'Being Both' author Susan Katz Miller

‘Being Both’ author Susan Katz Miller, courtesy of the Miller.

Growing up nonreligious, my first real exposure to religion came in the form of a childhood friend being raised by a Jewish mother and a Catholic father.

At the time it seemed unusual, but today interfaith families are increasingly visible. Yet the very idea of marrying across religious lines presents a challenge to many atheists, agnostics, and nonreligious people—with some suggesting that atheists and theists may seriously struggle in dating, marrying, or raising children together.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I spoke with Susan Katz Miller, recent author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. A prolific journalist who raised her children in an interfaith community, Miller shared her thoughts on atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious in interfaith relationships, her view that all relationships are “interfaith,” and her thoughts on nontheistic Jewish communities.

Chris Stedman: Your book addresses interfaith families, often consisting of a couple with distinct religious identities. But you also argue that all relationships are “interfaith” in a sense, as no two people believe exactly the same things. Can you say more about this?

Susan Katz Miller: Whether or not two people have the same religious or nonreligious label, they are never going to share identical beliefs, practices, culture, family history. Both partners could be Reform Jews and one could be an atheist, the other a mystic. Or both partners could be secular humanists, and one loves to celebrate a huge Christmas and the other, not so much. Or both partners could be Protestant, but one sees Jesus as the Messiah and the other sees Jesus as more of a teacher or rabbi or even as a metaphor. What we teach children in interfaith community religious education is that you cannot accurately determine anything about someone’s beliefs based on their religious label.

CS: Talk to me about atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious in “interfaith” relationships. What are some of the particular challenges they might face, and what are some things they offer?

SKM: Most atheists, agnostics and nonreligious did not grow up as such, but came to their own decision about their own beliefs in their teen years or in adulthood. In interfaith families raising children with both religions, we make the point that every human being ultimately grows up and makes their own decisions about religious affiliations, about beliefs, about spiritual tools and practices. So whether you are raised with one religion, two religions, all religions or no religions, you have the capacity and the right—or perhaps even the responsibility—to make these decisions for yourself, and to change your beliefs at any point in your lifetime. I think it is important to have atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists acknowledged as part of the huge diversity of available beliefs and cultures.

There are, of course, many secular or cultural Jews who are atheists. But there are also a lot of secular humanists in Unitarian Universalist communities, and in various Christian denominations, and in Buddhism, and in Paganism. Interfaith families seek out the most welcoming and open-minded communities, and often those are the same communities that welcome the nonreligious also seeking community.

But there are a significant number of atheists, agnostics and nonreligious people married to people who do maintain religious affiliations, or atheist couples from two different religious cultures, so there is an important overlap between secular and interfaith communities. For atheists in “interfaith” or faith/nonreligious relationships, I think the keys to success are the same as they are in any other interfaith relationshiplisten to each other, be specific about the beliefs and practices that you want to share and why, be open and tender and loving, and above all, see interfaith or faith/nonreligious bridge-building as something that is inspiring, as a form of calling, rather than as an insurmountable problem.

CS: You identify as Jewish. I recently interviewed a Humanistic Jewish Rabbi about the history of Humanistic Judaism and intermarriage. What do you see as some of the similarities and differences between Humanistic Jewish communities and intentionally interfaith communities that include Jewish families? 

'Being Both'

‘Being Both’ courtesy Susan Katz Miller and Beacon Press.

SKM: Humanistic Judaism has long been a safe space and home for what they call intercultural couples. Many interfaith couples have gravitated to Humanistic Judaism, as well as Unitarian Universalism and Quakerism. I am grateful that these communities exist and that interfaith families are thriving within them. However, intentional interfaith family communities are unique in focusing on two specific religious cultures, as well as both sets of practices and beliefs. In Humanistic Judaism children will not get the same education about Christianity, because Humanistic Judaism is a form of Judaism.

