Faitheist is a new book by humanist and interfaith promoter, Chris Stedman. Bearing the full title, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, promises an interest read filled with personal revelation regarding the intersection atheism and religion, a task that seems a pipe dream rather than reality.
A large portion of the book is autobiographical, starting with the author's early childhood, the discovery of being gay, his early religiosity, his loss of faith and, ultimately becoming an atheist. The way the book begins, makes the reader think that it is just another typical Christian story of atheist conversion, but they would be right to a degree, but mostly wrong.
Faitheist is a derisive term used by some atheist to signify a person calling themselves an atheist when they remain hooked to their previous religious training. In the book, it was the term that started Stedman on a journey of self-discovery and ultimately to Harvard University where he created a pilot interfaith services program for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard.
If you are seeking an anti-religion screed or a scientific evisceration of religion, you will be disappointed. As the title implies, the book is one man's story of how he found a way to work with religionists in a positive and constructive manner. For instance, although he expressed respect and even admiration for public atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, Stedman says he sees little difference between their stance and that of religious fundamentalists.
Whether there is any truth to that is up to the reader. Still, Stedman is certainly correct when points out that atheists and the term atheist paint a negative picture verified by atheists being rated poorly in nearly every public opinion poll, including one where Americans said they would vote for a homosexual or Muslim candidate for President over an atheist.
Meat on the bone comes in the book's last chapters where Stedman outlines his humanist viewpoint along with his ideas of working with the religious community to overcome common issues such as poverty, helping the elderly, starting community based youth programs, public service and a variety of ways to do it.
At various points, Stedman sounds like “flower-child” of the 60s and 70s when he speaks of love and brotherhood, but when tied with a his humanist viewpoint, the observations are on point. As he notes, for the most part, atheists want the same things as religionists like family, friends, respect, freedom, tolerance, love, education, understanding and many more things he believes provide common ground for interfaith dialogue.
Whether you agree with him or not, Stedman makes valid points worthy of consideration, including one that may be the most important—the construction of an atheist image more in line with the tenets of humanism.