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Archive for the ‘Chris Stedman’ tag

The Free Ticket: Traveling With An Atheist to the 2012 Wild Goose Festival

Wild Goose 2012 weekend, Photo by Cathleen Falsani / Sojourners

by Bryan Parys
from Sojourners

Chris is an atheist and a humanist chaplain at Harvard University. He is the only explicitly nonreligious speaker invited to the 2012 Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills, N.C.—a festival that is generally (and with exception) aimed at the liberal, often-invisible fringe members of the Christian community. Being that I theoretically fall into this group, Chris offered me his plus-one free ticket.

While it generally takes an act of God (or, “a series of convergences” Chris might say) for me to make a decision, I told him I’d go. After all, I’d been experiencing my own dark night of the soul where almost every conversation I’ve had about religion/ Christianity over the last year has been doubt-ridden and cynical. In my best mood, I hoped my attendance would put me in touch with some other cynics, believing it might relieve my cosmic guilt. What I secretly feared, however, was that I was going to Wild Goose to break up with the Christian faith I’d grown up under.

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Why This Atheist Still Needs His Former Pastor

by Chris Stedman
from Relevant Magazine

“It’s been a long time, Tiffer,” he said through one of his characteristically gigantic grins. It had been nearly as long since anyone outside my family called me that name.

“It sure has, Doogie,” I said, returning his grin, imagining he hadn’t heard that nickname in a while, either. As an espresso machine rattled and steamed from across the room, Matthew informed me that he had recently left a call in parish ministry and was now in Massachusetts working for an organization called Outreach Inc. – Kids Care, which organizes meal-packaging events for churches and conferences that want to give back. In addition to coordinating these events, he donated his Sunday mornings to traveling around New England and preaching at churches, hoping to inspire them to get involved in the fight against hunger. I asked if he’d be interested in expanding his partnerships beyond churches and Christian conferences and working with an atheist organization on an interfaith program. He didn’t even hesitate.

It’s funny because, when he first asked me to get coffee, I hesitated. “What will he think of the work I do now?” I asked myself. “Will he feel like he failed me as a pastor? Will he want to debate theology? Will he try to bring me back into the church?”

Such hesitance was unmerited; he sat and listened as I updated him on my life, smiling and nodding as I described how I’ve come into my own as an atheist, an interfaith activist and a young man. Now, Matthew and I have a better and more honest relationship than we ever did in my youth.

It’s been a more productive one, too: in less than six months, we’ve mobilized hundreds of people to come together in interfaith coalition and donate their time and money to package over 30,000 meals for food-insecure children in Boston. Most recently we held an event (planned with Boston University’s Interfaith Council) called HUNGERally, where over a hundred student representatives from eight Boston-area colleges and universities spent a Saturday night learning about the problem of hunger and pledging to work together across lines of religious difference to address it.

All of this is the direct result of a partnership between an atheist and his former pastor. In light of this, I cannot help but wonder what the world would look like if we were more willing to forge unconventional alliances. What would happen if we were more radical about whom we saw as our collaborators? What would happen if we took the risk of reaching out to the unfamiliar? If atheists and Christians started seeing one another as necessary partners in making the world a better place, what might we come to understand about each other? What might we come to better understand about ourselves? What might we accomplish together?

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Occupy Interfaith: Why Millennials, Including The Irreligious, Need To Care About Religion

by Chris Stedman
from Huffington Post

When I was in high school, civil disobedience excited me. I participated in a school walkout in protest of the Iraq War, staged a demonstration outside of a conference for anti-gay “reparative therapy,” and regularly got together with friends to make T-shirts boasting our political positions. Though the underlying political motives behind these actions were sincere, I recognize in hindsight that a big part of why I was drawn to such activism was that it hinged on solidarity and cooperation.

I was reminded of these efforts this weekend, when I decided to take my Saturday night off to check out the Occupy America (a national movement born out of Occupy Wall Street in New York City) effort in my city.

