grrrl meets mosque

Today I was invited to take part in an interfaith symposium on the topic – Religion: A Source of Conflict or Peace? When an organizer contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to be a part of it, it didn’t take me long to agree. I think it’s important for nonbelievers to have a voice in these kinds of events, even though we are not a part of a “faith” system.

Here are the slides I used for my talk:

I decided to approach the symposium’s question from a personal perspective, rather than outline all the ways religion has caused conflict all over the world (and throughout history).  My main goal was to get believers to think of atheists in a different, more positive light — so I made the focus more about the religious-induced conflict I’ve experienced in my personal life since I’ve come out as a nonbeliever.
And I think it worked.
It was interesting to watch how the women in the audience positively received my message. The majority of my audience was Muslim or Sikh, with only a few friends and Western-ized folks in attendance.  As I told my story, I could tell that many women could empathize with what it feels like to be discriminated against because of your philosophical (read: religious) outlook. Isn’t it funny how an atheist could build rapport with such an ideologically different set of people! But we did connect, and it was a cool experience.
And when it came to the question period, I had almost twice as many questions asked of me than the other panelists — I must have hit a nerve. I wish there could have been more time for the Q & A, since that’s when you really get to know someone.
As I left the mosque tonight, I wondered about if any evangelical church in Saskatoon (or elsewhere) would ever feel compelled to host an interfaith event like this. While I didn’t always agree with my fellow panelists on the issues (especially when it came to a woman’s role), I felt like I left today’s symposium with a better understanding of these different faiths. Would an evangelical church be comfortable to enable their congregation to consider other points of view when it comes to spirituality? Unfortunately, my experience in the church tells me no — and that’s really sad.

7 thoughts on “grrrl meets mosque”

  1. It is sad. I can’t really imagine something like this happening at our church, but I can imagine a lot of the Christians I know being interested and open to taking part in a discussion like this. I think this is an area that the church, at least mine, at best doesn’t think about, and at worst totally avoids. The idea is to spread the truth, not listen to and accept other people’s truths. Evangelical Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus is THE way so a church that would invite in people of other beliefs… I could only imagine that happening the same way all the creation debates I went to with youth group happened… Let’s hear what they have to say so that we can show how what we believe is better.

    Sigh.

  2. I like the slides! (except for the embarrassing childhood picture. Grrr…) But I especially like the final slide where you offer solutions to working together. Very important. You rock, chick. I think it is amazing and very forward-thinking of your church to host this. I would hope that mine would do the same.

  3. Thanks, Rebekah. Sounds like an interesting experience!

    If I remember right, your visit was to the Ahmadiyya community. This branch of Islam is not considered Muslim by “mainstream” Muslims. Members of this community have been ostracized as much as or more than atheists in Christian societies. So their ready identification with your story maybe fits with their own in some ways. I wonder if a Sunni or Shia mosque would hold an event like this. When I took Unitarian kids to visit the mosque (the “mainstream” one) the people we met were not interested in our values or beliefs, but were happy to share theirs.

    Cheers,
    Carl

  4. @Carl, If I were to read your comment uncharitably, it would almost seem like you’re trying to diminish the connection I felt with the Muslim community I met on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple ladies happy to evangelically share their faith with me, and my ‘gift’ for participating was religious literature. Regardless, my participation on this panel was an experience that was meaningful to me, despite the theological nuances of where this mosque fits into the larger Muslim community.

    @Suz, I was at a mosque, not a church for this event. And I’m still having a hard time calling the Unitarian Centre a church 😉

    @Becky, I wonder if evangelical churches/organizations are active in the interfaith movement? It was that close-minded instinct and lack of inquiry that helped lead me away from the church. Thankfully, people like you are an exception!

  5. > @Carl, If I were to read your comment uncharitably, it would almost seem like you’re trying to diminish the connection I felt with the Muslim community I met on Sunday.

    Sorry, Rebekah — that’s not what I meant at all: if anything the opposite. I meant that their community, like atheists, have faced struggles as a beleaguered minority. That would increase, not diminish, the connection.

  6. Hi Rebekah

    I read your post on the interfaith event, and was a little chastened by your topic choice. I’d have gone with some wonkishly logical talk like “religion by it’s nature prohibits common understanding among people who don’t share a religion”.

    I read your facebook post about the invite to speak at the interfaith event and started thinking “what would I talk about”. I was chastened by your topic choice because it was a much better talk than what I would have given. The point isn’t to be right, but to foster a little mutual understanding and compassion. And I’m sure you did it well and I’m sorry I wasn’t there to see it first hand. The least I can do is say ‘good work’.

    For your amusement and because I’ve already written it out (some things just need to get written down) here’s the talk I’d have given:

    If your god says do this and my god says do that, it’s kind of intractable.

    That’s a different category of disagreement than the usual “policy X is good for the world because of these effects flowing from policy X” where people can disagree that:

    a) policy X will not have those positive effects,
    b) that policy X will have other overriding detrimental effects, or that
    c) the positive effects I’ve outlined aren’t really positive and won’t make the world better.

    All three of these categories are all at least in theory open to a common resolution

    Religion breeds intolerance and conflict because interfaith religious positions cannot be reconciled. They do not share any common ground even in theory which could enable a common understanding. At least the non-religious all live in the same physical reality, and could in theory come to an agreement about where we should go and how we could get there. But if you have different overriding non-falsifiable realities and it is these which govern your moral choices, it’s going to go badly.

    I find this argument compelling and satisfying personally, but like I said I think your approach was the better way for the interfaith event.

    Cheers,

    -Bob

    PS: Sorry for the length of this thing, I just started typing and couldn’t stop!

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