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Author: LorenCobb Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Top Recommended Fools Feste Award Nominee! Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 436627  
Subject: Re: A Question Date: 12/26/2012 11:37 AM
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Jack: When I read the above column, it all came back to me. I felt such LOVE in that church. No, it didn’t make me want to go back to being a Catholic. But it did make me realize how important a sense of community is when you are hurting. My question. How do atheists get this sense?

From time to time, this board gets itself wrapped around the axle over a related question: In what sense is atheism a religion? My answer to the latter question is distinctly a minority opinion, but it has a strong bearing on your questions.

If we set aside all questions about the supernatural, a church is clearly an institution for social support. It focuses help on those in need, provides a strong sense of community, and communicates social values across the generations. ALL of those functions are just as important for atheists as they are for anyone else -- they are part of the human condition.

Not all churches and congregations have a belief in supernatural forces. Nowhere is it written that a church must have a set of beliefs in anything that is supernatural or "spiritual" (whatever that overloaded word means). I have a close association with two churches which try successfully to be friendly and even welcoming to atheists: Unitarians and Quakers. Also in my neighborhood are various kinds of Buddhist groups -- most of these are not organized as churches at all, yet manage to fulfill many of the social functions of a church while remaining rigorously non-supernatural. Some versions of Reform Judaism and Jewish Renewal are mostly atheist, and celebrate their emancipation from traditional expressions of piety.

In short, it is possible to create a social institution that fulfills all of the social functions of a church, but which is not permeated with antique ideas of supernatural beings and forces. Not merely possible: it is happening right now, and likely in your own neighborhood. If it isn't, you can make it happen -- just reach out to similarly-minded individuals, and it will grow out of the shared need.

Speaking for myself, I treasure these non-traditional churches. I am not a member of any one congregation, but I take great pleasure in making the rounds of free-thinking churches, synagogues, and spiritual groups. I track their progress, their successes and defeats, and their unique attempts to find a fulfilling pathway while remaining embedded in a theistic culture. These are the modern explorers, and I have the greatest respect and admiration for them.

Loren
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