I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while. I had the library I work for make sure to order it so that I would be sure to see it once it came out. And I finally got around to it last Sunday. At a church of all places, sitting in their garden, waiting on Dale’s service to start.
Faitheist by Chris Stedman is a majority memoir look of how Stedman found and lost religion (namely, Christianity) over time due to his burgeoning queerness. However, he ultimately gets drawn back to working with people of faith, recognizing that religion plays a vital role in many people’s lives and that it isn’t inherently evil. He goes on to work for various interfaith groups and to try to calm down some of the poisonous rhetoric coming out of Camp Atheist so that the conversation around religion and the world can take place in more civil tones.
This book is not what I was expecting.
Stedman’s story is engaging, perhaps especially so because it closely mirrors my own. I wasn’t as wrapped up in church as a teen as he was, but I was there all the time and volunteered on boards and was the picture of Christian youth until suddenly (not suddenly), I started trailing rainbows. But that’s the thing: Stedman and I are the same age. And he addresses the fact that it’s a little weird for a 25 year old to be writing a memoir. And I’ve got to confess: it felt a little weird to read it. It feels like the whole story is still in progress, and we’re going to have to wait (literal) years for the conclusion.
And I wanted to like this book. I wanted this concept to really speak to me. Because I am a person of no faith who consistently exists in a religiously-minded geographic area, and I am increasingly involved with Dale’s church and its outreach efforts despite the fact that I have nary a church-going bone in my body. And I make this contradiction work because its someone I care for, and I’d rather be a part of things that are trying to do good things than sit idly by when I could aid.
But it didn’t do it for me. The solution, it seemed like from the book, for how to work with people of faith is just to do it. And I feel like that goes without saying. You can’t discount people just because you disagree: I’d never speak to anyone if I did. And churches (especially mainline Protestant) and other places of worship do good work in their communities that has no hellfire strings attached. They can be places of positivity, but proselytizing gets in the way of conversation and getting stuff done. And if that’s the focus of your church (or your atheist barbeque and talkback session), then you can’t actually fix the problems of the world.
As a person who sees himself as conscientious and justice-oriented, I feel that I don’t have the luxury of molding my allies into the best shape possible before we begin the work of addressing the world’s problems. It’s all hands on desk, faith-y, faitheist, and in-betweeners. It’s for the good of heart and the positive of spirit. And all the other distinctions are bullshit.
JMF Rating: 6/10
‘Til next time,