Let me start by introducing myself, I’m Jack Herrington, the atheist member of the Tri-Cities Interfaith group. I get asked a lot of questions about that from both my theist and my atheist friends. So I want to talk a little about why I joined and what I’ve learned from the experience.
I joined the TCIC because I’ve seen over the years that people of faith tend to have a negative impression of atheists. If you watch a movie like God’s Not Dead atheists are portrayed as angry and evil people. And I figured that by joining I would offer a face to atheism. Like me or hate me on a personal level, at least atheism will be ‘that guy’ instead of ‘those guys’. For you psychology folks out there that’s the whole in-group out-group bias thing which is actually interesting reading if you have the time.
Now that I have spent a little time with the group, running the website, participating in the meetings and the events, I think you’ll find that if you ask any one of the members they’ll tell you I’m just a nice guy. I don’t hate God (it’s hard to hate what you don’t believe in). I don’t want to disparage anyone’s faith or take it away from them. I’m just a nice guy who happens to not believe in God.
I’ll tell you honestly though, I never realized how in just a short while how my mind could change about people of faith. Just as people of faith had misperceptions about me, I too had misperceptions. Which goes to show my own “out-group bias”.
Where I used to think of people of faith as one coherent group to which I was something akin to an enemy, I now count good friends among several religious groups. I’m not going to change their mind about God and their not going to change mine. But in the Venn diagram of commonality we share so much interest about helping our community and fostering dialog, that the disagreement over the existence of a supreme being is but a small slice.
I know that one atheist demonstrating that he isn’t a monster to a group of theists isn’t going to move the needle of public disapproval for atheism. Atheists, in case you don’t know, rank below used cars salesmen on the likeability scale. But as strange as it may be, the inclusion of an atheist in the world of interfaith somehow ends up growing both for the better.
Maybe this is just another lesson in how, when we put down the pitchforks and stop squabbling over what we call God, or if we call God, we can found a lot of commonality of humanity.