Thursday, 16 February 2012

Why start a new "religion"?

Not surprisingly, when I bring up the idea of starting this new religion of Sapienism, people have reactions.

Atheists tend to recoil at the idea, seeing anything related to the word "religion" as leading in a bad direction.  By and large, most of them are content to leave behind all the trappings of religion and want nothing to do with anything similar.  They think I'm just missing the community aspect and suggest I go join a sports group or attend some barbecues.  I could dump the word religion, but frankly that would be rather dishonest, since I am modelling this on religion, and I wouldn't know what else to call it.  Perhaps a fraternal organization, since it's similar to those - except those have secrets and restrict membership - I don't want that.

Others of various faiths don't understand what makes this idea different.  They see something in my ideas similar to something that exists and say why you just go join a Shamanist, or Buddhist, or Unitarian Universalist group.   

If all I was trying to do was find someplace for me to fit in, these would be absolutely valid criticisms.  But that is only a small part of what I am trying to accomplish.  The fundamental reason I want to do this is because I think it is needed.

I believe that what makes religion harmful is not the rituals, not the symbols, not community gatherings. It's the faith.  The belief in invisible things without any evidence for them, the magical thinking, etc.  When people reject the faith, they toss out everything else as well.  The baby out with the bath water.

How many people are in the pews every week not out of deep conviction, but because they like the other stuff and don't want to leave it?  How many have left their churches, but now feel isolated and alone, unfulfilled?  Sure there are partial ways of getting portions of what's lost, but nowhere that I know of to get both community and spiritual fulfillment that does not depend on any sort of faith.  (here you might cite Unitarian Universalism - which comes close - but that is not specifically atheist, skeptical, etc.) 

When Christianity supplanted paganism in Europe, it did not do so by completely wiping out the indigenous religions and supplanting them with something new.  That would have been a failing tactic.  It took what was already there and familiar and gave it new meaning.  It took the festivals, kept the rituals and symbols, but changed their significance.  In the same way, I think it's difficult to convince people, even if they agree on an intellectual level, to abandon their religions where they are happy.  New Atheism, being that isn't a religion, but a movement, seeks to show people the harm caused by supernatural beliefs and indoctrination, but in it's place it offers nothing.  Over and over again I hear de-conversion stories of people who leave their churches only to find themselves utterly alone.  But if they could come to a community where the familiar feel of a group united in shared ideals gathered to celebrate with readings, song, and discourse, where the ceremonial and ritual elements were there and were rich and deep in meaning, then the transition would be eased and they would find a new home.  Religion is a powerful tool for bringing people together around common ideas and shared values.

The next question people will have is whether I'm trying to become some guru or cult leader or something.  Yes and no.  When I was young I wanted to be a priest.  I love writing, public speaking, sharing my ideas, etc.  So yes, that appeals to me.  I would love to be a minister of sorts within this new religion, to lead a group through a ceremony, to speak on various topics, etc.  I also want to write and have people read my books.  If I could make a living at these things, that would be wonderful.  But I want to create a living community, where the members guide it and help it evolve.  I don't want to become some pope or dictator, that's not me and that's not something I would want to promote, either.

Bottom line - if this doesn't appeal to you, that's fine.  I am in no way attempting to say my way is the only way.  I'm just taking the ideals that most in the Atheist and freethinker community share: valuing science and reason, humanist morality, skepticism, and open exchange of ideas, and pairing that with a format based on elements of religion I feel are part of cultural and evolutionary heritage.  It's just a way of packaging, distributing, and enjoying these shared values.  Nothing more.    It's a pretty simple idea, really, and actually not particularly controversial when understood.  I know many people will not like this idea.  That's fine by me. I'm not going to worry about trying to convince those who don't find the idea appealing - I have nothing to gain in such an effort.  I'm going to focus on working for those people do find it worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. How exactly are pointless rituals, symbols and groupthink based on the whim of the cult leader better than pointless rituals, symbols and groupthink based on superstition?

    Also, see: herding cats.