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What atheist church?

Hey! I don’t know about this arrangement — Salon ran an article I really wanted to rip into, and while I was distracted, Chris Clarke snatched it away from me, and made all the good points. Now I’m left with the dregs.

It was an article that asked “Where are the women of New Atheism?”, while weirdly and obliquely citing a number of prominent woman atheists and putting pictures of atheist men at the top. I felt like screaming, “They’re everywhere! But lazy media always makes the story about the men!” But Chris already said all that.

So, dregs. That story actually annoyed me from the very first paragraph.

“New Atheism” is old news. Enter “New, New Atheism”: the next generation, with its more spiritual brand of non-belief, and its ambition to build an atheist church. It is an important moment for the faithless.

Say what? The author really is trying to build up her bizarre misperceptions into a reality. I see no significant effort to incorporate “spirituality” (whatever the hell that is) into atheism, or to mimic the trappings of institutional religion. There are a few scattered individuals who are doing that — atheism is diverse and unregimented, so of course there are varieties of exploration of the implementation — but no one I know is interested in building atheist “churches”. I have seen no shift in the newer atheists towards the spiritual — if anything, the young atheists I know are more likely to take for granted that spirituality is meaningless. The new, new atheism is about taking material action.

I really wonder if the author has had any experience with atheists at all, because this was more of an outsider’s warped view of struggles within the atheist movement (we are all trying to end discrimination against women and broaden our reach), distorted into her preconceptions about what it should be like.

Comments

  1. Lofty says

    In the same way that Hollywood aliens are thinly disguised humans, fuckable even, atheists are seen as being exactly the same as the religious, with a side serving of god hate. Some people really suffer from a lack of imagination.

  2. Holms says

    I still don’t know what difference exists between atheism and new atheism, but suddenly we’ve moved on again to new new atheism? Whoever is in charge of sending out these memos is doing a poor job! Either that or yet another air headed writer doesn’t know what they are talking about.

  3. otrame says

    Lofty,

    Well, in Hollywood at least part of the problem is a lack of budget more than lack of imagination. Human aliens are cheaper. Still, now that I think of it, Star Trek TOS managed a very likable alien with a rug and some plastic pillow-looking stuff.

    As for atheist churches, does the fact that I have to control a desire to assault anyone seriously arguing in favor of any kind of atheist institution make me a bad person?

  4. kevinalexander says

    I was wandering around the local drug store the other day. As I was passing the incontinence products aisle and dreading the day when I might be shopping there I thought about how in the past old people had the choice of staying home or risk the embarrassment of soiling themselves in public.
    However, I’m looking forward to the day when people will have to choose between staying home or risk the embarrassment of an incontinent mind (AKA spirituality).

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    Maybe it’s my social anxeity talking, but if you’re an atheist who thinks they need a “church” or “ceremonies” or any other trapping of religion, organized or otherwise, then you’re doing atheism wrong.

  6. joeschoeler says

    Well, there is the Church of Freethought. They hold monthly services near me, but I’ve never gone because it seems like a strange idea. From the bulletins on the website, it looks likes the talks are about morality, religion, and skepticism. I suspect it’s mostly a social group, but then all churches are mostly social groups anyway.

  7. Pjay Pender says

    kevinalexander, what is it with the recent obsession in atheist circles with incontinence? At Women in Secularism 2 a speaker used an incontinence example (“I’m not going to put diapers on you people” to mean “I don’t want to ‘infantalize’ you”) as well. Is that REALLY the worst thing that can happen to a person? Because bladder cancer treatment has left me incontinent and I wear full-on diapers. My bladder simply empties itself fully without warning sometimes. Sometimes I get a couple of minutes warning but the restroom is either too far, or there is a line. And except for jerks who use it as an example of something that would be humiliating, or who consider it childish, it’s really not that big a deal. I have to assume you all are too wrapped up in everyone-has-more-privilege-than-me syndrome to notice that people deal with things all the time, life is what it is, and you just make the best of what it is.

  8. Lausten North says

    Richard Carrier talks about spirituality in “Sense and Goodness Without God”. He equates it to a sense of awe and wonder, focusing on happiness rather than material things. It is the creativity component of science that is often overlooked when discussing science. You can’t have science without evidence, but you have to be inspired to come up with a hypothesis in the first place.

  9. joeschoeler says

    Lausten: In that case, why not just talk about a sense of awe and wonder, instead of spirituality?

    The word is so vaguely defined that it is nearly useless. It can mean anything from an emotional state to some intangible consciousness. The way it’s used in the Salon article, I can’t guess what it means because neither of those definitions make sense in context.

