Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious
November 09, 2012
The story of a former Evangelical Christian turned openly gay atheist who now works to bridge the divide between atheists and the religious
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 and 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 toward 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.
In Faitheist, 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.
Praise for Faitheist
“Stedman’s story is motivational, his thoughts on interreligious dialogue insightful, and in this short memoir, he proves himself an activist in the truest sense and one to watch.” —Booklist, Starred Review
“Rigid anti-theists and theists alike will be challenged as they read—challenged to greater humanity, empathy, and understanding. Wholeheartedly recommended.”—Brian D. McLaren, author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
“Smart. Funny. Heartening. Inspiring. Faitheist is the perfect book for those seeking a middle path between the firm, opposing certainties of religious fundamentalism and intolerant atheism.”—Reza Aslan, author of No god but God and Beyond Fundamentalism
“If Chris Stedman had become a pastor, he’d have a big, big church. Instead, he’s a humanist hero, a compelling writer whose efforts to build bridges between non-believers and the faithful will leave a lasting mark. Faitheist should be required reading in Sunday schools and Richard Dawkins’s house alike.”—Kevin Roose, author of The Unlikely Disciple
“The world would be a better place with more Chris Stedman’s in it and fortunately he has provided us a roadmap to just such a world.”—The Rev. William F. Schulz, President, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
“Who can we be together? Chris Stedman asks in this powerful book. Faitheist reveals that it’s not what we believe that matters, but how our beliefs shape what we do with our lives—a timely reminder for both atheists and the religious that the goal should be neither conversion nor the destruction of religion, but rather to make a better world.”—Sarah Sentilles, author of Breaking Up with God: A Love Story
“The searching, intelligent account of a gay man's experiences growing away from God and into a thoughtful and humane atheist...Brave and refreshingly open-minded.”—Kirkus Reviews
Chris Stedman is the Assistant Chaplain and the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, the emeritus managing director of State of Formation at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, and the founder of the first blog dedicated to exploring atheist-interfaith engagement, NonProphet Status. Stedman writes for the Huffington Post, the Washington Post's On Faith blog, and Religion Dispatches. He lives in Boston.
Follow Chris on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.
Watch a video about Chris and his interfaith work at the Interfaith Youth Core YouTube channel.