An atheist with faith – sounds like the punch line to a milquetoast joke...
Actually, it is the hopeful message of Chris Stedman's memoir, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious
– that making the world a more tolerant place is a s simple as keeping faith that by engaging on humanist values with people different from oneself they'll engage back. Fathiest at times feels like a companion book or sequel to Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith
– which isn't a bad thing at all. While both books are a journey of identity with twists and turns that culminate with a commitment to work for a better world, Stedman's narrative is aching as he seeks and discovers that his spiritual identity is as an atheist.
Stedman faced the challenge of coming out as homosexual in high school As a youth believed himself a Christian, but he came to find it impossible to reconcile teachings from the Bible with his sexual identity. Although he left the church he never stopped believing in faith, and he desperately wants to belong to a spiritually nurturing community. The story he tells of an encounter with athiesm (when a woman informs him that atheists, "have the superior perspective – everyone else is lost!") causes the reader to wonder if that is possible in a community that is not based upon faith. However, Stedman, a seminarian who attended Meadville Lombard Theological School
, perserves, finally arriving at an insight that he summarizes with the question he asks in the first chapter: "Can we learn to seek out our commonalities instead of solely fixating on our differences?"
And differences there are – in addition to atheists Stedman relates stories of his lambasting by people of faith and others. Through it all he chronicles his growing awareness that our shared commonality is in humanist values.
The book is a highly readable memoir and Stedman is a an engaging and sometimes disarming writer. The honesty he brings to this account is inspiring, as is the simplicity and hope of his final message: we bridge the differences between us every time we demonstrate faith in humanity through dialog.
The most important message we can draw from Faitheist
may be from its very existence. Stedman writes that 24 is an incredibly young age to write a memoir, but its easy to recognize that his age is not the most remarkable part of this book. Instead, it is that his experience and story while personal and powerful are also universal. Fatheist reminds us that gift of who we are and how we chose to share ourselves with each other is so much more valuable than labels about age, class, race or sexual orientation. That's a message everyone – religious or non – can get behind.
Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious
is available at the UUA Bookstore.
Read Chris Stedman's blog, Non Prophet Status