Atheism Culture News

Religion can certainly be without God but it can’t be without consequences

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There’s a recent fad to front religion without God—the Sunday meetings, the songs, the fellowship—without any particular reason. Strikes some of us like holding a birthday party when it isn’t anyone’s birthday who is present. But never mind.

From T. M. Luhrmann in New York Times::

As it happens, this kind of God-neutral faith is growing rapidly, in many cases with even less role for God than among Unitarians. Atheist services have sprung up around the country, even in the Bible Belt.

Many of them are connected to Sunday Assembly, which was founded in Britain by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. They are avowed atheists. Yet they have created a movement that draws thousands of people to events with music, sermons, readings, reflections and (to judge by photos) even the waving of upraised hands. There are nearly 200 Sunday Assembly gatherings worldwide. A gathering in Los Angeles last year attracted hundreds of participants.

How do we understand this impulse to hold a “church” service despite a hesitant or even nonexistent faith? Part of the answer is surely the quest for community. That’s what Mr. Jones told The Associated Press: “Singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. Which part of that is not to like?”

Well, it’s fun but in the end, it is entertainment like any other. If it gets dull, one moves on.

There is a risk in trying to act like a church that actually believes anything in particular, if only in fun. Remember the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, created for the explicit purpose of ridiculing the ID community? Their posters were banned at London U and, we heard, they got beat up in Russia. What seems to have gone wrong was that the European authorities decided to take Pastafarianism seriously, when the Pastas themselves probably didn’t.

What the Pastafarians actually need is the ability to act like a religion without being counted as one, in the manner Luhrmann describes. But for all these movements, the day will come when they must declare that they actually believe something, which may be costly, or else they admit that they are just fooling around.

That’s because ideas have consequences in a way that entertainment doesn’t.

Note: Buddhism, a major world religion, is a religion without God. But not without seriousness, which is the primary characteristic of Luhrmann’s feted singalong.

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5 Replies to “Religion can certainly be without God but it can’t be without consequences

  1. 1
    Mark Frank says:

    But for all these movements, the day will come when they must declare that they actually believe something, which may be costly, or else they admit that they are just fooling around.
    That’s because ideas have consequences in a way that entertainment doesn’t.
    Note: Buddhism, a major world religion, is a religion without God. But not without seriousness, which is the primary characteristic of Luhrmann’s feted singalong.

    So which is the problem with atheist assemblies? That they don’t believe in something (like many Buddhists and Unitarians) or that they lack seriousness? You have no basis for asserting the latter – just your prejudice. You try to make the case by quoting part of the article:

    “Singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. Which part of that is not to like?”

    (which is already a lot more than “entertainment”) but omitting the main point of the article which is how

    rituals change the way we pay attention as much as — perhaps more than — they express belief.

    and what this does for our attitudes and sense of well-being.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Mark Frank at 1, if it is just entertainment, they are reasonably safe. If it ever ceases to be that, they will probably get back some of what they have handed out, and not necessarily from Christians either Let’s see what happens. Meantime, pass the gas.

  3. 3
    Mark Frank says:

    News 2

    So those who are not doing it “just for entertainment”, such as Buddhists and those Unitarians who don’t believe, are in danger of getting back some of what they hand out (whatever that means).

  4. 4
    News says:

    Persons other than Mark Frank probably grasp clearly what I refer to at 2: Atheist cranks trying to shut down public festivities of religious communities (suing over the county Nativity scene, for example).

    If atheists become organized such that they want to provide a public display of non-hostile, non-bizarre sentiments, they should be free to do so. If they encounter difficulties in such a case, I hope it won’t be from Christians. But whatever happens, at least they will get to see how that type of opposition appears at the receiving end.

    In fairness, it is possible that most such angry birds were lone atheists anyway. Maybe they’ll be suing over the displays created by the communal atheists next.

    Those of us who take an interest in freedom of expression issues will be sure to book some spare ringside seats if that happens.

  5. 5
    Mark Frank says:

    I completely disagree with shutting down public festivities of religious communities. Does this happen a lot in Canada or the USA? It is almost unknown in the UK. I appreciate the value of the activities of our local church and participate in various church activities from time to time.

    I was more interested in your assertion that such enterprises were mere entertainment and “they must declare that they actually believe something, which may be costly, or else they admit that they are just fooling around”. Buddhism and Unitarianism seem to disprove this and you omitted the main point of the article which was about the deeper value of some kind of ritual even without an associated belief.

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