Sunday, September 16, 2007

Atheist Community

I was raised as a christian - a Seventh-Day Adventist to be exact. I went to SDA grade school, SDA boarding academy, and SDA college. My family is SDA, most of my friends are or were SDAs. Even now that I no longer hold the Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, I still consider myself an SDA.

This is not as bizarre as it sounds, and I will explain. First I have to give my friend Seth credit for making me realize this fact. I still consider myself a Seventh-Day Adventist because of my culture. For about 25 years I was deeply immersed in SDA culture. We were vegetarians, didn't drink coffee, alcohol was out of the question, and we went to church on Saturday. Friday nights and Saturdays after church were time for family and friends. That is part of my lifestyle. I even like it that way, even though I now know that there are other options.

Another part of the Seventh-Day Adventist culture is family feeling. SDA as a whole isn't a large group, and with the emphasis on education with in the system lots of connections are made. I could walk into nearly any church in the country and find some one who knew my aunt, or went to school with my grandpa, or were friends of people that attended the church where I grew up. I know it sounds sort of inbred, and in a way it is, but it is also kind of neat. There is something safe and comforting about knowing there are people you are connected to, and share a common background.

This is one of the reasons I still attend church occasionally. I think that church as a social club isn't too bad. If only that was all it was. I'm relatively new to the vocal atheist life, but I don't think there is sense of connection. It can be kind of scary and lonely to be an atheist.

What I'm trying to get at here, is that community is very important. I know it is important to me, and I suspect that it is important to nearly everyone. A recent post at Pharyngula addresses this somewhat. As discussed there in much more detail, one of the arguments against atheism is that religious people "in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people," according to some sureys. The claim is this is a direct result of being religious.
There is a better interpretation. Think PZ says it best "It is community that benefits people, not religion."

I feel a need for community. It is one of the reasons I started to blog. It is a search for fellow atheist to connect with. I will also continue to be involved with my friends from church. Fortunately (as I said earlier) my relationship with my best friends even the more religious ones is not based on religion.


Lori said...

Well said.

Reverted said...

I'd definitely have to agree with this (even from a more selfish point of view, such as meeting new women; but, also from the more "altruistic" one of enjoying helping people).

One of the more irritating things to me about being the way I now am is that I have no especially good, "natural" way to socially network outside of, say, clubbing or church. And, as I'm sure you know, I'm not into either of those two scenes since I don't drink (and can't say I have a compelling desire to dance either---especially with drunk people, lol), and I don't believe in god(s). *sigh*

I'd certainly have no problem with (and would actually appreciate/enjoy) regularly "attending" community-improvement activities.

And, I'd have all the more reason to *genuinely* enjoy it with no strings attached if it were a secularly-motivated activity because---let's face it---similar religion-motivated activities are always (or, at least "nearly always") driven by "winning people for Jesus", rather than "helping people for simply the sake of helping them". (Name even ONE "mission trip" to another country to build a school or provide medical/dental services or whatever that hasn't been accompanied by regular "prayer meetings"! *puke* ...Altruistic, my ass!)

(This is Jim, btw. I set-up a blogger account a few days ago, but haven't actually done anything with it yet.)

Herbo said...

Good blog, Jeff. I hear you on this.

I see that my brother has already voiced many of the thoughts I had about this very topic. I held out for years and eventually found a mate who matches with me well and accepts/understands my position, even if interpretation of the details varies between us (as it always will between two people, of course).

Also, with regard to finding a community to connect with, I think it is possible. To a large extent it will matter where you live, I think. If you can live in an area with a significant number of science-educated individuals (particularly the pure sciences), you will find a group of them with views you can relate to. Many of them will have at least some hobbies that will overlap with yours. I've found there are definitely astronomy hobbyists I can relate to, for example. The same can be said for a group of people with interest in biology. The challenge is finding the right town where there are enough of these people to achieve the critical mass necessary to develop that sense of "community" with them. Church-goers may have an initial advantage forming a community because by default they meet in the same place, at the same time, once a week (at minimum). But meet once a week (or more) to do some late-night astronomy with a group of like-minded individuals and you will develop a sense of community quickly there, too. I became more aware of how strong this bond can be when I went on a trip to southeastern Arizona this past spring. There is a "town" called Arizona Sky Village there. The only people who live there or own vacation homes there are people with a passion for astronomy and/or birding. The small number of people who live there REALLY have a sense of community! It's just as tight (if not tighter) than any Adventist community I've experienced.

Iron Soul said...


I would guess the northwest/western washington should be a good location. Lots of well educated people. My town isn't quite the same demographic though. Also, my hobbies don't tend to be very scientific. I'm only an engineer after all.

That said, I don't feel a lack of community. It is just fun to have people that you think similarly with. Like I have you and your brothers. And it is great to meet new people that think like you as well.

herbo said...

This is my view:

engineering = applied physics.

You're a scientist, just not a pure scientist. (In other words, you're an impure scientist, you dirty engineer, you!)