  10. says

    I’m getting the (paranoid?) sneaking suspicion that religious people would love it if atheists would claim religious status; or worse, to be able to just declare that atheism is a religion. We would then all be on equal footing legally in regard to separation of church and state. If they can’t teach creationism in the public schools and put up creches on public property, and on and on, then by the same rule of law, evolution and most science couldn’t be taught in the public schools because it’s in contradiction to Christian teaching and stems from the ‘atheist religion.’ It would truly be a mess.

    The only upside I see is that I could claim my house is my atheist church and not pay anymore property tax.

  11. stevem says

    Atheist “churches” are everywhere, they’re just given the new name, ‘museum’. Whether Art or Science etc. What we call “museums” are just like the “churches” those theists brag about. And for exactly the same reason; theists are always applauding the works of art (stained glass and sculpture) in churches and how the pews are filled with people (men) who call themselves scientists; from whom all the great works of science and mathematics flow. Our only difference is we don’t ascribe the “source” of all that art and “science” to Gawd, we identify the source as the mind of the person themself. No, we don’t go into a museum and “pray”, thanking GodAlmighty for giving us these works. But we are filled with awe and wonder that someone could create such beauty or understand things so complex (and then be good at expressing it to us ignorants).
    So, I confess, “spirituality” to me is just “awe and wonder”. And I just realized that the “awe and wonder” I experience in most museums is the equivalent of (errr, similar to) the “sprituality” theists experience in “churches”.
    So, the answer to “Where are the atheist churches?”, is simply, “Everywhere”. (not all art is housed in museums, nor scientific stuff. Where the art is and the science is , is the equivalent of a “church”) [I.E. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"; the atheist "church" is in the mind of the atheist themself]

  12. says

    Otrame@#5:

    As for atheist churches, does the fact that I have to control a desire to assault anyone seriously arguing in favor of any kind of atheist institution make me a bad person?

    I think it just means that you have an emotional need to reject all traditional authority, and your atheism is just a side effect of that.

    Joeschoeler@#12:

    The word is so vaguely defined that it is nearly useless.

    All words are like that, unless you are actually doing science, where words are irrelevant because only your quantitative measurements are important, not what you call them. Needing to quibble about what a word “precisely” means is the same as losing an argument, in most cases. Socrates proved thousands of years ago that such discussions never go anywhere.

    Yes, many atheists (people who intellectually are aware that the universe does not contain a supernatural guardian of any type) do feel the need for spiritualism (which includes accommodating and explaining the sense of ‘awe and wonder’ which humans enjoy as well as providing instructive guidelines for dealing with universal conundrums, and a desire for ritual and routine community activities independent of utilitarian purpose.)

    Back in the 1990s, the late great former leader of the modern Secular Humanist movement and founder of the Center For Inquiry, Dr. Paul Kurtz, pointed out how important ritual is in maintaining society and how clearly the nearly universal adoption of supernatural beliefs throughout human history is related to that. We invent God so that we may have an explanation for our rituals, not the other way around, you might say. If we are to adopt and promote atheism as a social philosophy, we must construct secular rituals, and until such rituals are widely adopted, atheism will never be a guiding philosophy in our society, and we’ll be stuck with the religious wackjobs maintaining all social power.

    So, yes, Chris Clarke is about two decades behind the curve, but it is true. Dr. Kurtz did advocate for “atheist churches”, community-owned buildings where life rituals similar to religious sacraments can be performed over the generations, building a sense of belonging and empowerment. Consider the Vulcans in the fictional universe of Star Trek. Absolutely rigorous in their adherence to “logic”, but also extremely ritualistic.

  13. crljenak1 says

    @13 boskerbonzer
    “The only upside I see is that I could claim my house is my atheist church and not pay anymore property tax.”

    (Long time lurker, first time commenter) That drives me nuts – the whole tax exempt thing for religion. I have heard but do not have a source, that the Catholic Church is the largest single landowner in the city of Chicago. Many of the properties it owns are prime real estate. They, of course, pay no real estate taxes but the property taxes of the poor schmuck homeowner are some of the highest in the country. Argh. Imagine how much more affordable life would be for the average citizen if the tax exempt status of religious institutions was revoked and those revenues used for something besides superstition and the cult of Jeebus. The mind reels.

  14. says

    I still don’t know what difference exists between atheism and new atheism, but suddenly we’ve moved on again to new new atheism? Whoever is in charge of sending out these memos is doing a poor job! Either that or yet another air headed writer doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    As I understand it, it’s pearl-clutching theists who define the newness of the atheism, while the atheists I know always use it sarcastically, ironically, or whatever. Apparently, we really should send out a memo about this.

  15. says

    The main thing that bugs me about “spiritual” is that the word tends to imply substance dualism, and I’m a monist. I just prefer “wonder.”

