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A Solution for Loneliness: Get out and volunteer, research suggests (scientificamerican.com)
695 points by headalgorithm 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 481 comments

I've volunteered with a local ambulance corps for the past 2-3 years. I've driven and more recently became an EMT. It's worthwhile. We sign for at least 4 shifts a month. There is a fair amount of training and retraining to keep the cert active. Some shifts are distressing and it is a bit hard to compartmentalize...

I am glad to have it though. I have contact with a whole different world than my NYC tech job and have a different relationship to my city than I would otherwise. The EMTs (and trainees) are younger, different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. Not uncommon for me to be on a shift with a crew chief who is 20 years younger and different race and or gender. And it be a person I trust and respect.

As for the work itself - it can be harrowing and you second guess almost everything and try to figure it out better. While trying to help the patient(s) you have to manage radio contact while filling out a chart which you are constantly reminded would be the basis for legal discovery if needed. Our Corps does about 6k calls a year out of one location with 3 ambulances. And you get all the variety you expect in a city.

I question it sometimes. This volunteering eats into my work life and family life. Occasionally dream about it or think about it. To the point of the post - it does connect me to community in a different and meaningful way. There are other ways to achieve the same thing probably - just adding my experience.

Similar but far less impact; I did the Community Emergency Response Training (CERT). It was a great experience. I met tons of locals, learned important skills, and learned a lot about myself and leadership. It was a handful of all day Saturday classes and I cant recommend it enough. It gave me a bit of an itch to get EMT certified, so your account was interesting to read.

My dad has been a volunteer sherif for decades (because of his background he does a lot of the local hostage negotiation) and I know how much he got out of that.

I started with CERT (actually a few weeks before Hurricane Sandy) and as part of that got an EMR cert. That led me to the Volunteer Ambulance Corps I am at now. See if your CERT org has the EMR - good luck!

EMR sounds awesome, thank you!

This has been something that's been on the stove for me for two years now. I'd love to do this also - you wouldn't happen to have written about it anywhere?

In US it is state by state - they are semi-nationalizing the written exam (NREMT) but you need to take a practical exam in the state you get licensed. Volunteer EMS is dwindling a bit but still around. Often the Volunteer org will voucher you once you put in time as an "Observer". I did that for a year and started driving and got my EMT last December.

Always an intriguing proposition, but I'm not sure I can handle the automobile accidents if I'm trying to squeeze it in between work & life. I hear it can get horrific & gruesome pretty often. What has your experience been?

Where did you get your EMT training? (context: I am in NYC and would take EMT training and volunteer at my own expense if I understood how it worked)

I went to JCMC (Jersey City Medical Center). I looked for programs in NYC but all are in Queens or Brooklyn. From work (midtown NYC) I was able to ferry or subway to Jersey City and make a 6PM class time. One caveat - this preps you for the National test and a NJ practical exam. So you would need to schedule an extra exam to get the NYState cert...

Expense was ~1300USD plus book for a 6 month course (Tues, Thurs, Sat). My volunteer corps offers vouchers which reduces the overall cost to $200 but I would have had to wait another cycle (and also probably take it from a 19 year old who would need it more). So I paid for it. The course is worth it for the practical skills alone. After you take 50 blood pressures - it starts to click, etc.

Also the practical days in the hospital trailing ER nurses or respiratory specialists are great.

lmk if you need more info

how do you do this? like what's the basic requirements to be able to volunteer?

Are you in US? All the reqs are state by state. For my Corps, to volunteer as an "observer" the minimum reqs are a CPR card and the ability to lift a stretcher. There is a simple application with a background check and interview. To drive you need a clean DMV abstract and a practical training exercise. To EMT you need an active EMT cert and 8 shifts as a "Crew Chief in Training". There are other specializations and training you can get.

My solution for loneliness - online DnD.

I live in a place where it's very hard to find like-minded people in real life. That plus health issues and social anxiety resulted in me being quite alone for awhile. I'm very introverted so I wasn't unhappy, but still thought that it would be nice to have a group of good buddies to hang out with.

Then I have learned that you can play DnD over discord/roll20, and my god this is so great! A lot of incredibly smart and amazing people, welcoming and friendly community, so much fun! I highly recommend it to everyone!

As someone who played pen and paper DnD as a kid, and a lot of computer (baldurs gate, fallout, nwn and many others), I'm curious about this.

Do you have any resources to get started?

Most games are played via discord voice chat, often roll20 is used for rolling dice, managing character sheets, and moving tokens over the map. Create discord/roll20 accounts, come up with a character, make a character sheet.

You can find people to play with on /r/lfg subreddit. If you're not ready to commit to a long-term campaign, I recommend looking for one-shots(one-time games lasting 3-5 hours). Try things out, play a couple of games, get to know a few people.

Also, there are a lot of discord servers where people hang out and play together:


They often have channels where they announce games, free for anyone to join. My favorite server is:


There are a lot of games in there, and people are very friendly and willing to help. Just come over, ask questions. Don't be afraid to just join one of the games and start playing - nobody expects you to know all the rules when you get started, DM and other players will help you out, you will learn as you go.

Quality of games can sometimes be uneven(depending on DM/player skills). I was lucky that my first few games turned out to be amazing, but occassionaly it can get a bit slow/boring. If that happens - don't give up, just give it another shot, it's worth it. Gradually you'll meet and get to know people you like playing with.

Quick tutorial on playing games on that server:


You can also find a group to start a campaign with right away. Post on /r/lfg and say you're looking for a DM and players, or find a post made by a DM and apply as a player. The biggest challenge here is scheduling - people live in different timezones, and sometimes groups fall apart because people have trouble making it on time. Your group needs to decide on a specific time you can play every week, and stick to it. Some people have trouble with this, but it's easier than it seems, if the first time doesn't work out - just try again. I was lucky to find 3 amazing groups with awesome players right away.

I will certainly give it a shot on weekend, thanks for the detailed pointers!

https://www.reddit.com/r/lfg/ https://discord.gg/UPNHuUd https://app.roll20.net/lfg/search/ Some good places to start, the reddit lfg especially is full of posts of new players asking to be taught. Roll20 is a browser based tabletop emulater most people use to play in, and also has its own forums to find groups in.

Religion has the benefit of being a massive (1B+ for the major ones), well established institution for bringing people together, the recurring nature of meet-ups for church and / or prayer help to establish routine. What I've found is that for those who are not religious, the hardest part about building a social structure from scratch is establishing some routine.

I moved from Boston to Portland a few years ago and didn't know anyone. I tried everything from Meetups (solid if you're looking for friends of the opposite sex and people your age -- especially if you're a millennial / gen X), volunteering (great for meeting a wide variety of people but can be difficult to come across the same people over and over unless you share a common bond, like work) and sports (best for last minute get together, but sometimes to schedule can be too rigid if you don't dedicate yourself).

They all have their benefits, and you'll never enjoy every type of person you meet in a certain community. The key above all is getting together with people you like on a semi-regular basis. Even twice a month on a long enough timescale is enough to establish a strong tie.

A fun thing to try is improv comedy. It exists in practically every large metropolis and all you need is the ability to be brave and potentially embarrass yourself. Everyone is trying something new and risky, and it doesn't matter if you don't think you know how to act.

It was a great community for me, and you see the same people every week for years.

Thanks for that suggestion. I’ve been kind of wanting to try this for a while and really need to see what groups are available to me, locally.

My advice is to not overthink it - just sign up for a class and take the plunge. It's a lot of fun.

In France some test is going on to turn long term joblesness into proactive social life. They made a dummy company (one per city) that will hire everyone and pay them up to 21k euros per year to do things (what kind I don't know, probably small services and tasks). TV News was saying that it had suprisingly large success so far.

It's interesting to think about this in terms of UBI (universal basic income). This test is the opposite in some ways since it's providing the utility as the motivation rather than the income directly. The premise of UBI is that the income is provided such that the individuals would aim to benefit society on their own terms and find utility that way.

I am of the kind to fit UBI well. Give me a hangar and a bit of money to pay food and some tools and I'd fix the city. I'm sure some wouldn't use money for interesting things. The zero joblesness project is indeed an interesting approach.

As an HN user, you would make more money with your current skill set in the current job market. With that in mind, your net value to society through said job would be higher than the value you would provide fixing the city with that UBI money. Before going to extreme UBI scenarios, it would be interesting to have private enterprises tackle projects that effect the public with public funds that are earmarked to go directly to actual individuals at those enterprises (versus retaining profit) or individuals in that locale.

I don't know, he could also work in ad tech and have a net negative impact on society. In that case just paying him to do nothing would be better. :)

That's mostly my concern, I tried finding IT related jobs for really useful things (anticrime, education) but failed. Most interviews I ended up going to were of basic recruiter kind and no social value IMO.

This is exactly what I propose to people who are against the idea of UBI and usually the reception to it is very positive.

If this is contingent on public service it's not UBI. The essence of UBI is to be unconditional.

True, I use that tact rather than starting an argument with someone who would definitely just leave without changing their mind and probably even more entrenched. That way hopefully at the end of the conversation some sort of progress has been made.

...hence people against UBI responding positively to this. OP never said this was UBI.

Interesting! Where can one read more about this initiative? French sources OK.

I think that's what they were talking about https://www.tzcld.fr/

(territory zero chomage/joblesness long duration)

Sounds like college

Where can I get paid 21k euros a year to go to college? I might never leave

I got tuition + around 12k USD per year when I studied in Denmark...

(Obviously, you'll eventual graduate)

Try European countries

Source please?

I think that's what they were talking about https://www.tzcld.fr/

(territory zero chomage/joblesness long duration)

I'm really surprised by how negative the comments are on this one. I mentor a young man once a week and it has been a huge positive influence on me and my mental health. It really helps me be more "others centered".

It's a sign of how people are on the Internet. I did more than 1000 hours of volunteering in high school and it's made me who I am today. Now I run a startup that uses AI to automatically create real-world social events between friends: research shows the best solution to loneliness is seeing people in person more often and volunteering is certainly one of the best ways.

Sounds interesting, name?

https://www.sphere.com.ai/ from his profile.

That sounds awesome!

However, I don't quite see how the volunteering is connected to your startup.

Yeah, getting out and volunteering at a local animal shelter changed my life in numerous ways. I cringe at people my age who still live self-centered ladder climbing lives, always trying to optimize whatever metric, because I used to be that idiot too.

Do you mind clarifying:

> how negative the comments are on this one

Do you mean negative comments about the article (and its advocacy of volunteering), or negative reactions to the first comment here on HN, which brought church into the discussion?

EDIT to add: hm, further down there are some quite negative comments (some rather silly), maybe you meant those.

