Why Interfaith Services are a Problem


Inevitably after major disasters, particularly those involving the senseless loss of life such as last week's Boston Marathon bombing, an interfaith service of some type will take shape, where various religious groups will come together to mourn and heal. This happened in Boston last week, with a high-profile service that included religious leaders from various faith communities: Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Greek Orthodox, and several Protestant traditions.

In a modern pluralistic society such as ours, it not only seems natural, but arguably even healthy, that various religious groups could come together in a time of crisis. Indeed, considering that these groups have historically justified bloodshed against one another based on their theological differences, their coming together for an interfaith service, recognizing the importance of our common humanity, can only be seen as a positive development.

Nevertheless, to humanists and other nonbelievers, such interfaith services are often problematic. Though the "interfaith" concept is perhaps commendable, the specifics of how interfaith services are often conducted and presented are not. That is, most interfaith services are quiteexclusive, not at all inclusive, yet they are perceived by the media and the public as representing virtually all citizens. Interfaith services are generally accepted as a forum where "everyone" comes together, but in fact they usually represent an exclusive club.

Exacerbating the misunderstanding is the fact that interfaith services often become a platform not just for various religious leaders, but for politicians. The Boston service, for example, included speeches by both President Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, adding a decidedly civic element to a religious service.

The inclusion of governmental leaders in an interfaith religious ceremony such as this adds to the misperception that the event is a reflection of the entire community. Even the word “interfaith” misleadingly conveys a sense of community unanimity, and the addition of key secular leaders to the event – leaders who, unlike the religious leaders, are indeed supposed to represent all citizens – magnifies that falsehood.

Written By: David Niose
continue to source article at psychologytoday.com


  1. Few things cry “recruitment drive opportunity” than a (national) disaster, and religious leaders know that. That’s why the sudden and cynical outbreak of cognitive concord that we see on display here.

    But fear not; once the tempers have died down and the populace have been reminded why they need to attend church/mosque/synagogue, these very same “leaders” will revert to form: being mutually incompatible with, if not downright contemptuous of, each other. Just watch.

  2. I very much agree that a nonreligious, all-inclusive public ceremony is needed in times of public calamity to restore the sense of civic unity. Religions are divisive forces in society; they unite their own members against everyone else in the wider society. Politicians, who do have to participate in such healing ceremonies, need to wake up to the fact that religion no longer has that unifying effect in society as a whole. Such ceremonies need to be based on our common humanity and the values and aspirations that spring therefrom and which everyone can take seriously.

  3. historcally religion’s greatest threat came from a foreign religion. nowadays, thanks to secularism, they no longer have to feel threatened so can show a little human solidarity once in a while.

    atheism however, even if its number is made up of those brought up in traditions of religion or holding non-religious faith in something all encompassing are excluded on a technicality, that being that they self-identify as not being one of them. that in itself is a greater threat than any historical forign force.

    until we make a solem promise not to steal their magic hats or whatever, secular rulings will be subverted to exclude the secularist

  4. For the record, the above named faith groups represent about only one third of americans, statistically.

  5. In reply to #4 by ANTIcarrot:

    For the record, the above named faith groups represent about only one third of americans, statistically.

    For the record, not all atheists share this point of view. I think interfaith healing rituals are pointless. I couldn’t care less who is or isn’t included.

  6. Disasters and tragedies will always be a breeding ground for religious recruitment and the uncertainty will encourage these nutters to believe that they are the answer when they do not even understand the question.

  7. These services are just damage limitation exercises. If it is a terrorist attack, usually religious, it is an attempt to show that the villains were not true religionsists “like us”. If a natural disaster, even more damage limitation needed as god must have actually done it.

  8. I remember going to see the Dalai Lama in the 70s when he came to Vancouver. For some reason every religion in the city sent a representative to pitch their religion to the crowd. I was puzzled the atheist Buddhists would tolerate that. The Dalai Lama was clearly bored by the long speeches. I thought it was rude. People came to hear the Dalai Lama, not a pitch for Greek Orthodoxy. Perhaps they funded the venue. Perhaps the Dalai Lama just wanted to look good in comparison.

  9. Instead of “Interfaith”, lets have “extrafaith” events in these situations. “Extra..” as a prefix indicating: beyond, outside.

  10. In reply to #5 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #4 by ANTIcarrot:

    For the record, the above named faith groups represent about only one third of americans, statistically.

    For the record, not all atheists share this point of view. I think interfaith healing rituals are pointless. I couldn’t care less who is or isn’t included.

    But think of the following scenario. Imagine if the President wasn’t a Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Hindu. Imagine if the President was a rather secular sort of person, atheist or agnostic. There’s a strong social expectation that the sitting President should show up and make an appearance at this sort of public “open” ceremony after a big tragedy that the whole world paid attention to. Any president that, after being invited to partake, rejected that invitation, would be committing political suicide by doing so. Nobody would listen to any of this president’s personal convictions, and commitment to honesty as being the reason why. Even if the president arranged an alternative sort of ceremony elsewhere, that wouldn’t help. All that would be reported by the press is that the president would be viewed as being callous and heartless for not praying with everyone else.

    And before you say, “but theres no way such a president would be elected in the first place” keep in mind that this is precisely my point. It’s this public expectation of religiousness that is the reason WHY.

Leave a Reply