Walking together

Today’s guest blogger is Jeff Pollet, a technical writer who lives in Oakland, Calif. He occasionally blogs about men and … Continued

Today’s guest blogger is Jeff Pollet, a technical writer who lives in Oakland, Calif. He occasionally blogs about men and feminism at Feminist Allies. Jeff’s post is one of the winning entries from NonProphet Status’ Share Your Secular Story, a contest to promote stories of secular identity and interfaith cooperation.

On a strangely warm, sunny spring day in San Francisco, I found myself part of a crowd of hundreds of people walking down the middle of the street. It was a peaceful yet passionate crowd, and we walked in solidarity. Police officers on foot and on motorcycles blocked cross traffic as we wound our way from Justin Herman Plaza through downtown, through the Mission, and right into Dolores park. I walked with a close friend, but really I felt connected to all of the hundreds of people, and as I walked I couldn’t help but feel joy and pride at what we were doing, what we all were doing together. I smiled a reverent smile, and I felt something new: I felt a sense of passionate community unlike any I had felt before. Some folks started chanting, and to my own amazement, I chanted along with them.

I’ve never been very comfortable in crowds. I suspect it’s a deeply-rooted neurological sort of thing, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel the particular sort of anxiousness that a crowd causes in me. One of my earliest memories is of feeling anxious in a room full of people who were all sitting quietly, listening to one man speak. My mother had thought that it would be a good idea to expose me to some religion, even though she wasn’t religious herself. The Methodist church we tried out didn’t really grab hold of either one of us, and it mainly just made me anxious. Youth group amounted to some little bit of bible reading followed by an awful lot of touch football. I didn’t have much interest in either, and my mom, perhaps thinking a little exposure was enough, didn’t press the issue–there was always guitar lessons and Boy Scouts to take up my time.

As I grew older, for various reasons, apathy toward organized religion turned to anger. Street preachers loudly condemning my friends to hell infuriated me, and for a long time I thought my only choices in response were to ignore them, or to yell back. I mostly chose to yell back, which amused the street preachers and filled me with even more anxiety. I was the portrait of a stereotypical angry young atheist. It was when I tried to make connections with other atheists that I began to question my motives and actions. I went to meetings of atheists and certainly found some like-minded folks, but I never found a sense of community, and what community I did find seemed to be fueled by the same sort of anger that I was now, finally, tiring of.

My anger softened. It didn’t become apathy, because I became fascinated in the ways in which most folks around me go through their days quietly oblivious to religious differences–kids go to school, adults go to work; folks go to dinner and to the movies and mostly our religious differences don’t crop up. I was on the outside looking in, given that most folks say they believe in God. And as my anger began to slip away, I realized that, though I would likely be an atheist for the rest of my life, I was going to live in a world where most folks were not like me in that way. I began to wonder how I would shape my life to live in that world. And, frankly, I was coming up with nothing. I just couldn’t get into their heads, couldn’t put myself in their shoes, couldn’t fathom exactly what was going to replace my anger.

Yet I eventually found myself walking with hundreds of people, walking down the street in protest of violence against women. I was walking with these people to raise money for (and awareness about!) San Francisco Women Against Rape. I was surrounded by people of all genders, sexualities, races, classes and, yes, religions. And we were all united, in solidarity, walking in order that the world tomorrow might be a better place for all of us, a place with less sexual violence than it has today–here was something we all agreed on. We chanted with a religious fervor, even though we were all from different religions, and non-religions. I have begun to recognize that I can have a sense of community that mirrors some religious communities, made up of the myriad people who want a better world for all people, regardless of what god they do (or do not!) worship. I can walk with them, regardless of religion, and help create some good changes in this world, rather than stand on the corner yelling back.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.


  • shaheed-yahudi

    F I F A – W O R L D – C U P – 2 0 1 0:

  • shaheed-yahudi

    F I F A – W O R L D – C U P – 2 0 1 0:

  • shaheed-yahudi

    …………………. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ./

  • shaheed-yahudi

    “K A F i R” (A NOne iSmaeli/Esaui/iSlami?)”K A F i R”"Kafir” “Kafir”W H A T — AN — U G L Y — W O R D(s)! Provoking!”S A T A N i C — V E R S U S” Yes? Or NO?

  • shaheed-yahudi

    “Y E S — W E — C A N”!

Read More Articles

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

The End of Surveillance for New York Muslims — For Now

How American Muslims modeled the right response to systematic injustice.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.