I decided to go because I have been tracking it online for some time, and many of my friends and peers have been involved from the beginning. While the participants I encountered on Saturday ranged in ages, Occupy America has frequently been referred to as a “youth-driven” movement, and the statement isn’t without merit. Though participation has been and continues to be intergenerational, there seems to be a particularly strong representation from young people.

As a 24-year-old, I’m part of the Millennial Generation – the generation following Generation Y, born in the 1980s and 1990s. We’re a generation that, according to studies by Pew and others, is supposed to be unconcerned and unengaged with the political process. Yet we defied such classification by coming out in droves for the 2008 Presidential election, and I believe that the Occupy America movement is demonstrating once more that we can surprise prognosticators and muster up unanticipated energy and organization to mobilize for social change.

Still, we remain a generation that is, in some ways, defined by apathy. This is perhaps no more obvious than it is in Millennials’ relationship with religion.

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Do Atheists Belong in the Interfaith Movement?

Chris Stedman
from State of Formation

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in the organized atheist, humanist, skeptic and freethought movements about the potential benefits and drawbacks of interfaith work.

Over at Patheos, the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt, recently made an excellent case that—while the terminology of “interfaith” may be problematic and there are several other important issues to grapple with—it is worth atheists’ while to get involved. At Friendly Atheist, Secular Student Alliance Communications Director Jesse Galef offered a long list of reasons atheists might participate, and how their involvement might improve some of the problems within the interfaith movement. Despite Galef and Speckhardt’s serious concerns and reservations, they have been actively involved in intentionally interfaith efforts, and I suspect their participation has informed their conclusions about the idea.

However, those speaking out against atheist involvement in the interfaith movement are, at the moment, a bit more numerous (just a couple of examples, with several others to follow). As far as I can tell based on what many atheists opposed to interfaith involvement state in their writing, a large percentage of them seem to have kept their distance from interfaith work. I understand their hesitation given the criticisms they offer, but I can’t help but wonder if there is some disconnect when those who criticize the interfaith movement the most also seem to have had little to no actual experience with it. I could be wrong, but I’d be surprised if someone who had been involved in interfaith work would suggest, as prominent atheist blogger P.Z. Myers did, that it “cheerfully and indiscriminately embrace[s] every faith without regard for content.”

Present in almost every atheist blog I’ve read opposed to interfaith work are perhaps the most common critiques I hear from my fellow atheists regarding interfaith work, and they’re directly related: that interfaith leaves no room for religious criticism, and that it by default excludes atheists because atheism isn’t a “faith.” Most atheists I know who reject the idea of participating in interfaith work do so in part because they assume that, in order to participate, everyone must bite his or her tongue and play nice, and that participation in this kind of movement lends our implicit approval to “faith” as a concept and rallying point.

I’d like to explain why I think these concerns may be somewhat overblown; how they might be combated where they exist, and the reality that they actually don’t apply to most situations.

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Should the Nonreligious Join in Interfaith Work?

Chris StedmanFrom the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue

We start with our stories.

My name is Chris Stedman. I have an indiscriminate love of tattoos, a couple degrees in religious studies, and don’t believe in God. I am also an ardent advocate of interfaith cooperation.

The idea that interfaith cooperation is necessary to advance social progress was not a conclusion I came to overnight. In fact, after I stopped believing in God, I spent some time walking about decrying the “evils of religion” to anyone who would listen. I wanted nothing to do with the religious, and was sure they wanted nothing to do with me.

After reflecting on several episodes where I neglected to engage the religious identities of people I otherwise respected and admired, I realized that I had been so busy talking that I wasn’t listening.

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Do Only Religious People Have a ‘Calling’?

From State of Formation

In a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, musician Jack White (of the White Stripesand other bands) reflected on his “calling.”

“I was thinking at 14 that possibly I might have had the calling to be a priest,” said White. “Blues singers sort of have the same feelings as someone who’s called to be a priest might have.”

