On so many occasions it seemed that those who labelled themselves atheist, secularist or humanist had rejected religion because of bad experiences with the Church. As always this is a source of shame and sadness for those of us who have stayed. So often people seem to identify God with the institution and reject the transcendent because of the failings of people who are, like all of us, sinful, incomplete, damaged and struggling to make sense of life. Whoever and whatever God is, God is not the Church or any religious institution. Religious institutions are meant to provide guidance and offer a practice that helps members live a good life. This is more important than any dogmatic teaching which excludes or rejects people who are different or think differently. All religions have liberating and oppressive aspects and I often think that those of us who have stayed in religion have experienced its liberating aspects while those who have only experienced the oppressive are right to leave.
One of the key speakers of the weekend was Christ Stedman whose book Faitheist encourages a dialogue between atheists and religious people. Chris is an interesting person. He is the humanist chaplain at Harvard University but has two degrees in religion and has done a course on spiritual direction with the Jesuits at Loyola University in Chicago. While he describes himself as an atheist he has a feel for religion and is totally committed to an interfaith dialogue that includes humanists and secularists. This is important if believers and non-believers are to live together and work together for social justice. There are plenty of issues that we can all work on but as someone remarked at the seminar religious people should be aware that while humanists are working with them on issues of justice they are also working to rid the world of religion. I don't think there can be much dialogue if this is the case. Fundamentalists and exclusivists of whatever persuasion don't normally make good subjects for interfaith dialogue. Believers and non-believers alike need to respect one another's position and their right to hold it, to learn to understand one another's language, to discern the reality behind the words, to find common ground. The starting point needs to be conversation with an openness to mutual understanding.
This approach would hold no problems for Chris Stedman. I hope it can also be accepted by others.