This article was written by Peter Dziedzic, a sophomore at DePaul, who is pursuing a double major in Religious Studies and English. Peter is the co-President of DePaul Interfaith and member of the Executive Committee of the Better Together Campaign at DePaul University. Follow Peter on Twitter.
Drawing a crowd as diverse as the American mosaic, dozens of students gathered this February to hear Chris Stedman, interfaith leader, author, atheist, and the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, speak about his experience as an interfaith leader and his work in bridging the gap between secular and religious communities. DePaul was one of the eight campuses that Stedman visited in his first college speaking tour of the Midwest. Eager support and burning questions were commonplace, as was a message that resonated deeply with many participants.
After the trickling crowd had settled in and Stedman had offered his customary awful pun, the room was soon deeply engaged as Stedman offered not only his personal life story, but the story of an often brushed-aside struggle in our contemporary quest for peace and understanding. Stedman shared with students his commitment to, as an atheist, work with faith communities for the common good instead of shunning or decrying them. He shared his experience as a Protestant-turned-atheist and, through his journey, a realization was found that, once offered, struck me in a very personal core as well – the same narrow-mindedness and extremism that atheists had often found deplorable in religious traditions was now found in atheists’ condemnations of religious communities.
As an interfaith leader at DePaul, I strive to bring as many voices to the table and conversation as possible. Many supporters of interfaith engagement understand this, and understand that all voices and camps should be respected in the mutual conversation. Stedman’s question made me realize, however, how often are atheists and humanists explicitly invited to this pressing and global conversation?
The mutual acceptance of atheists and the religious is a relationship that recognizes our common struggle for a better world. While atheists and religious often disagree on many topics, and while many of the things they do agree on will often encounter a different source and answer, we cannot ignore the fact that many of the issues our communities need to face are shared, and likewise, can be best accomplished when enriched by our own personal narrative, by the driving spirit and energy that has shaped our lives and wills. Narrow-mindedness is not an issue that plagues only the religious community or secular community. It is not an issue that plagues this church or that student group. It is an issue that transcends borders and boundaries, and it is one that can only be transcended if we accept not only our shared values, but agree to celebrate our differences and employ them in our mission for transformative cooperation.
Stedman’s presentation drew loud applause and a range of intriguing, honest and passionate questions. This is an issue that touches many individuals, and Stedman’s insight offers a bridge connecting many personal narratives and struggles to a broader movement and realization of our nature as better together. (F)a(i)theist was a truly engaging and fresh insight into the interfaith movement and how we must constantly strive to not only live up to the values of compassion and peace found in many spiritual and humanist traditions, but to also agree to be mutually transformed by our differences and our work together.