Category Archives: Interfaith

An Interview with Chris Stedman

Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, Chris Stedman (Beacon Press, 2012) $22.95

faitheistChris Stedman is gay. If that proves an uncomfortable introduction, the rest of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious will continue to unsettle you.

The first four chapters are spent introducing and grounding Stedman in plum evangelical youth culture, with memorable and detailed accounts of altar calls, Bible studies, hushed prayers with friends at school, complete with religious paraphernalia, clothing, and reductionist bumper sticker-theology. But rather than stay there and perhaps explain why he rejected the faith of his childhood for an educated and “liberated” atheism, he begins to tell a different story. Slowly, he begins to introduce what it means to realize you have same-sex attraction in evangelical culture. He tells about his first tentative “dates” with boys, his crushes on television swimsuit models and Justin Timberlake, and his first breakup. Underneath the tension of sin and shame is still another story – how he realized, again ever so slowly, that he had given up on God.

What struck me the most was how relatable Stedman’s experiences are to me, as a straight evangelical. The fear of his “sin” being exposed, the musical interests, the life-long desire for community, frustration with the things done in God’s name, and the lingering resentment of a God who rarely – if ever – shows up. Like a modern Holden Caulfield, Stedman chronicles his journey through evangelical culture, disillusionment and disenchantment, college, first loves, and the screw-ups of the early twenties. But unlike The Catcher in the Rye, Stedman possesses the requisite maturity to make meaning of the chaos. He went to college to study religion, trying to make sense of it all – his life as a gay man, the faith of his childhood, and the irreconcilable incongruency between the two. He find himself working in an assisted-living home, reading the “Lutheran Prayer for Courage” at the request Marvin, a developmentally disabled resident.

I realized that though I couldn’t decipher why the prayer was so important to him, it was. It touched him in a profound way. And because I shared in this significant element of his life, our relationship was more honest and real… I realized that a relationship that didn’t account for this important piece of Marvin’s life was an incomplete one.

Stedman goes on to have an epiphany of sorts. Even though he no longer believes in God, or any god for that matter, he sees the value in helping people – even people who do not believe the way that he does. He decides to devote himself to interfaith engagement, inspired by a copy of Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith, concluding that,

I wanted to learn from my mistakes and take concrete action to bridge the vast divide between religious communities and the nonreligious. The anger I felt after years of struggling with Christian theology and my sexual orientation transformed into something deeper, richer, and more complex: a combination of humility and empathy, a stance of conviction, curiosity, and compassion.

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Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, Brian McLaren (Jericho Books) $24.99

Brian McLaren has a gift for putting his finger on the challenges and opportunities facing the Christian church. Or, some may say, he relishes the chance to put his finger in the eye of the church. A close reading, however, reveals the heart of the author which betrays his deep love for the church and faith in her potential.

Published 11 years to the day after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, McLaren invites us to consider afresh a theme that has consumed him for years: generous orthodoxy. [1] Along with many who have been involved in interfaith partnerships and friendships, he is concerned that Christians are hung on the horns of a dilemma: we can either be generous to those outside the boundaries of the Christian faith or we can be orthodox in our beliefs, but not both. McLaren insists there is another way and it’s more than a nice balance of the two extremes. He calls it “strong/benevolent faith;” something many people consider impossible to achieve, not least the main stream commentators and scholars of American social and political life, some of whom argue that monotheism, in particular, is inherently violent. [2]

How can we arrive at this strong/benevolent faith? He proposes a “Great Reformulation” and His prescription is three-fold: doctrinal, liturgical and missional. The generosity McLaren so often speaks of is found in the tone with which he challenges some of the church’s most serious failings. Nevertheless, as with many of his books, this most recent contribution will push many people past their comfort zone. Continue reading

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Our Enemy is Our Ignorance: An Interview with Dr Abuelaish

A Palestinian born in the Jabalia refugee camp of the Gaza Strip, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish overcame tremendous odds to earn his MD. As an OBGYN he practiced in both Palestine and Israel, frequently commuting between the two countries. In January 2009, during a three-week long war, an Israeli tank fired two shells into the doctor’s home, killing three of his daughters and his niece. Dr. Abuelaish was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of his commitment to Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation. He is the founder of Daughters for Peace an organization that provides university scholarships as well as leadership programs on health and education to young women in the Middle East. On January 12 we sat down with Dr. Abuelaish after his public lecture about his new bestselling book, I Shall Not Hate, at the Los Angeles Public Library – a part of their ALOUD series. For further coverage of this conversation and Abuelaish’s bestselling book, you can access Ryan Bell’s piece in the Huffington Post.

