Faitheism: How can Christians and atheists learn to have better conversations?

Faitheism: Why Christians and Atheists have more in common than you think was published last year by Hodder and Stoughton. It's just been republished in a new pocket-sized edition. Author Krish Kandiah spoke to Christian Today about how believers and unbelievers can learn to have better conversations.

CT: Do atheists and believers have to be constantly at war with each other?

KK: Faitheism is an attempt to reboot the conversation between atheists and believers. Whether it's discussing the big issues of life and death, or the everyday issues of education and social good, too often we talk right past each other.

PixabayDo Christians and atheists have to argue all the time?

Christians can often assume all atheists are Richard Dawkins in disguise and atheists can often imagine all Christians are undercover tele-evangelists with a radicalisation agenda. This book shows just how much we agree on in and how much common ground there is so that we can work together in the office, collaborate together in the community and care for one another in our families as well as talk constructively about deep meaningful things like truth, hope and love.

CT: Is it possible to identify principles that make for healthy and respectful debate?

KK: Faitheism is structured around a conversation matrix I have developed. The four quadrants in the matrix offer four different modes of conversation: collision, collusion, contention, and collaboration. Collision occurs when we assume the worst about each other and allow stereotype and prejudice to shape our interaction. Collusion is when we chicken out of meaningful conversation and withdraw into the shallow and surface conversation. Contention can be a respectful and productive mode of engagement where we are willing to show genuine interest and curiosity about where someone is coming from but it is through collaboration where we build on our common ground to do some good in the world together. The book is full of worked examples – positive and negative – showing how this works out practically.

CT: Does argument ever change anything or convince anyone?

KK: I do believe there is a place for argument and debate, but if that debate is just about point-scoring and putdowns I don't think we change anyone's minds. In fact we are more likely to reinforce prejudice. I have had far more fruitful conversations with atheists when we are working together to solve a shared problem like the refugee crisis, ending homelessness or helping vulnerable children. Working side by side together as colleagues on a foundation of mutual respect enables us to see each other's perspectives much clearer than in a debating chamber with a crowd watching.

CT: Are there any encouraging responses to Faitheism that you can share?

KK: I ran a Faitheism seminar in a military context recently and the room was full of both Christians and atheists. Comments came back that we were helping to get rid of prejudice on both sides of the God debate. I had the privilege of a conversation with the president of the secular society on the Unbelievable Podcast and though the conversation started off in a very aggressive and confrontational style, by the end of it we had found common ground and a sense of mutual respect. I also spoke with a UK government adviser last month who told me that he uses the principles from Faitheism every day in his work. I have run faith literacy training in local authorities, with medics and we are about to pilot this in business and other public service contexts.

That is exactly what I had dreamed of when I wrote the book. Christian and atheist readers alike should find themselves better equipped to live, work, speak and relate across the faith and secularist divide.

'Faitheism' is available now at all good bookshops and online retailers.