  16. jamessweet says

    As to this “New New Atheism”: Well, de Botton and his ilk are much in the press lately, largely because of the space created for them there by so-called New Atheism. Being an atheist is in and of itself not so novel anymore (well, in the big elite cities where people make newspapers, at least) and so the news articles are about this novel kind that likes church and stuff.

    There was some truth to those who called “New Atheism” a media flash-in-the-pan that has now passed. That short-lived media obsession with “zomg there are people who don’t believe in god and are kinda pissed about how shitty and dumb religion is!” has, indeed, somewhat passed. In that sense, “New Atheism” is passe; but all the people who would have been called New Atheists are still here and still feel the same way, and our numbers appear to be growing (even if media attention is waning and/or shifting to the de Botton’s of the world).

  17. joeschoeler says

    maxdevlin wrote:
    All words are like that, unless you are actually doing science, where words are irrelevant because only your quantitative measurements are important, not what you call them.

    Really? All words? If someone talks about an emotion or a sense of awe, I don’t need to quantitatively
    measure their mental state to have at least a rough idea of what they mean.

    Needing to quibble about what a word “precisely” means is the same as losing an argument, in most cases.

    You can’t have a discussion in the first place without having some agreement on what the words mean. If there is some confusion about words, then you need to ask for clarification, otherwise both people could be talking about completely separate things.

    I see “spiritual” used to either signify an emotion, belief in the existence souls, or belief in other supernatural things. Commonly it is a conflation of all of these. From the article, I can’t tell which or if any of these is meant. I think it unlikely that an atheist would believe in a soul or the supernatural, and everyone experiences awe and wonder, whether atheist or not. The only reason “spiritual” is used is because the author would like to describe atheism as a religion, so she describes atheists with vague religious terms. The word “social” fits better, since the article is about atheists joining social groups.

  18. says

    Bronze Dog@18:

    I don’t prefer to use the term “spiritual”, I’m just not as allergic to it as the average atheist. It is kind of like accepting that the word “essence” still means something, even though we’ve known that nothing actually has such a thing as “an essence” since Aristotle’s time. Consider it a metaphor for something much more complicated and largely abstract.

  19. cuervodecuero says

    #14. And Libraries, sacred spaces where one does not dare raise voice for fear of guardian retribution.

    I don’t want churches but clubhouses would be nice. You know, where the kids all gather around when the owner of the local ice cream shop is about to lose his business and they decide “hey, let’s put on a show!” kinda like that online convention thingie.
    on the weekend did, only with less Mickey Rooney.

    Of course, an atheist clubhouse would run pretty thin if that was the only topic….but then, so would a church for atheism. Everyone shows up on Sunday, looks around, shrugs and says ‘still no God’ and go for brunch?

    Of course people could suggest other things to do in an atheist church, like social justice projects, but then, that wouldn’t be pure enough atheism for some and then it would be all “Splitters!” and suicide squads.

  20. Lausten North says

    The reason for claiming atheists can be “spiritual” is to claim that all people have access to the experiences that some claim are only available via their god, goddess or whatever, including Buddhist meditation. This eliminates the special classification and tax-exempt problems or any special powers a religion might claim. It also eliminates claims of psychic powers, just because you had a dream where you talked to your dead relative, doesn’t mean you can contact the dead generally.

    It brings these experiences back to reality, where we can acknowledge that we have them, discuss them and understand them. If we do that, it will be less likely people will go to church or a psychic for an explanation or just validation.

  21. stevem says

    re cuervodecuero @25:

    Exactly! What I meant to say (forgot to include). Clubhouses; where people can get together every week (or so) and “do things” together. Why do atheists need “churches” with ritual and “spirit” to get the benefit of being with other people? People DON’T. The benefits of “church” do not come from an external force (such as Gawd) but from within themselves. The “secret” to longevity is being involved with others, either family or friends (or others). Too may people depend on their weekly “church service” to meet others. So they think that their longevity is due to their “service to God”. They’re totally blinded by the propaganda the “priest” spews at them every week, that they cannot see that health (and well-being) is largely due to their own actions (apart from chemicals such as medicine, etc), not “external forces”. If atheists “need” “evangelism”; that message is what needs to be said. Everyone is fully responsible for their own health and long life. Praying is just self-meditation, no one “hears” those prayers, nor “answers” them.

  22. Lausten North says

    At this weekend’s ftBCon, JT Eberhard said something like, “organizers don’t create conferences, conferences create organizers”. We need those “small groups of committed individuals” that Margaret Mead spoke of and clubs and conferences and brunches bring them out of the woodwork. I stayed with church as long as I did because I was in one that was involved in social justice issues. I left for two reasons, 1 – it became too much of a stretch to connect the Bible to justice and 2 – I found more secular organizations were doing the things I wanted to do.

