Interfaith Dialogue and Community with Humanists


A conversation on twitter yesterday about interfaith dialogue and the importance of inclusivity (which LSE Student Union misunderstand) reminded me of a previous post of mine on the subject in 2008.

This brings me to the question of whether it is worth having such inter faith dialogues, and in particular when humanists become involved. I have attended Christian atheist ones – I have to say that for some of the Christians that attended it was the first time not only that they had really examined what they personally believed, but had their faith scrutinized.

The issue for me is what the purpose of the meeting is meant to be. If it is just a public relations exercise then it seems pointless. If on the other hand real concerns are being debated, for example where religious hatred is manifesting itself in society and people are stirring up violence, such dialogue may help people to appreciate what is happening in their community.

The thing is in a pluralistic democracy, such meetings of civic groups can be a good thing. Citizens talking about differences, common accord and areas where they can work together for the benefit of society is one that can be endorsed.

Commenting on the Catholic/Muslim summit that the Pope had just announced then:

Perhaps they could proclaim that those who use violence and intimidation, rather than try to win hearts and minds by rational argument, are the enemies of reason. Perhaps they could even condemn those that use faith as a means to condone such activity that brings rent-a-mob to the streets. Instead of indulgences for fragile sensibilities to excuse such behaviour.

You can read the full post where I mention the importance of interbelief dialogue and humanists being involved here.


This is relevant to the London School of Economics decision to expel students of the Union’s atheist and humanist society for wearing a Jesus and Mo t-shirt because it is clear the Student Union and University need to understand and work with the atheist society. Not just cave in because of hurt sensibilities raised.

Inclusivity should include satire, and the provocation to be feared is those that will use violence or even offence to suppress freedom of expression for others. Heaven forbid that Jesus and Mohammed are depicted as an image or attention is drawn to how art and satire are suppressed!

Dialogue only works if people take into account what others say. At a public meeting in a mosque when running as a councillor, talking to worshippers gave me a sense of concerns in the community I was looking to represent. Speaking to the imam what was important was a passion to serve the community – theological disagreements was a judgment for an individual to make not to pass judgment on others.

Yet no women had been invited to the meeting; it was a reminder of how good words can be at odds with culture and religious observance. It broke my heart while canvassing talking to a wife on the other side of her closed door she said she would discuss what I said with her husband so he could decide how they would vote.

So yes let us have interfaith dialogue but also include humanists and atheists – not only to work together as a community but to take each other out of our comfort zone. Inclusivity does not mean giving each other a free ride to how we feel and preventing dialogue altogether.

Things need to be said and freely expressed – even if on a t-shirt.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

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Filed under atheism, Religion, secular

2 responses to “Interfaith Dialogue and Community with Humanists

  1. From Harry Perry on Facebook:

    The problem for atheists in engaging as another “belief group” within inter-faith dialogues is that it concedes what we oppose: that people should be divided up into various identity groups based on their religion and beliefs and that their interactions have to be mediated through these channels. In fact we have adequate fora for exchanges of opinion already – politics and civil society, and all the channels through which politics is practised. Indeed, in western Europe the only group that gets anywhere near a common view of things from a religious perspective are Muslims – and they are divided among themselves anyway, so badly that they are prepared to shed blood over it. So why engage on this basis in the first place?

    Most nominally “Christian” people do not follow the policies of “their” churches but engage as individuals in the political process. To give religious leaders the profile of being spokespeople for their “followers” just gives those leaders a false stature and a voice for views that they cannot deliver on the ground and which many of their nominal adherents oppose.

    And even when the followers do agree with the leaders the provision of special status for the leaders just gives that group two bites of the cherry of power – both as individuals and as adherents of a religious organisation.

    The principled atheist/rationalist/humanist position is not to play into the hands of religious organisations by participating but, by opposing, end them as a political force.

  2. I don’t think that is playing into their hands unless you go into civic meetings as a group.

    That was not what I advocate – rather where different faiths talk to each other for understanding it is in the interest of humanists to be involved. It prevents a faith love in; rather it is a reflection of real difference and a forum to discuss religious issues and tensions in the community.

    This was citizens meeting each other – not for would be leaders wanting a spotlight. Like Mo Ansar … (Read my blog for views on him)

    Because much as we may disagree with religion it exists – ignoring it does not work. But inter belief dialogue is exactly that and not an alternative to political civic meetings.

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