Growing Secular Communities

Image courtesy of Stockvault

If you haven’t yet, check out check out the latest post over at Godless in Dixie. It got me thinking about how I’ve shied away from writing about leaving religion, atheism, and figuring out how to live without believing in invisible tyrants. I felt frustrated when readers would skip over everything I wrote and leave some pretty awful comments.

I also felt like I wasn’t helping.
For people who leave the faith like me, it’s more important to find out how to replace what I’ve lost with something healthier and more reliable. Just talking about atheism wasn’t doing it for me, and my posts felt like I was talking more about what I was against than what I actually for. I’ve said this elsewhere, but my personal goal is to get to a point where when I hear people profess undying love for their imaginary friends, I don’t immediately get disappointed and fear for their personal well-being.

There are also times when I can’t keep it together myself. How am I supposed to write about my struggles when I can’t manage them perfectly? What qualifies me to even put these words together and publish them to the Internet?

The answer is hidden in the word “perfectly,” which itself is an artifact of my decaying faith. In Christianity, perfection is the ultimate unattainable goal. You’re supposed to strive to it while knowing you’ll never reach it. Failing in perfection is a personal tragedy. If we were in a church, here is where the pastor would insert a shameless plug for how Jesus will still help out, despite how awful and smelly everyone is.

I realized my focus is not just limited to religious views.
My interests do not stop at criticizing religion and Christianity in particular. It’s about surrounding myself with a healthier community than what I could find in a church. That requires figuring out more than just how well I can create an anti-Christianity meme. Even though they’re pretty funny.

The thing is, churches have great surface support networks for people to casually connect with. They’re great for situations that begin and end with a shared hobby of singing at inanimate objects or talking to yourself like it can change reality. But when people really need support and encouragement, churches can break down. Some might be good at helping out some people, but then they’ll turn around and ostracize others for no other reason than “living in sin.”

Living a secular life is inherently different, but the need for community is the same. An important question for people who leave religion is: how do I replace what I’ve lost? Deconverts might have had good church support before they left, which conveniently gets dropped whenever they stopped loving Jesus.

All of this occurs within the reality that atheism isn’t Christianity.
I use the words “atheism” and “secular” sometimes interchangeably, when they really aren’t. They’re similar, but they aren’t exactly the same. Atheism is still too strong of a word for many people. Certainly it’s too strong for some religious folks.*

The difference is important when you realize atheism isn’t a group, code, religion, or other sect. There aren’t any secret handshakes (or are there – insert evil laugh), contracts, or creeds to recite. Atheists have a bunch of different views, and nobody’s required to share anything except a general sense of not believing in supernatural deities.

Secularism just denotes an entity that isn’t religious in nature. You can have a secular group filled with religious people, or a secular group filled with agnostics. Technically speaking, many hobbies and niche cultures are secular because they’re not based on religion. I can have a video game hobby and not have to profess my love for Yahweh or His Wife.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I want to write more about it, but it’s difficult.
My main goal right now is to recognize that just because I’m an atheist, my life isn’t about shaking my fist angrily at religious billboards and church signs. That’s a thing that some religious folks like to malign atheists with (i.e., “you wrote something bad about my super friend, so YOU MUST BE MAD AT HIM”). I have to recognize I can’t do anything about those people. They choose to be ignorant of others in spite of facts.

Still, it’s a work in progress years into my deconversion. I want people who leave religion to know that there is support out there for them, and that they can find it without going to a church. Right now it’s mostly online, but with more people leaving religion, that’s going to change.

When people leave religion, I want more secular doors to open.

*True story. I do cryptograms of famous quotes at some random free site, and it lets people log in and comment on the quote they just solved. Normally it’s just a couple comments agreeing with whatever was said. However, when I got to a quote from Edison about no evidence for gods, the thing was filled with people trying to argue with him. Seriously, who argues with dead people?