To Promote Empathy Across Borders
Priest and theologian H.U. von Balthasar said ‘Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is’. After traveling to over 40 countries and meeting people from over 100. It is my sincere belief that people everywhere are more similar than we are different. In order to create a fair, equal world we have a duty to combat our implicit psychological bias. The more we understand, the more our empathy grows, and therefore our compassion and sense of global family grows. Multi-faith groups often promote the phrase ‘co-exist’. I argue that we need more. The journey will not just focus on highlighting our similarities but in changing the way people look at our differences. To change attitudes from blasphemy to respect. We are all distant relatives, yet our fraternity all too often stops at our national borders.
To Reduce Misconceptions and Increase Understanding of the Positive Aspects of Life as a Member of the World’s Six Largest Religions
Apart from the most evangelic of evangelists, most people are willing to accept that no one culture has all the answers to humanity’s problems. This journey will not focus on shortcomings of different belief systems, instead it will share the positive aspects. Each of the world’s religions contains a huge depth of wisdom. Their value systems have shaped their society’s ethics and principles for millennia. Pilgrimage of the Faithless seeks to explore the depths of religious communities in every corner of the world, to discover first-hand the wisdom that has defined civilisations for generations.
To Reduce Misconceptions and Increase Understanding of the Life of a Non-Believer
Worryingly, there are many religious people who believe that there are no moral atheists. By conflating moral relativity with moral nihilism, they conclude that morality without an absolute god-given code makes no sense. I hope to show the ways in which a non-religious person guides his life and finds his motivation for ethical behaviour. The very journey of a non-believer seeking the knowledge of religions, could be seen as an open hand of friendship. I hope that this will lead to better relations between non-theists and theists from all faiths.
The University of British Columbia researched the ‘poorly understood phenomenon’ of anti-atheist prejudice. Their study was published in Scientific America and concluded that disliking of atheists comes down to trust. Further study concluded that the best way to counter this distrust is to increase mere prevalence of information. They claimed that prevalence of information will reduce prejudice against any out-group and asserted that interventions of this nature will reduce a variety of prejudices including that of atheism.
A Note on Other Work in this Area:
These aims are broad, and there are many people working on them across the globe. Interfaith is as old as time, but projects tend to be overly safe, sterilized and academic. In addition, only recently have non-faith positions begun to be included. Trends show that ‘New Atheism’ a kinder, gentler atheism is gaining popularity. There have been coordinated altruistic efforts from groups like an atheist reddit subforum which raised over $200,000 of donations for Doctors Without Borders. This project will build on current campaigns hitting new audiences in a unique, relatable and shareable way.
Pilgrimage of the Faithless, will be a project like no other. It will document my journey as an atheist, through the six major world religions. I will travel through some of the most devoutly religious communities in the world, immersing myself as fully and deeply in the belief systems as a non-spiritual person is able. I will strictly live as each of the religions teaches; from every day behaviour like prayers, dietary and moral conduct, to special events such as festivals and pilgrimages. I will do everything in my power to get close to the heart of each religion.
It will take me to every continent and I will travel to twelve countries. I will live as a Hindu in India and Nepal. As a Jew in Israel and the U.S.A. As a Buddhist in Myanmar and Japan. As a Christian in Italy and Latin America. As a Muslim in Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia. And as a Sikh in India, finishing the journey where it started. Though time will be limited, I will do my best to experience at least two denominations from each faith, be it Catholic and Protestant, Shia and Sunni, or Mahayana and Theravada.
The lessons, wisdom, encounters and adventures will eventually be documented in a book, but before that, in this website and an online campaign dedicated to the project aims. The book will be an account of the journey, exploring the positives in each religious culture and the lessons they can offer to outsiders. The blog will take a more personal approach, it will focus on promoting empathy-stirring stories and photographs of the people met along the way.
To Immerse Myself Fully in Each Religion in Order to Examine the Wisdoms and Values. Humility, gratitude, salvation, faith, purpose, love, forgiveness, brotherhood, hope, selflessness. These are virtues that that have value to all mankind. I will do everything I can to put myself ‘in the shoes’ of a believer and examine just how these virtues have been moulded, examined and devoutly practiced through generations. I am aware that my immersion will, by nature, be limited. Each religion represents a vast system of varying beliefs, any one of which could take many lifetimes to study. In many ways the journey will be people-focused, it will look at the lives of people living there and what their religion means to them. And if I can come away providing a greater understanding to fellow outsiders like myself, then the project will be worth it.
To Raise Empathy by Sharing Individual Stories. Never underestimate the power of individual stories. Look at the difference that Aylan Kurdi’s fate had on perceptions throughout Europe. As I travel and meet people, I hope that the stories of the people I meet along the way will do just that. I will be chasing the stories of everyday people, to see what they have to say about goodness, love, and life. I will be publishing stories with high quality images of the individuals met along the journey. These stories will be aimed at changing perceptions, and increasing empathy for lives of different kinds. Consider the incredibly popular Humans of New York (HONY) Blog. His journeys outside New York City to Pakistan, Jordan and Turkey were some of his most poignant, humanizing, and powerful.
To Provide a Public Example of an Atheist Working for Good. By seeking the wisdom of religions, I hope to counter the stereotype of the arrogant, condescending atheist. I will show believers that non-believers are, more often than not, humble, ethical and respectful. What better way to change perceptions of atheists than to go on a public journey in the name of tolerance, plurality and understanding.
This is a common sense approach, but it is supported by research. The British Columbia study mentioned earlier concluded that the best way to reduce this anti-atheist prejudice and distrust is by reminding people of charitable and altruistic acts committed in the name of atheism. It concluded that “greater public awareness of altruistic atheists may help alleviate some of the distrust that many Americans feel towards atheists”. I hope that in many regards the notion of a non-believer striving for religious tolerance will in itself be seen as an altruistic act. I am dedicating time, money, freedom and some of the best years of my life to show my respect for other belief systems.
To Build an Online Community Dedicated to the Project Aims. By providing regular updates across a multitude of mediums, including stories, updates, photographs and activist campaigns, I am aiming for hundreds of thousands of followers. With only a fraction of HONY’s sixteen million facebook followers, the project could achieve great things. The project has every aspect of a successful campaign. I hope that through beauty, humour, emotion, and knowledge, readers will be able to move beyond their preconceptions.
To Create an Online Space for Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding Some non-believers believe that atheist persecution is a good reason to reject religion outright. I disagree. There are too many divides already between well-meaning people. Injustice must be fought against by forward-thinking people of all beliefs. This requires the gap of understanding be reduced. Just as non-religious people struggle to truly understand what life would be like with such a monumental influence as religion, it is difficult for religious people to understand the motivations of atheists living without the influence of religion. Again, taking the example of HONY “the friendliest place on the internet”, the project’s online spaces will form hubs for respectful dialogue, where non-believers and believers from all religions can interact, share their views, and learn about one another.
To Promote Campaigns, Awareness and Discussion about Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws There are campaigners and organizations that are already trying to fight against blasphemy laws and persecution of minorities. What they badly need is support, publicity, and a greater breadth of voices supporting them. Through the website and social media interaction I would try to create the vital awareness and publicity they need. They would be presented in a balanced, non-‘preachy’ way, and given fair space for discussion and disagreement.
To Entertain. For the project to successful, it will need to be entertaining. For years I will be living in some of the most fascinating cultures in the world. I’ll be avoiding making the project overly egocentric, but to some degree my own journey and growth over the course of the project will be inseparable from the narrative. How that will express itself, it is too early to tell. The aims of the adventure are set, but the pages are still to be filled.