Christianity, and other collective mythologies founded on faith in a mystical deity are flawed. (<- Early contender for the most obvious sentence of 2012 award) The highest form of faith is believing in something that can ultimately be disproved. The more impossible the belief, the stronger the required faith. This is irrational and certainly not a virtue. For the purposes of this screed Faith = faith in a god.
Faith is not a virtue - simply having it doesn’t make one a better person. For many, their morality is steered by faith and religious doctrine, but in no way is faith a prerequisite to moral living. Faith, however, does make one more hopeful. Faith spurs a hope that something bigger and smarter and better is in control or has the power to change our present or future reality. Faith may lead to hope that we’ll all somehow get what we deserve after death. In that hope, people find comfort, but it is not truth. Faith enables hope (good) but it also requires us to believe that which may or may not be true (bad). The Apostle Paul affirms this in Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hope can be a positive life force when we strive towards the improbable (e.g. beating illness, trying hard at anything worthwhile, etc…), and it can show itself in many forms, but it is certainly not exclusive to faith (in god) or spiritualism.
For the past several years, I’ve been struggling with this question of why I still attend church and participate in my religious community despite my apostasy. I don’t believe in the Christian teaching of God or soteriology. And while I’m open to the possibility of anything and everything existing in the unseen realms of energy and death, I certainly don’t have much belief in a heaven or a hell or reincarnation or all of us returning to planet Melmac. Upon death, we may become worm food or wormholes, I really have no idea.
But the church is what I know and what I love. It’s where I’ve met some of the best people in the world (and some of the worst). It’s where I’m comfortable and accepted. It’s a place that makes me feel needed and useful. It’s somewhere I can ponder bigger things in life and establish deep, meaningful relationships with others. These are the reasons that keep me coming back, despite hearing things about “relationships with Jesus” and how “God is in control” that make me want to claw my eyes out.
So, imagine if churches, in their current structure, were to acknowledge that faith was flawed and our own mythologies were no more “truthful” than anything else. How do things change? What does a church look like without the doctrines of our collective mythology? What if we kept all the undeniably positive aspects of religion and threw out the mysticism? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a community like that?
The 5 C’s: Things I love about the church now.
Constancy: knowing who will be there, the routine and order of service, steady location, consistency of environment and atmosphere, knowing what I’m getting into
Comfort: comfortable surroundings, old friends, welcoming, non-judgmental environment where I can be and express myself, a place to be away from burdens of the workweek - a place to unplug
Connection: seeing familiar friends, meeting new ones, a perfect level of interaction for “acquaintances,” eating together, familial support, collective joy/grief, a place where it’s not weird (rather encouraged) to make a “deeper” connection with people - generally unavailable in the workplace, a safe place to bring children and meet like-minded parents, sharing/venting concerns and helping find solutions for them, having the sense of a shared, collective purpose/cause
Creativity: opportunity to hear and play live music, learning through lectures/talks/stories/sermons, hearing new ideas and reaffirming old ones, high-tech showmanship (sound systems, computers, projectors, etc…), artistic expression/interpretation of shared values/beliefs, challenging intellectual discourse,
Collaboration: working on projects as a group to tackle a problem or organize an event for the common good, having an elected, hierarchical leadership structure that leverages individual talents/passions, sports/games/activities bonding through conflict/adversity
If we were to build a formal community that cultivated the 5 C’s I’d be all in. I already am, we just have that whole “Jesus is God” thing that irritates me. A community like this would not be immune to all the negative characteristics of any group: discrimination, gossip, conflict, etc…, but with the right alchemy and leadership it could evolve into a community that seeks the common good. I wouldn’t call it a church either, I’d call it the Common Community. Imagine attending a TED conference every Saturday. TED is the first thing that comes to mind when visualizing the Common Community. Someone like Chris Anderson would be the “Pastor.” The cultivator and leader. The facilitator. The Pastor is integral to the success of the community, but he is not the sole source of knowledge. He curates more than he creates. A true communal learning experience. Ok, I’m getting excited now.
Elements of the Common Community:
- No more sola scriptura: Eliminate reliance on the Bible or any other religious doctrine as the sole source of truth. Lectures/talks can reference anything that holds observable truth or otherwise presents itself as theory.
- Love Rules: Exploration of love and compassion as the highest principles and virtues - not faith
- Observation, not explanation: Exploration of science and the beauty and mystery of our world through observation - not mysticism
- Speak Well: Compelling speakers, experts in various fields speaking with authority
- Get Real: Discussion of real societal problems and how our community can help
- No Such Thing as Blasphemy: Irreverence for dogma, reverence for our community and shared values
- The 5 C’s: cultivate all the great things about religion, without requiring faith
Update (1/17/12): So I wrote all of that ^ while suffering a bout of insomnia last week. Today, TED (speak of the devil), released a brilliant talk by Alain de Botton who is making way more sense than I am. Atheism 2.0. So brilliant.