Secularism in Interfaith Work – Gwen Salm

When people hear the word “interfaith” they do not typically think about the secular population. A common misconception is that the secular community, especially atheists, do not care about interfaith issues. This stems from a misunderstanding that all atheists are immoral or anti-theist (against belief in a higher power). The word “atheist” is stigmatized. One of my goals as a secular fellow for the CRGC is to break that stigma.

I have been asked a few times: “how can the secular community be included in interfaith dialogue?” My response is simple and sincere: “use inclusive language.” In regard to dialogue on belief systems or lack thereof, the “or lack thereof” part of the question is usually not voiced. The CRGC held an interfaith potluck and provided questions to promote the interfaith dialogue in small group discussion format. The phrasing “religious, atheist, or humanist” was used in question construction, which made all the difference, as far as secular inclusivity.

I would additionally note how diverse the secular community is. The point of being secular is to be without a common belief system, which leaves many secular people without a community on par with organized religious communities. Each individual is free to develop his or her own value system in whatever way or timeline suits them. It’s a struggle for me to have this interfaith fellowship and represent such a diverse group of people. All I know is my own experience, which leads me to my personal journey to finding my place in the dialogue. I am finding myself listening more than anything. I want to hear about others’ relationships with their faith or lack thereof. I do not see my secularism as a particularly defining point of who I am. I can speak on how I got to where I am, but I see my fellowship as a way to engage my humanist values more than to speak on what it means to be secular.

Secular humanism for me means that I prioritize my fellow person over a higher power or lack thereof. I do not really concern myself with anything greater than the world as I know it. With that, I find it absolutely imperative to push for a more harmonious and inclusive world. The CRGC has given me the opportunity to work for just that. I love organizing events, getting dialogue going, and listening to others’ stories. Ultimately, I want to promote more acceptance and understanding when it comes to divisive topics in faith and secularism. I do not see my secularism as a barrier to my involvement in interfaith awareness. I do not want other secular people to feel that way either. I believe that if people truly listen to one another, we can make peace through humanizing each other and gaining understanding.

– Gwen Salm