. If you want to do interfaith work on a local level, I only ask that you approach the national movement with an open mind.