The atheist in the next pew

That is the title of an article on June 2012 Psychology Today. Read it, if you like, but pretty much what it alludes to is how some atheists are joining a church or a temple because they see practical benefits of belonging to these ancient traditions.
It was a refreshing account of a gay atheism, a non-militant atheism. It is a sort of post-atheism. I was highly inspired by Richard Wade. A retired marriage and family counselor, he “developed a phrase that became his de facto motto: Agreement is not important- only understanding is.”

Now, there is a lot of talk about hostility. People defend or attack this or that argument for or against a given religion. But isn’t it it as important, if not more important, to principle these exchanges upon a given dignity? That which should be sought is understanding. Agreement…what is agreement? People reach agreements all the time. But what has that really achieved? I can agree with what a person says but so what? I do not grow as a person, inn a moral sense, from my agreements but from disagreements. And what determines which road I take, high or low, is whether I can empathize, if I can understand the position I disagree with.

Given the choice of either

  1. understanding all of reality, or
  2. getting along with (surviving) all of reality,
    but not BOTH, which would you choose?

“Agreement” is all about finding a means to get along with others - Harmony - Surviving.

I’m not sure that this is the choice we have. When we become sentient beings, we may at first go along with the crowd (agree), but I “agree” with omar, that it is when we disagree, that we begin to show that we have tried to understand something and reached a different conclusion.

Agreement is all very well, but understanding is what I feel we are supposed to do as sentient beings. Approaching the world with this in mind, we can try to understand a point of view, even begin to see things out of someone elses perspective, and choose to accept that view as different, but as viable as my own view. Thereby I agree to disagree, but I do not become hostile.

Don’t confuse “going along” with “getting along”. The first can seriously try the second.

It is when there is no sign of “trying to understand” and/or the refusal to be patient in such an effort, that problems arise.

Rationality is about reaching your true goals, not about understanding the universe.
It is merely speculation that a better understanding will aid in the true endeavor.

What does it mean to ‘belong to’ an ancient tradition? Something more than sitting in a particular seat at a particular time each week, I venture. Something less, apparently, than actually believing what the tradition teaches.

Anyway, Pavlov wrote about something very similar to this.

“Ancient” doesn’t necessarily mean the only tradition. There are traditions which are arguably just as ancient and still alive. I believe that an understanding of other traditions helps blow the dust off of our own and perhaps even to give it life.

If Pavlov proved anything, it is that we should take a longer look at things we take for granted.

Why quote me if you’re not responding to the stuff I said in the quote?

I don’t know if you understood. The issue is not an either or selection we must make of either surviving reality or understanding reality. The other here is real but not reality. We agree or disagree with someone like us or we understand or not those like us.
The point is not as important to achieve agreements because in practice these are not always forthcoming. What is important is how we react in the face of fundamental disagreements, which we encounter sooner or later.
Don’t get me wrong I do not mean to take away from the ideal of agreements, but where not readily accomplished, the groundwork is set towards a possible future agreement by understand at least what separates us today. Wade, a family counselor, would emphasize the lines of communication, the open dialogue, the existence of dialogue more important than the existence of an agreement because a relationship survives a lack of agreement where there is dialogue and can even reach an eventual agreement through the continued dialogue. But if there is this lack of dialogue, not only would there be a disagreement but no possibility to any type of agreement.

Well, I am not making a minimum list. Churches don’t give out test before they ask 10% of your income to verify you at least believe in what Luther taught instead of what the popes have taught.

the person in the next pew…omg…
i want that person to be my friend not my enemy…i want that person to be honest and not a cheater…i want that person to care about people and not to care about money…i want good people in my church pews…

Okay, so you are not using those words in a more precise or technical way, but rather more in the plebeian sense (a very different meaning set).

So, as I translate your OP, it seems that you are saying to seek a greater understanding of the real situation when in disagreement rather than merely presume to agree or disagree.

Yes. Presumption is truly the seed of ALL sin.
Seek to avoid it when you have the chance.

But seek, perhaps through understanding the situation, a means to agree before you accept to disagree.
We shall agree to disagree” - The Devil’s own advice.

I considered it a perfectly legitimate philosophical question and relevant to your subject. If you want to be dodgy about it, then I’ll kindly butt-out of your understanding-fest and go look for a real discussion somewhere.

I agree. The output is more important than the input. Being honest more important than conformity.

I wasn’t being dogy but making a point about the history of the church. The creation of patented creeds was to create that minimum requirement in order to belong but it did not mean that it was understood and believed and thus they then belonged.
I think that you raise a valid philosophical point that it is a bit absurd for an atheist to belong in the traditional sense to a theistic organization. But theism is not a sufficient belief to belong. What is sufficient, today, in the mega(and impersonal) churches of America, is a bank draft. In these churches such belonging would be possible.
In the stories of that article however they belonged to Unitarian churches and others with untraditional doctrines. Is it really that absurd that an atheist can be said to belong to a church when you have theistic homosexuals attending churches as well? We live perhaps in a country that is great just because that can happen.
I think that as a whole, Christianity has received atheists with wider arms than other religionists because, as in Anthony Flew, an atheist might change his or her mind.
Would Mitt Romney face such resistance from the Christian right if he simply said that he was agnostic?

