Thursday, February 7, 2013

Church of the Open Mind

I felt a bit uneasy when I read about this earlier in the week: What happens at an atheist church?

I have my family to thank for the fact that I was never christened and not brought up to believe in any religion, just given all the information and allowed to make up my own mind. I knew I was an atheist long before I could spell the word. By High School this resulted in my spending morning assembly in the back row with the teachers, sat next to the solitary Jehovah's Witness and exempt from prayers. (Do I need to mention I wasn't the most popular kid?) Over the years, most of the other non-believer's I have met have decided, it's been something they have given a lot of thought to. Strangely at odds with many of my other friends who got married in church, christened their children and chose godparents for them (don't worry, they say, you don't need to be a Christian... errr - I think you DO!), but when I ask if they believe in god they shrug and say "it's just what you do, isn't it?"

I guess that's why the rather vocal atheist lobbying that seems to be gaining momentum of late, worries me a little. Is it a good thing if people give up on religion simply because it is kind of trendy? If you haven't really thought it through and reached your own conclusions, reached your own peace with the idea of a god-less universe, one you are no longer at the center of, what happens when you hit the really hard moments in life? Where do you turn? How will you cope?

I don't like the thought of someone 'preaching' atheism either, too easy for it to become a cult of personality. Why does the whole structure need to ape a religious service anyway? Why on a Sunday morning? A quote from the BBC article sums up what worries me: "It will become an organised religion. It's inevitable. A belief system will set in. There will be a structure, an ethical outlook on life." I don't want anyone to tell me how to think! That's where all the trouble starts, how long before we have breakaway sects of fundamental atheists who want to dictate what form our non-believing takes?

The one thing that does really appeal to me about this is the communal aspect though. I watched "A Dream of a Life" earlier this evening and it's a chilling reminder of just how easy it is for people to fall through the cracks of our fragmented modern world. We do seriously need to rebuild our local communities, give people a place and a reason to congregate and start to look out for one another again. With or (preferably) without religion.


C said...

Wonderfully articulated, Yve. I seem to be of a very similar mind-set to you with all this, was never brought up with any religion, and dislike the whole notion of beliefs being structured, limited and conventionalised to the convenient constraints of the humans behind them, and their individual, and sometimes suspect, interpretations. I think, by all means be spiritual - I feel I am, based on my affinity with and my wonder at nature - but organised religion makes me extremely uncomfortable! (Church services, when I've had to attend for friends' weddings, etc. bring out an almost allergic reaction in me, I seriously wonder if I have a 666 mark somewhere on my body!)
But, whilst I don't think I'd feel any more comfortable in an atheist church, I rather support the principle behind the idea, as the bringing together of like-minded people to think about, and do, good things. I just feel mistrustful of anything that could become culty, as you say. Like any 'club', they are bound to get some people with loudest voices and personal agendas in there somewhere at some point.... Although, who knows, perhaps not. I'd recommend catching the interview on Radio 2 Jeremy Vine, from Weds 6th Feb though, on i-player if you can. The 'Christian' caller is unbelievable...

C said...

PS (ooh you got me started now!) - also just want to make it clear I have no problem with anyone else having any faith in any chosen religion - each to their own and I know that, for some, it really helps them through life, and is utterly genuine. But I love it most when religious people are completely tolerant of non-religious people, that's what restores my faith (in human nature!)

Yve said...

Tolerance is the key to most things. I have faith in plenty of Christians (if that makes sense?) and those of other faiths, good people trying to live good lives. They are tolerant of others, but you do get those who see their belief system as the only valid one and want to convert everyone they meet. It's patronizing and rude.

I had a bad experience while living in Yorkshire a few years back. Unaware that the people I was dining with were for the most part Creationists, (seriously, in this day and age it isn't the first thing that enters your head when you meet new people!) I innocently mentioned taking my nephew to the Natural History Museum and faced such vitriol! I was basically called stupid and brainwashed for "believing" in Dinosaurs! They were exceptionally rude, blinkered and intolerant and I just couldn't help coming away from that excruciating evening feeling that THEY were the brainwashed ones. A preacher had told them how to think, and they just blindly accepted it. We must never give up our right to think for ourselves - not even when it's Richard Dawkins doing the 'preaching'!