Yeah, I wasn't really commenting on the religious discussion. More on the dismissal of the positives of volunteering. To each their own I guess. I am certainly no expert, but I can't help but feel that a lot of mental health struggles could be improved by spending more time focusing on improving someone else's life rather than looking inward too much. It is certainly only one piece of the puzzle though.

This is absolutely true, at least for general frustration/negativity. Playing a positive role for others is a huge help.

I don’t want to downplay depression or imply it’s a cure for that, but certainly my own struggles with same have been lessened when I was an active volunteer.

You don’t have to be a “better person” to volunteer; volunteering helps you become a better person.

Lots of stories here, here is mine: I started volunteering at my local non-profit bar/pub/coffeeshop 6 months ago (runned by volunteers only, there is no employee). It has done wonder to my social life: I spent the previous 3 years in this particular city without making any friend there outside of work. Since I started, I made a lot of acquaintances, a few of them I might consider as friends later down the line.

This place is really great in that you don't need a specific time investment: just sign up for a 3 hours shift when you feel like it. If you really like it, you can invest yourself more. Or just go there whenever you feel like it to talk to friendly people, without to have to find friends in advance (I wouldn't go in most pubs alone: most are designed so that you come with your friends and stay with them without talking to other group of people).

This has been my particular story, but I'd advise anyone with too much free time and not enough people to spend it with to volunteer to something, anything, that match with your values. It really is life-changing.

Just don't go too deep too fast: you can definitely burn out with volunteer work as well. That's one thing several persons at my non-profit specifically warned me against, in non-equivocal words, as it happened to others before.

This is such an awesome idea. Here in Canada, I see these types of places referred to as a 'co-op'. Seems there's one in Toronto called Lunik.

Having worked in restaurant environments before, I can definitely attest that serving and making drinks alongside your coworkers is an excellent way to spawn a really legitimate friendship.

> my local non-profit bar/pub/coffeeshop

I guess step 1 is founding a local, non-profit bar/pub/coffeeshop then :-)

I'm not a native English speaker, I don't know the proper translation (we just say a "bar" in French, even though coffee is as important as alcohol).

But as I noted, any non-profit that align with your values is good.

I'm not either but I think your phrasing made sense, because bars look different in different parts of the world, and so does coffee shops, so it makes sense to underline that it's all of the above.

It's frustrating in SF where it seems like the only night time social activities are drinking-related and very few businesses outside of bars/clubs are open past 8pm or so.

One thing I love about going to Asia is the vibrant night time activities that of course includes bars but also night markets and late shopping that is as much for families as it is for bar goers.

Several years ago in San Francisco I started volunteering at a nonprofit theater, doing ticket checkin, will call, ushering, and things like that. Since then it’s grown into a much larger part of my life, and I travel all over the West Coast stage managing for cabarets, circuses, magic shows, and stuff. It’s still all volunteer, mostly low budget local artists who can’t afford to hire high-end professionals. But it’s been amazing, completely revolutionized life in San Francisco for me. Frankly it’s the main reason I haven’t left the city, as I’m kind of burned out on all the tech stuff here. But my circus friends are awesome. If you or anyone else wants to see an entirely different side of San Francisco and make some new friends in the arts community, ping me. Contact info is in my profile.

This has been what struck me the most after visiting Asia (Thailand/Bangkok) for the first time in my life, and even the 2nd time I visited there. At any point of the day or night you can do whatever you want and nobody will bat an eye. I've seen whole families having diner at 4AM in the morning while I was just walking through the city.

Now compared to my own city and country (The Netherlands), people look at me weirdly if I go for a run at 12pm at night. Even though I just got home and this is the only time I have.

It's there. You don't get a city as big and diverse as SF without plenty of things going on at night. You just need to know where to look.

I find it surprising that hardly anyone here mentions music or the arts. Shopping isn't the only nighttime social activity. Go to the theatre, play an instrument, learn to dance.

Some of the loneliest people are the elderly who have lost their mobility and cannot get around easily. This often happens in your 80s.

I volunteered for home hospice, and met with a 94-year old man for a year. As he would say, "my body is shot, but my mind is sharp" -- and was it ever.

What an amazing story he has -- decorated WW2 veteran (he had so many stories to tell about the war), worked in construction for 40+ years, now has an extended family (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren) that is 100+ strong.

At some point, hospice said that he was doing better so they were cancelling their support. I still wanting to see him so I kept going. He wasn't expected that though, and the next week when I showed up he was so appreciative he was in tears.

You never know how your presence can affect someone.

Unfortunately my hospice volunteering sent me further into depression, perhaps even an existential crisis. I knew the impact of hospice and that was enough reason to put myself in the situation where maybe I could help.

The patient I was working with had a stroke. He was paralyzed, completely bedridden, and unable to speak. Despite his ailments, he was able to hear & see properly and thus able to understand me. I would read him books and magazines. Deep down I knew he understood & enjoyed it but the lack of feedback of any kind was frustrating despite knowing his situation was far worse.

After months of volunteering, the following day I go in and his bed is empty. As I left, my soul felt emptier than that bed. Is this what my future could entail? Those types of thoughts ate away at me. It was bad enough for me to consider them but far worse to view my own thoughts void of morality and so focused on my self.

I wish I could tell myself I'm in a better position today. For today at least, I'll try.

Your are not alone in your experience. This causes people working in nursing homes to quit: the death is difficult to deal with, especially if you are working in a capacity to get to know folks.

It is difficult knowing folks as they die. Really difficult, and your aftereffects are quite normal.

If it keeps eating away at you, there is help available - from people trained to help people through this exact situation. Please consider getting help if it seems too much at any time.

I am sorry that you went through this. I was worried about something like this happening too, and wasn't sure how I would handle it. It sounds like you're handling it the best you can.

If you'd like to talk more privately, please reach out (my email is in profile).

That’s a wonderful story, thank you for both creating it through your actions and sharing it.

Spot on. I have an elderly uncle in that situation, it is super hard on him. He now has a little battery powered scootmobile and it is more precious to him than any car ever was because it increases his radius of operations tremendously, if the weather cooperates just a little bit he's out there.

I've been trying to come up with a way to extend the range even further so he can visit his old friends with it. It won't be quick but time is not his problem.

There are groups that visit housebound elderly people. Or at least, I know that several churches and nursing homes around me do that. Ask around, and I bet you'll be able to find people doing this! These groups are always looking for volunteers.

In my area, one such service is organised through the red cross. Everyone you visit has requested a visit, so I think it works out well. One might be able to work through them or, time allowing, start a local service doing similar.

Much of that is economic. Our society places no value on most people that age. If you have a family they may value you enough to spend their time with you, but that’s giving. Most people have 0 economic value at that age, our political elites excluded.

> Much of that is economic. Our society places no value on most people that age.

this feels like a theory in search of facts. are your friends hanging out with you simply because of your economic value to them? or weirder, hanging out with you because of your economic value to your employer?

there might be a correlation between someone's "economic value" being zero, and them being lonely, but there are a lot of ways that can happen, and direct causation probably isn't one of them.

This is a good (often overlooked) point, but I do think there are also real physical constraints (limited mobility, injury risk, lowered energy) as well as mental ones (including just being from different generations) that increase the difficulty of elders participating fully in society.

Volunteering strikes me as one of those "if it were a pill, everyone would be using it". In the same way that exercise is basically all benefits once you get past the risk of injury.

From a community's point of view, volunteers directly benefit the community by planting trees or running soup kitchens. They also strengthen the social network of the community. Finally they improve the health outcomes of the volunteer, reducing the healthcare burden on the community! The only downside I can think of is the potential loss of legitimate work for the unemployed.

My old role in science outreach involved a lot of help from local Rotary Clubs. They were mostly older people. They were enthusiastic, effective, happy, and full of the kind of amazing stories and wisdom you can only get from living a long and interesting life. I came out of that job convinced that volunteering is effective.

The only thing with volunteering is most organizations really want someone dedicated who will show up regularly, not just once every other month (training those people is more trouble than it's worth). My grandma volunteers a lot, and this is a frequent complaint of hers.

I volunteered with something my workplace set up once. It was ok, but they never even booked a second session. We were tutoring underprivileged kids, so it's a little depressing knowing we're just someone else who didn't really support them.

I think that volunteering can help with a lot more than just loneliness, including bridging gaps between different ideologies. I spent some time working for an urban tree planting group in my city. As you would expect a lot of the folks involved were green thumb forest ranger types, but a lot of them were not. A couple of the older Sierra club guys openly discussed issues with the modern global economy and its impact on the environment, stuff that might get you banned from Twitter these days. The machine shop guys who repaired our tree stakes were pretty "red state" but they liked those Sierra club old guys, and they also liked trees. I also remember talking to a young energy industry employee who knew a lot about green energy initiatives (and why they were taking so long to ramp up), and of course dyed in the wool vegans and forest ranger folks. But the fact that everyone was giving up their Saturdays together for a common goal gave everyone a little extra liberty to express their opinions and experiences, and of course the civility of face to face conversation helps bridge lots of gaps too.

I know someone who has considered looking to volunteerism to combat loneliness. In all the places they've looked, what has put them off of it in every case is the up-front commitment required - a certain set of hours in a day and days in a week, for a minimum number of weeks. This is understandable - volunteer-driven efforts need reliable people just like anything else does - but it makes it hard to dip your toe in.

> volunteer-driven efforts need reliable people just like anything else does

Amen to that! One of the greatest challenges facing volunteer organisations these days is the supreme difficulty of getting people (especially millenials) to commit to regular and extended involvement. I'm in the national leadership of my organisation, and I hear the same stories from virtually all our groups, as well as from other organisations.

Of course, there needs to be space for people to just try themselves out at first (we certainly have that). But at some point, you've got to be willing to commit...

This isn’t the case for “day labor” volunteering in my experience, although of course that’s not for everybody. I build & maintain hiking trails a few days a month and occasionally work construction at Habitat for Humanity. In both cases, you’re supposed to stay all day, but there’s no obligation beyond that one day.

Indianapolis used to, maybe still does, have a group dedicated to social volunteering. Basically you can pick and choose small or big volunteer opportunities from a variety of community needs.

I didn’t much like some aspects of it, but it’s definitely a useful approach for some. I regret I don’t remember the name of the organization.

Folks can say what they want about religion, but I have a feeling that church plays a larger role in maintaining a healthy society than it is given credit in some circles.

Any communty really. Sport, book or chess clubs too. Theater lessons, shared houses, gay bars, anything where you can recreate a sense of being part of a group and not just being among people. The quality of the community matters though, some are human, some are mechanical. Leaders matter of lot for creating the right mix.

And work is less and less a good place for that, because of policies, specialisation, compartimenting, but also because of lack of meaning .

Meaning is a very important component for a group, and religions sell plenty of it, which make them strong people binders.

