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.