Chris Stedman is excited about inter-faith thingies again – interfaith cooperation, interfaith training, interfaith leadership, interfaith youth, interfaith activism, the interfaith movement, the interfaith table, interfaith work, interfaith events, interfaith understanding, interfaith coffee, interfaith ice cream, interfaith bicycles…the list goes on.

Anyway, the thing that’s so particularly exciting this time is that even atheists can do it. You would think that wouldn’t make any sense, since if there’s one thing atheists can be counted on not to be interested in, it’s faith – but it turns out that you would be wrong to think that. Atheists are all over it.

Speaking before a group of policy and philanthropic professionals, I explained that there are many atheists, agnostics, humanists and other nonreligious individuals like Anderson, Chituc, Link, Garner, Liddell and others at the institutes who wish to seek understanding, respect and collaboration with their religious neighbors.

Why does that statement give me the creeps? Why does it make me want to duck my head and slam the door and run quickly in the opposite direction?

I suppose because it sounds so damn intrusive and pious and missionary-like. I don’t want to seek anything with my neighbors, nor do I want them to seek anything with me. I don’t want to pester people that way. I don’t want to be always meddling with people, and I’m suspicious of people who do. I’m suspicious of Chris Stedman. I’m suspicious of all this teaming up and leadershipping and faith-based initiativing.

And I suspect that faithiness has something – perhaps a lot – to do with that habit of mind, and atheism has a lot to do with its absence. I think faithy people tend to think they have The Answer, and to want to force it (in the nicest possible way, of course) on everyone else. I think atheists tend not to think that. Yes we tend to think atheism is liberating, but we’re not so sure of it in every case that we feel like knocking on people’s doors to tell them so.

I don’t know – I just think all this reaching out can’t help being patronizing, and it creeps me out for that reason. There they all are, the fresh-faced youngsters, planning how things are going to be for the rest of us. I don’t want them planning things for me. I want to do my own planning. I want to be grumpy if I feel like it. Maybe I’ll start wearing a big red G for Grumpy.

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