Another difference is that parents raising children in intentional interfaith communities have to be open to having their children exposed to the idea of God. God is mentioned in both Jewish and Christian prayers, and for some interfaith families, belief in God is seen as important common ground. Other parents, who might be agnostic or atheist, join an interfaith family community because they want their children to have that religious literacy, the knowledge of Bible stories for instance, as part of general cultural literacy. And they assume their children will come to their own conclusions about what they believe about God, as well as what they believe about Jesus. Humanist, interfaith, UU, Quaker communities, and some other progressive religious communities share a tendency to question, to wrestle, rather than subscribing to a set theological doctrine.

CS: What are some skills that interfaith families or people with a hybrid religious identity bring to interfaith dialogue?

SKM: Because we see with more than one set of religious or cultural lenses, I think we notice both commonalities and differences more easily, and accept them more readily. We have been bridging differences and translating cultures all of our lives, day in and day out. It sounds exhausting, but for many of us, it feels natural or exhilarating. As part of an interfaith family, we know that love can prevail.


  1. Some Atheists are mild about religion. They don’t see religion as generally practiced as extremely toxic or dangerous, though they simply can’t believe in it themselves.

    Sometimes I wish I could be that way.
    Then Sarah Palin says something about ‘God and Country’ and I turn purple.

    • Then Sarah Palin says something about ‘God and Country’ and I turn purple.

      I imagine that many religious progressives turn purple, too, given that “God and Country” translates to “my version of God is the only version allowable in my Country,” and then proceeds to imply that God is a reactionary hater who expects all “true” Americans to vote Republican.

      • The most serious problem with religion
        is there are no ‘checks and balances’ on what is a ‘true’ religion.

        When it comes to God it seems all things are permissible. And all things are forbidden.

        A ‘good Christian’ and the ‘good Muslim’ really are the same philosophy.
        They both behave as the ‘good samaritan’ who may have been atheist for all we know.

        We need to acknowledge that religion is not required for this.
        Samaritanism is simply a good philosophy – it is nothing more than The Golden Rule (‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’) and it predates religion.

        When we claim a god is behind it all, that is what poisons it.

        • Well, that was a non sequitur.

          Why is it, that when I try to point out the common ground one might have with religious people, someone comes along and says the equivalent of, “Nooooooooo! Doooooon’t truuuuuust them!”

          I’ve got to live in the world with everyone else. I’m happy to make alliances with others who have similar values to me. I readily accept that someone else’s god-philosophies can be different from mine but we can still share the same basic values.

          As I’ve said in other places, I’ll take a progressive Christian over a libertarian atheist any day… or a misogynist atheist… or a homophobic atheist… or a racist atheist… or a transphobic atheist… and so on.

          There’s a lot more to life than religion, and atheists and agnostics form a rather small minority amongst a very, very diverse majority.

          • Look Timberwraith,

            Perhaps I go too far with my rants. Please accept my apology.
            I appreciated your attempt at common ground.

            But I am an anti-theist. Belief in God is just plain bad for people.

            In most states, gays can’t marry, women can’t get contraception, children can’t learn science…I mean really.
            And progressive Christians, good-hearted as they are, are supporting these agendas with their money.

            Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas are working very heard to send us into the Bronze age with Creationist nonsense in the public schools!

            I really don’t know what else to do but to confront all religious people and challenge them – because I deny these claims that a God exists and that His desires could be known to us.

            Our nation’s future depends on abandoning most of these religious practices. Religion is absolutely ridiculous.

          • By the way … I WAS a liberal Christian for 44 years before I found out that God very likely was just a cultural delusion. So I AM the sort of person who you might once have found kinship with.

            But I have changed my mind about religion. I have decided it is not benign or gentle, but dangerous.

          • Yes, I would have guessed you are an antitheist from your initial comments. I see antitheism as another form of religious bigotry just as I see fundamentalism as a form of religious bigotry. Your way is the only way and any other way of seeing the world is inferior, dangerous, immoral, or whatever. Just as I oppose all other forms of bigotry, I oppose your particular variation as well.

