It’s raining again. Some of my fellow Nashvillians will be praying together this morning for it to stop, they’re saturated.
I won’t be going to church this morning, though I’ll probably again taxi Older Daughter to commune with her friends– I suppose now they’ve become her co-religionists– the Presbyterians. They’re nice people. Being around nice people is more important, or at least more gratifying and possibly even more character-building, than being evidentially circumspect. Or so it must seem to a gregarious young High Schooler.
I’m not a church-goer. For one thing I don’t believe in God. But as many of my favorite atheists and agnostics acknowledge, there’s a lot more to religion (or less) than God. So, I could go back and commune again with the Unitarians, also nice people, and exceptionally tolerant. (To a fault, to their critics. Garrison Keillor always has fun with them over this. Sometimes he crosses the line. Blame it on his fundamentalist upbringing: he communed with a small sect of “Sacred Brethren” who wanted nothing more than to leave this fallen, worldly world behind. He’s apparently not wholly transcended their indoctrination.)
I don’t like artificial piety, smug sanctimony, fear-induced conformism, self-righteous moralism, or any of the other non-winning qualities I associate with the Southern Baptism of my own faded youth.
But again, I shouldn’t generalize about church on the basis of that experience and I don’t need to. I’ve had positive church experiences in adulthood, with the Unity School of Christianity (my wife’s old church) and with the Unitarians. Some of my very best friends are mainstream religionists. Doesn’t make them bad persons.
(I also had a very negative experience with the Southern Baptist who was Belmont University’s provost, for admitting that I kind of liked the Unitarians. But that’s another story.)
Bottom line for me, I suppose, is that I just don’t get enough out of formal spiritual communion under an arched or spired roof with others of my kind, to want to give up my favorite Sunday activities. Sunday Morning on CBS. A nice long walk with the doggies. A hike at Radnor Lake or the Warner Parks or (now) Beaman Park or Bell’s Bend, possibly followed by a family picnic: my preferred form of unplugging and reconnecting with nature.
But others feel differently. I received a wonderful note from a former A&S student yesterday:
I’ve had this idea that just keeps bugging me, in a good way. I’ve been wondering if there could be a possible way to have a form of communion for skeptics, atheists, and the sort. Now as you know I am a believer but I’m also very open minded. I was sitting in church recently and I was really enjoying all the people around me, knowing that these people have all come together to bond and share a common faith. However as I sat there I kept thinking back to our class and how there never seems to be anything like this for people who have their doubts.
Outside of going to a Unitarian Church I was wondering if there was anyway of having some form of communion for the doubters and skeptics out there. I wanted to ask your opinion on the matter because you seem like the right person to ask. I know it sounds weird for someone who believes in God to want to organize a communion for skeptics but I personally feel everyone should have some form of welcome place for them to go. I’m not sure how to go about going this actually but it seemed like a good idea and at the least I was thinking of figuring out how to create an online forum.
Anything that might serve as a place for people to come and meet, online or off, where they’d have a kind of community. Of course I’d offer an open invite to everyone, I think that if we could all get along that would be nice too and maybe some people can see that we’re not so different after all.
My reply, reproduced here in hopes of generating constructive suggestions from sympathetic skeptics (or friends of skeptics) seeking communion:
That’s a terrific question, and it would be a wonderful initiative for you to pursue. I had a sense from many of your classmates that they feel the same. When I taught an adult education evening class in February on the subject of atheist/humanist spirituality, the consensus among the non-believers there was precisely that there is a dearth of opportunity for communion among like-minded non-believers.The fact that you are not a non-believer but are nonetheless interested in providing an occasion for communion is beyond salutary, I’m very impressed.
There are some online resources out there that might help: recall M’s final report presentation, she mentioned that there’s a new MTSU chapter of the Center for Inquiry now. They’ve been publicizing a meet-up in June. Maybe you’d want to contact M to see if she’d be interested in working with you on your communion project?
There’s also the Freedom From Religion Foundation… American Humanist Association… Humanist Society (they do weddings & funerals)…the Brights…
But it sounds like you have in mind something more local and potentially “real” (not just virtual)… using online connections to establish real-world meet-ups and gatherings and, well, communion. Let me know how I can assist. I’ll be happy to use my blog-space and tweets etc. to publicize your efforts.
You might look again, too, to Jennifer Hecht’s discussion of the importance to us all, skeptics included, of public celebration. Maybe what’s needed is not a skeptical church– as you note, the Unitarians are already there– but more spontaneous and informal kinds of communing that dare to identify themselves as skeptic-friendly.
Let’s keep talking about this, maybe light bulbs will go off!