A secular church?

I’m guest blogging again, this time for the Rationalist Association:

(The title wasn’t mine; I don’t object to it, really, although I might take out the second “r”)

Churches scarred me, but secularism can be lonely

Scarred by his fundamentalist upbringing, but in search of a sense of belonging, Jonny Scaramanga gives a cautious welcome to then idea of an atheist church

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist. If you’ve ever watched God TV, or seen a Creationist trolling a science blog, insisting that the Grand Canyon was carved out in a fortnight by Noah’s Flood, you’ve met my old beliefs.

Because my brand of Christianity was so sectarian and divisive, I’ve rarely been part of any kind of community in my life. I regarded the local Anglican church as a dead form of religion unrelated to True Christianity. But I grew up in a small village, with a C of E school and church, and I saw how the church was a hub for the community. People eating in the deli on weekdays seemed to know each other, neighbours chatted in the village shops, and people said hello in the street. It was the kind of English idyll which isn’t supposed to exist anymore.

Since I became an atheist, I’ve often chatted to friends about ways to build the sense of community which churches are supposed to create. The idea of neighbours not being strangers, of meeting people you otherwise never would, and of doing things to support the community seems completely desirable to me.

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About Jonny Scaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on February 27, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I have been toying with the idea of creating a meet-up group. Locally there are many. One is just for atheists to get together and do nature walks, another to play board games, several for drinks, one for stargazers and so on. The thing is that in any randomly selected group of people there are not enough to support any given interest, unless all of them have some interest in a single thing. For religion that ‘thing’ is religion itself and the other bits, the community part is actually secondary.

    I have not seen many people analyzing it this way. For some reason people seem to think that community is a primary aspect and religion comes second or something. All those people form a community for common reasons: fear of hell, love of church music, some actually seek guidance, others simply like to be where they can reinforce their beliefs and feel they are right. In any case the community part is second or third place. They would still attend service if the community was not really desirable.

    The community aspect is something that is falling apart on many levels as society grapples with the game-changing Internet. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors so I think that some of this is people wanting to be in a friendly atmosphere that is created for them rather than going out and creating their own or helping a few other people create one.

    We may find that ‘community’ is a paradigm and not a monolithic group of people. So on 1st Saturday’s there is the nature walk, and 2nd Thursdays there is board game night, philosophy club on 3rd Fridays and so on. Does it matter if the attendees at each Sunday service are always the same, or can it change? I think we need to look at community differently than we ever have had to in the past. We all like to belong to something, we can belong to many smaller somethings.

    I know that getting involved with a community gathering will push your perceived ‘belonging-ness’ into the center of some portion of your geographical community. These are the sorts of things that exist without or rather outside of religions. When religion is dead, it is what will be left… and I’m okay with that.

    • I like your ideas. A problem, of course, is that atheists are united by not thinking that God exists. And that is no guarantee that they are going to have anything else in common. Non-belief also makes for a pretty crappy focal point for a service. Your ideas of nature walks and philosophy talks help to give some focus and shared experience to the group.

      I think the most important thing is to bring a sense of solidarity to local areas, because right now I don’t even know the names of any of my neighbours.

      • I started there. My neighbors… who are they. Joined up with a few special interest groups. Friends you meet expand from there. Perhaps we need an international “know your neighbor day”

  2. I left a comment at the Rationalist Association site, as a comment on your fuller post there.

  3. ashley haworth-roberts

    ‘Do we need atheist churches?’ is the topic on next week’s 4 Thought TV (Channel 4 at around 19.55 pm).

  4. You could set up a ‘universal’ community meeting place which welcomes a variety of thinking or persuasions.

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