    “Atheist Church” does not have to look like church at all. Some people might like the group singing, but others won’t, some will like reading philosophy, some won’t. When you eliminate dogma and required ritual, you open up a lot of room for creativity.

  23. zenlike says

    @Max Devlin, 15,

    I find it very curious that first you drop a big load of ‘we don’t need no imprecise words in science, only measurements’, and then, not two paragraphs further, you drop a whole text related how we undeniably ‘need’ rituals; a text which is full of words for which the meaning is not precise at all, and full of assumption for which no measurements or prove is provided.

  24. David Marjanović says

    All words are like that, unless you are actually doing science, where words are irrelevant because only your quantitative measurements are important, not what you call them.

    It’s very important in science to define the technical terms. Otherwise, confusion reigns. I’m speaking of enough experience that I’m on the Committee for Phylogenetic Nomenclature.

    pointed out how important ritual is in maintaining society

    But why, then, are there so many people who don’t like ritual at all?

    Consider the Vulcans in the fictional universe of Star Trek. Absolutely rigorous in their adherence to “logic”, but also extremely ritualistic.

    The Vulcans have lots of contradictory traits. They’re simply not well thought out. Look for a better example!

  25. Rey Fox says

    I wonder if the need for ritual is really as universal as some make it out to be. It seems to me that when folks’ basic survival and comfort needs are met and they have a decent enough social structure, the need for ritual in the weekly church sense drops considerably. Declining church attendance in most areas of first world nations seems to bear this out.

    (Oh, and also I absolutely loathe church, so I’m a completely unbiased observer.)

  26. otrame says

    Dear Maxdevlin

    Re:

    I think it just means that you have an emotional need to reject all traditional authority, and your atheism is just a side effect of that.

    Oh, fuck you. You know exactly nothing about why I am an atheist.

    You know what I find even more annoying than atheist church advocates? Smug, condescending assholes who would have the nerve to take a little hyperbole for humorous purposes and come up with the sentence I quoted above.

  27. cgervasi says

    I agree the “church for the faithless” stuff is nonsense. Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations are an example of church with mostly atheists. Almost everyone is atheist or deist, and it’s bad manners there to talk about the supernatural elements of the world’s regions as if they were true.

    I do not understand the resistance to the idea of atheists going to something that has some vague similarities to church.

  28. widestance says

    If by “atheist church” Salon means “couch upon which I drink beer and play Xbox,” then yes, I attend an atheist church. If the author of the Salon article is referring to a location in which we are told how a particular mythological being feels about haberdashery and other people’s sex lives, then not so much.

  29. Al Dente says

    cgervasi @33

    I do not understand the resistance to the idea of atheists going to something that has some vague similarities to church.

    Vague similarities are one thing. A football game half-time show has vague similarities to church. It’s all the trappings which people like de Botton and the Harvard Humanists want to include in a “Temple of the Future” which many of us find annoying.

  30. says

    I wonder if the need for ritual is really as universal as some make it out to be. It seems to me that when folks’ basic survival and comfort needs are met and they have a decent enough social structure, the need for ritual in the weekly church sense drops considerably.

    rituals don’t drop though. They’re just replaced with a different type of ritual, depending on the culture (e.g. they can be rituals that are only meaningful to the one individual performing them, or they can be secular community rituals, or state-based rituals, even corporate-social rituals)

    rituals seem very important to humans. religious-ish rituals, less so.

  31. PDX_Greg says

    Well, my wife gave birth to two new, new atheists (can’t get any newer) which I have carefully observed from the moment of their birth until they were well out of the new, new phase. I can confidently report that neither exhibited the slightest tendency to form a church, not even a Lego one.

  32. anuran says

    “Diverse and unregimented” for the near future anyway. You just spent a weekend saying it has to become a broadly-based liberal social justice movement with an extensive list of political issues. In fact, you have been very upfront about how this “mission creep” is not only desirable but necessary. Earlier you said your atheism was based on deep scientific skepticism and that you couldn’t quite wrap your head around people whose atheism was otherwise. That sort of thinking is not religious, of course, but it is very close to the mindset of today’s Church Political.

  33. says

    joe@23:

    Really? All words?

    Hi, Joe. Yes, really, all words. Or none of them, I guess, but I don’t know any way to distinguish between different types. Not really. Are you at all familiar with Socrates?

    If someone talks about an emotion or a sense of awe, I don’t need to quantitatively measure their mental state to have at least a rough idea of what they mean.

