A quick thought for tonight… Something that my partner, Janet, and I like to say is that we are “non-theists” rather than “atheists”. Certainly we are atheists in a technical sense—we do not believe that god(s) exist. But right or wrong, atheism has come to mean more than that simple statement. For many, I suspect it also indicates an anti-religious attitude or at least an absence of religion. And those things do not quite describe us.
I make the distinction because I agree with religion professor Loyal Rue when he asserts that humans acquire meaning in the form of narratives. As such, religions can be seen as more than systems of beliefs and practices, but as cultural narratives that provide meaning, guidance, and a sense of identity. For example, it isn’t enough to simply have a list of things that are important—religions must also tell stories that explain why they are important. And on a deeper level, religion tells the human story, the narrative of who we are as a people and how we fit in the larger world.
I might be a non-theist, but I am not non-religious. I believe that it is possible to develop a robust system of ideals, practices, ethics, and narrative meaning that serve all the primary functions of religion without any need for supernatural elements. In fact, that is exactly what we are trying to do with Sacred River, and what has already begun with the bourgeoning Religious Naturalism movement.
This is not to say that I do not respect those who apply the term atheist to themselves. By some accounts, there are as many as 700 million to one billion non-believers out there. That’s a lot—by comparison, there are approximately 900m Hindus, 375m Buddhists, and 14m Jews. Technically, I am of their number, but I want to see religion reformed rather than abolished. And a big part of that will be spreading the perspective that religion does not need God.