Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious

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Date: 
01/23/2013 - 12:00pm
Speaker: 

Chris Stedman

The stunning popularity of the "New Atheist" movement—
whose most famous spokesmen include Richard Dawkins,
 Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens—speaks to
 both the growing ranks of atheists as well as the 
widespread, vehement disdain for religion among many of 
them. In Faitheist, Chris Stedman tells his own story to
 challenge the orthodoxies of this movement and make a
 passionate argument that atheists should engage religious 
diversity respectfully.

Becoming aware of injustice, and craving community,
 Stedman became a "born-again" Christian in late 
childhood. The idea of a community bound by God's love—a love that was undeserved, unending, and guaranteed—captivated him. It was, he writes, a place to belong, and a
 framework for making sense of suffering.

But Stedman's religious community did not embody this idea of God's love: they were
 staunchly homophobic at a time when he was slowly coming to realize that he was gay.
 The great suffering this caused him might have turned Stedman into a life-long New
 Atheist. But over time he came to know more open-
minded Christians, and his interest in service work
 brought him into contact with people from a wide
 variety of religious backgrounds. His own religious 
beliefs might have fallen away, but his desire to
 change the world for the better remained. Disdain and
 hostility towards religion was holding him back from 
engaging in meaningful work with people of faith.
 And it was keeping him from full relationships with
 them—the kinds of relationships that break down 
intolerance and improve the world.

Stedman draws on his work organizing interfaith and 
secular communities, his academic study of religion, 
and his own experiences to argue for the necessity of 
bridging the growing chasm between atheists and the religious. As someone who has stood on both sides of 
the divide, Stedman is uniquely positioned to present a way for atheists and the religious
 to find common ground and work together to make this world—the one world we can all
 agree on—a better place.Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and the Values 
in Action Coordinator for the Humanist Community at Harvard (where he was previously
 the inaugural Interfaith and Community Service Fellow). He is also the Emeritus
 Managing Director of State of Formation at theJournal
 of Inter-Religious Dialogue and founder of the first blog
 dedicated to exploring atheist-interfaith engagement,
 NonProphet Status.

 

THE BIO

Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and the Values 
in Action Coordinator for the Humanist Community at Harvard (where he was previously
 the inaugural Interfaith and Community Service Fellow). He is also the Emeritus
 Managing Director of State of Formation at theJournal
 of Inter-Religious Dialogue and founder of the first blog
 dedicated to exploring atheist-interfaith engagement,
 NonProphet Status.

Chris received an MA in Religion from Meadville 
Lombard Theological School at the University of 
Chicago, for which he was awarded the Billings Prize
 for Most Outstanding Scholastic Achievement. A 
graduate of Augsburg College with a summa cum laude
 B.A. in Religion, Chris writes for Huffington Post Gay
 VoicesHuffington Post ReligionThe Washington Post 
On FaithReligion DispatchesRelevant, and more.
 Previously a Content Developer and Adjunct Trainer for Interfaith Youth Core, Chris is an atheist working to 
foster positive and productive dialogue and
 collaborative action between faith communities and the nonreligious. He speaks on this 
topic across the United States and around the world.

In 2011, the Huffington Post listed
 Chris's work as one of the Top 11
 Religion Stories of the year and named
 him one of the top interfaith activists on
Twitter, Religion Dispatches listed him
 at #5 in a list of the Top 10 Peacemakers 
in the Science-Religion wars, and
 the University of Oregon Alliance of
 Happy Atheists recognized his work with 
their first annual Happy Heathen! Award.

Chris served on the initial Leadership Team of the Common Ground Campaign, a
 coalition of young people who stood up in response to the wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric
 and violence in the U.S. surrounding the Park51 controversy, and continues to advise it
in its current form, Groundswell. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the interfaith
 global development organization World Faith and is an advisor to the Foundation
 Beyond Belief's "Challenge the Gap" charitable initiative. Portland, Oregon's Just Out called his work "brilliant" and labeled him an "emerging... vibrant
 and youthful queer voice for the secular humanist movement.