A lot of other factors like common values, language, symbolism and stories reinforce this effect, but you can find that elsewhere, although it is very natural for spiritual groups to include all of it.

I'm not sure that just any community would be a substitute for church. Most churches are not groups in the sense that you're describing above. Yes, most congregations share a common theology, but the people in the group are often very different personalities, ages, backgrounds. Even super conservative less diverse congregations I know preach unity of the international church, go on mission trips, etc.

The problem with modern substitutes seems to be that they are extremely narrow and probably very temporal (Keto diet fanatics, cross-fit buffs, even gay bars seem to be past their glory days). Much of the unity of the church body comes from a connection to ancestors and a sense that one is, cultural differences aside, a part of the same thing.

> I'm not sure that just any community would be a substitute for church. Most churches are not groups in the sense that you're describing above. Yes, most congregations share a common theology, but the people in the group are often very different personalities, ages, backgrounds.

I agree with this. Church communities also tend to be geographically local, which can be important.

As an Atheist, I have no desire to encourage people back to religion, but I do think society needs a replacement for the community created by religious groups.

What social roles would that hypothetical secular church need to replace?

I see a reinforcement of a group identity that can follow to new churches, often simply requiring attendance... opportunities to practice values through volunteering... the holy leaders' quasi-authoritative councilor/networking facilitator/self-improvement/social policing role... and more...

Hut how would we fulfill religion's roles without the leaps of faith and dogma that defines religion?

A sense of local community. Knowing your neighbours. A place where everyone is welcome.

For one thing, the social role of a Church seems overstated in my experience, though that might depend on denomination. After sitting through the sermon and that business was done, what followed was merely lunch / dinner with extended family. We never mingled much with others.

Religious families are big on family and I this day and age, they're smaller than ever. Gone are the days, in my case, of communing for a large family dinner almost every week. I barely even see my parents.

All of which to say I think our social needs were met in large part by family, and Church was a convenient vehicle to bring it together. There's no substitute for family. However, between a plethora of possible social obligations given our leisure time, I think loneliness can be abated.

I think it depends a lot on the individual congregation. Our previous church was terrible socially: everyone stuck to their own in-groups (which often overlapped with extended family), and there was little mingling outside of Sunday morning. Our current church, however, is incredibly vibrant: we've made many close friends there, and the church community goes out of its way for each other (such as doing extensive landscaping last week for two members fighting cancer). Both of these churches are effectively from the same denomination.

Sure. I haven't hopped and skipped too many but that's been my experience with Catholic churches everywhere, a family affair. Mind you, French and Italian families can be fucking massive which kind of renders the mingling redundant.

> All of which to say I think our social needs were met in large part by family, and Church was a convenient vehicle to bring it together. There's no substitute for family.

In my experience churches and families are not independent things. Basically every healthy church spends a significant amount of time encouraging healthy families in both direct and indirect ways.

And most healthy churches aren't all that convenient. There are too many people involved for church to be convenient.

They're at once inconvenient, and convenient. Otherwise there would be no point.

I'd say they're totally independent even if you perceive they may benefit families; lots of institutions can.

> Even super conservative less diverse congregations I know preach unity of the international church, go on mission trips, etc.

This kind of thing is actually more common in more conservative churches in my experience. More progressive groups don't focus on evangelism/conversion as much.

When you weigh this against all the harm organized religion does, I am not sure this argument holds much water. Humans will be fine. We don’t need dodgy 2000 year old books to hold society together.

Remove religion and we'll find something else to create dogmas: political ideals, borders, money...

Religion is just an excuse, anything you can extract moral from is ripe from being abused as a justification for the worst human behavior.

We used communism and eugenism for the same purpose. We had a book, we had a leader, and we had a genocide.

But we do need something. What is the alternative? Our mutual smugness?

Hobbies. Communities based on mutual interest. There is a thing called a Unitarian churches, they are much closer to dogma free than almost any other churches and many focus strongly on community with religion as a secondary thing for many members. I have found a stronger community in BJJ than I ever saw at a church in terms of real relationships. Humans just naturally form social groups with the smallest amount of lubricant.

Plus there's a shared sense of fundamental worldview values in a congregation that you don't get in an affinity group like chess club.

do not forget an explicit focus on spirituality. other groups might have some modern, diluted equivalent as a second order effect, but religion contains spirituality and spiritual rituals right in the forefront.

In the novel The Affinities, Robert Charles Wilson had a sort of secular religion that grouped similar people together in tight social groups based on a cluster analysis of genetics and personality traits. To be clear, I'm not recommending this in real life and I don't think Wilson would either. But it is a thought provoking concept of an alternative to organized religion.

Sports clubs attract a wide cross section of society. Playing a team sport is a wonderful way to meet people from many different backgrounds.

What do you mean that gay bars seem past their glory days?

Dating apps obsoleted them in some ways.

> Any communty really.

There are plenty of toxic communities. Belonging to them may salve loneliness without being healthy. If for example the community is built around resentment, revenge, purity, a charismatic leader, etc., fellowship may still provide a strong attraction ... that is best fulfilled elsewhere.

If nothing else, better to get a dog than a cult.

Cults specifically look for people who aren't already tied in to healthier communities when they're recruiting. They want people who feel alienated and disconnected, because those feelings make them easy marks for what the cult is selling. With participation in healthier communities of all kinds slowly atrophying since the early '90s, the pool of people vulnerable to the appeal of toxic communities has grown.

The way to drive toxic communities back to the fringes of society is to build and support healthy ones.

> The way to drive toxic communities back to the fringes of society is to build and support healthy ones.

Also useful gardening advice.

Yes including toxic churches, soccer teams and anime forums. Humans being humans and all that.

Plenty of people prefer to be victims in group than alone though. We are weird creatures.

What exactly is a toxic community? How does one identify that they are in one?

Toxic is contextual to an individual. Some products don't affect all life forms the same way, or at the same dose. Same for communities: you know if you are in a toxic one if you can objectively observe it brings unacceptable suffering to you when you are in it.

It's not precise science, it's subjective, and sometimes hard to identify.

Same with abusing relationships.

Membership in a community is one benefit that churches/religions provide. Another is a worldview that values selflessness, altruism, and honesty. I don't think those things can exist apart from religion (at a cultural level, anyway), because as soon as you decide morality is relative then everyone is free to choose the morality that is most convenient for them/their tribe. I think this explains much of our political divide and the "post-Truth" era generally, and we're only a decade or two into mainstream moral relativism. This is, of course, speculation so take it for what it's worth.

> because as soon as you decide morality is relative then everyone is free to choose the morality that is most convenient for them/their tribe.

I don't think I'm a moral relativist, but this is a non-sequitur. It's possible for morality to be relative, but still have guiding principals.

>we're only a decade or two into mainstream moral relativism.

No, people have always found a way to justify what want to be right regardless of the underlying ideology. We've just become more explicit about it in some cases. People's beliefs about what is right tend to be very convenient for them regardless of what they claim their beliefs to be.

I think it's the equivalent of a 'code smell' if you find yourself going through life without being challenged about what you think is right and wrong. I think it usually means you have come up with a convenient set of rules that allows you to ignore nuance and details so that you don't have to constantly struggle with what's good and bad.

Of course, I'm speculating too.

> No, people have always found a way to justify what want to be right regardless of the underlying ideology. We've just become more explicit about it in some cases. People's beliefs about what is right tend to be very convenient for them regardless of what they claim their beliefs to be.

This is probably true in cases. But I suspect that widespread cultural alignment to a general perspective/worldview must have an overall mass effect.

> I don't think I'm a moral relativist, but this is a non-sequitur. It's possible for morality to be relative, but still have guiding principals.

At an individual level, I agree. But I stipulated "at a cultural level", by which I mean something like "if the culture is morally relativistic, I don't think you'll see a critical mass of principled individuals that would prop up a principled culture". I don't think moral relativism is compatible with a principled culture, at least not given the parameters of human psychology.

> No, people have always found a way to justify what want to be right regardless of the underlying ideology.

To be clear, I didn't claim moral absolutism generally or religion in particular is a panacea against this sort of self-dishonesty, but I think you see less of it and instances are less pronounced if only because that individual will lose credibility with his peers. In a morally relativistic culture, the offender only needs to argue "that's your morality, not mine" or "that's your truth, not mine", which is roughly what we see today.

> We've just become more explicit about it in some cases. People's beliefs about what is right tend to be very convenient for them regardless of what they claim their beliefs to be.

I think there's always a temptation to convince oneself that what they want is moral, but I think that temptation is inhibited because he knows his community won't let him get away with it (his reputation would be damaged if he advocated for a few overtly immoral things or many subtly immoral things, consistently). Further, with religions in particular, there is often a text that lays out the morality and there is only so much word lawyering someone can do without overtly running afoul of it. It further constrains the impulse. And with religions like Christianity in particular, a central activity is reflecting on one's selfishness and working against it (the concept of "dying to oneself").

Like I said before, it's not a panacea (there are many religious people and indeed Christians who subvert it), but I think it is a bulwark that we tear down at our own peril.

In that case, that ideal principled culture could be totally incompatible with human psychology, at least until an AI takes over.

As much as you defend organized religion, it seems to evolve into bigotry quite often, if not always.

But in the end, we are so dependent on the idea of a God, that we will end making an actual one.

Long live our robot overlords.

Moral relativism doesn't prevent loss of credibility with peers. Rather it enables reflected response: you treat nice people nicely and bad people badly - that's relativism, it looks unreasonable to be nice with everyone.

After thinking about it for some time, I think I'd like to simplify my model:

In a morally relativistic society, credibility is distributed along tribal lines because there are no higher principles. Everyone is motivated to look out for oneself and the best avenue for that is a tribal alliance (as you point out "you treat nice people nicely and bad people badly", however, "nice" and "bad" devolve almost immediately into proxies for "benefits me" or "does not benefit me"). Things that would otherwise be absolutely wrong (like sexual assault or political violence) now vary morally depending on what is convenient to our tribe in the moment. Science can be swiftly rejected as racist or sexist (or whatever sin our tribe is immediately obsessed with) if it supports an inconvenient finding, but it will be back in favor next week when it produces convenient results.

In a morally absolute society, universal principles resist these selfish, tribalistic tendencies (although not completely or perfectly in all places at all times--remember we're describing a bulwark and not a panacea). We agree that sexual assault and political violence are very bad and we condemn people even in our own tribe who commit such acts. Empiricism is also venerated above personal or tribal convenience (although sophisticated empirical findings may take time to trickle down the chain of trust to the layperson).

Anyway, there are lots of holes to punch here since the topic is highly subjective and I didn't draw all of the connecting details (due to time constraints), but that's the general model.

