A friend called my attention to this piece, asserting the waning of “fundamentalism.” Or is it the growth of atheism? Here’s how it begins:
Days may be dark right nowafter all, as the memes proclaim, axial tilt is the reason for the season. But things are looking bright for those who would like to see humanity more grounded in science and reason. If you are a nonbeliever in the mood for a party, here are 10 reasons to celebrate.
Let me focus on two of the reasons for anti-theistic celebration. First, there’s this:
Communities are coming together. When two British comedians, Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, launched a “sort-of church” for nonbelievers last January, their Sunday Assembly got media attention around the world. By December, they were on a 40-day tour of 40 cities from Auckland to Portland helping local groups launch assemblies of their own.
Their quirky effort is part of a much broader movement among atheists who are exploring how to build communities that provide mutual assistance, outlets for wonder and delight, rituals to mark holidays, and organized volunteering. Some, like the Sunday Assembly or Jerry DeWitt’s Community Mission Chapel, deliberately draw on the structure of the traditional church service, with music and a brief lecture followed by tea and coffee.
We are, I believe, made for community, and we’ll find it inside or outside the church. It seems interesting to me that atheists can’t find a “new and improved” model for community, but feel the need to imitate the churches that they find so problematical in other ways. Churches must be doing something right, even if, like all other human communities, they’re full of strife because they’re full of sinners. At the very least, we church-goers have something better to which to look forward, so that the inevitable problems of our earthly communities don’t simply leave us sour and disappointed.
Then there’s this:
Secular giving is growing. In times of crisis, faith communities often step in to provide emergency assistance or to help those who are most poor and desperate. Proselytizing aside, churches are able to provide real service because they have both the will and the necessary infrastructure. Increasingly, atheists and humanists are saying, we need to do the same. Since 2010, the Foundation Beyond Belief has given away almost $1.5 million raised from nonbelievers who can give as little as $5 a month, and is now turning attention to building a corps of humanist volunteers. . . .
I have no doubt that lots of non-believers are generous—which, after all, is a pagan as well as a Christian virtue. But to point to an organization that have given a paltry $1.5 million as a sign of anything is really grasping at straws. Consider the numbers found here: in 2011, Americans gave almost $300 billion, 32 percent of it to churches. That’s roughly $96 billion in one year, as opposed to $1.5 million in three years. And it goes without saying that not all religious giving goes to churchessome goes to educational institutions, some to parachurch relief organizations, and so on.
I’m far from arguing that everything is wonderful in the state of contemporary American religion. But I have no doubt that the country would be significantly worse off if all those religious folk just magically went away. I don’t want my non-believing brothers and sisters to go away either. There’s still a chance they might come to believe, after all. (And, even if they don’t, they’re still my brothers and sisters.) But I would like them to appreciate the contributions religious people have made to this country since the beginning, and to recognize that its continuing health depends upon the continuing health of its religious communities.
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