            Although I’m agnostic, I am most decidedly not your ally. I will oppose unfortunate people like you and your prejudiced over-generalizations every step of the way. I’ll happily side with progressive religious people over someone like you any day of the week.

            How sad that you and others like you are trying to deform atheism into yet another form of prejudice.

            Antitheism is just another word for atheist supremacy.

          • Timberwraith,
            I don’t see “bigotry” in my position of anti-theism.
            I am open to the possibility that a God may exist but until it is demonstrated to be true it is irresponsible to declare it “as true”.

            Why is it “bigoted” to be against jihadi suicide bombing, preachments of Hell (for which there is no evidence) and repression of women’s rights in the name of God?

            Why is it bigoted to be against a god who claims to support slavery?
            Why is it bigoted to be against a god who claims to support rape?
            Why is it bigoted to be against a god who claims to hate gays?
            Why is it bigoted to be against a god who claims to hate human life?

            Do you understand what “bigotry” is? I don’t deny the Christian the right to have faith. I simply challenge them to explain why they support institutions which object to contraceptives, repress women, support poverty and spread hatred.

            I see Christians, Muslims etc as victims of indoctrination. Their minds have been closed. Their vision restricted.

            If preaching God is not a bigoted thing to do, preaching against God cannot be bigoted either!

          • Anti-theism, by definition opposed all religion and all belief in the divine. It opposes a way of being that has been a part of humanity since humanity has existed.

            Anti-theism, by definition positions atheism as a superior way of being over all other views.

            That’s bigotry.

            You have plenty of company. There are many religious-minded folks who share an equivalent approach to other belief systems. Welcome to the crowd.

          • Why is it bigoted to be against a god who claims to support slavery?
            Why is it bigoted to be against a god who claims to support rape?
            Why is it bigoted to be against a god who claims to hate gays?
            Why is it bigoted to be against a god who claims to hate human life?

            I know religious people who feel similarly. They are hardly antitheist.

          • Timberwraith,

            You said, “And, most importantly, is it OK for theists to assert that atheism and agnosticism is just plain bad for people?”

            The churches and preachers proclaim it every freakin’ day! I’m not against free speech!

            If it is not bigoted for people to SELL GOD to non-believers, then it is NOT bigoted to CHALLENGE THAT SALES PITCH!

            You will stop calling me bigoted! Now.

          • You are making blanket statements about all religion, and hence, all religious people.

            I will most certainly not stop referring to you as a bigot. You have a choice: you can either stop reducing diverse groups of people into negatively rendered monoliths or you can get use to people calling you on your prejudices.

        • But I am an anti-theist. Belief in God is just plain bad for people.

          But I am a Christian. Belief in someone else’s religion is just plain bad for people.

          But I am a Muslim. Belief in someone else’s religion is just plain bad for people.

          But I am a Jew. Belief in someone else’s religion is just plain bad for people.

          But I am a Pagan. Belief in someone else’s religion is just plain bad for people.

          You have a lot of company.

          Do you really want to repeat their behaviors?

          Is it OK if a religious person assumes that all atheists think belief in the divine is immoral?

          Is it OK for theists to assume that all atheists are working toward eliminating religion from humanity?

          Is it OK for theists to actively try to eliminate atheism from the world?

          • And, most importantly, is it OK for theists to assert that atheism and agnosticism is just plain bad for people?

            If you want to do that, then please don’t complain when a Christian proclaims atheists to be immoral by the vary nature of their lack of belief in God.

            Given your words, you haven’t a leg to stand on.

            So, you want to supplant theist prejudice with atheist prejudice? In what world will that lead to a decrease in tribalistic hatred?

          • GOD IS AN ARGUMENT! And I am told repeatedly by Christians that I’ll never win it!

            You should be hoping that I do!

            “About heretics there are two things to say. Their sin deserves banishment not only from the church by excommunication but also from the world by DEATH.”
            – St. Thomas Aquinas

            I’m sick of this religious bullying from you religious apologists!
            If you don’t like the argument, stop proclaiming “God exists”! SHOW ME!