Doesn't sound like you make a difference. Human always think in terms of benefits. It speaks about complexity of human behavior that you might not see simple facts about it. You can't reduce it to a simple formula, calculating beneficial strategy can go a long way. You may believe that it's beneficial to be a sociopath until you know what it entails.

do you believe there has ever been a morally absolute society?

I think most societies are morally absolute. Relatively few accept the "that's your truth/morality, you can't impose that on me!". This doesn't imply that all morally absolute societies have the same mores.

Nearly every society I look at has a widely diverse set of morals present in it. You might get widespread agreement that "rape is bad" but when you start to look closer there is disagreement within that about what constitutes rape (something I don't understand personally, but I can't ignore that it exists).

There is widespread disagreement about the use of force, who should care for the sick and poor and when, and so many other things.

So maybe I don't understand what you mean by a morally absolute society.

I don't understand your point of "that's your truth, you can't impose that on me." That's literally how most of us have to get along. If we were unable to accept moral differences in other people, we would be completely unable to function as a society. I don't believe there has ever been two people who have completely agreed on what's moral or not.

You only need to look at the literal thousands of different versions of Christianity to see this.

Is it wrong to be gay as a christian? You're going to find hundreds of different christian opinions on this, with their own scripture to back it up.

Are you saved by words or actions? Again, you're going to find many many different answers, all with their own scripture and reasoning.

You claim that christianity is about reflecting on one's selfishness and working against it, but can you say that about the prosperity gospel? Trump is about as self-centered as a person can get, but he's held up as a saint by millions of christians in this country.

But perhaps you just mean within a single church community, and not christianity at large? I was a PK, though, so I know how church politics can go and the infighting and selfishness that can be exhibited within the community.

Basically the most we can hope for when it comes to morality is some general agreement about right and wrong, and that agreement is always shifting. There has never been a community or religion in the history of the world that hasn't exhibited this.

Most of this doesn’t refute my point; it’s largely enumeration fallacy and I tried very hard to address this in my post (“not a panacea” and all that).

The thing that is probably most valid and damaging to my model is the bit about evangelicals accepting Trump. I genuinely don’t know about this, but I’m inclined to say that it’s due to the absorbtion of post-Truth mindset from the broader culture. I don’t think you would see anything like it 15 or 20 years ago.

FWIW, I’m sorry we’re being downvoted. I think we’re having quite an interesting conversation. :)

What's an enumeration fallacy? I've googled, but nothing useful came up. The point I was trying to make is that even if you say "we should follow christian values" the necessary follow up question is "which christian values?"

15 or 20 years ago, the same type of thing was happening, just on a smaller scale. Good examples are some of the Televangelists like Peter Popoff.

Perhaps the thing we're disagreeing about is the extent that a "principled culture" protects against this kind of self-indulgence. Based on my personal experiences with the church, I've found the moral framework that it provides does not usually play an active role in the behavior of it's members, and is more often wielded as a tool of judgement against others than as a tool of self-reflection and self-improvement. But I can also recognize that my experiences with the church are not necessarily typical.

I'm not sure that there is a utility to moral authoritarianism beyond the ability to quell disagreements. History has shown that "god says" is an extremely powerful motivating force.

I don't know what your point is. The lack of consistency in Christian behavior does not imply that Christian morality is on the whole unhelpful.

Especially since Christianity tends to downplay ritual and effort-based holiness, comparatively speaking. You don't achieve level 100 in Christian by donating, passing theology tests, travelling, conquering, converting people, or being sin free. Of course actual Christian practice will be all over the place. None of it is explicitly mandatory. Morality is fairly explicit, but actual enforcement of morality isn't the job of Christians outside of particular scenarios.

>The lack of consistency in Christian behavior does not imply that Christian morality is on the whole unhelpful.

I wasn't trying to say that it's unhelpful, just make the point that it's not uniform. If someone says "we should follow christian values" the necessary followup question is "which christian values?"

> which christian values?

"""And one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."""

Most people have a hard enough time with those. But, you might say, what about the details? What about white lies and second donuts? That was also covered by Jesus:

"""Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."""

The details might seem inconsistent and controversial, but the basic morality isn't all that convoluted or up for discussion. People just don't like thinking about how everyone is bad at the fundamental stuff.

Anyway, Christian philosophy is pretty coherent even if the people aren't. And it's not clear that your expectations of consistency are required for there to be social benefits to Christian belief in particular or religious belief more generally.

There are millions of christians who disagree with you. But yeah sure, clearly you're the one person in the world who has it right!

You're right about my expectation of consistency for there to be social benefit. I just have an expectation of consistency from those claiming to have a monopoly on fundamental truth in the universe. My expectation has nothing to do with social good in that case.

> There are millions of christians who disagree with you.

About The Greatest Commandment and the Golden Rule? As directly quoted from Jesus? If so, this definition of "Christian" is far too encompassing to be useful in this discussion.

> But yeah sure, clearly you're the one person in the world who has it right!

What I'm quoting is even less controversial than the Nicene Creed, which is unanimous among major Christian denominations. They can't even agree on what day of the week is the sabbath and what day of the year is Easter, but they all agree on The Nicene Creed. And they absolutely agree on The Greatest Commandment.

There is not as much controversy about the basics as you seem to think there is.

Numerous variants of the Golden rule predate Christianity and there are few if any direct quotes of Jesus that survive. The gospels were written decades later. Oddly Jesus doesn't appear to have written or had someone record his wisdom directly, despite Aristotle setting an example with his 18 books of ethics over 300 years earlier.

I'm not sure I follow your point. We aren't talking about pop history; we are talking about whether there is shared Christian morality.

I guess I led with the wrong thing. Mainly pointing out that they are not, in the strictest sense anyway, "directly quoted from Jesus" (and it kinda boggles my mind that he wouldn't have the foresight to write things down clearly to help keep things clear and consistent, which would not even have been unprecedented at the time)

Also Jesus: no need to wash your hands if you give to the poor you hypocrites, what goes in the mouth comes out of the body!

1800 years later: humans finally develop the germ theory of disease and can stop dying of easily preventable illnesses

I agree, but I don’t think your point refutes mine. See my sibling comment.

> Especially since Christianity tends to downplay ritual and effort-based holiness, comparatively speaking.

This sounds like a rather Protestant-centric viewpoint.

Even for Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians compared to other major religions.

Non-protestants are still rather light on compulsory behavior on the whole. Compare to orthodox branches of other major religions. No particular rules on clothing, cleanliness, charity, gender separation, pilgrimages, prayer times, need to attain spiritual states, etc. No karma to optimize. No hidden knowledge to uncover.

Some churches eat a bit of cracker and juice/wine on a regular basis. Some get a person wet as a one time initiation ceremony. That's pretty light ritual on the whole.

And while various High Mass clothes and rituals are certainly there, there's no particular requirement of parishioners to give one, attend any particular mass, or even attend a minimum number of them.

I still might debate the role of ritual in Catholicism, Eastern & Oriental Orthodoxy,

> No karma to optimize

but I actually had the more karmic things in mind, i.e the importance of Works vs importance of Faith, which certainly does vary between different Christian sects.

> No hidden knowledge to uncover.

There are gnostic types of things. If perhaps less so today than in the Renaissance. But it's not as if it's absent.

So I still think this is a rather Protestant perspective.

Edit to say: Also, in fact even or perhaps even especially, Protestants were engaged in gnosticism/Christian mysticism in the Renaissance period.

But my point is that, comparatively speaking "behave like a faithful person" is a fairly open ended assignment compared to attaining nirvana, circumcision, forgoing beef, or literally earning one's way into paradise.

> don't think those things can exist apart from religion (at a cultural level, anyway), because as soon as you decide morality is relative then everyone is free to choose the morality that is most convenient for them/their tribe.

You've confused absence of moral relativism with religion; the former does not require the latter, and most non-religious people are not moral relativists, at least in the sense of the strong meta-ethical relativism which would justify the claim above.

Actually, it's way funnier than that, because most religions are strongly in favour of moral relativism and subjectivism. When the standard for what is moral is the opinion of some guy, that is clearly just a subjective opinion, and when different cultures refer to different guys for the opinion, that is clearly relative. Just adding the further nonsense claim that your guy also created the universe, or something to that effect, seems to be an effective rhetorical device, but doesn't change that it's just a guy's opinion, not an objective fact.

I’m not following, sorry.

Anything I can help you with?

I think the former may require the latter. I’m not sure how an atheistic (in the literal sense) population could resist the forces of selfishness and tribalism over generations (again, this isn’t to say that religious people are unwavering, but I think religion does function as an anchor that keeps a population’s mores from drifting too far). As for whether most non religious people are moral relativists, perhaps they aren’t individually because they’ve settled on a morality that is palatable to them, but in aggregate I posit their morality (moralities?) drift more readily than religious persons.

And as a reminder, this is all speculation and I completely understand that you may not agree (I may not agree by the end of this thread!).

> I’m not sure how an atheistic population could resist the forces of selfishness and tribalism

First you're going to have to explain how religious populations avoid those.

Hint: they don't.

I had already addressed this in a sibling subthread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19975618

Anyway, they do; that they do so imperfectly is not a counterargument, since (as I've mentioned several times), religion serves as a bulwark in this regard, not a panacea.

With better education. Better reasoning skills prevent stupid applications of instincts.

> Another is a worldview that values selflessness, altruism, and honesty. I don't think those things can exist apart from religion

Religion doesn't have a monopoly on those ideals. They are not even solely human ideals. Many mammals display them in certain scenarios.

> (at a cultural level, anyway).

Many of the least religious countries are the best places to live, and the most religious, the worst. I went to Norway (the least religious country in western Europe), and they often don't check tickets on the train or at the entrances of places. When you ask someone why not, because people could lie, you get an answer like.. "because one wouldn't do that" (ie cheat the system). I got so used to it that I would lose my train tickets in my bag because I didn't need them. The only place I needed them was getting off the train at the airport because there was a machine that checked it.

> because as soon as you decide morality is relative then everyone is free to choose the morality that is most convenient for them/their tribe.

Religions do this. There are many sects with different rules. People pick and choose what rules to obey all the time.

Not being religious doesn't make one a moral relativist. Ethics and morality can be reasoned about.

> I think this explains much of our political divide and the "post-Truth" era generally

The post-truth era in the West is clearly a product of the religious right: https://youtu.be/xnhJWusyj4I

Why can't selflessness, altruism and honesty prevail under the influence of secular government? I'm not saying our current governments have achieved this, but we also see a great deal of selfishness and dishonesty in religious groups. We do have secular incentives that encourage altruism (eg. charitable deductions and state honours for people who contribute greatly to the community) and legal (conviction) and social (expulsion from public office) punishments for dishonesty in some cases. Isn't it conceivable that if these secular tools were used more effectively, we could achieve a non-religious society that values selflessness, altruism and honesty?