I am not raising a point. I am asking a question. What does it mean to belong to a tradition? The atheists you cite consider it important to do so. So they must have some idea of HOW to do so, you seem to allege they ARE doing so…

so what does it involve?

I don’t really see how a bunch of cynical examples of other people in other traditions apparently ‘doing it wrong’ does anything to answer this question. Yes, donating a pile of money probably isn’t sufficient either. So what is? You clearly seem to have an opinion by virtue of all the bad examples that spring to your mind!

Belonging is a subjective quality. Ultimately you have to feel that you belong. Churches are the people and belonging to a church means before anything having meaningful relations with its members. You can believe in much the same, if not exact things, and still feel out of place. What is more important is not an agreement over a set of belief as much as liking that person. These relations are built with what we do and not just what we believe.
That sense that you belong to something might be built upon that meaningful interaction with the people at church, people that have become your friends, who don’t make an association with you totally determined by what you believe.

Now how does one accept another? When do you consider that another belongs to the organization you belong to? I don’t know for sure. But people might be appreciative of how nice a person is. They might disagree with the Dali Lama but would they demand his ejection from their church? I do not believe that a Christian as Christian is required to take such fundamentalist position. It is how the interpret the Christian message, as one of love or as one of judgment that determines how they feel about that atheist in the next pew.

I agree with all of this. One thing remains that puzzles me though- is belonging to a group of people the same as belonging to an ancient tradition? Like for example, is it possible for me to go to a church, and feel a sense of belonging to that group of a few score individuals, but not to Christianity? In terms of the benefits these atheists see in what they are doing- is there a difference? Is there something about belonging to a Christian group (or if you prefer, any old religious group) that is more beneficial than belonging to, say, the Rotary Club or a biker gang or…I dunno, whatever kind of group you care to name?

I have two concerns- one is that the ‘sharing the same beliefs’ thing does become important once you try to take Church attendance as more than merely social. The second concern would be that gaining from church participation without accepting the doctrines has kind of a… anti-Kantian thing going on. Can’t universalize that maxim.


I think the idea of understanding is good, but ucci raises the right question. While some christian churches strive to be inclusive, most are exclusive, and one must pass a ‘litmus test’ to be considered a church member. People most often join (or leave) a church based on litmus test issues. Is the church pro-choice or pro-life? Are homosexuals invited or shunned? These are very real issues for theists and atheists alike. If the religious dogma embraced by a particular church sees homosexuality as anathema, then to be a member of that church requires agreement with that stance. Understanding the assumptions and doctrines of any particular religion is required BEFORE there is any opportunity to enter into dialog where disagreement might be allowed. I’m sure there are churches that embrace inclusive diversity, but they would be rare. I think it would be much easier to find examples of exclusivity than the opposite. The Southern Baptist Convention by itself is the poster child of exclusivism. Then there is the Pat Robertson group, Oral Roberts… you get the picture.

I see this more as wishful thinking than an actual ‘movement’. Wouldn’t it be great? But… :unamused:

Your last concern is not necessarily persuasive to a great majority of Americans that don’t know or accept kant’s philosophy.
As for the rest
Perhaps the key is that antiquity. Rotary clubs and biker gangs simply cannot match the ubiquity of Christian churches in the west. Membership to church is a social enhancer when 3 out 4 persons define themselves as Christian. By joining a church you might smooth things with a spouse, family, boss and also make life for your children easier.
People who know about the history of the church might not forgive its dealings with Galileo and so they might be interested in relating to the people within their church instead of a historical Christianity. Belonging to an ancient tradition, as explained above may have practical benefits. It doesn’t meant that these atheist as ok or want to relate to ancient Christianity other than to the name.
One other possibility is that the antiquity alluded to is not traditional. Atheist have rejected belief in Jesus as god and yet retain admiration for Jesus the man, who proposes a message of love and peace, which although theistic, resonates with a moral atheist.

Sharing the same beliefs is important if you take church attendance as intended for something, meant for something else than the salutary effects of a sense of community. I agree. But this question is somehow left unasked, in play, implied, but unendorced, perhaps because they don’t see atheism as final. Remember these are not militant atheist. They are not out arguing why a godless universe is perfectly logical, and these churches today might not be willing to open a can of worms. Because the ironic thing is that sometimes the atheist, not the theist, is better acquainted with the tradition they have rejected than the theist with the tradition they think they have accepted.
In my own experience theists that knew me and my controversial positions still invited me to join them at church. In a sense I used to be that atheist in the next pew. It was a different experience for me as it was for my friends, sure, but I think that the distance is greater over behavior than over belief, meaning that a moral atheist is closer to a Christian ideal than an immoral theist.

I can agree with that. The pastor of a local presbyterian church and I became friends and we spent a lot of time discussing theology. Every once in awhile, he would have a sermon that he thought might interest me and I would attend church on that Sunday. This went well for several months until I attracted the attention of some of the well-meaning church ladies who presented me with a Sunday School pin. I told my friend I could no longer attend because it would eventually come out that I would have nothing to do with their Jesus, and yet I considered myself as a follower of what he had asked of us - no mean feat for a heathen… :unamused: :laughing: