Here’s another challenge for the growing atheist movement: can we avoid the trap of charismatic leadership and the cult of personality? As church attendance declines (a good thing), as pastors wake up and realize their faith was a lie (a very good thing), and as we try to embrace even church leaders who want to join the secular movement, we have to beware of the temptation to just put them to work doing the same old thing they’re familiar with, in atheist “churches”. Donald Wright does a fine job expressing reservations I’ve also had about adopting the trappings of religion.
One of the joys I celebrate in escaping from religion and church is no longer participating in this unbridled authority and reverence given to the pastor; the position of entitlements. Their needs and desires are always met or a concerted effort is attempted by the membership with much toil and sacrifice. The pastor is doused with honor and respect, given a god-like public image, and proclaimed a truth teller. A celebrity is added to the culture.
After receiving these former religionists with open arms and nurturing their non-belief, how will the secular community respond when they seek leadership positions? Will the secularists, humanists, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and skeptics embrace these individuals with greater enthusiasm just because they are ex-pastors? Will they seek to find the true character and uncover those holy skeletons? Will they put forth adequate vetting to determine that their integrity matches their charisma? These are my concerns, because a secular church in the hands of a cult personality is a religion disguised as a humanist community. Will there be a secular church on every corner filled with sheeples?
What we need to construct are egalitarian institutions that do not simply co-opt the corrupt schema of existing religious institutions. We should be modeling democratic political forms rather than buying into destructive ecclesiastical patterns of organization.