My comment was about culture, not government, so I’m not sure how to address your question.


Sorry guy, I’m not here for a flame war. Best regards.

Your inflammatory comments suggest something different, unfortunately.

Much better than community is family. Go to church, meet a nice girl or boy, get married and have some babies. That's the actual solution for the loneliness epidemic.

You do realize that you don't need church for any of that right? Any sort of club or organization will work. This beating over the head that church is the answer is rubbish. I know lots of religious people that are very pleasant and kudos to them for having their own faith while respecting others, I know more that are prejudiced and feel morally superior to those around them, or won't let their kids go on the school trip to the natural history museum - so I'd rather see people not getting sucked into the Church machine like it's an answer when there's lots of ways to socialize without the dogma.

No, you don't need religion to hang out and stuff but having matrimony as a sacrament sure nudges people to build families.

> having matrimony as a sacrament sure nudges people to build families.

Or, you know, a million years of evolution baking the instinct into our primate brains

I'm an atheist. I want to agree with you so bad, but having kids is different than building families. I think beasteurope is correct about religion encouraging families to stay together rather than breaking up. I'm not saying other social structures can't encourage this behavior, but I don't think relying on evolutionary instincts is going to keep families together as reliably as relying on evolutionary instincts combined with a social custom where potential parents promise commitment in front of the whole community (with the magical threat of eternal torture should they part ways for bonus points). Not the world I want to live in, just the world I think I live in. And again, I can imagine other social customs for building families (like matrilineal lines with strong social expectations of uncles participating in childcare, for example -- there's at least one hunter-gatherer example of this I'm forgetting the name of).

> like matrilineal lines with strong social expectations of uncles participating in childcare, for example -- there's at least one hunter-gatherer example of this I'm forgetting the name of

There is one matrilineal society with a culture that some anthropologists describe in terms you describe -- the Mosou people. However, more recent anthropological data indicates that this too is not the whole truth. While the Mosou are undoubtedly matrilineal, they typically know who the father is and children with involved fathers (rather than just involved uncles) do better. Moreover, Mosou society is not spontaneous. It developed as the result of a lower class being subjugated by a very patrilineal upper class nobility. The lower class was socially engineered to be compliant, while the upper class taxed them. The upper class was eventually disbanded by communist china, and the Mosou are now mistakenly used as an example of a stable matriarchal society. Nevertheless, even this fails to stand to scrutiny as exposure to the patrilineal mainstream Chinese society means most men just leave for greener pastures in mainstream Chinese society. Were it not for gawking tourists to prop up their economy, it's unlikely they'd be around still.

I think our evolution even made us dependent on extended families. Like in having groups of at least 20 individuals in order to raise children successfully.

The smallish nuclear family is a very modern invention. Going to high school (and the natural consequence of parents not educating their own children) is even more recent.

Agree completely. Prussian-style education is good at promoting fascism and perhaps at preparing people to fit into a poorly-designed workforce, but not much else. Some combination of homeschooling, tutors, and (around age 12-16) apprenticeship programs would probably be better for the sorts of goals I have regarding society. The nuclear family is useful but insufficient given our biology; atoms alone are less useful than the higher-order molecules that supervene them.

> I think beasteurope is correct about religion encouraging families to stay together rather than breaking up.

Which really means: Encouraging families that don't work to stay together, no matter how much it hurts the people involved.

Helping people to resolve conflicts so they want to stay together is a completely different thing than just encouraging people to stay together.

I'm really drawn on this. It's not like I want people to stay in abusive relationships, but the statistics around single parent homes in the US aren't great. I'm sure there's all sorts of chicken-and-egg problems in the data, and I'm not claiming that I know the best way of sorting those out without the sort of study that would never pass an ethics board ("group A was assigned to divorce, while group B was forced to continue marriage despite child abuse and other family issues"). I suspect that there is some amount of misery in a relationship which, if the parents endure rather than throwing in the towel, results in a happier/healthier childhood for the children. I don't know exactly where that threshold is, and where the "oh shit this nightmare has gone too far and it's leaving psychological trauma on the children" zone begins. Trying to get the parents to want to stay together is a worthy effort, but when you've decided to make children I socially expect you to put their needs first; I don't think it's unreasonable to encourage people to stay in an unhappy marriage rather than leaving their kids with a broken home, assuming the current home wouldn't be worse for the kids than the broken one. I doubt that marriages of the past struck a good balance there, and I doubt that modern marriages do either.

> It's not like I want people to stay in abusive relationships, but the statistics around single parent homes in the US aren't great.

Apart from the chicken-and-egg problems, probably the bigger problem with that is that naturally the populations you are comparing are extremely biased. So, even if it is not an artifact of social policies that children in two-parent households do better than children of single parents, there is no reason to think that the number of parents is actually the determining factor.

It might just as well be that people who are bad at maintaining relationships are also bad at raising children, so forcing two of them to raise a child together will not give you any of the benefits that you get from people who are good at maintaining relationships raising a child, and you will instead just draw down the average outcomes of two-parent households.

> I'm sure there's all sorts of chicken-and-egg problems in the data

Pretty much that.

If society disadvantages people who build support structures that do not fit a very strict set of requirements, then you can't really draw any useful conclusions about whether those support structures are good based on observing that society, because it is very likely that negative effects you see are simply effects of the discriminatory policies, and thus are useless for justifying the discrimination.

> Trying to get the parents to want to stay together is a worthy effort, but when you've decided to make children I socially expect you to put their needs first

But trying to get people to stay together who don't want to is very unlikely to be putting the child's needs first. If you can make people want to stay together (and not due to outside pressure/threats), that might well be worth it, but if you can't, you probably will be hurting the child if you try to force them, in particular if they get to resent the child because it's what is keeping them in a relationship they don't want to be in.

You can not force people to like other people, and forcing people to be with people they dislike is a recipe for disaster. It's really as simple as that.

> I don't think it's unreasonable to encourage people to stay in an unhappy marriage rather than leaving their kids with a broken home, assuming the current home wouldn't be worse for the kids than the broken one.

How is an unhappy marriage not a broken home? Either the parents will be displaying their dislike for each other, or they have to constantly live a lie, constantly be dishonest to their child about their emotional state ... neither sounds like a nurturing environment for a child.

I think that's a black-and-white interpretation of the point. Seems like there's a set of marriages that would hold regardless of social pressure, and a set of marriages that would be miserable if forced together, and a grey zone in between with marriages that would work well if encouraged to stay together but would also dissipate if not encouraged by society.

But the point is that you shouldn't encourage staying together, you should encourage working out differences, because they should not stay together if they can't work out their differences, but they will generally stay together anyway if they do manage to work out their differences.

Once the children are born, the happiness of them takes over your differences with your spouse. Thus the pressure to make the family work as it is. I think it makes sense as long as there are not unworkable differences or violence, therefore IMO societal pressure has worked.

I can't figure out whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with me.

I said people should not stay together if they can't work out their differences, you say they should not stay together if they have unworkable differences ... which seems to be the same idea?

But then, the overall impression is not like you are intending to agree with me.

I am confused.

Human male instinct is to have sex with lots of females and leave. Religion / transcendent philosophy and civilization and family are a self reinforcing loop that has resulted in human prosperity. Take one component out, and it all falls apart.

That is why people say 'family is the building block of civilization'.

andrepd 60 days ago [flagged]

[citation needed]

Seriously though, I'm sure we can attribute our urge to procreate to 4,500,000,000 years of evolution, not to churches.

I think you're under the mistaken assumption that all churches preach religion.

I suggest you read up on Unitarian Universalist and Sunday Assembly churches, which you may not have heard of, but they exist all over the world, and echo exactly what you're saying.

> Much better than community is family.

This is so contrary to a century of results from social research from multiple disciplines from all over the world it would be hard to know where to start to counter it. Community is fundamental to humanity, the nuclear 'family' a local and occasionally useful innovation.

> start to counter it

Please do try. I don't think what you are saying is true at all and it certainly isn't any thing like a universally accepted scientific truth.

Provide a source. I don't remember the last time I've ever relied on "community" for social needs.

Well that seems dysfunctional to have kids to try to cure your loneliness.

Worth it, I'm sorry that you'll never know the joy of having your kids drag you away to play Minecraft with them.

You're making a lot of assumptions there bud - I'm just trying to point out that "have children to cure loneliness" seems as bad of advice as "have children to save the marriage".

I agree that having kids to cure loneliness is “doing it for the wrong reason”. But I don’t think it’s controversial that having kids does actually cure loneliness.

If the cause of the loneliness is they they aren't socially adept, then how would they find someone to have kids with in the first place?!

And if they do find someone, won't the loneliness be cured already without having kids?

In my experience the world isn’t as black and white as you seem to think.

Why bad? Both can works in some situation for some people.

Because if it works, great, but if it fails, you're now in a failing marriage and you've brought kids into that misery. Children are not something with which to gamble to try and make your own life better.

So just like everything else then. Whatever solution you have, there will always be risk of horrible failure.

Many others don't involve dragging human lives into the mix as part of the gamble.

Sometime the solution is to involve other human lives.

Well, it worked for me. But...

I strongly suspect that being lonely in a marriage is worse than being lonely and single.

Exactly this. It doesn't matter what it is. Join a gym, volunteer, find a meetup, take up a hobby, etc. We all need something to look forward to to carry us past the doldrums. Anticipation and a sense of "belonging" can help so much.

I've yet to find a community at a gym. Most people are heads down and doing their thing there. Gyms are an introverts paradise.

That depends on the type of gym. I'd say that the chance of finding a community in a gym is inversely proportional to the amount of machines it has.

Try a gym that doesn't even have a treadmill.

It definitely depends on the type. Some gyms are very "class" based. Planet Fitness ==> heads down. Crossfit or Orange Theory ==> much bigger sense of community.

> anything where you can recreate a sense of being part of a group and not just being among people

I like that observation! Also the point that leaders matter a lot - or rather the community culture they manage to create (or not).

Strongly disagree on that. Been to a member of a bunch of sports clubs. Many people actually go there to do sports and nothing else.

Same for churches all around the world. Many people just go for duty, by habits or social pressure and no community is created.

The point is not to find a sure receipe for a community generation machine, but what are importants ingredients to have more chance of one.

While it's true that most people go to sports club for sports as their main purpose but it also open up opportunity to form friendship.

If you are new in a city, go find a local church. Specially if there's a national identity behind it, instant community.

I grew up very conservative and very evangelical and left as an adult because I couldn't honestly hold the basic beliefs in an honest way. I was also really angry about a bunch of things: the prevalence of narcissism among preachers, authoritarian organizational structures, treatment of women, etc etc - I could give you a whole litany. If you pay any attention to religion in the US, you could probably anticipate much of it.

