The Association for the Here and Now: why atheists should set up their own "church"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Q: First of all, you're not an atheist yourself. Why are you interested in the subject?
No, I'm not, but atheists are good people that are usually really interested in the promotion of science and this is a good thing. I think it would be a good thing for them to have a bit more structure in what they do as opposed to the current "herding cats"-type situation we have now.
Q: So why should atheists have their own church?
I don't think the actual organization should go with the word "church", but it should be thought of as pretty much the atheistic version of it. Don't forget that in a lot of languages the word for church has nothing to do with the building but rather just a gathering for teaching...and also for organizing activities together.

First of all, here's the name I've come up with that I think would be very fitting:

The Association for the Here and Now (AFHAN or AFTHAN)

and its motto would be:

For a better this life

The image above is just a sample so that would probably be changed, but I really think I've chosen just the right name and motto for the group.

Now note that nowhere there does it mention atheism, because the word atheist doesn't really give any information as to what your average atheist believes, but if you ask them they'll tell you that what they're concerned with is making this life here as good as possible. So in a sense that explains what atheists are about better than the label atheist ever could. Some prominent atheists like Dawkins have suggested that atheists call themselves something else, but the word he suggested ("brights") just doesn't cut it. It sounds a bit too tame, a bit too elite, a bit too removed from the world. I'm not really sure what a "bright" is supposed to do.
Q: So what would this association do?
It wouldn't be strictly atheist-only, but it would be founded upon secular and non-religious ideas and so probably only atheists, agnostics and secularists would want to join. It would carry out much the same work as the best religious charities do - providing aid to people and places that need it, regardless of who they are.
Q: If it does the same thing then why not just join an NGO?
Because atheists need better PR, to be honest. They really are just people that happen to not have a religion, so the fact that in the US for example an atheist can't get elected is just absurd. There's a stigma about being an atheist that needs to be erased, and I think one way to do it would be through a more or less central organization that is concerned more than anything with simply making the world a better place. With an organization like that any non-religious people running for office could easily point to it as an example of the good they do in the world, and perhaps we'll be able to see some non-religious people get elected. I'm a big fan of Eddie Izzard (not just his comedy but also his work on languages and European integration) and want to see him in office later on, and it would have been a shame if he had been born in a country where he couldn't get elected simply for not being religious.
Q: What about an atheist "Bible"?
I could see something like that, but it should have nothing to do with religion. I think this AFHAN group should create a document that can be translated into as many languages as possible that just has basic information on just about everything. Where the universe came from, how big it is, how life came into being and how it evolves, that sort of thing. I don't think it should deal with religion though simply for the fact that this organization would be doing a lot of overseas work, and shouldn't be perceived as an "evangelistic" group. The focus should be 100% on making the world a better place...and oh, since you asked, no we're not religious. That should be the attitude of the group. So a lot of care should be taken if it decides to create a document like this. It could work just as well without it though.
Q: Would there be coordination with religious charity groups?
Certainly. It might sound odd at first, but when you get down to it there's really no reason to not cooperate to a certain extent when you can. Imagine for example that AFHAN has saved up funds to create a library in Benin, and coincidentally there's another charity group (religious but not evangelical, also focused 100% on aid alone) that has just leased a building for a new community centre and they have a lot of extra room. If the two groups can cooperate on that then they can save a ton and won't need to divide their efforts. If both groups are focused 100% on making the world a better place (relieving suffering), and if they can improve the world that much more by working together, then there's no reason to not work together from time to time.
Q: Anything else the group should do?
Yes. I neglected to mention that it should also be focused as much on improving the lives of people within the country as throughout the world. I could imagine it meeting once a week (probably also on Sunday since that's when we have the most free time), having a regular speaker and guest speakers from time to time that talk about progress in science, in the world, and anything related to that. The group would also focus very heavily on concrete steps it can take to improve the community. Perhaps one week after "service" they would then plant trees, or maybe clean up the river, or volunteer elsewhere. It's really up to the individual community to decide this. "Tithing" wouldn't take place in full view though, as I don't think atheists like that pressure (it shouldn't happen in Christianity either IMO - see the passage on praying in secret and not letting people see your good works) and besides, there are much easier ways to donate nowadays than simply passing around a dish.
Q: Would you join the group?
Perhaps. It would depend on how well it manages to stay focused on the here and now, and avoids getting into the more lobbyistic activities that groups like American Atheists now do. If non-religious people happen to set up a group that is entirely focused on bettering the world and showing the world (very subtly) that atheists are good people too, then why not? I support any initiative that makes the world a better place.


Anonymous said...

I like this.

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