12 / 07 / 19
Dean, intern alum (2019)
My first experience with interfaith was accidental, through Twitter, as I began following people related to my interests, which at the age of 16, would have been predominately left-wing politics and atheism. I had began questioning things in society year prior to this, and would probably have told you at the time that I had gone through a ‘spiritual awakening’, when really I had just read a book for the first time without being forced to do so.
I began following prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who have been elevated as Gods themselves in the world of logic and rational reasoning. With this I also began following the pawns of the debate, which were smaller accounts, solely dedicated to spreading the rationale behind the rejection of a divine creator by seeking out logical flaws in believers’ arguments in order to score internet points over them. These accounts rarely produced any kind of original arguments, instead they formed into weird caricatures of their sceptic heroes, as they spammed my newsfeed with the same top five rebuttals from their favourite Christopher Hitchens montage. One of the pettier examples of this was an account whose sole purpose was to track down and correct anyone spelling the word atheist incorrectly. As if putting the i before the e discounted the existence of any kind of deity.
Twitter then suggested that I follow more accounts with similar interests to these, and as you do when you’re new to twitter; you follow every single one of them. As I began clogging up my own newsfeed, there was one poster that stood out with two unique characteristics. Whilst he too was an atheist, he wasn’t interested in picking fights with those who he disagreed with, but instead looked to build relations with and learn about their similarities. This was an alien position to me, as I had genuinely believed up to this point that atheism and antagonism were synonymous in one’s identity.
The account holder is Chris Stedman, who had published a book named ‘Faitheist’, and whether it was the catchy title or the months of following belligerent atheist accounts, I was instantly hooked. Chris’s story reads very similar to my own, as he initially took a more aggressive stance towards religious belief through discussions on internet forums. His book aims to not focus on the differences, but instead highlight some of the commonalities between religious people of different faiths and especially with those of no faith at all.
It was incredibly refreshing for me to read something that I could relate to, who was presenting a positive alternative to religious and non-religious debate, whilst also being unapologetic of his own rejection of God. His book was the first to introduce me to interfaith work and helped me to ditch the angry atheist moniker and form my own identity that has allowed me to flourish as an intern at an interfaith charity.