Indulge yourself in a brief daydream for just a few moments: Imagine if we awoke tomorrow morning and all faith-based beliefs, all religion, had disappeared from the planet. Think about starting a day on this earth in which no human being believed in a god.
Now, try and stop humming a John Lennon tune for just a moment, and ask yourself: How would this fact affect our ability to form close human relationships, meaningful interactions and strong communities?
Twice during the past week I’ve spoken with like-minded non-believers who worried out loud at the loss of a close and active community after leaving Christianity. One confided in me that deep, meaningful relationships haven’t been replaced in his skeptical, evidence-based community of associates.
I recall my church-going childhood years as enjoyable, despite the myth and superstition the adults spoon-fed me. Church comprised my entire social circle. My family attended camp outs, pancake breakfasts and potlucks. During hard times needy families received bags of groceries on their doorstep, visits at the hospital, or help around the house from sympathetic and industrious church members.
Leaving the security of these close human bonds can be devastating, confusing and disorienting for some, and many have a hard time transitioning to the life of the non-religious. These needs require serious attention and consideration.
Perhaps there is an emotional component beyond just simple participation that must be addressed in the secular community. I left Christianity by a long, slow, incremental process, so any emotional requirements were addressed as I gradually changed my belief system. I don’t share the emotional angst that I’m sure many other ex-believers certainly feel. While there are websites like Recovering from Religion that address this issue, I don’t know the scope of the problem.
Another issue is the alleged organizational handicap atheists possess. Organizing atheists is like “herding cats,” it’s been said. I’m just not convinced of this. There are countless atheist and secular groups and activities, from campouts and stargazing to bowling and pub crawls. We have the Center For Inquiry, American Atheists, Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Council for Secular Humanism – that’s a lot of organizations for a demographic that can’t organize.
We must understand that building a community is an extremely complex and lengthy process. It’s more than just organizational and physical structures, like phone trees and megachurches. Oral traditions, unwritten codes of conduct and shared values also play a part. These take time to establish. Keep in mind that religions have had thousands of years to develop institutions and infrastructure to facilitate participation, from which atheists are implicitly, if not explicitly, excluded for the most part.
Some claim that the road ahead would be easier if we accommodated religion and share its positive aspects, such as ability to form communities, charity work and moral instruction. I’m wary of this approach. Sorry, I just can’t lower the intellectual bar that far. The truth is too important. Does this make the future more difficult? Possibly. Impossible? I don’t think so.
We’re social animals; we need each other. If religion died a satisfying death tomorrow morning, we would still require the company, help, love and companionship of others. We’re human. We will – we must – find a reason to fill the synagogues, mosques and Sunday mornings with the non-delusional products of our best secular efforts. Whose up for a good pub crawl?
Rationality & Irrationality
of a Public Lecture by Peter Boghossian
Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University
Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 10:00am
Friendly House Community Center on the southwest corner of
NW 26th and Thurman in Northwest, Portland, OR
Hosted by the Humanists of Greater Portland • More Details to Follow
www.malcontentsgambit.com • @MalcontentsGamb