A swath of local religious leaders joined President Barack Obama and Governor Deval Patrick at an interfaith prayer service at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross this morning (watch video highlights). Cardinal Sean O’Malley welcomed participants to his home church, and other Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders led prayers, offered reflections, and expressed hope for peace and resilience.
But one group feels excluded from this morning’s service.
The Secular Coalition for America posted a statement on its website that it was disappointed that non-theists weren’t represented, noting that at least two of the victim’s on Monday’s bombing were non-believers.
Why do non-believers want to be involved in a religious service filled with hymns, scripture readings, prayers, and references to God?
For some insight, I reached out to Chris Stedman, author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious and a chaplain at Harvard.
He told me that he was “glad to see interfaith efforts such as the service in Boston today, because they can help us collectively process tragedies” but lamented that it wasn’t “fully inclusive” and that it failed to reflect the “various ways Bostonians make meaning and respond to tragedy–not just theists.”
I asked him what role a non-theist might play in such a service. He said that he’s participated in some himself, and that he might read a passage from Carl Sagan about “the significance of life from someone who sees it as something we only get to do once.”
Would religious people feel comfortable worshipping alongside nonbelievers, given the friction that sometimes exists between the two groups, I asked. He said that he’s “been extremely heartened to see many religious individuals and interfaith activists already speaking up to express their desire to see nonreligious people represented” and “stand alongside those who do not [pray].”