This essay does not argue for either religion or atheism. As I think you will see, I am trying to build a common bridge that will empower everyone to be more effective fighters for truth, liberty and justice.
Billions of people go to church, temple or mosque – driven by human desires to be uplifted and to find a sense of comraderie with other people. But in the process, they get exposed to messages such as:
- Obey authority
- Be meek
- We know what is true, you’re not qualified to figure it out for yourself
- Our way is the only right way
- All unbelievers are going to hell
- God wants us to conquer others
(Obviously, some churches, temples, mosques, etc. are better than others, and preach better messages. I am not criticizing faith, belief, or any particular religion. I am simply addressing the power-hungry, authoritarian version of it which has swept most of the world in recent years.)
On the other side of the coin, huge numbers of atheists stay away from religious rituals, and so miss out on the celebration and upliftment which comes from getting together with a bunch of people, celebrating comraderie, singing uplifting songs and saying deeply-felt affirmations together. For those who get their comraderie from participating in a regular ball game or a “mother’s club”, I will show below that this does not meet the same deep emotional need*. Remember, the overwhelming majority of Americans go to some time of “religious” services, and so if you aren’t going to religious celebrations, you are missing out on something most other people participate in (I am not saying that the things being preached are true or accurate. I’m only talking about missing out on frequent interactions with other people in a celebratory, inspirational fashion. For many people, this type of communal gathering – similar to the small town gatherings of our ancestors – is very emotionally satisfying).
What’s In It For Me?
I propose a type of regular meeting which welcomes both atheists and people of faith, concentrates on empowering and uplifting people, and leaves all of the baggage behind.
Impossible, you say?
Well, some groups are already doing something like this. (As just one of many possible examples, Unitarians provide the singing, uplifitng and comraderie part. They focus on uplifting values, without overtly preaching any religion. I interviewed a local Unitarian minister; he told me he was an atheist. However, they are a fairly touchy-feely left-wing group which is not very welcoming to traditional conservative values.)
How can a group provide comraderie, upliftment, be welcoming to conservatives and liberals, and not be divisive?
By providing uplifting activities, and by focusing on the power each individual has to choose his or her own destiny and to take heroic action.
What Value Is Shared By Both Conservatives and Liberals, People of Faith and Atheists?
Conservatives value individual liberty and the right of each person to make his or her own choices as a responsible adult, and then to face the consequences of that choice.
Liberals value the right to choose one’s own lifestyle regardless of what traditional authorities say.
Both groups value the hero: the person who rises up and creates his own destiny and lives in the way that he wants.
People of faith value taking action based on deep values even when the world seems to be against them.
Atheists value independent thinking and logic in the face of false dogma.
Both groups value the hero.
Why Group Meetings?
The way humans are wired makes the type of comraderie, singing and affirmations which occur in small groups (roughly 10-200 people, pulling numbers out of my ear) effective in making people feel more empowered, to help focus and to get motivated.
The intention in participating in such meetings is to empower us to fight for truth, liberty and justice, and to give us a little inspiration while we’re doing it. So sing empowering songs (they don’t have to be churchy; they can be heavy metal or hip-hop if that’s what pumps you up), read passages from inspiring biographies of people who made the world better in the face of overwhelming odds, tell empowering stories, and make empowering affirmations of our heroic natures and our ability to overcome powerful tyrants and oppressors.
The important thing is that it should be obvious at this point in human history that:
- Each person has more power within themselves than they are currently using; and
- We need to start using that power to fight for the liberty, justice, wealth, and health which the bad guys are trying to take away from us
For some people, the path of the hero is fueled by courage. For others, conviction, passion, faith or brains. Why not cater to (or at least not discriminate against) all of these different types, and focus on the one common goal of empowering each of us to be a hero and providing inspiration in a way that we don’t have to swallow authoritarian messages with the uplifting parts?
Let’s use the power of small group meetings to fire up our efforts. Instead of being lone wolves who try to fight the good fight alone, let’s harness our human and tribal tendencies hard-wired into us to empower our activism and are ability to fight the good fight.
And since there is something deeply satisfying to most people in this kind of uplifting group meeting, it will make us feel good at the same time.
* Regular ballgames with the guys or mother’s clubs with the gals provides some comraderie and inspiration. However, for most people, they do not meet the hard-wired human needs for comraderie, inspiration and empowerment to the same degree that meetings that specifically focus on those things give. For example, almost nothing inspires people as much as hearing true stories about people who have overcome tremendous adversity, and group affirmations are quite moving, and singing uplifting songs together brings good cheer to most people (as long as you like the music).
Note: This is not some new hierarchical pyramid scheme. No one’s in charge, no one has to join, and you can do it any way you want.
And you don’t necessary have to start building new buildings to house meetings. We can simply hold meetings in our houses, apartments, parks, forests, or wherever else we want. Just meet once a week or more, or whenever you want.
And if you can’t find 10 or more people, just get together with a friend or two. There’s nothing set in stone about it.
Use any rituals that empower and inspire the group; or none at all. Do what works for your group, and leave the rest. If you want, you can go to existing ceremonies to get ideas about what does or doesn’t empower and inspire people.
All I’m saying is that many people disempower themselves by selling themselves short. They assume – based on false assumptions – that they don’t have what it takes to be a hero, to act with power, to have a positive impact on the world.
Empowerment clubs are a way to help make us all heroes.