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Posted by on Jun 18, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

Nothing requires religion, except religion

atheistUntil recently, I said stuff like this:

“I am a religious atheist.  I’m a recovering Christian and open to God; I just can’t find one worth following.  I share the ultimate concerns of religious people, but my search for God has led me away from gods.” 

My views have evolved.  Now, I’d put it more like this:

I am an atheist.  I’m a recovering Christian, and if God were possible and real, I would be very interested.  I simply have no reason to think he is.  

I’m dropping the term ‘religious atheist’.  I’m doing so because it finally has occurred to me how this must sound to my atheist friends.  If I’m a religious atheist, what does that make them?  ‘Mere’ atheists?  Atheists who are missing some kind of depth, fervor or devotion?  

No.  Fervor and devotion don’t require religion.  Nothing requires religion, except religion.  Religion has always been a hijacker, a parasite of what is best about being human, and so is, at best, unnecessary.  All the good things in life can be had without it, including all the subjective mystical experiences many call religious.  Calling them ‘religious’ has an exclusionary effect, as if they are only available to people with connections.  They’re not.  Such experiences are everyone’s natural heritage as human beings.  If an afterlife were real, it, too, would belong to everyone.  Using ‘religious’ as an adjective adds nothing apart from marking something in a caste system I’d like to outgrow.

I have kept the word ‘religion’ around this long because there is much good in what we call religion.  But that is only because religion absorbed those things.  Religion is an ancient impulse, sort of the first science.  As a religious atheist, I worked to get it back from the supernaturalists.  The first religions were likely some form of nature-worship.  Then, relatively recently, kings and other politicians hijacked religion by inserting their favorite deity.  This happened so long ago that everyone thinks religion is about pleasing gods.

But the good things in religion aren’t good because they’re religious.  They’re just good.  That’s why religion claims them.

For years now, I’ve been trying to remind people, especially atheists, that religion doesn’t rely on gods.  I have also clarified that what is best about humanity precedes religion, that religion works by  planting its flag on the best stuff, stuff that belongs to everyone, and then charging admission.  

But if that’s all religion is, an imperial move to claim humanity’s best, why keep it around at all?

So now, I’ve changed my mind.  The historical point that religion doesn’t require gods or faith means little if the general public thinks it does.  We have to start from where we are, which is today.  And today, to most people, religion means God.

I’m done with religion, even liberal religion.  But little else will change.  I will still work with people who call themselves religious.  And I’ll still lend my efforts to my UU church.  I just won’t try to set them apart by calling them religious.  It’s an empty word.

  • Copyleft

    In some senses, it might have carried a negative connotation–one of militance or blind adherence, which detracts from the emphasis on rationality.

  • donsevers

    PS, I left the UU church in Feb, 2015. And I now hold the same view about the word ‘church’. There’s no sense calling an organization a church if it isn’t a religious institution.