    The point is that if someone talks about an emotion or a sense of awe, you CAN’T quantitatively measure their mental state to have any sort of idea at all of what they mean. Personally, I have no idea what you mean by “sense of awe” if you’re going to be allergic to the word “spiritual”, because I don’t know what you can be “in awe of” or how “awe” works outside of something spiritual. Unless you’re just using it as a metaphor for “emotionally excited but also comforted”, in which case you should use the words “emotionally excited but also comforted” so that I can tell what you mean. (Or just use “spiritual”, because that’s a good working definition to get you started.)

    You can’t have a discussion in the first place without having some agreement on what the words mean.

    Indeed, that’s just what I said. You can’t have a discussion without AGREEMENT on what the words mean. If you have to quibble, you do not have agreement. I’ve never known quibbling about the definition of a word to lead to agreement. Quibbling is disagreement, and leads to even greater disagreement. The fact is that in any discussion capable of supporting agreement, the participants start out agreeing on what all the words mean, without any explicit negotiation required in advance. And, as I said, after that, any attempt to quibble is effectively the same as losing the argument. Believe me, I’ve lost enough arguments to know that is true.

    Seriously, you don’t really have to pretend you don’t know what spirituality means, just because you refuse to enjoy any. This “my every thought is more absolutely reductionist than you are” competition that atheists and skeptics and objectivists share gets stale. It makes me start thinking that maybe atheists are just anti-social by nature. I’m certainly not a contrary example, personally.

    …since the article is about atheists joining social groups.

    The article was talking about atheists joining a specific type of social group for specific personal reasons.

  34. says

    Sorry for the text wall.

    zenlike(!)@29: (My real time impressions)

    I find it very curious that first you drop [...]Uhoh, this isn’t going to go well.a big load[...]At all. of ‘we don’t need no imprecise words in science, only measurements’,[...]I said, rather, that we don’t HAVE any words in science, only measurements. The word parts are politics and error (and a handy teaching tool). Only the measurement parts are science. and then, not two paragraphs further, you drop a whole text related how we undeniably ‘need’ rituals;Life isn’t all science. Why are you confused by these two things? a text which is full of words[...]Is there any other kind of text, I ask you?for which the meaning is not precise at all, and full of assumption for which no measurements or prove is provided.Correct. The meaning of words is not precise at all. Not any word. Anywhere. Ever. Words are ineffable. They rely on accuracy, not precision.

    When scientists borrow words to label their quantities, they provide no supernatural authority over how use of a word ‘must’ be applied based on their quantities and how they use it. Although they do try. The truth can be seen in how often they fail. And the confusion that occurs when they succeed.

    David@30:

    It’s very important in science to define the technical terms.

    Of course it is, that isn’t what I meant. And note that you called them “technical terms”, not words. Words are what you use to negotiate how you define technical terms, right? But that’s what makes them technical terms instead of words; you’ve agreed that you’re going to treat them as representing mathematically defined quantities of mathematically defined things, and do it consistently enough to come up with empirical results. We don’t do that with words in “real life”. It is a common (mis)conception that we should, and that if everyone did, everyone would be “right minded”, etc.

    But why, then, are there so many people who don’t like ritual at all?

    It ain’t just a river in Egypt. Seriously, everyone likes ritual, though they may certainly not be a fan of any particular rituals. But every human being finds comfort (and a dopamine boost, if you want to be reductionist about it) in repeating familiar gestures and activities, especially chanting/singing, especially with other human beings.

    I heard just this afternoon on NPR that summer camp is a lot like a secular religious experience, with a heavy emphasis on repeating all the same activities the same way as it was the previous year, heavy on ritual and chanting. It allows them to feel secure and enjoy themselves. Kids love it, and all adults do, too, if they can let themselves. Most atheists probably have way too much of a bug up their ass about what the rituals are “about” to feel comfortable with any kind of ritualized gestures. And are less happy than they could otherwise be, because of that. Cultivating (secular) rituals should be the focus of any movement atheism.

    ReyFox@31:

    It seems to me that when folks’ basic survival and comfort needs are met and they have a decent enough social structure

    The universal need for ritual can be seen in how much “comfort needs” and “a decent enough social structure” rely on regularly repeated gestures and words.

    otrame@32:

    Oh, fuck you. You know exactly nothing about why I am an atheist.

    Ouch. Hit a nerve. You know what that means.

    have the nerve to take a little hyperbole for humorous purposes

    If you say so. Not revealing at all, got it.

    Well, that’s it for me tonight. I’ll check back tomorrow if anyone wants to belabor this some more.

  35. cgervasi says

    We’re all free to find things annoying, but I feel like people who are annoyed by atheists creating churches perpetuate the stereotype of atheists as curmudgeons.

