Abigail Clauhs, an M. Div. student at Claremont School of Theology, has written a sharp and eloquent blog post earlier this week that deserves a look. In “Interfaitheism”, she suggests the need for greater inclusion of atheists in interfaith gatherings:
In a pluralistic world, we have to realize that we must co-exist not only with people who adhere to a label that can be found in a World Religions textbook, but also those who fit no label. The group I invited to the interfaith event was the secular humanists. I know many secular humanists, and if we are looking for faith, these are people who have faith in the human spirit. They run the gamut in terms of their cosmology—some believe in a higher spirit, some are agnostic, some are just plain atheist. As a Unitarian Universalist, I know many humanist UUs. Does that mean that my religion is invalid for participating in “interfaith” work?
We have to push our boundaries of acceptance, and not be bound by semantics. After this email, I found myself tempted to change the name of the event entirely. “Interfaith” apparently just wasn’t enough. Yet I determined that I would keep it.
I was reading Forrest Church, one of my favorite Unitarian Universalist theologians, the other day. He wrote about why he chooses to use the word “God,” even though many UUs prefer to use terms like “the divine” or “Spirit of Life.” Church (yes, it’s a fitting last name, isn’t it?) says that instead of abandoning the word “God” as something too limited and fleeing to something more open like “the divine,” he chooses to use “God” as a way to expand the boundaries of what the word can mean. If people see God as an old guy in the sky, he wants to open the possibilities of how much bigger and more infinite “God” can be, and can mean.
I think the same needs to be done with the word “interfaith.” Yes, right now it’s problematic. And limiting. But that doesn’t mean we should run away and leave this word that has already helped to effect to so much change. No, we need to push the boundaries. Widen the tent. Accept the great and beautiful diversity of human experience and the way it creates meaning and community and structure in this world.
We need to have interfaith gatherings where every single person is welcome, and where they actually want to come. We need—perhaps—interfaitheism.
Read the whole article by Clauhs.
Her new idea (or coinage at least) emerged out of a concrete experience of hurt arising from rejection from a minister on account of her attempting to include atheists in an interfaith group. She experienced the rejection as a “slap in the face” but nevertheless persists in wanting to be more inclusive.
As anyone familiar with the Integral Spirituality as it is generally defined will attest, our perspective is a highly inclusive one. We are inclusive, but also exclusive. We exclude that which needs to be excluded because it strives for a sort of absolutism or exclusivity which would harm the spiral of spiritual development as a whole.
I have attended countless gatherings over nearly a decade in which self-identified Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Taoists, atheists, agnostics, and “spiritual but not religious” types all gathered together harmoniously. The Integral Spirituality is not an abstract idea or proposal; it involves many thousands of people around the world including some of the most interesting visionaries and philosophers on the planet. And it already includes both interfaith perspectives as well as atheists and agnostics. Sometimes these gatherings are called Integral, and sometimes they are called Evolutionary or World Spirituality.
Clauhs’s coinage “Interfaitheism” doesn’t accomplish what Integral Spirituality does. It seeks to combine to prima facie incompatible views: belief in divinity with unbelief in divinity without any indication of how this reconciliation is to be done. In practice what happens is that the glue which binds the disparate parties together is a postmodern ideology creeping into the cauldron of faith.
And when postmodernists demand inclusion of atheists in interfaith gatherings at any cost, they are bound to get the brush off from traditional and modernist religionists. They are attempting to form a mosaic with pieces that only fit together in a jagged heap rather than a seamless whole. They lack an Integral Framework which is able to bring the pieces together harmoniously.
Interfatheism isn’t much more wrong than fatheism (with apologies to Chris Stedman, whose book I will discuss at another time). It is an attempt to glue what is broken with a paste made merely of water and flour. It has no sticking power. It has abandoned truth for sensitivity and avoidance of hurt feelings, at least just a little bit. A little bit too much.