Fun With Fermented Faith: Thoughts on Interfaith Dialogue
March 15, 2013
Interfaith engagement is something I've come out in favour of in the past, having supported the central message of Chris Stedman's Faitheist. Typically, my discussions on interfaith engagement (I know, I know, using the word "faith" when talking about atheists has its problems) have focused around putting aside differences to work towards common goals. But, interfaith engagement doesn't always need to be about some sort of activist effort. It can be as simple, and enjoyable, as having a dialogue among various groups.
A great example of this happening here at the University of Waterloo is the weekly discussion group: Fermented Faith. Hosted by an Anglican priest, Fermented Faith discussions take place at a local pub (usually with a pint of Guinness involved for the priest and yours truly) and focus on a range of topics. Everything from "Relationships: Reality vs. Expectations" to "Debt: Good or Bad?". Yesterday's discussion centred around the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal. A classic, "my god is bigger than your god", as one discussion attendee put it, in which each side prayed to their god to set a bull on fire. After Yahweh proved that he was indeed the real God, Elijah ordered the execution of the priests of Baal. A first reading of this story is likely to make you say, "God is a jerk". However, the discussion gave us an opportunity to come at the story from a different angle and see if there is any redeeming quality. While it was difficult to find any such quality, one possibility was raised. The priest pointed out that these stories were often passed down through conversation. People who shared these stories were often oppressed. In this case, the oppressors were the priests of Baal. Executing the priests of Baal could be viewed as an act of the oppressed rising to overthrow the oppressors. Though many, including one attendee, would contend that the priests deserved a chance for redemption rather than immediately being tossed to the slaughter.
Discussions at Fermented Faith are not always religious in nature, as they are liable to go off into tangents. Yesterday, the conversation drifted towards a debate over whether or not suffering is necessary to appreciate joy. (For the record: I argued that it is.) These dialogues offer the same sort of intellectual stimulation I would expect to get from weekly discussions with the campus atheist club, with the only difference being one of perspective.
It is nice to be able to gather around a table knowing that not everyone there holds the same belief when it comes to the existence of God. There's no sense of pressure. No one at the table is trying to sway the other into coming over to their side. When one person speaks about how a certain experience reinforces their belief in God, the atheist can be honest about how they would react in similar situation. You won't hear, "well if you saw a miracle, you'd believe too" comments being made here. Saying, "I'd want to see the miracle tested and recreated in a scientific study" will not get you any odd looks. The engagement is friendly, and that is exactly the way it should be.