            You are the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Roman Crusader. You support them all with one cowardly whiff of “who am I to say they are wrong?”

            There is no evidence for any God. There is no reason to think that ‘faith’ is good for people. And I’ve noticed that I never have a choice on this matter.
            Though you bullies pretend to give me one!

            Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!”

            I say we are all humans! There are no races! We are all the same!
            And you call me a bigot?
            Wake up.

          • Yes!
            FALSE beliefs are bad for people. Exactly.

            If you believe that 72 virgins are waiting for each martyr in Heaven you will kill gladly.

            False belief that gravity isn’t real will result on you falling out of a window!

            False belief that putting money into a casino can make you rich will make you BROKE!

            How dare you defend false beliefs!
            You are really shocking. I guess you don’t care about people.

          • You are the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Roman Crusader. You support them all with one cowardly whiff of “who am I to say they are wrong?”

            *smile* That really is a bit over the top.

            I assume ignoring my conservative family’s religious views of trans people, and transitioning from male to female is cowardly? I suppose years of arguing with them about their racial and religious prejudices is cowardly? I suppose that breaking off all contact with my blood relations after several decades of conflict and deciding to go it alone in this world is also cowardly?

            I am not a single dimensional persona typing words across your screen. I am not another flaccid drone marching in the cowardly legions of religion supporters, bent on licking the boots of God’s minions.

            Max, read my interactions on this comment thread. If I’m facing down someone who takes an abusive approach to religion, divinity, and spirituality, I don’t hesitate to offer a rousing critique.

            However, I don’t limit those critiques to theists. I play the entire field when necessary. That’s hardly cowardice. It’s a major pain in the ass at times and it would be a lot easier to just to “pick a side”. The thing about walking along the interface between two warring factions is that you can easily catch flaming invective from two sides rather than one. I don’t think that fits within the notion of cowardice.

          • Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and other RELIGIOUS people claim to be superior to Atheists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

            I resent being called ‘bigoted’ by simply objecting to their bigotry!

            You apparently confuse thought with being!
            I have repeatedly ridiculed religious beliefs.
            NOT THE PEOPLE who are victimized by that indoctrination.

            Again – you don’t know what bigotry is!

          • I hate Cancer. Not cancer patients!

            I hate Christianity. Not Christians!
            I hate Islam. Not Muslims!

            And you are equating BELIEFS with skin color and ethnicity!
            Who told you that was okay?
            Are all blacks supposed to think a certain way? All Iranians?
            You are condescending to the victims of the intergenerational criminal abuse – where lying to children about Hell is endemic and faith based genital mutilation is permanently damaging millions of children.

            You offer nothing to these victims but a whine that their parents have the right to not be challenged?

  2. correction: I meant to say that in most states Gays can’t marry. Didnt mean to imply that most women can’t get contraception or that children can’t learn science. Those are very real problems in many states – but not ‘most’ states.

    • I’m transgender and bisexual. I grew up under the abusive effects of religion. I’m personally aware of how prejudicial expressions of religion can harm others.

      However, I’m just as aware of how crucial alliances have been formed between LGBT rights movements and religious people. It would have been far more difficult to have passed same sex marriage statutes in Minnesota (that’s where I live), for example, without those alliances. The civil rights movement was deeply dependent upon the black church. It served as a centralized gathering of people which formed crucial sites of organizing and social support.

      Not all religion is bad. Not all religion is phobic toward queer people, women, and other minorities. For goodness sakes, I’ve attended countless progressive political events in Quaker, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian churches for well over 20 years now.

      Religion is not the dark, evil monolith you believe it to be. Are parts of it f*ked up? Yes, but then again, much of humanity is deeply messed up. Human beings so often thrive on power, oppression, and tribalism. Religion isn’t the source of these problems. Unfortunately, human nature is.

