Chris Stedman, "Faitheist" Humanitarian
Chris Stedman’s humanitarian work described in his book Faitheist has been both a lightning rod for criticism and a welcome relief to others. As a gay atheist, Stedman has moved beyond supernatural beliefs and sees the risks associated with authoritarian world views. Stedman wants all people including atheists to be treated with respect and to have religious freedom. So what makes Stedman’s work unusual?
Stedman places highest priority on relationships and caring. Stedman sees close relationships with believers to be an important part of developing respect for atheists, finding allies among religious people, and doing humanitarian work to reduce the effects of poverty. Stedman’s “good cop” approach involves being face-to-face with believers to discuss religious differences. Participants share their stories of life circumstances and feelings that accompanied changes in thought. Also, participants build relationships by working together on humanitarian projects. Because Stedman seems so comfortable with religion, some have called him a “faitheist.”
At the opposite extreme from Stedman, critics of Stedman give high priority to reasoned conclusions and routinely take off the gloves in handling hurtful and speculative assertions from others. PZ Myers takes this ‘no holds barred” approach to religious differences. But the openly critical approach sparks worries for some. There are worries of encouraging more dislike of atheists. There are worries that many atheists will be afraid to identify with the secular movement. This is why Stedman’s “good cop” approach to religious differences comes as a relief for some. Is being nice enough to encourage thought and needed changes? Is being right enough to be convincing? Controversy over who has an effective approach is difficult to resolve. Advancing the secular movement may take many different approaches for different people and situations.
Still, there is some middle ground that should not be controversial with Humanists. One point is Stedman’s advice to aim for rational, fair, and informed criticism of specific religious claims rather than ridiculing people or making prejudicial remarks. Humanists who value reasonableness, fairness, and compassion will want to demonstrate those values in how we treat others. Humanists too see the benefit of being able to articulate the things that we do hold true and valuable and of sharing our worldview in community with others. Also, Humanists recognize the importance of finding ways to live well, to improve life here and now, and to deal with ignorance, hatred, and injustice whatever its source. Stedman's book Faitheist invites discussion about the contributions each of us makes to the secular movement and to this world.
[This message was presented for Dial-A-Humanist by Derrick S.]