Wherein atheists BAWW at ‘unaffilateds’ who become ‘religious’
So, while many atheists have rejoiced at the various news articles that have had great statistics for atheists concerning more unaffiliateds, more atheists, more agnostics, and more nonbelievers, with recent news articles suggesting that “unaffiliated” may not exactly mean a clean conversion out of religion and spirituality, people are now discussing why.
I wanted to comment at a few places on Friendly Atheist, but it seemed like there were just so many posters who…weren’t getting it.
I like what commenter Shane said:
I don’t think the “nonreligious movement” has to do anything. It doesn’t really exist as a stand-alone entity–it only has meaning in opposition to religious thought. It’s like starting a baseball fan club for people who don’t watch baseball. Doing anything under the banner of “non-religion” is just a recipe for failure.
Why can’t you get the community, affirmation, and companionship through volunteering or joining some hobby or sports team. There is enough real mystery in the world without having to make more up, but if you need that kind of thing there is tons of it in your local library. And it is hundreds of times more imaginative and powerful than the tripe you find in the Bible.
While it’s tempting to suggest that atheists need to come up with atheist sunday schools and atheist rituals and all these kinds of lovely programs…once again, atheism is not an encompassing worldview. Atheism is not a “culture.” And this mereness is its beauty.
At first…I was in full agreement…so we don’t need to make “atheist camps” and “atheist sunday schools” or “atheist churches,” and perhaps the “spiritual need” that unaffiliated people claim is unfulfilled (and which they fulfill later in life in religions) is just the need for plain social contact. So, I thought, why not do as Shane said and join a sports team? Join a club?
And that’s when I realized that I was making a grave error…a grave misunderstanding.
I first realized it when I read something another commenter, PrimeNumbers, wrote:
For the non-religious that want a church, community, or whatever, surely that’s what Unitarians are for?
It made me think back to the data that suggested that strict churches are stronger than relaxed or liberal churches. It’s an ideal that appeals to even me…no offense to Unitarian Universalism, but if I were in the market for a church, the UUs would seem too relaxed for me. At least with Mormonism, there are commitment goals — you feel more validated in the church precisely because you are following all those peculiar rules — not drinking or smoking, tithing, striving to attend the temple. These commitment costs keep people coming back and churn out those who will not commit.
And yet…many of the comments tended to the side of wondering what kind of fairy dust these “spiritual needs” unaffiliated people had could be…
…in every context I know of “spirtual” intails believing in magical crap. Deep emotional enjoyment, on the other hand, can come from something like a good book, spiritual is more hocus pocus.
But then…another commenter…I think…got it:
What I suspect is that many of the people here are at one end of the bell curve, and do not understand why other people would have a need that they don’t have. If Barker is right, then we need to seriously acknowledge this and stop telling ourselves, “well, I find no value in this, so this must be rubbish”.
What was it that some people get and some people do not get?
I think it’s that something about the nature of faith and spirituality is not merely reducible to regular socialization. Now, I’m not going to get all theistic and attribute this to a god or higher power, but regardless, it is something that cannot be so easily substituted.
I recognize that I utterly do not have it. I utterly do not understand it. It makes little sense to me. But precisely because I’ve been around so many people who have had their lives transformed for the better by…whatever…I recognize that, on a personal level, it can be important. I can’t just say, “I find no value in this, so this must be rubbish.” (Although, I will be bold and say, “I find no value in this, so I don’t think this points to anything universal.” )
This makes me appreciate what appears to be a difference in how we work. Whereas individuals fit for religions are transformed for their better by their faith, we are transformed for our better by an independent nature. I don’t know how to explain…other than to continue to say that atheism, as mere as it can be, as seemingly “cold” and “desolate” as it can be, is extremely liberating. It puts me at peace to not expect more than there is (and then be disappointed when things turn out to be as they normally are instead of as I falsely expected them to be.)