Years later, not much has changed. The anger has faded, particularly as I watch some of those old churches dying (although not without some degree of satisfaction, I'll admit).

BUT, I do agree that it's widely under-appreciated just how sophisticated a social technology the congregation is. And there's not, as far as I've found, a viable secular alternative. Take away shared conviction about the transcendent and you seem to lose some kind of binding agent, like baking without gluten.

Pretty wacky when many American Christians I meet seem to be more prideful and puffed up than even the atheists, who are often caricatured as very impressed with their own intelligence. So much for “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart”

National chauvinism could be a factor.

do not forget the social cohesive elements like worship. i have strongly believed the church's biggest advantage as a social institution is due to collectively performing some unifying ritual. i think these rituals are instrumental to the social cohesion that is the congregation.

But there isn't social cohesion for folks like me.

I'm female. I do not believe in god. I'm bisexual.

I am exactly the sort of person left out of worship unless I pretend I'm someone I am not and don't reveal my true self. I'm a fraud if I want to fit in - these groups rarely simply accept me going there for the social aspect.

I'm sorry, I hope my comment didn't come across as flippant about how the majority of churches treat women, LGBTQ+ people, and others. I'm pretty firmly in the unbeliever category myself and left out of disgust with all the exclusionary practices.

I did spend several years in an ELCA church pastored and co-pastored by a woman and by a gay man, who made a point every week of welcoming non-believers to the service. It nuanced my worldview a little bit. They were lovely people, but the congregation was definitely fighting upstream in wider Christian culture.

In my mind, the main secular benefit of church (for people who were not excluded) was access to ready-made community, reinforced by a regular meeting space and rituals (like singing) that help people bond and process major life transitions. I've been on the outside for about five years and haven't really found anything that fills that space, although I'm always interested to hear what others have found.

I have to agree with this.

One thing I miss the most after realizing I didn't believe in God and after I stopped going to church (= being part of the community) is that I had a lot harder time to find a group that I truly belonged to.

It's not as much that you have to like each and every person in the group, is more about knowing that you're there for each other and share a bigger, common understanding of life.

I guess that volunteering kind of has the same advantages, since people volunteering have a bigger goal (= serving others) and accept that they need to be together in this with other volunteers.

For years, I attended church with a girlfriend, despite not believing as they do. Many were very accepting, particularly the church officiate - gf + I went out to lunch with him weekly for debates. 4 years and no one convinced the other of anything but it definitely refined my own arguments. No church member ever complained of an extra atheist's hand when volunteering.

I'm in the same situation as you were, except just starting out and going for some nice discussions/debates. What's your situation now (assuming you don't attend anymore) and any important learned experiences & lessons you care to pass on?

Perhaps you could explore some humanist groups in your area. There’s nothing special about the religious ideology that means it’s the only one that can create community. Keep in mind that when you leave your religious ideology behind you don’t have no ideology, you have a new ideology. There are surely people out there who have adopted a similar ideology.

Some churches and most volunteer organizations have one thing in common: altruistic people . That's not to say there aren't annoying people involved but I've made some excellent friends via volunteering because those organizations don't have much of an appeal to jerks. Also a shared purpose can help bridge some gaps and initiate contact between people. The number of organizations that can use people skilled in STEM is quite high. It doesn't even have to be directly related to our profession. Even understanding algebra is good enough for many mentoring/tutoring organizations. One organization I was involved with for years told me that just showing up on time every week was pretty damn good for the students I mentored because they so rarely get a stable adult relationship in their lives. All that to say that if you're on HN, you have a lot to offer and maybe get some great friendships in return.

I would posit that it's almost best if your volunteering is not really related to your profession at all. This keeps it fresh and interesting.

I started riding bikes about 11 years ago and volunteering about 10. I've met a LOT of people, made some good friends, and after accomplishing some goals felt a nice sense of achievement that work stuff just doesn't quite get me. Pretty sure I'm a better person than I was 10 years ago, and the social and community aspects of volunteering stuff are almost guaranteed to be a big part of that.

(Note: Long-time lead-type IT person here who volunteers as a board member, trail builder, and map maker for a local mountain biking group. What I do at work is helpful for the volunteer stuff, but as it's not related it's something neat that I look forward to; not just more work.)

I would agree with the caveat it really depends on the church and organization. From growing up I'm definitely familiar with people in churches acting very petty and I assume non profits are the same.

Both churches and non-profits are actually jerk magnets. Why? Because jerks know they can buffalo the altruistic majority to gain power in and eventually control over the organization.

altruistic people... with a little time on their hands.

I'm not saying there are not busy people who volunteer or go to church, but I think there's a "have time and patience" factor associated with it.

> I'm not saying there are not busy people who volunteer or go to church, but I think there's a "have time and patience" factor associated with it.

The average Churchgoer works full time and has a family. They don't have time for Church, they make time for it. It's all about priorities.

We just believe that giving the supreme master of the universe 1/168th of our time isn't too much to ask. Anyone who believes there is such a being who loves us won't balk at that commitment. Anyone who doesn't, well, I guess they can stare at a glowing rectangle an extra hour a week. Enjoy!

Quoting a tweet from my feed:

"Married people are happier than single people. Frequent church attenders are happier than people who rarely (or never) attend. "Liberation" from religion and marriage has made millions miserable. Sexual revolutionaries have some explaining to do."

And the quoted article which it is in reference to: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/happiness-...

There was also research done to try and show that the “gender pay gap” will continue to rise due to an increase proportion of single/unwed mothers. Turns out when you have a support system consisting of a spouse and their families, you are able to also have more economic mobility as well. I couldn’t imagine my wife climbing the ladder at her Finance job without me to help take half the parental responsibilities, and a very supportive grandma and grandpa.

Turns out maybe marriage wasn’t a tool of the patriarchy after all.

> Married people are happier than single people.[...] Liberation" from religion and marriage has made millions miserable.

That is not entirely true for everyone. In particular, happiness after divorce differ between genders. People still marry and can marry. What changed is that women have more choice unlike in the past and once married, people can divorce.

Some of people (both men and women) who are single are that for a reason - meaning them being married would mean the partner would suffer a lot more.

I don't necessarily disagree, but just remember that correlation doesn't imply causation. Maybe single people aren't married because they're less happy.

TylerE 60 days ago [flagged]

Ignorance is bliss, personified.

I'm sure it IS much more pleasant to imagine the magic sky fairy will take care of all the world's problems.

> I'm sure it IS much more pleasant to imagine the magic sky fairy will take care of all the world's problems.

The alternative of course is nihilism in the face of the inevitable heat death of the universe. My magical sky fairy seems pretty good right now.`

andrepd 60 days ago [flagged]

I'm irreligious and atheist, and I'm also not a nihilist. Now what?

That's a ridiculous false dichotomy. I reject the wishful fantasy of religion and of the supernatural, but I am perfectly happy with meaning in other things.

I don't know much about religion but to call something like Christianity "wishful" feels wrong... I mean you have to forgo immediate gratification, marry one person and one person only and never even THINK about another partner, abstain from sexual acts deemed 'immoral' (of which there seems to be many), wish the betterment of all people including your worst enemies, take care of the poor, sick and needy, forego wealth and all things deemed "vain", and at the end of it all hope that you can stand in front of and answer to an ultimate Judge that can make you burn in hell forever...

If this religion was meant to be wishful, I think they could've done a better job. It seems much more wishful to say "nothing matters in the end so I can do whatever I want", don't you think?

It’s also somewhat telling that transhumanism and Singularitarianism, some of the more prominent post-religion religions, are about building magical sky fairies. In the face of the second law of thermodynamics, even purveyors of secular scientism seek to escape oblivion by inventing Asimov’s AC.

My favorite is the new 'scientific' idea that the universe is a simulation. It's like... if the universe is a simulation, then what are the simulators? It's buck passing all the way down.

It’s kind of hilarious if one was to regard primitive religion as a sort of science to explain natural phenomena. Zeus throwing thunderbolts causes storms and all that. Except in the modern world, in reaction to technology, to the idea of VR, computer programs, digital simulation, modern man goes and says “aha! If we can build that, why can’t the gods do the same?” So the simulation argument can become a sort of proto-religion (if taken seriously) in response to man-made phenomena.

I don't see how it can be not religious if taken seriously. If there's a simulator, there must be someone who programmed it. That someone is, functionally, God, who created the universe. There isn't a "religion" in the sense of having commandments or an organized church, but it says that God is objectively there - he really exists, and he created this universe.

I do find it humorous (in a pathetic way) that scientific atheists have wound up at this place.

If you think that th essential characteristic of God is being a creator, and the fact that religions usually attribute a moral-arbitration role to God is incidental, then, sure, the creator of a simulation would inherently be a God.

OTOH, if the essential characteristic of God is that His will is equivalent to moral correctness, then a simulation creator doesn't necessarily fit the bill.

Fair point, though I thought that "creator who objectively exists" should be sufficiently shocking to atheists who believe we're in a simulator.

But then, if this creator of the simulator is there, can he (or whatever pronoun you wish) use something like a debugger to change things within the simulation? Behold, miracles now fit into the atheist view. Could this creator of the simulator send messages into the simulation? Now you've got at least the possibility of moral law given by the creator.

It's really mind-boggling to me that atheists are going down this path.

This is like saying "if the universe began with the Big Bang, then what came before it?" – it's not buck-passing if you define 'simulation' in a falsifiable way.

> it's not buck-passing if you define 'simulation' in a falsifiable way.

Okay, then define simulation in a falsifiable way, and we'll talk. The truth of the matter is, no one has defined this in a falsifiable way, so your statement is like saying 'religion is not buck-passing if you define God in a falsifiable way'. Without this falsifiable way you claim, it requires a belief in the transcendent.

> then what are the simulators?

The universe itself? It would be extremely weird, but modern physics is extremely weird.

Wow. You've independently come up with a stronger version of the uncaused cause argument, one of the many arguments Aquinas gives for the Christian God. Congratulations!

Why would the second law prevent transhumanism? There is a lot of energy available (nuclear fusion, dyson swarms, artificial black holes, etc.) to whoever can make the technology work.

No I mean transhumanists and Singularity believers, like the conventionally religious, still fear oblivion, specifically in entropy and the inevitable heat death of the universe. So they too seek transcendence and the perseverance of the ego, except rooted through (speculative) materialist means.

sounds great, sounds smart, is more true than not but the problem is, you don't have any solutions while the dumb-ass christians do.

I find this ironic/hypocritical, because the second line strikes me somewhat as an example of 'ignorance is bliss, personified'.

> marriage wasn’t a tool of the patriarchy after all.

It so obviously isn't it's painful to imagine this is a widespread belief. Marriage exists to reign in men, monogamous marriage doubly so.

