Recently various religious leaders convened for an annual breakfast with NY Mayor Bloomberg to discuss community building. This year was the first to include atheists in the group.
According to the NY Times, it was Nazli Parvizi, the mayor’s commissioner of the Community Affairs Unit and an atheist, who “decided to invite atheists for the first time. She said she was inspired in part by President Obama’s inaugural address, which included a prominent reference to America’s nonbelievers.”
The response was positive; all attendees welcomed the new guests. No one refused to eat with the unclean, or anything like that. But some of the comments from atheists on the NY Times website have been a little mixed. Basically the question arises, Does it make sense for atheists to be part of an “Interfaith group”?
Undoubtedly, this is a great contradiction. But I believe it can be quite useful to sort of confuse the issue. Let’s face it, the average person on the street just doesn’t mull over these kinds of questions very carefully. The distinctions that are so important to those who think deeply on this issue simply don’t exist for other people. So a few atheists are part of the faith community now, so what? People unthinkingly accept and move on. Decades go by and suddenly atheists aren’t seldom-met radicals anymore but people just like everyone else. Atheism gets incorporated into the general public where it has a better chances of surviving and flourishing.
Sure atheism gets watered down in the process. It gets a little soft. But this is how the major religions have managed to survive and flourish through the ages. They adapt. Catholics, for example, have gradually accepted Copernicus and Darwin. Some Catholics can even be pretty “soft” on the nature of god. I know a few scientist-priests from the Vatican who are, for all intents and purposes, atheists.
The important thing is that atheism gets into the discussion, however it will. Only then has it a chance of being accepted as an option to faith.