Would the word “interpath” work as an alternative to “interfaith”?
“Interfaith” is the word that commonly gets used to describe people and organizations of different religious affiliations working together and keeping lines of communication open. And a lot of godless people and godless organizations want to take part in this interfaith thing, and indeed already are. A lot of godless folks are willing, and indeed even eager, to open lines of communication with progressive religious groups, and to work with them on issues we have in common (church/ state separation, LGBT rights, reproductive rights, and more).
But a lot of godless folks are not comfortable doing this using the word “interfaith.” We don’t see ourselves as having “faith” — in fact, the idea that atheism is a “faith” just like religion is one of the more common myths and misunderstandings held about us. And the word “interfaith” often gets used against us, in a “damned if we do/ damned if we don’t” way. If religious groups want us to participate in “interfaith” efforts and we push back against the word, saying that it doesn’t really include us and puts us on the margins of an effort that’s supposedly about being inclusive, we get told, “It’s just a word, don’t take it so literally.” But if religious groups don’t want us to participate in “interfaith” efforts, the word gets used against us. “This is about people and organizations of faith — and you yourself say that you don’t have faith.” And unsurprisingly, it’s the religious groups who get to decide whether any given “interfaith” activity should or should not include us.
This has happened more than once. And it’s happened in important situations — most notably, in public and supposedly “interfaith” memorial services. In the supposedly “interfaith” memorial service for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, humanists had no representation — despite extensive attempts from secular groups to be included, and despite the fact that members of the Humanist Community at Harvard were severely injured in the bombing.
For the record, I do think religious groups have the right to have events and communication lines that are dedicated specifically to… well, to religious groups. If people want to get together and talk about how they all believe in the supernatural, and do coalition work with other people who believe in the supernatural — sure. Knock yourself out. But if they’re going to do that, I think they need to spell out that that’s what they’re doing. They shouldn’t get to hide behind the concept that “interfaith is about faith — except when we say it isn’t — so of course no atheists or humanists are allowed. That’s just not what this is about. Unless we say it is.” And if an event does not have a specifically religious focus — such as a public ritual that’s supposed to include all citizens — I think it needs to include non-believers. Not through the side door, and not as a “sure, you can be part of this too, even though the word we’re organizing around specifically excludes you and is even anathema to many of you” afterthought, but fully included.
Very few atheists object to the actual activity of godless people and groups getting involved in interfaith work (although some of us don’t want to take part in it ourselves). But a whole lot of us have real problems with the language — to the point where some atheists don’t want to participate in interfaith stuff, at all, if it’s going to be under that name. Assorted alternatives to the word have been floated, but none have stuck.
So when I was speaking at Boston University last week, and when we were going out to dinner afterwards, I was introduced to a possible alternative that I think has potential to stick:
The word was coined (as far as I know) by Derek Lewis Knox. He had this to say about in in a message to me on Facebook:
For me, the word “interfaith” is no longer acceptable, because it reinforces the privilege of “faith,” and it is not right to expect atheists/non-religious to participate under the label “faith,” as that ignores the real concerns many have about faith as “belief without evidence.” Secondly, “interpath” is more accurate about many world religions (Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism, streams of Buddhism and Judaism) that are more like ways of life, and don’t emphasize faith the same way Christianity does. Third, “interpath” reflects that we are polarized not just by religious differences, but by culture, geography, politics, and economic/environmental perspective, and it is important to build understanding across all of these lines.
Thoughts? Do you like it? Would it work? EDIT: If you don’t like it, do you have an alternative word that you think would work better? Or do you just not like the entire idea of working in coalition with religious groups?