THANK God that Faitheism is not, as the title might suggest, a manifesto for some dreadful middle ground between faith and atheism, taking only the most dilute and socially acceptable sections of two noble traditions. It is, instead, a guide to engaging across differences of belief in ways that are honest, human, and productive.
Given the increasingly deep diversity of our nation’s beliefs, it is a timely proposal for better conversations, which currently often end in bitter spats or withdrawn silence. Kandiah calls this (in a slightly forced usage of c-words) contention and collusion respectively. Rather than throw insults (contention) or tiptoe around our areas of disagreement (collusion), he maps out, instead, a collaborative approach in which we are honest about how deep our differences go, find common ground where there is some, treat the other with generosity and respect, and, crucially, seek to work together for the common good.
I feared a slightly too nice and earnest approach, a sort of “theological spot the difference” found in the worst interfaith initiatives. Instead, Kandiah is fairly unflinching on such subjects as the nature of tolerance, indoctrination, whether the religious or non-religious make better citizens, where morality comes from, the hard bits of the Bible, the relationships between religion (and atheism) and violence, facing up to death, and the problem of suffering. The book, therefore, manages to be a rather good, understated apologetics primer — and not in a preachy, point-scoring way, as he also takes seriously the best arguments on the side of the atheists. He wears his learning lightly, and the prose is easy and, at times, quite funny; but most people will come away having learnt a great deal.
The book really sings where Kandiah draws on his own experience. It is full of illuminating biographical details: Krish is short for Krishna, as he was born into a Hindu family. His aunt was killed in the Mumbai terrorist attacks, meaning that he has come closer to religiously inspired violence than most. He is no stranger to crossing divides, and functioning outside his (broadly Evangelical) tribe. Most recently, this has been through his work with Home for Good, working with the Home Office, journalists, aid agencies, and social workers, many of whom have fairly hair-raising misconceptions about religion and religious people.
Given how unproductive these encounters can be, I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to engage fruitfully across what can sometimes seem like chasms, but need only be cracks.
Elizabeth Oldfield is Director of Theos and host of the podcast The Sacred.
Faitheism: Why Christians and atheists have more in common than you think
Hodder & Stoughton £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50