Progressives have no idea what they are toying with, they are literally children playing house with grenates.

When I was in college, I listened to a speaker talking about the history of blues in the United States and as an aside gospel music, etc. One thing he talked about I thought was interesting was the history or purpose of religion in African American culture. He said, at least historically, church wasn't just about worship. It was like an all day event. People would go to church and then afterwards, there would be a picnic or gathering of the church goers. It was a community event. As neither an African American, nor someone who's family was particularly social at church, I never experienced that and was caught completely by surprise in the fact that much more revolved around church than going for an hour and being bored.

This is true of Korean American churches as well, with lunch, weddings, etc. It's an all-day affair and the center of the community where people meet, do business, etc. The younger generation is trickling away but it was a bedrock for the immigrant community.

It makes sense. The ancestors of African-Americans were in many cases forced to convert to Christianity after being transported to America. In those circumstances, you need to add a lot more to the experience than just scripture if you want to maintain your flock.

I have to agree. I've noticed that churches remain really essential to some places, especially smaller isolated communities. From my experience, I think the appeal comes from:

1.) Gives people an excuse to dress nicely in public (good for self-esteem if you're into that sort of thing)

2.) Free meals (often delicious and home-cooked), potentially before and after

3.) Singing music together is fun and it doesn't matter if you're bad at it

4.) The preacher will tell the congregation if someone is sick or had a bad thing happen, and then some of the other people will typically express their care to the person and maybe visit them and bring them food.

5.) The preacher typically will tell at least one corny joke or do some weird dramatic thing to get your attention and make a point. It's like weird theater at some places.

And of course, organizing volunteer things is pretty solid too.

On the less positive side, some people like to use church to show-off and find things to gossip about. So while that behavior may make some feel less lonely, probably causes others to be repulsed away.

I used to criticize church until I realized that people spent hours every day watching extreme dumb shows alone on their couch. Religious rituals give a pace to social and mental life that, even though archaic and even absurd in a way, seems a ton better than the modern life we were fed :)

Problem is when church starts asserting their infallibleness and rejecting science.

Do you have an example of the Church rejecting science in the last 100 years?

I have attended church lots of times throughout my life and I've never seen a conflict with science.

I literally see more conflict with science in people's daily lives, such as the grocery store.

What? They're all over the place, especially in the US.

edit: I go to one, despite it.

Question of semantics is mixing up your conversation here I think. Is "the church" the religious authority (i.e. the Vatican), or just simply anyone religious?

Because the Vatican has not persecuted people for their scientific views for a long time, but I agree with you that it's not that complicated to find examples of religious people being anti-scientific. The question is : how many are there, and how representative are they.

Good point, now that I re-read the comment I replied to. This comments section is talking about church in general, but he specifically wrote "the Church".

Anyway, what I'm mainly referring to is evolution and the age of the Earth and the universe. Around 40% of people in the US are Young-Earth Creationists.


In the U.S. it's strict creationism that's the biggest anti-science aspect of many of the protestant religions. Snopes monkey trial was so divisive that very few people I have met in Georgia are aware that intelligent design is a thing. Each of these people more or less accepts that their church doesn't believe in Dinosaurs.

Catholicism isn't the only christian denomination.

Yes, but without any other context, 'the Church' in English is hardly likely to refer to say, the 2nd Baptist Church of Los Angeles.


This anti-evolution christian rock song was popular (among religious kids) in my high school.

YEC on its own isn't anti-science as much as about metaphysics. The main objections are more about why God would create fossils that look millions of years old. That is an interesting point, but it is a theological point, not a scientific one.

That being said, there are a lot of folks who are bad at metaphysics involved in the discussion that tend to drown out the more coherent takes on the subject.

But this is a broad and diverse area of discussion. It's not fair to say "The Church" is anti-science with respect to a metaphysical subject.

> Do you have an example of the Church rejecting science in the last 100 years?

Which Church, and by which (heirarchical/formal vs. popular) view of the position of the Church in question?

I think it's fair to recognize the diverse group of people in the "church" and to be careful casting ire around. There are quite a few scientists and intellectual heavyweights involved, for instance.

I've wondered what a religionless church would be like. Would it be different from something like a rotary club or an elks lodge?

I have a group of friends that get together every week for what we call "Mountainbeering" where we drink beer and go over planned hiking/climbing objectives. There's been talk of doing some trail work and other volunteering. It feels a little "churchy" except instead of a church it's at a brewery or someone's house.

The Unitarian Universalists, are, as I understand it, pretty close to a "religionless church". There's a general sense of "search for the truth", but there's no specific confessed creed.

I've been attending a local UU Church for the last few months (raised no religion, this is my first spiritual community). While there's mention of the spiritual life I think about half the congregation would identify as atheists. There's no creed or mention of 'religion' and the individual search for meaning is repeatedly stressed. It's been a good addition to my life and very nurturing for the soul.

I am a Unitarian Universalist and an athiest, married to a seminarian in the religion. Happy to answer questions about UU and what it's like. It has definitely made me far less lonely to belong to the UU community, and I don't feel pressured to "believe" anything I don't want to.

What is it like? How did you become involved? What kind of events do they organize? How do they practice their religion? What are your biggest criticisms or complaints? What do you like most about it?

The Wikipedia article [0] managed to intrigued me. I lean agnostic, but I always try to keep an open mind in my pursuit for truth. Do you have any suggestions for someone that might be interested in checking em out? I'm located in the bay area.

My views on organized religion aren't generally great. Throughout history, religion has played a large role but it wasn't always very positive, see: crusades. The coverup of pedophiles by the Christian church is also absolutely sickening. It sounds like UU's are more loosely organized, which I'd expect would help prevent them from becoming too abusive or corrupt.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarian_Universalism

> The coverup of pedophiles by the Christian church is also absolutely sickening.

I think you mean the Catholic church? There is no single Christian church. Not to say that didn't/doesn't happen in other denominations, but it seems to mostly be a Catholic problem. I've heard about it happening with the Mormons too, now that I think about it.

You're correct, I meant the Catholic church. Thank you for pointing it out; I agree that it's an important distinction worth noting.

Hi! Lots of quesitons here, some of them I answered in my other [0] post.

Sorry for the small novel :) I haven't really written about this stuff at length on the internet before so it's all just kinda coming out.

> What is it like

The services (sunday morning, an hour long) which are generally made up of a sermon, some singing, and some community meeting. These range from academic to somewhat spiritual (with no expectations) and usually have a theme or lesson.

The community functions much like you would think a religious community would: they support each other, they volunteer for events, they show up at potlucks and other social events. I've enjoyed getting to know people outside of my age range (from young kids to very old folks), which just doesn't happen at my tech job.

> How did you become involved

My partner started attending and dragged me kicking and screaming to the first few services :) Not really, but I definitely was looking for reasons to not go. But it turns out they were really friendly and (as I mentioned) there was no pressure to have any specific spiritual belief. Once I realized that it was a great group to explore my own thoughts on religion and a group of people to belong to who would care for me if I was in trouble (because I would do the same for them), I started enjoying going.

> What kind of events do they organize

Beyond Sunday services, the congregations I've been a part of have had young adult (18-35) groups that meet regularly, groups for young families, groups for seniors, etc. At a previous congregation I took a fascinating class led by the minister that focused on being able to better define my own belief system about the world.

> How do they practice their religion

Generally the "religion" is the idea that all humans and the earth are worthy of our love and attention. So we do things like organize activism, take care of each other, clean up our environment, etc. And also recognize that all of us are growing and learning in our own ways, so some of the practice is also discovering our own beliefs.

UU is covenantal. That means that we have an agreement with the other members of our congregation to treat each other well, and people who break that covenant are held accountable by the other members of the community. Here's an example from the Berkeley church[1] (which I have not attended, but I like it).

UU is not creedal. The ministers don't tell you what to believe. They are there to help you on your way to finding your own creedo - your own system of belief about the world.

> What are your biggest criticisms or complaints

Some congregations can be very "hippy", which I don't mind but I know it's a turn-off for some people. Fortunately they're generally super respectful of other belief systems.

One thing that I liked at the beginning was the fact that UU isn't evangelical. People are supposed to find UU on their own and join if it's something that interests them. But now I think this makes UUs timid to bring it up, and I really do think that it would be great to tell more people about it. There's a big difference between being pushy and just talking religion - and I think we need more of the latter.

Also the credentialing process for ministers is very long and we have a lot of student loans now (but most people won't have that problem!)

> It sounds like UU's are more loosely organized

UU churches are democratic, and every church sends delegates to a big gathering once a year to vote on things. This means that there's no top-down hierarchy, no pope to tell everyone how to run things. It's also slower and not perfect, but generally I think people like it. There's a president of the religion, but they're mostly just to organize and run things, not set beliefs.

Every organization of a certain size has its bad actors, and UU is no exception. But the few cases I've heard about have been handled well and the public informed.

Certainly if the crusades started up again, I'd be on the streets protesting against them with my UU friends!

Hopefully that helps. I've been meaning to write a blog post or something about this in a better form than an HN comment, maybe this is a good starting point for that.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19977295 [1] https://uucb.org/covenant-of-right-relations/

Did you guys meet at church or did you join the church because of them, and which was the main cause of you feeling less lonely?

We met before starting to attend UU services, and initially I was very anti-church and refused to go. But finally I was convinced to attend a few services and found them very in line with what I wanted, so I started going more often. Eventually I even volunteered with the youth and helped run events and A/V for the services. I would say I am less lonely because my partner and I made a lot of friends there, of all ages.

Very interesting. I'm somewhat tempted to go to a service just to see what it would be like.

Unitarian services are interesting. I have only gone a couple times with the atheist lesbian neighbors who invited us, and the sermons focused on some utilitarian concepts, power in community, and the goodness in helping others. I did not feel pandered to or prostylytized. Pretty sure if you're looking for a church that is accomodating to atheists, focused on community and good-will over dogma, then you'll find Unitarian services amenable.

Revolutionary France tried creating one not once, but twice: see the "Cult of Reason" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_Reason) and Robespierre's "Cult of the Supreme Being" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_the_Supreme_Being).

And of course the cults of personality that sprang up around Stalin in the Soviet Union (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin%27s_cult_of_personality), around Mao in Communist China, and in various Communist client states around their own local tinpot Stalin would probably qualify as well.

This is the problem with killing God: it's really hard to find a healthy candidate to replace him with.

I'm an atheist and I didn't replace god with anything or anyone after I lost my faith. My thinking developed more orthogonally to the old religious hierarchy. The idea that you need to replace god with someone is locked into a mode of thinking that is entirely unnecessary and unneeded.

Maybe something like budism or Tolle (https://youtu.be/j42cTkiGdXY)

Yours is the same argument for countries keeping their paternalistic dictators: "Whatever will we do without so and so?" It's childish and insulting, and the way out is to wean off. Every independence and turn toward truth has to start somewhere.

