Monday, December 1, 2008

Chemical Bags and Dinner on the Grounds

What does atheism have to offer human beings in place of the rich, warm, familial cultural milieu that religious people have? I’ve recently found myself thinking about this question a lot, and there is a definite problem here if the secularist community is honest in its desire to bring more people into the secular fold. Secularists seem not to understand that the religious community is not exclusively about belief in the middle-eastern sky god. In fact, I’d say in my experience here in the American South, that is sometimes almost incidental. It’s an entire social structure: you have a communal celebratory meal at church ("dinner on the grounds"), you see friends and extended-family members at church, you pursue your hobbies at church, you perform your good works and your charitable efforts at church. Heck, a lot of people even get involved in church because it’s a (relatively) safe place to meet potential romantic partners! So it’s an entire social structure, something religions have provided as far back as we can see. And what do secularists offer as an alternative? “You’re just a walking bag of chemicals, evolved to do certain hard-wired things you can’t control. You have no ‘spiritual connection’ to any of the other walking bags of chemicals you encounter. You are truly ‘an island’, you’re on your own, everything is about the naked selfish will-to-live. Oh, and did we mention? When you die, your brain is extinguished and your body rots, and buh-bye, no more you!” I happen to believe that all those statements are 100% true, but I have to acknowledge the obvious fact that secularists have a bit of, shall we say, a “public relations problem” if this is all they bring to the table as an alternative to what the religious bring to the table. Would most people rather relax and lean back into the warm communal embrace of “dinner on the grounds,” or would they rather ponder the existential meaninglessness of an absurd world? Humans beings seem to have an innate need for community, celebration, and purpose, and until the secular community can address those human needs, it will remain what it is now: small, marginalized, and incapable of influencing events on any level.

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