      And the anti-theist embrace of a tribalistic opposition to all things religious is yet another manifestation of those very human flaws, winding their way through human affairs. You are expressing and reproducing the very social patterns you seek to avert.

      Can you imagine an LGBT movement that opposes heterosexuality, gender normative people, and being cissexual and cisgender?

      Can you imagine a women’s rights movement that opposes men and maleness?

      Don’t try to tell me that religion is just a set of ideas. Religion and spirituality quite often permeate a person’s being right down to the core of who they are. A belief/relationship with the divine has been a part of common human experience since well before prehistory. When you oppose the existence of a belief in the divine and the social expression of such a belief—religion—you oppose the existence of religious people themselves. You oppose a basic part of human imagination and relating to what is. Proclaiming atheist supremacy as the only True Path isn’t going to make these ways of being vanish.

      OK, you don’t believe in the divine and have no need for religion. That’s fine. But that’s not the only valid way of being in the world. Try as though you may, those other ways of being aren’t going away… and there are many, many more theists than there are atheists and agnostics.

      The rational response is to figure out how to cope with that fact and forge peaceful relationships with the rest of the world. That’s not easy, given the amount of prejudice and hatred that’s swirling around, but its far more realistic than the pipe dream of eliminating a belief in the divine from humanity. That won’t happen. Not in my life, your life, or any other’s.

      • I ONLY care about what is true. THE BURDEN IS ON YOU, NOT ME.

        If you tell me an All-powerful Giant Red Leprechaun is hovering over your house and it secretly running the world from an invisible marshmallow cloud – and that I am poorer for not believing in it – that is called AN EXTRAORDINARY CLAIM – and that is exactly what you are pushing on everyone when you defend “God”.

        Where is this God which you want me to bow down to!?

        You go so far as to coerce my legislature to into making laws which comply with your Red Leprechaun – that is an ATTACK on MY RIGHTS! I did nothing to deserve this!

        My anti-theism is a reaction to that attack ala Sarah Palin, Fox News, Michelle Bachmann etc….which I will remind you is ONGOING from their side 24/7!

        It is rich calling me a bigot!

        I don’t want your religious toys like Creationism taught in my children’s schools. I don’t want my daughter to suffer from lack of access to medical care because someone believes that a Red Leprechaun on a giant Marshmallow forbids it!

        If it is not bigoted to sell God to non-believers, then it cannot be bigoted to sell Anti-God to Believers!

        Your belief in the Red Leprechaun is not a problem for me if you keep it at home. When you shove it into the public square, politics, my science research, my medical research and everywhere else I am standing up and challenging you to prove your Red Leprechaun – or get out of the way.

        • I ONLY care about what is true. THE BURDEN IS ON YOU, NOT ME.

          I care about reducing the amount of violence, oppression, and tribalistic conflict between people. That burden falls upon all of us. One can journey on a path toward truth without dehumanizing, disparaging, and marginalizing entire groups of people, their cultures, and their religions as mere assemblages of inferiority.

          And, my path toward truth is not the same as yours… or any other human being for that matter. Cosmic truths are as varied and remote as the boundaries of the universe itself. I don’t claim to have the sole truth in these matters for so much of it lies beyond my limited human grasp. Did an Jewish religious leader who was executed for challenging the religious and colonial authorities of the day return from the dead? Probably not. Human bodies don’t work that way. Beyond that, however, lies the more general exploration of why existence exists and what lies beyond the boundaries of the known universe. I don’t know these answers. I may have inklings of these matters on my better days, and blind ignorance on others. Such is life. Such is humanness.

          As such, I can accept that others will try to fill in those gaps of awareness using the many varied paths of human imagination. My only wish is that people do so without intertwining those imaginings with a tendency to fear, disparage, hurt, and control others whose cosmic wanderings differ. We already abuse others via competing systems of government, economic systems, and oddly enough, sports teams (Ever watch hockey or rugby? Oh my.). I hope we can do better.

          • TIMBERWRAITH,

            Why is it wrong to argue against claims which are unjustified and unproven?

