Last night, the staff of the church which I serve as Director of Music had a fundraising dinner that was a tremendous amount of FUN. And honestly, even though it was a church event, I don't think the fun we had was even remotely related to religion. We, the staff, served our guests dinner and participated in various games that were inspired by games featured on some late night TV shows, including a fairly epic Lip Sync Battle (a la Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show). I did "Dream On" by Aerosmith, and the pastor did "Ice, Ice, Baby" by Vanilla Ice. Hilarious.

So yes, I've recently come to a realization that I don't believe in God, which could end up being a problem for my church job somewhere down the road. But for right now, I enjoy working and having fun with these people. They're funny, they don't have a problem with looking silly, and they're good people. We have a lot of laughs, and we work hard trying to make the church a welcoming, comfortable place. Which brings me to a question that popped into my head: can religion serve a social function that is mostly separate from the supernatural beliefs of its members? Now, right away, I understand that there can be problems with this idea. Far too often, religion (particularly Christianity in this country) becomes an oppressive force in society. Look at the psychos at the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, picketing funerals. But, in all fairness, looking at my church, they have programs that help provide assistance for people who are having trouble paying medical bills, they put together backpacks of food and supplies for local school children living in poverty, they visit people in hospitals and bring food to the sick, and a perform a variety of other ministries that are genuinely positive for the surrounding community. Would many of these people have come together to achieve these things without the framework of the church that unites them?

Once one realizes (as I have) that the supernatural elements of the religion itself don't make sense, it becomes a challenge to determine one's course. Sure, I could just stop and say, "Hey y'all, I really don't believe in any of this stuff any more. I'll see ya around." But that would deprive my family of a significant percentage of our income, as well as depriving them of a largely positive social context. Or I can (as I'm currently doing) find the good in what my church job (and the church itself) offers, and enjoy the company of people with whom I share a variety of interests beyond religion. That's where I am at the moment, and I'm fine with that. I'm curious as to whether anyone else here at Think Atheist has had similar experiences.

Views: 158

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on August 29, 2016 at 1:13pm

Yes, religion can and does serve a social function that is separate to belief in God. I think it plays an important role in social bonding, especially in smaller or somewhat isolated communities. The ritualistic side of it, the prayers, sermons, singing etc. are the glue that holds it together.  They are the subscription that one must pay in order to remain in the club and feel part of that community. Your rank and status in the community is left at the door of the church and because everyone participates in the same rituals everyone is seen as equal within the community.

It can have very positive effects on people. It will help parents discuss parenting and schooling with others in the area. It can provide a social time for locals who may live the rest of the week in relative isolation. It will also serve to broadcast local information on anything that will impact the community at large.

I know of Latvian immigrants who said that the first thing they decided to do when they arrived in Ireland was to find out where and when Church services were so they could meet with the local Latvian community.

However I don’t think it is down to the effects of religion that this community spirit is generated and sustained. It is kept going by “good” people who have no ulterior motive. They invest their time and energy into keeping the bonds strong. They are “good” people despite (or in spite of) being religious. If they organised a church fete in the local park on a sunny day and had no religious rituals before it started everyone would still have a great day.

If your local pastor was always all “fire and brimstone”, this would influence your musicianship and it would be more adagio than allegro. So I am sure he is a good man and would be so without his religion. He conveys this with a positive attitude and uplifting sermons and he may have a calm and pleasant demeanour than helps people to trust him. People are more interested in community spirit than the Holy Spirit even if they see them as one and the same thing.

I think that is why many religious people don’t trust atheists or secularists. They have strong emotional bonds with their Church – not the god part but the community part – so they think atheists are trying to take that away from them. We absolutely are not. All we ask is that they don’t insist that we have to get involved with it.

Where I have the problem with organised religion is when it encroaches over the wall of separation. It is with fundamentalists that are too extreme and often bigoted. It is with the hate preachers like the Westboro Baptist Church or the ones that are homophobic and disrespectful towards women. It is when a preacher tells his flock that something is against the law of God but indulges in it himself behind their backs. It is when religion tries to control people, how they should think and behave or even vote that I get annoyed.

I hope you can continue to have fun with Christians as there is no fun in fundamentalism. I would be very happy to drop in to your Church if I was passing. I would bring my Christian friends with me :-).

