Whilst reading Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious  by Chris Stedman, I was close to being overwhelmed by memories from the past; facing events that challenged my faith, turning my back on Christ and then hating religion in all forms. His story was scarily similar to mine. Where my story branches off is that I re-found my faith in Christ and became a Christian again. Chris didn’t. In many ways I needed to read his story; being a Christian you hear a lot of stories of people coming to Christ, that I had taken it for granted. His story was a sobering wake up call that not everyone comes back to Christ. What was even more sobering, actually it was a gut punch, was that it was the actions of other Christians that contributed to his turning away from the Christian faith. The typical apologetic is that people follow Christ not Christians so they shouldn’t look at us, but sometimes Christians are someones only exposure to Christ and if we are not acting in a way that espouses love, then why would someone want to take that further and commit their lives to him?
I’ll be honest it was refreshing to see an “atheist” (I put that in quotes as he doesn’t seem to be comfortable with that label if I’ve read his book right) round on the new atheists like Richard Dawkins. He shows the other side that many Christians don’t get to see (possibly because they don’t want to) which is that many who are not religious are uncomfortable, if not angry, with the hostility of the new atheist approach to religion. I have many atheist friends and whilst we have some very passionate discussions, we always come back to why we are friends but it has been very difficult not to tar them with the same brush. It’s especially difficult not to do it with an atheist who isn’t my friend. That’s a flaw in me but I have been subjected to so much hostility and ridicule from atheists that I can’t always just let it roll off my back. I didn’t take any satisfaction in knowing that the new atheists attack anyone they don’t agree with but reading how he has responded has caused me to rethink how I’ve approached them before and ask “have I contributed to the problem?” Not just in these situations but any situation where I’ve discussed my faith.
I’ve often said if you want to understand a point of view, go find someone with that viewpoint and talk to them; this is precisely why I bought Faitheist. I was never going to agree with everything that was written, we see the world from 2 different angles (I think the question of how we got here is an important one since it seems to affect our world view) I found that I was focusing on those differences as I thought about the book. The whole point is to see beyond those differences and appreciate the full complexities of people as people. We all have a story regarding how we’ve got to where we are now and understanding that is part of the key to moving forward without hostility. This is not to say we can’t disagree or express disagreements, such discussions have their place and Chris was very much endorsing this. Those conversations can go so much better and achieve so much more when an understanding exists. I just wish there was more of it.
The book seemed to be aimed at humanists and non believers setting up a dialogue with those who believe in God, but anyone interested in trying to build bridges between the 2 communities should read this. If you’re not interested, read it anyway and you may discover why you need to be interested. It was a challenging book to read for me but ultimately worthwhile to read the story of someone with different religious beliefs but with the same aim; to bring people together in civil dialogue. Once we can be civil, then we can take on something bigger like the worlds problems. I have a lot to work on myself and reading this book was very uncomfortable at times. It has also encouraged me in trying to build bridges, not just between the religious and non-religious, but any groups of people where animosity reigns.
For more on Interfaith dialogue and the book, please visit Faitheistbook.com
 Stedman, Chris (2012) Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, Beacon Press
First published 10th May 2013