  36. DLC says

    Otrame @5 :

    Still, now that I think of it, Star Trek TOS managed a very likable alien with a rug and some plastic pillow-looking stuff.

    Wait a minute. You mean Captain Kirk was an Alien ?

  37. DLC says

    Really… Athiest Church. who do we worship, Dawkins ? Hitchens ? Watson ? Myers ? some sort of un-holy quadrinity ? The FSM ? Or will Atheist Worshipers walk up and down the aisle singing non-hymns and having un-communion?
    Personally I tend to favor either quiet chat sessions over a coffee, or wild bacchanalia with beer volcanoes and roast baby. Oh allright, roast lamb, if you can’t have baby.

  38. John Phillips, FCD says

    maxdevlin, then please define spiritual for me, for I genuinely don’t know what the word refers to as its dictionary definition is meaningless to me as I have no reference to work from. Awe and wonder I understand, as I have felt both, imagine looking up at the milky way on a mountain in Wales after a shower has cleared out all the dust from the atmosphere, or looking down a microscope etc. Though neither tends to include a sense of comfort.

    But spiritual, even with, or especially with, the dictionary definition, is meaningless. Every time I ask someone to define it, I get told, “you know what I mean”. Well no I don’t or I wouldn’t be asking. Or, when I am offered a definition it is either so nebulous as to be meaningless or to be so all encompassing that it again becomes meaningless.

  39. John Morales says

    maxdevlin:

    Seriously, everyone likes ritual, though they may certainly not be a fan of any particular rituals.

    I have no desire for (nor do I like) ritual; so, unless you mean by it merely a habit or a prescribed procedure, your claim is wrong — and if you do, it’s inane.

  40. John Morales says

    maxdevlin:

    But every human being finds comfort (and a dopamine boost, if you want to be reductionist about it) in repeating familiar gestures and activities, especially chanting/singing, especially with other human beings.

    Bah. I’m pretty sure I’m not unique, and what you claim is universal for humans doesn’t apply to me.

    (Rather, the opposite)

  41. khms says

    John Morales:

    maxdevlin:

    But every human being finds comfort (and a dopamine boost, if you want to be reductionist about it) in repeating familiar gestures and activities, especially chanting/singing, especially with other human beings.

    Bah. I’m pretty sure I’m not unique, and what you claim is universal for humans doesn’t apply to me.

    (Rather, the opposite)

    You are not alone. If anything, singing along makes me uncomfortable.

    I have no desire for (nor do I like) ritual; so, unless you mean by it merely a habit or a prescribed procedure, your claim is wrong — and if you do, it’s inane.

    As they used to say, “AOL!” (because those people were famous for posting “me to!” as the whole content of their message).

  42. khms says

    What bugs me most in these “atheist churches” discussions is the unstated assumption that there has to be one such place in your life, which defines the one group you belong to.

    Instead, people in a modern society belong to many different groups at the same time, each of which has their own specific needs as to meeting places. There is no need to have one overarching group and meeting place – religions (for example) just like for you to think so.

    Always be suspicious of people who tell you they have the one whatever you need in your life.

  43. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    because I don’t know what you can be “in awe of” or how “awe” works outside of something spiritual.

    You have no idea how awe works out side of something spiritual?

    Well you sure have boxed in your thinking pretty nicely there.

    Being in awe of great beauty need not appeal to some self serving definition of spirituality.

    I was in awe the first time I stood atop the Grand Teton and I can guarandanmtee you it had nothing to do with any “spirituality”.

  44. HappyNat says

    maxdevlin,

    Have fun gazing at your bellybutton. Please let us know when you come up with the definition for “lint”.

  45. says

    I have no desire for (nor do I like) ritual; so, unless you mean by it merely a habit or a prescribed procedure, your claim is wrong — and if you do, it’s inane.

    You may have no conscious desire for ritual, but that isn’t the same as not benefiting from rituals. As a human you are free to perversely despise whatever you want, whether it is good for you or not. As a bundle of psychological quirks, you are also entitled to be in denial about what you like. Liking something and being comfortable doing it, for instance, aren’t necessarily the same thing, in any particular case. You can throw the word “merely” around if it makes you feel comfortable. Little linguistic rituals like that count, too, I suppose. Just because something is ubiquitous doesn’t make it inane.

    As I pointed out, the fact that “singing along makes [you] uncomfortable” is an indication of why you are so insistent that you don’t like rituals. You’ve trained yourself (or been trained by your experience or maybe are just genetically inclined) to abhor authority. It is very common in America, we’re sort of an authority on being anti-authoritarian, if you know what I mean (not so much as the modern Germans, maybe, but that’s a special case.) Many, particularly atheists, are convinced that being reactionary against authority is all that is required of them, ethically, in fact. As long as you oppose anyone more powerful than you, then you have the moral high ground, goes the thinking.

