Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Secular Replacemet for Church?

Are religious people happier/healthier than non-religious people?

Are ignorant people happier/healthier than informed people?

I am not making the case that religious people are ignorant, or that non-religious people are informed - those are totally different topics of discussion. I'm just asking the questions above. I don't intend to imply anything, so please don't infer anything.

I'm aware of studies of the effects of religion, and of 'the placebo effect', on medical healing.

I'm very interested in this stuff. I would think that everyone should be, on some level. There's the very personal side - can I benefit, medically or otherwise, from believing in some god, or from 'positive thinking'?

And then there's the political/societal side - which has two parts. The first - how can society benefit from 'positive thinking' and/or the promotion/destruction of religion?

The second part is the really interesting question for me - what institutions can a secular (non-religious) society promote or create to benefit its citizens? I haven't thought of this question in terms of health - but more having to do with community - shared goals, shared responsibility, cooperation, etc. You know, "it takes a village"-type stuff.

To make this second part more concrete, let's say you happen to live an a town that is not overly religious? If you don't have church to go to on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, what do you do to get that uplifting feeling of connectedness - or whatever it is - that you can get from going to church?

I never much believed in God, but I always felt good about going to church and I especially felt good about all the little things the process of going to church involved - dressing up, putting on my good manners, saying 'Hi' to all the elders of the community, smiling sweetly for the old ladies, yuckin it up with acquaintances/friends rarely seen, doing some good deeds leading up to church day or soon thereafter because I was feeling that (non-Winston) 'churchillian energy' (lowercase 'c'). That is what I want back in my secular life.

I found some of it in the various activist groups and movements. Found some of it in the Green Party. But nothing in my neighborhood. Nothing where I could just show up, and be like 'yeah, I suck', and I would still be welcomed with open arms into the community of other folks, where it didn't matter a whole lot what color my skin was or what my politics were. How/where does a secular society get that? Is it even possible? Do we even want it? Should we?

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