            $100 million was sent to Israel last year – IN ONE YEAR – by Evangelicals to help settlers land taken from Palestinians in hopes it will bring the 2nd coming of Christ with the rise of ‘the second temple’.

            The entire budget for the campaign by American Atheists
            to challenge this dangerous nonsense amounted to less than $1 million.

            Why am I being a bigot for calling this crazy?
            Why am I being a bigot for saying enough of this!?

            You talk about not being ‘hurtful’ to ‘groups’ !!!
            Poor Evangelicals can’t take the pain of being laughed out of the room – is that it?

            What’s wrong with a few more dead or homeless Palestinians?
            You don’t know the enemy. It is religion itself.

        • Also, I see a lot of “you” and “your” in your previous comment. I’m not religious. I embrace no religion. I embrace no holy texts. I am agnostic. I take no position for or against the existence of divinity.

          I also oppose the encroachment of right wing conservatism on the lives of others as much as the next progressive. I don’t see that endeavor as necessitating the elimination of religion and a belief in divinity, however. Unlike a number of antitheists, I value religious diversity and I find that approach valuable in challenging my own prejudices against others’ spiritual paths. Naturally, this approach places me in an adversarial relationship with antitheist perspectives… not with the whole of atheism, mind you, but with antitheism.

          As an aside, leprechauns, Santa, and space faring tea cups aren’t going to have much of an impact upon those who embrace divinity. Searching for the roots of existence and the origins of consciousness, and striving for a deep sense of connectedness with existence is a far cry from searching for elfin humanoids with pots of gold, fat bearded men with flying livestock, and orbital beverage containers. Although, I suspect it is a highly effective approach if your goal is to insult people and encourage them to dismiss you as an unpleasant person who probably isn’t worth paying attention to.

          How effective is it when theists dismiss the possibility of atheists and agnostics as being ethical, moral people because their belief systems are supposedly too rootless without divine guidance and thus prone to self-serving, self-deluding manipulations of what is seen as “moral”? I don’t know about you, but I tend to view someone who presents such a tired-out misrepresentation of my philosophies as a prejudice ridden jerk. I imagine that a theist would respond somewhat similarly if their notion of divinity was dismissed as a mere child’s fancy, a futile search for space debris, or a symptom of mental illness. However, few things are as emotionally satisfying as an insult delivered to one’s adversary. One can argue in favor of the value behind enjoying such small pleasures and shocking people who are behaving in terrible ways but in the long run, it hardly serves as a means of fostering constructive conversation. These insults grow cold, flat, and slogan like with the passage of time and over use.

          • TIMBERWRAITH,

            You say you don’t have a particular religion. Nonsense.

            You defend the Catholic Church’s ban on condoms which led to the deaths of 20 Million men and women in Africa over 30 years in the war on Aids.

            You defend the Creationists who are crowding out science classes in 6 different states, sending children back into the stone age!

            You defend the Christian Right’s repression of women shutting out access to contraception all over the country.

            You took a stand. You are just pretending you didn’t.
            Pushing people around and telling them they are bigots is rich
            coming from someone who is really just being a religious bully.

          • TIMBERWRAITH,

            Gee – I guess it is really offensive of me to dare to ridicule these holy scriptures:

            Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!”

            JESUS is okay with bigotry, tribalism and racism:

            Jesus is cold to the woman who is not Jewish – he calls her ‘a dog’
            “It is not right to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. — Jesus, Matthew 15:26
            In other words, “Get lost. I’m only here to help the Jews.”
            If you think that’s a distortion of scripture, it isn’t. He comes right out and says it:
            “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” — Jesus, Matthew 15:24

            GOD’S first commandment: “make war forever.”
            1. “I am making a covenant with you. “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land” (EXODUS 34:15)

            “Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood.” (Jeremiah 48:10)

            “My angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites; and I will wipe them out.” (Exodus 23:23)

            Death and bigotry and more killing.
            Sorry to offend you by calling these religions RIDICULOUS.

