When I tell people I'm an atheist and work on interfaith relations, they think I'm mad. They point out that I grew up in Northern Ireland – surely that experience alone should put me off working with religion, given the suffering it caused? Of course, I saw the segregation and violence like most did, but the Troubles itself was not religious. We killed over history, not heresy and the border, not the Bible. In truth the Troubles was tribal – a decent into "us" and "them".
And can't we atheists at times also fall into this trap? When faced with the horrors of religious extremism it can seem that religion itself is to blame, that the fact of faith marks a person as fundamentally flawed, dangerous even. But while it is patently clear that atrocities are committed daily in the name of religion, we mustn't repeat the mistakes of Northern Ireland; we mustn't allow differences to become tribal markings. The true enemy of the secular movement is religious extremism and here we can find many allies within religion itself. Just as Martin Luther King worked with whites to end segregation and Gandhi worked with Muslims to free India, we too must be willing to reach out to build on common goals.