I recently took the liberty of joining in a debate/dialogue/conversation on Twitter regarding the inclusion of atheists in Interfaith events. New Humanist tweeted asking if atheists should get involved more. I responded initially to say that if you are a flat out Dawkins atheist then you'll say no (proved by the number of tweets replying simply stating "No!"), but that practically religion does still affect lives and that the atheist point of view can be a force for good.
Just to expand on this point before going on, it is really a comparison that I'm making with mediation services. Thinking about religious conflict, how powerful could it be if the atheists were seen as the mediators? I really do doubt that this could ever happen given most hard line theists' opinion of us. But isn't this where we see ourselves? Being honest, aren't we the ultimate in moral superiority? We do good for goods' own sake, for no reward, because it's the right thing (and maybe that smug sense of self satisfaction...). We're like vegetarians (and yes I tick that box too). If we could ever get religious circles to take us seriously this could be such a powerful position to hold. So how would we get to the point where we are included in this way?
This brings me to the next point. Stephen Shashoua, director of the Three Faiths Forum, responded that he "wouldn't mind a dialogue for once rather than debate incessantly." Constant debate clearly doesn't work with believers; because they are believers, they've taken their "leap" of faith (the act of rejecting any inconvenient common sense/evidence). We can keep banging our head against that particular wall but is it honestly getting us anywhere? By keeping open a real dialogue with the religious, where we interact and work together towards common aims, we stand a better chance of being included and respected. By showing that we are willing to listen and try to find common ground and concentrate on that, then surely the differences will dissipate over time? Of course this can never apply to the fundamentalists of any group, but then what does apply to the fundamentalist at any rate? Aren't they a lost minority to most religions already?
Whilst my ideal would be a world full of enlightened and liberal idealists who don't need to follow any dogma or believe in any magical beings in the sky, let's face it, most of us aren't ready for that and won't be for a long time. Many may feel that way but be trapped in a cultural box due to familial and peer pressure. So for now, at least, atheists have a duty to get involved and try to open some minds. Someone in the situation described might just find it easier to "come out" as an atheist if their Granny has baked cakes with the nice atheist lady at their local multi faith group, after all...