          • Religion can be dangerous. I’m not sure how you can argue against that. The question of whether religion is good, bad or should be abandoned is a worthy discussion. I’m not sure I follow how bigotry has anything to do with discussion of those ideas. A person who is in favor of a religion needs, i would think, to present a reason for why it (god or a religion) is true.

          • “One can do this without reducing the philosophies of others into negative caricatures”

            The burden is on the religious person to explain why a Giant Red Leprechaun rules the world – it is that simple.

            You make the claim, so back it up. Or be prepared to be laughed at.

            Respect is earned. If all you have is an ancient book and some silly incantations you have not earned any respect.

          • You defend the Catholic Church’s ban on condoms which led to the deaths of 20 Million men and women in Africa over 30 years in the war on Aids.

            You defend the Creationists who are crowding out science classes in 6 different states, sending children back into the stone age!

            You defend the Christian Right’s repression of women shutting out access to contraception all over the country.


            I worked for years as a pro-choice activist. I’ve interned for NARAL. I’ve risked my life as a clinic escort at various abortion clinics. I’ve marched in more reproductive rights marches than I can remember. I cut my progressive teeth, so to speak, on feminism and reproductive rights.

            Yes, I’m certainly happy to form alliances with religious progressives. They usually share the same values I do. I’m also willing to defend any group of people against gross generalizations, including religious people and atheists. Knowing a variety of people in both groups and personally witnessing the range of beliefs contained therein puts me in place where it becomes really difficult to see members of either group as hollow stereotypes. Somehow, from that act, you’ve fashioned your image of me into the most evil specter of religious oppression.

            You aren’t reading what I’m saying, Max. There’s no way to draw the conclusions you’ve made based on what I’ve said.

            Clearly, you aren’t arguing in good faith. Far from it. At this point, I have no choice but to conclude that you are nothing more than a troll.

          • Shaman said:

            Religion can be dangerous. I’m not sure how you can argue against that.

            I’m not trying to.

            But dander can come in the shape and form of a whole host of other institutions: governments, corporations, financial institutions, the media, lobbying firms, and capitalism itself. That’s the short list. They all present the potential for great danger because they are populated by human beings. Any one of those institutions can intertwine with prejudice, authoritarianism, greed, dogmatism, tribalism, violence, and so on. Any one of those institutions can be easily geared toward destroying human lives and they are doing so as I type these words.

            Religion is not unique in these respects. Great good and great evil can be accomplished in its name. To paint religion as an evil monolith is simply not truthful. It also misses the the fact that any social institution can readily fall prey to the corruption of violence and oppression. Religion is not the root cause of these problems. Antitheism, which is what sparked this discussion in the first place, seeks to portray religion as distinctly evil, fosters its own forms of prejudice and tribalism in the process, and consequently, blinds itself to the the very same social patterns which occur pretty much everywhere.

            Sadly, I’ve watched a good bit of the atheist community Balkanize and self destruct over issues of misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and racism during the past few years. Dogmatism, abuse of power, cronyism, prejudice, irrational thought patterns, self-aggrandizing behaviors: I’ve seen all of these things and more play out within the boundaries of the atheist community in a relatively short period of time. Atheists are as human and as flawed as anyone else. To try to paint the rest of the world as uniquely dysfunctional is to fail to stare at one’s own face in the mirror each morning.

          • But dander can come in the shape and form of a whole host of other institutions…

            *chuckle* Oops. Both dander and danger can come in many forms.

          • ok., i understand about anti-theists i guess. but if religion is about belief in gods and policies are built around those beliefs this corrupts the policy automatically, no? Who speaks for these gods and who really knows their motivations other than self-appointed people who can only assert such knowledge?
            Seems amax is overly zealous going in that direction. Not sure I disagree with/ him/her on the point tho.

        • So you don’t care about what is true, either.

          How can God be both Condemner and Savior?
          What is this nonsense? And why is it so important that everyone
          sign up for this program?