    So fitting in with a group (something that I hope we can simply and easily agree is beneficial to the individual and to the species) makes you uncomfortable. I see that as a trained over-reaction to the seductive temptation of fitting in with a group. “Oh no, I can’t be singing along! Next thing you know it’s swastikas and stiff-armed salutes!” says your brain to your brain. And you, unequipped to understand what is actually going on, go along with it because of your reactionary inclination. But just because you’re singing with a group doesn’t mean you’re part of a hive mind. And once you learn to be comfortable, you will be able to notice how beneficial it is without feeling guilty.

  46. Lausten North says

    Personally I tend to favor either quiet chat sessions over a coffee, or wild bacchanalia with beer volcanoes and roast baby. Oh allright, roast lamb, if you can’t have baby.

    Lots of church goers prefer the coffee and meals to the service. “Atheist Church” does not have to emulate any particular thing “Church Church” is currently doing. It doesn’t have to have regular schedule, or worship anything, or claim it is the “one best way” to do anything. The only reason to even use the name “church” is to indicate you are providing an alternative.

    Maybe the better word is “meaning”, not “spiritual”. I’m pretty sure there are studies showing people are looking for meaning in their lives. They are looking for opportunities to make a difference. For many, simply going and doing a project is not enough, they want a social aspect and they want to occasionally discuss the philosophy behind what they’re doing.

  47. chigau (I don't like this eternal 'nym thing, either) says

    maxdevlin
    What do you think about vervets?

  48. lindsay says

    maxdevlin:

    This does not require rituals. Housework, for instance, is repetition. Most people have a chore that they like. I prefer folding laundry, and find it a very calming activity. I certainly don’t need to do it in a group.

    Kids will watch the same movie every day for a month or more. They will demand to have the same book read to them at bedtime to the point that their parents learn the story by rote. They will, if you let them, eat only hotdogs or cheap macaroni and cheese for weeks. Adults are just a tad different from children.

  49. lindsay says

    Block quote fail. The quotes I was responding to:

    “But every human being finds comfort (and a dopamine boost, if you want to be reductionist about it) in repeating familiar gestures and activities…”

    “…summer camp is a lot like a secular religious experience, with a heavy emphasis on repeating all the same activities the same way as it was the previous year, heavy on ritual and chanting. It allows them to feel secure and enjoy themselves.”

  50. cgervasi says

    Atheist Church” does not have to emulate any particular thing “Church Church” is currently doing. It doesn’t have to have regular schedule, or worship anything, or claim it is the “one best way” to do anything.

    Yes. Church doesn’t have to be all the bad things people associate with church.

    khms said he doesn’t like that church is supposed to be the one overarching organization in your life. I don’t know what non-UU churches are like (I’ve only visited them once or twice), but I can’t imagine a church not wanting you unless you make it the focus of your life. How can they complain if you come, occasionally help with something around the building and occasionally make a contribution?

    Many people don’t care for the services and usually don’t go. They only go to things related to their area of interest like sunday school or social justice.

    Some people refuse to call UU services “church” because of these negative associations.

    I like to think religious extremists are the exception. I think of Catholics, for example, as being mostly similar to UUs. Catholics believe we’re born with original sin, and UUs believe we’re born innocent. If they’re working with me on something productive, I do not feel the need to debate issues like that all the time.

  51. Nick Gotts says

    Consider the Vulcans in the fictional universe of Star Trek. – maxdevlin

    Nothing like a convincing real-world example, is there?

  52. Nick Gotts says

    Seriously, everyone likes ritual, though they may certainly not be a fan of any particular rituals.- maxdevlin

    I have no desire for (nor do I like) ritual – John Morales

    Come now, John, maxdevlin knows you much better than you know yourself. We know that, because he says so.

    Ouch. Hit a nerve. You know what that means. – maxdevlin

    Says all we need to know about maxdevlin, doesn’t it?

  53. John Phillips, FCD says

    maxdevlin, Still waiting for a definition of spiritual, or at least what you mean by it. So far, all I see is you doing the aforementioned “you know what I mean” gambit. Again, no I don’t, why do you think I am asking. For again, I just checked the definition in a number of dictionaries and even wiki and none are relevant or have any meaning for me as all appear to include God, ‘the spirit’ (self-referential much), supernatural, the sacred, or the incorporeal etc, but nothing tangible. Of course I know what these various terms mean in the abstract, but apart from that, they have no meaning for me, i.e. I have nothing to relate them to. So, out of curiosity, which of the many definitions do you mean when you use the word.

  54. David Marjanović says

    I’m with comment 48. Why would I have my social life in a special place created for that purpose and organized around rituals?

