Intriguing essay about the quite rapid rise of atheism in America.

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4 Responses to “‘Making friends as an adult without a weekly congregation is hard. Establishing a weekend routine to soothe Sunday-afternoon nerves is hard. Reconciling the overwhelming sense of life’s importance with the universe’s ostensible indifference to human suffering is hard. Although belief in god is no panacea for these problems, religion is more than a theism. It is a bundle: a theory of the world, a community, a social identity, a means of finding peace and purpose, and a weekly routine. Those, like me, who have largely rejected this package-deal, often find themselves shopping a la carte for meaning, community, and routine to fill a faith-shaped void. Their politics is a religion. Their work is a religion. Their spin class is a church. And not looking at their phone for several consecutive hours is a Sabbath.’”

  1. David Foster Says:

    What I observe is that many, perhaps most, of the ‘unaffiliated’ people are *not* atheists in the sense of scientific materialism. They often define themselves as “spiritual but not religious”, and a lot of them hold mystical beliefs such as magical crystals, homeopathy, and astrology.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    David: Sociologists call them “unchurched independents.” But you haven’t really listed religious faiths or spiritual engagements – you’ve listed narrow enthusiasms. All faiths ask believers to believe seeming absurdities (“For what we are about to believe…” in the words of clever James Joyce…), but there’s a clear difference between the depth, communalism, and seriousness of the major religions (however unconvincing one finds them) and the pathetic utilitarianism of the activities you mention.

  3. David Foster Says:

    “pathetic utilitarianism”…pathetic some of them may be, but I’m not so sure about the utilitarian part. How do we know that these things are not giving them a sense of spiritual connection to (something)?

    Also, there are surely plenty of mainstream-church members whose affiliation is indeed mostly utilitarian.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    David: You’re right that the whole enthusiasm/spirituality/religiosity deal is notoriously difficult to parse. But people generally distinguish, for instance, between culture and cult, with culture indicating a large community of shared established values/creeds, and cult having to do with small groups of people having secretive, often narrow and sometimes dangerous compulsions/rituals – though both phenomena can be said to have something to do with spirituality in the sense of conferring what participants see as higher meanings on their lives.

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