          If ‘selling Jesus’ is not a bigoted act,
          Then challenging the seller of Jesus cannot be bigoted!

          • Arguing in favor of there being no divine presence in the universe is not an act of prejudice, bigotry, or bullying. You are merely explaining your perspective regarding the nonexistence of deities. One can do this without reducing the philosophies of others into negative caricatures.

            One can even critique particular behaviors and beliefs that are present in various religious subcultures which lead to negative social outcomes. One can do this without rendering all of religion or even all of a particular faith as a negative caricature. We are, after all, talking about systems of belief that have billions of followers that span numerous cultures and countries. Over-generalizations are neither helpful nor accurate.

            The problem I have with antitheism is that it is such a totalizing ideology. By it’s very nature, it tends to reduce all belief in the divine into a rudimentary monolith that emphasizes only images of violence, intolerance, and hatred. This perspective is not based in reality. In doing so, one ignores how systems of belief play out across time, culture, and individual perspective.

            What if a Christian dismisses all of atheism by referring to the violent, repressive histories of the Soviet Union, North Korea, or China? Your experience of atheism and your expression of atheism are surly different, no? What if a Christian says that all other religious philosophies and perspectives on divinity—especially atheism—only bring humanity to immorality, violence, and hatred? Do you find this to be persuasive? Or is it more likely, that you will dismiss that person as an irrational, prejudiced fool who has embraced the hateful path of tribalistic supremacy?

            This tendency to dismiss entire groups of people as the origin of evil, debauchery, social decay, and other inferior states is always a facet of in-group/out-group behavior in human beings. This behavior is also a facet of some of the more negative aspects of religion. Many, but certainly not all, religious followers claim that anyone who express philosophies which differ from their favored faith are promoting immoral, inferior paths in life.

            You are engaging in similar behavior. In doing so, you are inadvertently representing atheism as prone to the same kind of religious tribalism which so many atheists rightfully condemn when observed in perspectives outside of atheism. You are continuing this dynamic rather than working toward alleviating it. This is not helpful. It only serves to maintain the kinds of negative interpersonal reactions which promote inter-group conflict and violence on a macroscopic level. Contrary to you implied goals, you are fomenting inter-group strife and prejudice.

            Again, one does not challenge the supremacy expressed by heterosexuals by stating that heterosexuality tends to result in overpopulation, gender conformity, misogyny, and domestic violence. That approach will not work. It is not practical, regardless of solidly the data might support this perspective or not.

            Furthermore, you are as likely to eliminate the notion of divinity from human imagination as you are to eliminate heterosexuality. It is an enduring part of the human condition and humanity’s collective imagination. So is cosmic doubt and atheism, for that matter. The question is how to promote coexistence rather than eliminationism.

            Nevertheless, embracing tribalism is a very human path and it will tend to generate violence between differing groups when averaged across entire cultures. It is a very unfortunate tendency which all of us fall prey to now and again. We all tend to participate in this dynamic. Averting this path is up to you, just as it is up to me. I can’t stop you. I can only try to persuade you to choose a different approach.

          • Ah crud. More typos. That should have read:

            It is not practical, regardless of how solidly the data might support this perspective or not.

  3. Jomathan J. Turner

    Excuse me for turning the comment stream back to the subject of Asst. Chaplain Stedman’s somewhat recent column.

    Facebook Data Science has released some analysis of Facebook’s own religion and love data, which shows that most heteronormative couples marry (or couple) within their own faith, subject of course to a certain amount of variance, depending on faith, country, etc. Anyone with a Facebook acct. can look up this. A separate article on Smithsonian.com discusses the Facebook data and other polling:


    For me, the question is about training up the children. It is more probable that like-minded parents will succeed in training up their children in their spiritual ways, whichever ways they may be. I believe most people know this, and Facebook data correlates couples’ choices.

    The experience of parenthood is where religion reveals its truth and power to men and women. Non-parents may not get this (yet).

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