—The Editors

Your book came out in Canada in the Spring. Has it been selling well? How has the reception been so far?

I didn’t expect the positive response of the book. It was released April 27th. It’s a best seller and was among the influential books in 2010 in Canada. The people who read the book—it made a difference in their life, in their attitude, in a positive way. And the people, as you see in today’s event, they said it’s full of hope. It inspired them. And when they read the book it finds a receptive ground. The people are thirsty. And I think there is hope in that. And also, it has been translated into about 15 languages: English (worldwide, by Bloomsbury United States and UK), French (worldwide), German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, Portuguese, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Indonesian.

I am satisfied that the message can reach the hands and the minds and hearts of people and that through that we can make a difference and create a momentum we can build on.

You tell this amazing story in the book about a Jewish lawyer named Stephen Flatow and how he tried to have you removed from a panel. Since then you’ve eaten in his home. Are you still in touch with him?

Yes. And this is the message: he judged me without knowing me, just on perception and stereotype. This strengthens my belief that our enemy is our ignorance. We don’t know each other. So we need to communicate in order to know each other. And not to know just the name or the faces, we need to know the deep elements of what we call the other—to engage.

It’s the personal stories, it seems, that break through.

Yes, to engage with your heart. In our lives when I say to you, I know this person, be careful. This means I know him deeply. Don’t tell me about him, I know him well. I know the way he thinks, the way he eats, the way he behaves. So that’s what we need to know each other.

You must have many experiences like the one you had with Stephen Flatow. Does that happen fairly often?

I can say to you, in Palestinian-Israeli relationships, there are many good stories. You can see Israelis who met with Palestinians and Palestinians who met with Israelis. I know a friend of mine who never met a Palestinian. He had stereotypes about Palestinians, but once he met a Palestinian he realized that this guy is similar to him.

What is it about you or about what you believe that makes you the kind of person that leaves the safety of what you know to go out and know someone else who is different from you? Because I know a lot of people who don’t want to leave their area, they don’t want to leave the people they know already?

I’m not preoccupied with this feeling. This morning when someone said to me, Izzeldin, you must be careful of Ryan. Why? I meet with you with open heart. I am confident in what I believe. I am honest with myself. I am coming to meet with you from goodwill, for the good cause. And it’s important for both of us to do that.

So there was a trust that was somehow planted in your heart early on—to trust someone who is different from you?

Always. Because if I want to be trusted I must trust others.

Your father was this way? Your mother?

This is the human feeling. If I started to meet with you and I was suspicious of you, how can you trust me? I want to meet with others and place my trust in them because if you want to be trusted you must trust others.

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Higher Biblical Criticism: A Conversation with David Rosenberg

David Rosenberg, former editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society, has been at work translating the Hebrew Bible for several decades, endeavoring to restore the literary authorship of its diverse books as well as their respective cultures. His efforts have earned him praise from a wide range of poets, critics, and biblical scholars, from Donald Hall to Andrei Codrescu, Anthony Burgess to Walter Bruegemann. His past books include
New York Times bestseller The Book of J, with Harold Bloom, The Poet’s Bible, and his biography of Abraham, Abraham: the First Historical Biography.

His most recently published translation, A Literary Bible(Counterpoint, $35), compiles much of the Hebrew Bible in the distinct voices reflected in the original texts, rather than the homogenized versions expected from contemporary translations. His version, while still contemporary in speech, retains the diction of poetry, as in the following passage, from Ecclesiastes:


Anything that has a beginning


was  seed in the pot

planted before existence

and named by men

as it flowed into the world

man is also a kind of flower

whose growth is defined

and all that flows from his hands

and with our own little names

we can’t argue with our creator Continue reading

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