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Atheism is lonely
Posted November 5, 2009 by atheistmother in Uncategorized. 3 Comments
A few weeks ago, I went to a seminar at an Ethical Society near my home. The seminar was about raising children without beliefs in gods. I’ll write a different post on that topic later, because the seminar was outstanding and helpful. For this post, though, I want to share my feelings of simply being in a room, for the first time, with about forty other nonbelievers.
I haven’t met a lot of atheists in my real life. Sometimes I come across people who are questioning organized religion, and I really enjoy talking to them. But I don’t run into people willing to share that they are atheists. I have a feeling that atheists are all around me, but that we’re all too far in the religious closet to feel comfortable exposing ourselves. When I was at the Ethical Society, sitting next to nonbelievers, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of belonging, the sense of community, and the power of not being alone. I realized as I sat there and listened to other parents sharing stories and feelings very similar to me own, that I have been seeking community. Atheism is lonely.
I don’t think it has to be lonely. We can find community with one another if we have the courage to acknowledge our convictions. Easier said than done, though.
Organized religion is powerful because it provides community, culture, pre-established rules and laws, and a way of living that’s out-of-the-box. It’s stickiness over history is because it doesn’t take a lot of effort to figure out and there are scores of people who believe similarly. Atheism requires effort, including a rejection of established norms. And that means building traditions, cultures, philosophies from scratch and often alone.
Just as much as the Baptists living next door to me, and the Catholics across the street and the Jews down the road, I need community. Sitting among fellow nonbelievers for the first time a few weeks ago, I realized what I have been missing.
Many Atheists feel isolated and lonely. Some have tried to re-purpose the church model. Some try to "realizing the fundamental impulses that drive belief, and seeking secular parallels", but Reforming Counter-Apologetics hasn't been a wildly popular group either.
I think we're held back by one of the boundary conditions of the Atheist memeplex, a primitive brain fear of emotion.
Rationality emerged, according to my combination of Marshall McLuhan's ideas with Paul McLen's triune brain theory, when people began to spend long hours reading printed material. Print is very abstract, entirely visual, black & white (it was). The page held no meaning for the lymbic system or reptile brain. Our primitive brains can't understand language. Only our higher brain could make sense of it, and only through symbol interpretation. No color, movement, voice tones or volume, odors, or sensations. The habit of depending entirely on our eyes only with our higher brain laid down a new pattern of thinking, in which our higher brain was in charge. We began to think in terms of separating variables, depending upon visual proof, for the first time. Prior to this period people used all of their senses and all of their three brains at once. The primitive brains are the seat of emotion. They also have an inherent override of higher thinking, high arousal such as emergency or excitement. This is why fire doors don't have doorknobs. When people panic, they forget how to turn doorknobs, their primitive brains just say in effect run and push. So fire doors have push bars.
We don't analyze the historical media based effects on thinking enough, or perhaps take them seriously enough. But at the primitive brain level (gut feeling) Atheists know that reason can be overwhelmed by emotion. So we avoid rituals, touchy feely stuff like swaying and holding hands while singing, cheering and jumping up and down, drumming, dancing (like a Hora), lots of candles, incense, etc. Instead our meetings resemble lectures or seminars, and people walk away feeling emotionally unfulfilled instead of connected and energized.
Were we sufficiently media savvy, I believe, we could create rituals that allowed for free thought instead of submission to authority and built into them critical thinking.
Perhaps rituals only have poignancy of meaning if they involve a willing suspension of disbelief? In other words, for group members to feel united through shared ritual, those rituals necessarily must celebrate and codify something ridiculous, something inaccessible by perusal of evidence, something that was concocted? After all, if something can be rationalized from first principles, it becomes universal and disentangled from its author. If it's universal, if it can be shared by anyone and everyone, then it loses its specialness. But then can it hold any claim to delineating a group identity?
The more ridiculous a myth, the more useful it becomes for establishing group identity and a cohesive satisfaction that "Yes, I belong amongst my brethren here, because we have bought into the same tripe. That buy-in makes us brothers".
I wholeheartedly endorse effort at community involvement amongst atheists. I am convinced that we are missing out on the support network that organized religion - when not too mired in its perversions - can potentially offer. But I see no prospect for atheist rituals. And in some sense, this is deeply lamentable.