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Culture, human nature, Religion

It’s the Community, Silly.

A new study has confirmed what a lot of us already knew.

“Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction,” said Chaeyoon Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the study.

And there it is.  What a lot of us atheist activists have been saying for a long time.  It’s nice to have some documentation, but I think there’s a deeper message in this study for all of us bloggers and writers and activists.  It’s out there, right in front of our faces, but I think a lot of us look right past it.  I’ll put it in big bold letters.

It’s not the theology that keeps people in religion.  It’s the community!  So why do we spend 95% of our time arguing the theology with religious people?!

Yes, it’s important to spread the message that the theology is misguided, and that the religions (particularly Christianity) are harmful.  But if what we’re really looking for is “converts” to atheism, then we need to be making friends with the religious. We can leave the atheism on the websites and win people by just being their friends in real life.  I don’t mean we have to hide our atheism.  If there’s an appropriate time to demonstrate it, then we should.  I mean we shouldn’t go out of our way to throw it in someone’s face when it’s not relevant.

If there’s a religious person you want to bring over to our side of the fence, don’t hit them over the head with your evolution text book.  Invite them bowling.  Or treat them to dinner.  Or go to a  ball game.  Or poker night.  Whatever.  And then don’t beat them over the head with your evolution text book.  Just be friends with them.  Talk about anything but religion until you’re good enough friends to discuss religion.

Life satisfaction is largely correlated with close friendships, both in and outside of religion.  I think one of the ironic things about the “atheist movement” in America is that almost by definition, the first open atheists were necessarily people who were rebels and outcasts.  For a long time, atheism was associated with coffee shop goths wearing all black and talking about nihilism and absinthe.  Until open atheism became hip, only people prepared to deal with being outcasts were open atheists.

But things have changed now.  We’re big news on the news, and there’s no doubt anymore that we’re a viable political force.  Yes, we’re still made fun of and marginalized, and we’re still discriminated against.  But we’re out there and everybody knows it.  So now’s the time to start taking our culture back by being a part of the culture!

Yes, I know it’s really difficult to be friends with the “hardcore” Christians.  That’s probably a bit much to ask for most atheists.  But there are a lot of fence-sitters and occasional church-goers who still hang onto the “Christian” label even though for them it’s all about the social bonds.  Those are the people who will leave religion if we bring them into our social groups.  Those are the people we need to befriend.  And then not beat them over the head with our evolution textbooks.  Let them come at it from their own pace.  They’ll ask questions eventually.

And if they want to, they’ll read our blogs.

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Discussion

12 thoughts on “It’s the Community, Silly.

  1. hamby says;

    “If there’s a religious person you want to bring over to our side of the fence, don’t hit them over the head with your evolution text book. Invite them bowling. Or treat them to dinner. Or go to a ball game. Or poker night. Whatever. And then don’t beat them over the head with your evolution text book. Just be friends with them. Talk about anything but religion until you’re good enough friends to discuss religion.”

    PG says:
    Hamby, Yes, what you recommend is to use a very highly successful Infiltration technique commonly used by cults…

    May I recommend just being their friend without any manipulative agenda or is the ideology of atheism so repulsive that you need to resort to these techniques…
    .

    Posted by PG | December 9, 2010, 6:19 pm
  2. Well, there goes the “God virus” meme theory.

    Posted by cptpineapple | December 9, 2010, 8:05 pm
  3. It works. I have numerous friends (and relatives, and co-workers) that are quite religious with whom I have happy relationships… because we don’t talk about religion.

    Posted by Nicole | December 9, 2010, 9:11 pm
  4. So the research findings imply that if you go to church regularly and involve yourself within the spiritual community with 3-5 congregants as friends, you will have as the researchers indicate an “Extremely satisfied” Life.

    Thanks for the endorsement Hamby…

    Posted by PG | December 10, 2010, 12:58 am
  5. Well, there goes the “God virus” meme theory.

    Alison, in the fallacy dictionary, your picture is beside the “all or nothing thinking” fallacy.

    Posted by hambydammit | December 10, 2010, 3:29 am
  6. Alison, in the fallacy dictionary, your picture is beside the “all or nothing thinking” fallacy.

    I hope it’s a full body shot, or that’s not really me

    Posted by cptpineapple | December 10, 2010, 2:23 pm
  7. Actually Hamby, I’ve been reading “The God Virus” and have noticed that the phenomenon attributed to the God Virus can be explained by other means.

    Posted by cptpineapple | December 11, 2010, 12:27 pm
  8. Actually Hamby, I’ve been reading “The God Virus” and have noticed that the phenomenon attributed to the God Virus can be explained by other means.

    The day you actually propose a positive hypothesis, I’ll probably start believing in a god. Because I’m thinking that’s the kind of power it would take to get you to do something other than poop on anything an atheist says.

    Posted by hambydammit | December 11, 2010, 4:32 pm
  9. So why do we spend 95% of our time arguing the theology with religious people?!

    Maybe the theology facilitates social interaction. Sure arguing it with some theists is futile, but for others, it’s a decent conversation topic.

    In any case, I don’t see how that study is contentious to meme theory. Unless meme theory predicts that someone who is in the grip of a meme complex will derive life satisfaction from it? (Honest question, I haven’t read the God Virus, just some of Dawkin’s work on the theory).

    Posted by Ian | December 11, 2010, 9:43 pm
  10. Hamby, I tend to have that effect on guys. But don’t take my snarkiness to heart.

    The reason I’ve been reading the blogs and statements of the atheist movement is because I’m trying to come up with a positive hypothesis about the role of religion in society, and have found their arguments less than impressive.

    Ian, meme theory predicts that ideas spread for the sake of the idea, not for the host. If you read breaking the spell, Dennett compares it to a parasite, that exists outside the mind, infects it and gets it to do things for the sake of spreading the meme regardless of the consequences to the host.

    Darrell Ray takes a similar approach and I’m just not buying it.

    Posted by cptpineapple | December 13, 2010, 3:43 pm
  11. You’re pretty much right, in my experience. It was friendships with atheists that first allowed me to really question my religion, because for the first time the idea of leaving religion did not mean distancing myself from everybody I cared about.

    People can lay the claim that it’s manipulative, but the same “strategy” was often used in my Christian days (“Befriend non-believers! Bring them to all the fun activities we have! Show them compassion and caring and they’ll be drawn to us!”) On both sides of the fence, it’s only manipulative if you’re faking the compassion and caring, while your real goal is head-hunting for converts. It’s healthy to develop good relationships with people who disagree with us on important ideas; it helps us to avoid dehumanizing people on the opposing side. And for some believers, who are (as I was) sticking with their religion primarily because they depend on it for a sense of community, it will open a wider field of options… leaving them able to question freely, where before they felt constrained by their emotional needs. (Theoretically this could work the other way, but I think it’s much rarer for someone to resist adopting religion out of fear of losing their community.)

    Posted by Ginny | December 19, 2010, 3:03 pm
  12. Thanks Ginny. You have some really great comments in there, and I appreciate your story very much. I think you’ve hit one nail squarely on the head when you say that befriending people on “the other side” keeps us from dehumanizing them. It works both ways. We non-believers avoid the trap of thinking all theists are stupid pawns bent on destroying every freedom in America, and believers avoid thinking that we atheists are the amoral scum of the earth.

    With any luck, people with “other” friends also defend them to their peers occasionally. They become the voice of moderation.

    Thanks again for the comments, and welcome to the blog 🙂

    Posted by hambydammit | December 19, 2010, 3:52 pm

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