That he connected his sense of a calling to a career in ministry isn’t surprising. The word “calling,” or “vocation,” has explicitly religious roots; derived from the Latin vocare, or “to call,” the terms originated in the Catholic Church as a way of referring to the inclination for a religious life as a priest, monk, or nun.

During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther broadened the term beyond ministry to include work that serves others, but still couched it in a religious framework.

Today, “calling” has become common currency in the American parlance, its meaning expanded to refer to the realization of an individual’s passion or drive. Though the term has long had religious associations, it is used just as often to refer to secular work as it is religious.

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Future Religious and Ethical Leaders Ask The Hard Questions — Together

by Chris Stedman

from the Huffington Post

“‘Thou shalt not’ might reach the head, but it takes ‘Once upon a time’ to reach the heart.” So said Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass, in a 2007 interview with The Atlantic. He might be right, but I can’t help but wonder: What if we could reach both the head and the heart?

State of Formation

State of Formation

It’s a question I asked myself many times over while writing my Master of Arts in Religion thesis on narrative and religion last year. Now, as the Managing Director of State of Formation, a new online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders founded by the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and run in partnership with Hebrew College, Andover Newton Theological School and collaboration with Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, I am so excited about the content that has flooded the site in its inaugural week — and how our religious and philosophical academics are using both their minds and their hearts to enter into dialogue.

Our initial group of nearly 70 contributing scholars contains Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Protestant (among them Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and others), Hindu, Secular Humanist, Sikh, Agnostic, Greek Orthodox, Unitarian Universalist, Mormon, Evangelical Christian, Atheist and Lindisfarne participants. Some were born in the Bible belt; others grew up in places like Jamaica, Singapore, Japan, and Germany. They are gay and straight, liberal and conservative, religious and secular.

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Making the Internet Moral

stateofformation.orgby Chris Stedman

from the Washington Post

Is the Internet destroying our morals?

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI issued a warning that the Internet was “numbing” young people and creating an “educational emergency – a challenge that we can and must respond to with creative intelligence.”

Speaking at a Vatican conference on culture, Benedict also expressed concern that “a large number of young people” are “establish[ing] forms of communication that do not increase humaneness but instead risk increasing a sense of solitude and disorientation.”

Benedict’s comments created an uproar, but he has a point. Studies show that Internet addiction is linked to depression; in 2007, the comedy website Cracked offered a surprisingly moving take on this phenomenon titled “7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable.”

It’s tempting, knowing this, to suggest that we all take a step away from our keyboards, turn off our computers, and go find a field to frolic in.

As much as I love the instant gratification of being able to download the latest Kanye West album the moment it is released and being able to stay connected to my family back in Minnesota through Facebook, I also know that the Internet has created a new kind of culture in which the rules of engagement have shifted dramatically. The rise of cyberbullying in recent years demonstrates that our more-connected world comes with new moral and ethical questions that we must respond to with creativity and acumen.

As we saw with “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” culture wars are born online. But I also believe that the Internet has created opportunities to open channels of dialogue that were, previous to now, next to impossible. Where culture wars are born, so too can we build bridges.

With this conviction, I am excited by the launch of State of Formation, a new online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders from around the world, founded by the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and run in partnership with Hebrew College, Andover Newton and collaboration with Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

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Interfaith Dialogue Must Include Atheists

from the Huffington Post

by Chris Stedman
Managing Director, ‘State of Formation,’ The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue

In my work as an interfaith activist, I’ve fought to bring an end to religious division. Lately this has increasingly meant speaking out against the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence sweeping America. As a member of the Common Ground Campaign, I’m actively working to oppose those who wish to disenfranchise the American Muslim community.

Advocating for religious people has often put me at odds with my own community. As an atheist I hear a lot of anti-religious talk from other nonreligious people, and speaking out against it has made me somewhat of an unpopular figure among some atheists. Yet it is precisely because I am an atheist, and not in spite of it, that I am motivated to do interfaith work.

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