Beliefism

A question never adequately resolved revolves around the status of atheism. What exactly is it? Well, I suppose it is many things, actually. One thing that seems indisputable is that religion has been part of human culture from the beginning. It would seem likely that not all believers carried the same level of conviction, and there may have been “atheists” shortly after theism evolved. The difficulty is that both belief in god/s, and/or the lack thereof, are matters of personal conviction. That somewhat blurred line has been crossed, according to some, by the recent growth of “atheist churches.” In several web stories my friends have pointed out to me, a growing movement of atheist “mega-churches” has been noticed. These are groups of atheists who meet for many of the same reasons religious folk do, sans salvation. It is a social occasion, and a chance to fellowship with like-minded non-believers, and to support their lack of faith. Some atheists bristle at this (as do some religious), claiming that it cheapens the atheistic enterprise (or that religions somehow hold a copyright on belief-based gatherings).

Herein lies the rub. Atheists are no more cut from the same cloth (or lack of cloth) as religious believers are. There are varieties of unbelief. Some obviously see that the weekly gathering has benefits. There’s no question that atheists can be every bit as humanitarian as religious believers are. Besides, who doesn’t like to meet with people who think like them? “Minister” might not be the leader’s title of choice, although it has a long pedigree in politics as a secular title (as, for example, in the Ministry of Defense). The slow decline in mainstream Christian services, however, might suggest that atheist services would be inclined to grow. Weekends were originally created for religious reasons and still generally remain the religious meeting days of choice. Some religious groups do not insist on doctrine to be members—Unitarians are a prime example of this—but the value of meeting together is human, all too human.

Clearly the purpose of an atheist gathering is not primarily worship. I should imagine, however, that wonder is still part of the non-religious vocabulary. God is not necessary for feelings of awe and joy. And sometimes it is fun to get together for some structured activity that isn’t work (for those who have jobs). An Associated Press story, however, points out the irony of the gathering of “people bound by their belief in non-belief.” There is, however, believing going on here. There can be no escaping it. Despite all the problems associated with omnipotence, the idea of a deity where the buck indeed stopped was an ebenezer for grounding belief. Even the most outspoken of atheists share this with the literalist and the moderate—they all believe. And as long as people believe, they will seek groups of those who share similar views. Why not? Even the truth requires belief.

What does it  mean?

What does it mean?

3 thoughts on “Beliefism

  1. “[R]eligion has been part of human culture from the beginning:” That greatly depends on one’s understanding of “religion.” For example, animism differs markedly any notion of a supreme being and the Hebrew’s “god in a box,” with the ark of the covenant, may perhaps be better understood in that sense than in any later, post Deuteronomic reform, with its all-encompassing understanding of theology. As another example, ancestor worship may have begun with “ancestor respect” (a sense of loss or grief and efforts to preserve the memory of the deceased). What may have always been part of our culture is the awareness of death, especially the inevitability of our death. Is this and our responses to it (which we lump together with our definition of “religion”) what makes us human?

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  2. You’re both right: as you might have noticed, over the past few days I’ve been obsessed with definitions. Brent, I don’t know what worship really is. Philip, defining religion is one of the most vexed questions ever. I wrote a post about it just a few days ago. I intend it here in the sense of the impulse to acknowledge some (to borrow from twelve-step vocabulary) a greater power. Some would call it worship.

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