Christian Community and Freethought Fellowship
Recently I’ve been participating in various freethought gatherings around town. Having been active in churches my whole life, it’s been fun to compare and contrast the fellowship events of believers with those of skeptics. The biggest difference I’ve observed so far is the nature of the conversation. At freethought gatherings, the conversation frequently involves philosophy, religion, science, the Bible, and current events. The crowd tends to be fairly well-read. When I first started attending fellowship gatherings for non-believers, I expected to hear a lot of religion-bashing. And there has been some of that, but by and large it’s not the main focus of conversation.
Ironically, the conversation at freethougtht gatherings tends to be more theological, if you will, than the banter at Christian fellowship events. I’ve heard nuanced discussion about the history of religion, scriptural interpretation, and the role of religion in public life. At these events I’ve met people who have described themselves as atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and deists. However these are not different “denominations” of freethought–just different places on a continuum of disbelief.
When Christians gather for their fellowship events, generally the conversation does not include discussion about Augustine, Aquinas, or other theologians. They don’t talk about church history. And they don’t talk about the Bible. What do they talk about? Life–the kids, work, vacations, gossip. Quotidian topics. Let me be clear; this is not a criticism. I’m not saying that freethinkers are “better” than believers because they tend to talk about headier stuff. But I do think that the nature of the conversation at Christian gatherings demonstrates that metaphysical concerns are definitely not the driving force in the day-to-day life of believers in American today.
Homo Sapiens is an intensely tribal species. And religion is one of the most potent expressions of tribalism that humans have ever devised. Generally speaking religious people do not gather to ponder the meaning of life or the nature of the Atonement or the interrelationships of the Persons of the Trinity. Rather, they gather for the same reasons members of the genus homo have gathered for hundreds of thousands of years: for mutual support, for solidarity, to assuage feelings of loneliness. The particular God under whose name they gather really doesn’t matter. It could be Dionysus, Isis, Vishnu, Yahweh, whoever. The function of religion is pretty much always the same: the primal need to band together for safety and security in a hostile world.