For many, the word "atheist" conjures all sorts of things from the killing fields of dictators to book burners to, well, almost anything. The scenes and images are harrowing and atheists are considered the worst of the worst.
Yet the reality is that every day in Canada, the number of atheists you're bumping into is growing and the trend is going to continue. The truth, though, is that you likely haven't noticed. Atheists look just like you and me.
In fact, at West Hill United, atheists very possibly are you and me. We have worked hard over the years to create a gathering environment that welcomes and doesn't exclude and so our pews are filled with people whose beliefs (or lack of them) are very different from the ordinary United Church member's. Of course, we have many whose beliefs match traditional Christian doctrine and who, because of our non-exclusive language, are also encouraged to engage the message of compassion and justice they have come to understand as the challenge of their faith. It's not what you believe, it's how to choose to live.
This month, in The Observer, interviews Chris Stedman, author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, considers the arguments the faithful and the religious use to discredit one another. "On the one hand, there are some atheists who say religion is a net negative force and that removing religion from the world would necessarily improve it. And on the other hand, you have religious believers saying religion is a force for good, or that without religion, there can be no good. I think both of those are just not true. They don't help advance a conversation about a shared set of ethics, a moral common ground."
On the Wednesday morning of this year's Hot Docs Film Festival, Gretta joined with Centre for Inquiry supporters to enjoy brunch with renowned atheists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. In response to Gretta's question about what might replace the moral ground religion has woven for communities, Dawkins called for an "intelligently designed" path forward for humanity, one built out of the best of our knowledge and reason, one that did not veer off to privilege any particular religious dogma. It's an awesome challenge and one we at West Hill have been working on for a decade now.
On Sunday, May 5th, Gretta and Catherine Dunphy, Executive Director of The Clergy Project, will be interviewed as atheists during our Interview an Atheist at Church Day service. Arguing for the intelligently designed path forward, Gretta acknowledges that describing herself as an atheist may be a controversial and divisive choice but notes that doing so may make the distance between the religious and atheists even narrower. Perhaps, if we are able to eliminate it altogether, that work of finding a shared set of ethics will become work both atheists and the religious can work on together.
Join us on May 5th at 10:30 for some engaging Perspective(s), and following for a light lunch.