Books

Book 174: Faitheist – Chris Stedman

Stedman, Chris - FaitheistSince I decided to read so few challenge books this year, I’m able to pick up books on a whim and this is one of them! I encountered Faitheist through Heather’s great review at Between the Covers and knew I had to read it. So go read her succinct review first and then return to read my ramblings.

I’ll be the first to admit that I wanted to read Faitheist because the author is wicked cute, but the synopsis drew me in because I’m fascinated by how people negotiate identities especially when it comes to sexuality in relation to religion and geography.

So to start, I have never been very religious. I was both baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church, but it was more a family history and social thing than anything else. I’ve never had bad encounters with religion, but I know it’s not for me mostly because of the inherent white heterosexist patriarchy built into most institutions of religion (both the people and the hierarchical structures). I’m still not 100% sure where I lie on the non-religious/agnostic/atheist scale, but regardless I think I can definitely agree with Humanism (which I clearly need to read more about, feel free to make suggested readings in the comments). Now with that bit of clarification out-of-the-way, on to my response.

What the author does best in this book, is remind us that there are two sides to every coin:

“I was not naïve then, nor am I now, to the atrocities committed in the name of religion around the world. I do not pretend that religion has not played a sizable role in a great many conflicts since people first began to conceive of it, or that it does not do so today. Historically, religion has been at the center of many atrocities—this is an undeniable, important fact. But I also know that at various points in history religion has been an enormous force for liberation. Religion has changed, reformed, and revolutionized the world, and it will continue to do so as long as it is central to the human story.” (8-9)

So for those of us, yes I count myself among them, who demonize or scapegoat religion (or the religious), he provides a constant reminder throughout the text that there’s always a broader picture and that many times conversation is the best place to start to see where, and how, to move forward in solving the greater problems of the world.

I often times forget this. In my frustrations and fury with the way many religious treat young LGBTQ adults I overlook that those same churches also feed the homeless, provide safe after-school programs, offer their building’s usage for great service organizations and do many other things. And the author provides an example, which many LGBTQ activists use that I think works great in converse. After a long night of conversing with proselytizers (?) one of them thanked him for being so civil and said that he’d never actually met an LGBTQ individual before. And that is what I need to remember the next time I get worked up about religion, that I know countless individuals of varying faiths who do good in the world.

And although the religious aspect of this book broadened my horizons and made me think about things differently, what struck me most were the emotional passages about the author coming to terms with his sexuality and in particular when his mom, whom was very accepting, discovered his ‘secret’,

“My heart lept into the back of my throat and I swallowed hard to hold it at bay. I knew this day would come but I never thought it would be so soon. I was sure that it was the moment I’d feared more than anything. I started to mentally catalogue everything I had loved about my family and prepared to say goodbye to it all. This is it, I thought to myselfyou’re on your own now. Time to grow up and take care of yourself. But I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my childhood. How could I take care of myself when I didn’t even love myself? Before she even said another word, I began to sob.” (52-3)

I don’t care how accepting your parents are, where you grew up, your race, or any other factor, if you are an LGBTQ teenager, you’ve experienced these thoughts in some form or another and seeing them written down this plainly was jarring and I honestly teared up (awkwardly on the bus). The self loathing and intense searching for a cure or a reason Chris went through and the way he described it was heart wrenching.

And another thing I noted, which is ironic to me, was the following quote,

“I was terrified that someone would discover the truth about my sexual orientation, so I built a wall between myself and the world around me. Everything I said and did became performance—I was an actor inhabiting my own life, trying to put forth the image of a good, devoted Christian.” (47)

I’m not sure if the author has a grounding in Gender Theory, as he mostly talked about study of religion and seminary school, but I found this fascinating because of how eerily similar it is to Judith Butler’s description of gender performativity. The idea of believers and non-believers and their (social) construction parallels that of the social construction of gender (not assigned sex). What one does, or doesn’t do, often times determines how one gets on in a community and if you do something that’s unacceptable, or are something that’s unacceptable, you rock the boat and that causes issues. The author is able to reflect on this in this memoir, but those who still buy into it may only see him as the ‘other’ now.

Recommendation: I think everyone should read this regardless of your religious (or non religious) beliefs. It’s a great conversation starter and only serves to further cooperation of those who are different to help solve some of humanities greatest social problems. In addition, the book is littered with books and music which further go to show the diversity of the authors interests.

Opening Line: “I had never heard the word ‘faitheist’ before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.”

Closing Line: “I’ve told mine—now it’s your turn.” (Whited out.)

Additional Quotes from Faitheist
“I’d like to see our community find ways to not only be open to the religiosity of our friends and loved ones so that we do not miss opportunities to learn by listening, but I also hope that we will focus less on what sets us  apart and more on articulating our positive values. Where atheism is lacking, religion will continue to thrive.” (147)

“Let’s learn from our shared past and imagine, together, a more vibrant future. I’m tired of seeing people pitted against one another because of these inherently false broad strokes that paint religious people as ‘delusional’ and atheists as ‘degenerates.’ Let’s start to see one another as people first.” (156)

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10 thoughts on “Book 174: Faitheist – Chris Stedman”

  1. This sounds like a great book. I first noticed it over at Heather’s blog, too, and you’ve convinced me I need to add it to my TBR list. I have a complicated history with organized religion, as I’m a preacher’s kid.who fell out with the church as a teenager and have since been, well, a seeker is probably the best word to describe me. Maybe Fathiest would apply, too, though–I’ll have to read the book and find out. 🙂

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    1. I could see it at least opening up the dialogue for you as it did for me. I grew up in the Southern US in a very religious area, hello Bible Belt and my lack of religiosity always causes a bit of friction when I go home. I think the idea of Humanism and Stedman’s encouragement of interfaith dialogue are important and much needed in today’s society!

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  2. This book sounds so amazing! I first read about it at Heather’s blog, as well, and a book about how people of different religions (or no religion) can cooperate and focus on their similarities to do good in the world sounds like just my cup of tea. I’m so disappointed that my library system doesn’t have a copy. Looks like I might have to buy this one.

    Nice review 🙂

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    1. It’s definitely worth a read. I really enjoyed it and like I said it really makes you think. We had quite a few copies in our system, but I think it might have to do with him working/teaching at Harvard.

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  3. I’m so glad you had such a connection with this book. You can help be someone who opens up people’s eyes. I’ve been wanting to read it since Heather talked about it too!

    Have you read the AJ Jacobs book, The Year of Living Biblically? It’s a humorous look at how Jacobs decided to follow all the rules of the bible closely for a year. He was raised Jewish but is really an atheist at heart. He really explores many aspects of Judaism, Christianity, and the places in between as he searches for what he really believes, if anything. It’s really interesting and you might like it!

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