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Published: Saturday, 12/29/2012

Atheist asks religious, nonreligious to aid others

BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious

By Chris Stedman

Beacon Press, 2012, 191 pages

Faitheist is the memoir of a man, Chris Stedman, who became an evangelical Christian in middle school and then discovered he was different: he didn’t believe in the god he tried so hard to know, and he accepted that he is gay. His story tells of internal struggles and of much involvement in religion. He was raised in a nonreligious household.

“My family celebrated Christmas and Easter — but as strictly secular affairs,” he wrote. In high school, he found a more accepting Christian group that did not condemn his homosexuality. In college, he was both an atheist and a religion major. While living a life steeped in religion, he has remained an atheist since college — and in his acceptance of other people being religious, he has been called a “faitheist.”

Mr. Stedman now identifies as a humanist who works to help religious people and nonbelievers share a table while working to make the world a better place. He is the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University.

With his religious and sexual-orientation differences, Mr. Stedman became more accepting of others who are seen as different. As a graduate student in Chicago, Mr. Stedman joined with Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Corps; Mr. Patel is the best-selling author of Acts of Faith, a memoir of growing up Muslim in America, and that book gave Mr. Stedman kind of a conversion experience for changing his approach to religion and becoming an atheist advocate for interfaith relations.

Both men call for religious and nonreligious people to work together to help others. Mr. Stedman has a mission to include people of no faith in the work of interfaith bridge building.

“I’ve questioned the appropriateness of writing a memoir before reaching the age of twenty-five more than a few times,” Mr. Stedman wrote. His relative youth is an asset to the book. He tells of coming into his own person, finding how to be welcoming to others, and taking the first steps of being a figure in interfaith relations.

He gives a good picture of developing a new attitude. As he wrote, “even though I had spent my college years studying religious texts, I suddenly found myself wanting to learn more about the lives of religious people.”

His book about being religious and being secular, together, offers his hope for a better world: “I see interfaith engagement as the key to resolving the world’s great religious problems — and they are many.” Faitheist will help in the engagement.



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