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Reflections on the journey of a (F)a(i)theist: CRU and SSA

In Better Together, Elmhurst College, Faith, Interfaith on February 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Mr. Stedman speaking with students following the lecture

Elmhurst College is in the middle of a year focused on building interfaith cooperation, hosting speakers and events around the theme of “Still Speaking: Conversations on Faith“. Last week the Spiritual Life Council, a student interfaith group, and the Better Together Campaign brought Mr. Chris Stedman, Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and blogger at NonProphet Status. Mr. Stedman met with small groups throughout the day, exploring the role of the non-religious in the collegiate institution; in the evening, Mr. Stedman presented the lecture “(F)a(i)theist: How One Atheist Learned to Stop Hating Religion and Became an Interfaith Activist” . He shared his journey of coming to identify as a Secular Humanist and his engagement in the interfaith movement. In this blog, leaders of Campus Crusade for Christ and Secular Students Association reflect on what they heard in Mr. Stedman’s address- these students are participating with the Better Together Campaign at Elmhurst College, working to affect hunger and poverty in DuPage County by working on projects with the People’s Resource Center.

Members of Campus Crusade for Christ at their Fall Retreat

Jasmin Lugo, Lydia Harriman, and Hannah Schmitz juniors at Elmhurst who study Philosophy, Political Science, and Elementary Education, respectively. Jasmin, Lydia, and Hannah are all active members of Campus Crusade for Christ.

As Christians we really didn’t know what to expect from the Faithiest lecture. First impressions, he was a total hipster and it was awesome! As his story began we quickly learned that he was an atheist with passions for seeing positive interactions between people of different faiths. He shared a lot about his desire to find a place he fit in and couldn’t find that in the church or in the atheist community. His search led him to interfaith dialogue and working at Harvard in their interfaith movement. We found his background and spiritual journey very interesting and beyond that a little bit heartbreaking. He shared in his story of falling away from the Christian faith, which was a story we found all too common. It was heartbreaking to hear that the place where a person should be loved the best was the place he was pushed away from. Out of everything that he said about creating communication between different faiths his hurt from the church was what stuck out to us the most.

We want people to know and feel that Christians love them no matter what they believe or where they are in their spiritual journey..

Aislin Bright, a junior Psychology major, is vice-president of the Elmhurst College Secular Students Association.

As the vice president of Elmhurst College’s Secular Students Association, I was thrilled that Spiritual Life Council chose to invite an atheist to attend their meeting and speak to the campus.  On a personal level, I was very excited to again turn my attention to the thought-processes initiated by a lecture by Hemant Mehta (blogger at FriendlyAtheist.com) in the fall. Hemant posed the question of whether atheists belong in interfaith activism, and Chris’s answer was a resounding “Yes!”. The more I think about it and the more immersion I have in the interfaith movement, the more I agree.

In conversations with both Hemant and Chris it has been brought up that if one focuses one’s attention on the aspects that separate secularists from all other members of interfaith groups – namely, the non-belief in any gods – it will appear as an odd fit at best and a cause of division at worst.  However, Chris emphasized that it is the commonalities which deserve the focus.  Regardless of one’s specific religious beliefs, people who value interfaith service feel that people of all belief systems should be respected; that our human brothers and sisters deserve to have their wants and needs met; and that religion can be used as a vessel to help realize these ideals.

Having identified as atheist since I was 12 years old, this year has made me reexamine my religious identity.  “A-theism” focuses on what I do not believe, but says nothing as to what is important to me.  Speaking with people like Chris is making me realize that it’s time to start shifting my attention from my differences to my similarities with other religious identities and using these similarities to bring about positive change. I’m looking forward to engaging in more interfaith work on campus with both SSA and SLC.

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