Aside: My mother once told me an anecdote about a young boy in Church, who when he heard the “Hail Queen of Heaven” being sung, started to get very alarmed. He asked his mother if he should be worried about his Aunt Beryl and Uncle Joe. Don’t be silly, said his mother - they are singing “save us from peril and woe”!

Comment by A.T. Heist on August 29, 2016 at 1:15pm

Well stated, as always, Reg!

Comment by Dr. Bob on August 30, 2016 at 4:39pm

Alternately, you can conclude that a tree is known by its fruit. ;-)

Comment by _Robert_ on August 30, 2016 at 8:23pm

I think that religion was instrumental in the development of our species. We are almost powerless alone; religion and common beliefs encourage cooperation and team work. It doesn't have to be true as long as we all believe, like in the value of a money. This is why religion seem natural to so many and why atheists are often detested. We threaten cooperation.

Comment by TJ on August 31, 2016 at 6:18pm

Comment by _Robert_ 21 hours ago

I think that religion was instrumental in the development of our species. We are almost powerless alone; religion and common beliefs encourage cooperation and team work. It doesn't have to be true as long as we all believe, like in the value of a money. This is why religion seem natural to so many and why atheists are often detested. We threaten cooperation.


Religion was a byproduct of our species' development, in that humans tend to hope things will change if they have a good luck charm/talisman, etc...and if told that someone can influence supernatural forces, they will believe it because it gives them comfort.

We create our own power, and, are, as a group, capable of incredible things, such as leaving the planet and exploring the galaxies, etc.

Common beliefs, if true, can be quite useful.  Common beliefs, if false, can be quite detrimental. Civic groups, neighbors, etc, quite often join together to perform acts of charity and civic good, etc.

The value of money is a consensus standard, but, as it IS standardized, if you believe a dollar will buy a particular amount of something, based upon that standardization, it probably will.

This is not like believing in the tooth fairy, which, CAN result in a false belief yielding a payoff, for a short time...until the repercussions of that false belief become insurmountable, and, the ones who TOLD YOU the false belief finally reveal it was a lie.

This is more along the lines of everyone agreeing that something has a value, to avoid barter.

It is not baseless, like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Jesus, etc.

Religions seem natural to those raised with the SPECIFIC religion, but absurd to those raised in a DIFFERENT religion.

People who worship cows laugh at people who worship zombies and visa versa...everyone ELSE'S religion seems stupid...because it IS.

YOUR OWN religion doesn't seem stupid, it seems quite natural, as everyone who raised you treated it as "normal".  That is your base line, the religion you were indoctrinated with as a child.

So, while religions DO seem natural, they DO NOT seem natural unless its your OWN religion.

Those who laugh at other's beliefs, under the assumption that only their own is correct, are often resented by or even hated by the people who believe differently than they do.

Atheists represent one such group, as they laugh at the cow AND the zombie BOTH might hate atheists for example.

Atheism allows people to cooperate, without the cow worship vs zombie worship causing them to break into "us vs them" groups...scientists for example, can concentrate on how to get a ship to Pluto instead of how to convince others/or pretend that, the world is avoid offending their religion.

So, if everyone was an atheist, there would be far more cooperation.

Atheists enabled men to fly to Pluto.  Religion enabled men to fly into buildings.

Comment by _Robert_ on August 31, 2016 at 11:14pm

Did you miss the "was" in "I think that religion was instrumental"....

Complex flexible human cooperation and our shared beliefs were especially necessary to our species to survive early on as we developed socially. Later on I would attribute it and other social institutions to our complete planetary domination. Common "beliefs" or better said "common rationalism" will required again if we are to survive our own great success. 

Try to get 500 tigers or gorillas to cooperate. Sure ants cooperate in great numbers but not in a flexible way.

I did not say that any one religion was natural; however virtually every culture has spiritual traditions. I would say that it comes natural to us as do many institutions such as government.   

Comment by A.T. Heist on September 1, 2016 at 9:53am

Incidentally, "men" themselves haven't actually flown to Pluto. We've managed to get machines that far, but so far, the farthest we've been able to get ourselves is the moon. Still, point well taken.


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