    But every human being finds comfort (and a dopamine boost, if you want to be reductionist about it) in repeating familiar gestures and activities, especially chanting/singing, especially with other human beings.

    ~:-|

    I guess you’re not treating “every” as a technical term, then.

    (And, BTW, your implication that technical terms aren’t words doesn’t really work.)

    Oh, fuck you. You know exactly nothing about why I am an atheist.

    Ouch. Hit a nerve. You know what that means.

    Oh yes, I know what it means: you’ve repeated a PRATT. That tends to make people angry.

    I also know what it means that you point out that you hit a nerve and imply it means something profound…

    So fitting in with a group (something that I hope we can simply and easily agree is beneficial to the individual and to the species) makes you uncomfortable. I see that as a trained over-reaction to the seductive temptation of fitting in with a group. “Oh no, I can’t be singing along! Next thing you know it’s swastikas and stiff-armed salutes!” says your brain to your brain.

    *headshake*

    You seem to believe the world is incredibly easy to understand…

    Let it just be said that I wasn’t brought up anti-authoritarian and have never undergone a teenage rebellion as far as I can tell. Psychology isn’t so simple as you seem to believe.

    I heard just this afternoon on NPR that summer camp is a lot like a secular religious experience, with a heavy emphasis on repeating all the same activities the same way as it was the previous year, heavy on ritual and chanting. It allows them to feel secure and enjoy themselves. Kids love it, and all adults do, too, if they can let themselves.

    …Then why don’t such rituals develop spontaneously, and why don’t more organizations get the idea of including them in their summer camps? I’ve been to scout camps and even one by a Catholic youth organization – no rituals that I can remember (admittedly it’s been 20 years, but what you write doesn’t sound familiar at all). I’ve been to digs where lots of people in their 20s get together, commonly in the presence of an authority figure – no rituals.

    (Scouts are quite different organizations in different countries, despite the shared name, partly shared symbolic imagery, and weird reverence for Baden-Powell.)

    Kids will watch the same movie every day for a month or more. They will demand to have the same book read to them at bedtime to the point that their parents learn the story by rote. They will, if you let them, eat only hotdogs or cheap macaroni and cheese for weeks.

    Even that differs a lot among children!

  55. John Morales says

    [meta]

    maxdevlin:

    You may have no conscious desire for ritual, but that isn’t the same as not benefiting from rituals. As a human you are free to perversely despise whatever you want, whether it is good for you or not. As a bundle of psychological quirks, you are also entitled to be in denial about what you like.

    <snicker>

    Reminds me of this:

    I’m going to go on the record as saying that I am confident that every avowed Atheist does in fact know God exists. This is different from believing in God, which more so entails a trusting acknowledgement. I think it will be obvious to every Theist who has argued with an Atheist about the existence of God. And it will be internally obvious to every Atheist, though you will be resistant and offer plenty of excuses — yes, excuses.

    (Link)

  56. Anri says

    maxdevlin:

    Indeed, that’s just what I said. You can’t have a discussion without AGREEMENT on what the words mean. If you have to quibble, you do not have agreement. I’ve never known quibbling about the definition of a word to lead to agreement. Quibbling is disagreement, and leads to even greater disagreement.

    Wow.
    Well, even if we assume your impression to be the sterling standard by which we judge the efficacy of discussion about the meanings of words – and you certainly haven’t put forth anything that would make me want to do that – your experience is not actually definitive. In other words, just because you don’t think something happens, that doesn’t make it not happen.
    Non-monomaniacs understand this.

    The fact is that in any discussion capable of supporting agreement, the participants start out agreeing on what all the words mean, without any explicit negotiation required in advance. And, as I said, after that, any attempt to quibble is effectively the same as losing the argument. Believe me, I’ve lost enough arguments to know that is true.

    See above.

    Seriously, you don’t really have to pretend you don’t know what spirituality means, just because you refuse to enjoy any. This “my every thought is more absolutely reductionist than you are” competition that atheists and skeptics and objectivists share gets stale. It makes me start thinking that maybe atheists are just anti-social by nature. I’m certainly not a contrary example, personally.

    I believe what is being said is that ‘spirituality’ means different things to different people at different times and different contexts, and that these meanings tend to be heavily conflated, to a greater extent than other useful terms, thus making statements using the term far more vague then necessary.
    From your writing, I’m not certain if you’re honestly not smart enough to get that, or if you’re just arguing due to an inability to back down from a position publicly.
    Time may tell.

    BTW, you know what also gets stale?
    The assumption that being an atheist is synonymous with being socially inept. The 70’s called, they want their knee-jerk cultural assumptions back. (No COD, please).