That’s not entirely fair, as the comment simply points out that there seems to be a historical trend of a reflex to reinvent religious structures after abolishing traditional religion. Even in the modern day you can take a look at various rationalist/atheist/anti-theist communities which get dominated by larger-than-life personalities from Dawkins to P.Z. Myers, all the way to LessWrong’s singularitarians reinventing eternal damnation via Roko’s Basilisk. Pointing out that it’s very easy to fall into dictatorship isn’t necessarily an endorsement of one, it just should serve as a caution and as a lesson in humility.

There are Humanist Churches in some areas.

Churches are - pun intended - a mixed blessing. Religion gives comfort when people are in pain and can help impose some sense where there is none so on the short timescales it looks positive. But on the longer timescales it is just another powerstructure that aims to keep people in check and productive towards the aim of maintaining the structure itself and at tremendous cost to society as a whole and in many cases at tremendous cost to the lives of the individuals that are a part of it.

Personally I prefer to live without such influences in my life in so far as that is possible but I fully respect others' rights to do as they please.

But a healthy society can be had outside of religion.

> just another powerstructure

I don't like power structures but some are necessary. Take the police for example, a world where the police are not needed would be a better world. Police are a nasty coercive force. And yet they are completely essential.

Religion is interesting because it is obviously not essential in the way that a police force is. However, it isn't yet obvious that it can be done without - a religion's adherents are often people who want some sort of power structure telling them what they should do to be a good person. What it means to be a good person isn't obvious, and in practice is very complex. Sometimes a good person needs to do horrible things - we should be terrified of taking that sort of decision on personally. Sometimes bad people want to do good and would appreciate being told how.

* Political structures aren't strong enough to organise society on their own. They only communicate the beliefs of the current ruling class.

* We can do without a lot of religious dogma, which is clearly wrong (eg, anything talking about purging heretics). We need some sort of shared story for what is going on that looks a lot like a religion.

I like to think of it in terms of power vacuums. A power vacuum will be filled. Do we chose to fill it with thoughtful intent, or do we allow it to fill itself with whomever or whatever it pleases?

One of my favorite pieces:


> However, it isn't yet obvious that it can be done without - a religion's adherents are often people who want some sort of power structure telling them what they should do to be a good person.

There are countries where the majority is not religious and they function just fine.

Are they? Much of Europe and Japan have fallen into economic doldrums with declining birth rates, and fallen prey to advancing right-wing populist movements. But then Poland is quite religious and far rightists are taking root there as well, so maybe religion isn’t the sticking factor.

It's also notable that those countries don't have noticeably worse standards of living than countries with a state religion or less religious freedom, and Europe attracts many migrants from such countries.

> But then Poland is quite religious

And the United States as well.

Certainly a valid opinion to have, I just want to provide the counter opinion that for many folks, myself included, this is not the case. I have been part of both large and very small churches, and have personally found it to be an enormous blessing.

Churches are full of fallible people to be sure, but in most of them, these fallible people are encouraging one another to live out what they profess to believe.

It seems to me like the point of churches (or any spiritual organization) is to make it easy to find a local community of people who share one's ethical values and metaphysical beliefs. Of course, someone could always just make a post on a message board:

"Hey, my name's Bill, I live with my wife and two kids over by Grand & Manchester, near the post office... I'm looking to start a local club for people that believe human beings are more than just biological automata and that all souls will ultimately be reconciled to God at the end of time. I go to a lot of local meetups connected to my hobbies, but every time I bring up the Universal Reconciliation thing people start to get uncomfortable or bored, so I was hoping to find some people I could talk about this with..."

But then you've basically started a church, so...

One might historically consider church to be a check on the power of the state

Have there ever been democratic or republic churches?

The Society of Friends (AKA Quakers) doesn't have professional clergy, and decisions are made democratically. They don't even have pastors; my parents were married in a Quaker meeting house, and their marriage license was signed by the secretary of the congregation.

Here's an article about their decision-making process: http://quaker.org/legacy/tqe/2005/TQE118-EN-Democracy.html

Most Protestant churches are run democratically with voting on elders and so forth

It isn't clear that this leads to "better" outcomes, though. The larger denominations are pretty standardized, the smaller churches with more independence are where you find more sectarianism, extremism, and even cult-like behavior.

That's a good point. When it comes to 'how to run a church' it is a pretty good basis, unfortunately protestantism is very fragmented, but then again, if it wasn't then it would be more like the structure it broke away from so maybe that is actually a good thing.

> Have there ever been democratic or republic churches?

Yes, to the point where there's vocabulary to describe those types of organization, e.g.:



I can't speak to democratic/republic, but a number of syncretic religions and alternative spiritualities are either decentralized or so fragmented as to be functionally so. In my experience, such provide several of the social benefits of religion - i.e. gatherings of like-minded people with shared theologies - with reduced potential for abuse of power.

Of course, the scalability of these systems are unknown.

Lets see what data says; top 10 less religious countries are[0]: China, Japan, Estonia, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Israel, United Kingdom

Top 10 most religious countries are[0]: Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Burundi, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia, Afghanistan

So looking at this -at least by itself- is far from certain that religion plays a large role in maintaining a healthy society; you may be thinking of a specific subset of religions/denominations or perhaps using a different 'measure' for the impact of religion.


There could be a more indirect effect of religious belief on healthy society. Hypothetically social capital could build up over the years and deeply affect hard-to-measure things like trust and fair governance.

If that's the case, it could take more than a couple decades for drastic change in beliefs to transform a country.

This is something I didn’t understand as a child questioning God. As an adult, I view church in a much more positive light.

I do wish I had social circles outside of work and old highschool friends. I think for some folks church does that, and that’s great. It’s certainly not for me, though.

I have found being a regular at a gym has worked wonders for a sense of community. Even if we don’t chat all that much it’s still 4x a week that I see all the same familiar faces that I’ve been seeing for years. It’s great.

Sometimes you chat more sometimes less and you don’t know too much about their life outside the gym, but they’re your peeps.

That’s something I sometimes envy in religious people. Wherever they go they have a ready network in place. That’s pretty nice.

I think one of the advantages of the US is that for me as a foreigner the patriotism here also feels like a religion which gives the country cohesion.

You might want to check out the Unitarian Universalists, they provide many of the social benefits of organized religion without a specific belief system attached.

As I mentioned on another comment: I am a Unitarian Universalist and an athiest, married to a seminarian in the religion. Happy to answer questions about UU and what it's like. It has definitely made me far less lonely to belong to the UU community, and I don't feel pressured to "believe" anything I don't want to.

Okay, I have a question. You guys have weekly services, right? What do you do? I assume there are no songs to sing, and so someone has to do the speaking. What do they talk about? Since there's no formal religious principles to promote, my naive picture of it is being the sort of stuff you'd see in self-help books. Which seems, I don't know, boring? (Personally I don't think there's much of value in self-help books.)

Hey! So services vary widely from place to place (since congregations run democratically). The form is based on a traditional protestant service, but with modern adaptations. We sing a lot of songs - I've heard everything from christian hymns to buddhist chants to the Beatles and Peter Meyer (probably not during the same service). We have three hymnals, including one in Spanish.

UUs have seven principles (https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles) but none of them require any sort of supernatural belief. Coming from an anti-theist background they were all already things I agreed with. Some people say that you can believe in anything and be a UU, which isn't quite true - any belief system that sees others as "less than", for example, would be incompatible.

As for who does the talking, most congregations have a trained minister (like my partner) who leads most services. They talk on a variety of topics, but mostly about community, justice, activism, and lessons from other religions.

Hope this helps!

Thanks, it's really very interesting to me that you have music. Seems to trigger the ritualistic aspect of religion that others have talked about in this thread.

My impression was always that UUs were a sort of offshoot of Protestantism; I think "Unitarian" refers to their non-belief in a trinity of beings that are a core doctrine of most modern Christian denominations - is that right? Would you say that UUs have entirely abandoned their Christian / Protestant heritage other than the form of the service?

Same thing as sports club. Whenever I go, most likely there ready network in place.

True. When I still did boxing I usually quickly found people.

And in the UK, the local pub. Community is a good thing.

But I have the impression this does not work so well with younger people

They're usually in their own groups also they try different pubs every time so not really regulars (except for bigger club type places)

Local pub seems to be more the older people

Totally agree with this. As an American, I really came to envy "pub culture" of the UK and how much of an integral part of socialization that it is.

Except when there's 10+ hours of footy on Sat and Sunday, then meeting up with all your rowdy mates for some Monday Night Football, taking it back to the continent Tuesday-Thursday before ringing in the long week with [Corporate Sponsor] Cup Final on Friday.

There is a lack of a third place in American society.


Exactly. Church.

For those looking for community without religion, try Unitarian Unversalism. I've personally had a very good experience with it:


By any objective population statistic, being a member of the LDS (Mormon) Church is beneficial. People who are gay / enjoy coffee might disagree, but this is merely anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

After having read the article your comment comes off as a non sequitur. The article doesn't even mention churches or relate volunteering to churches or churchgoers... You didn't even make an effort to correlate churchgoing with the topic of volunteering or the topic of loneliness. Even from a tangential perspective I have no idea where you're coming from. The article mentions widows alleviating loneliness through volunteering for two hours a week. "Church plays a larger role in maintaining a healthy society" without really qualifying how, why, or in what way it pertains to the article, seems like a massive logical leap. What about for the widow? What about the man waiting for a chess opponent? Are you saying that "church" is a function solution to their loneliness? Could you maybe elaborate on that?

You stated something impertinent, explained nothing, and somehow got a slew of upvotes. I don't even know where I am right now.

> "Research using the UCLA Loneliness Scale and Meaning in Life Questionnaire has shown that more loneliness is associated with less meaning. This makes sense, given our deeply rooted need for belonging. By volunteering for social causes that are important to us, we can gain a sense of purpose, which in turn may shield us from negative health outcomes. For example, purpose in life has been linked to a reduced likelihood of stroke and greater psychological well-being."

You didn't see a connection between people suffering from a lack of meaning and purpose and the decline of an institution that basically specializes in that? Note that no one (here) is saying "church provides the correct meaning/purpose" or even "church provides a good meaning or purpose." Just that churches are out there specifically and directly trying to provide meaning and purpose.

Another angle is that churches often engage in volunteer work. Much more so than your average softball team or book club. If the secret sauce of preventing loneliness is the purpose/meaning/"je n'ais se quoi" of volunteering specifically - churches are/were major players in that space. Even if that connection was coincidental there's a possible link between the decline of church engagement and the rise of loneliness.

Anyway, I'm not the OP. Maybe they thought they were typing in another window and it ended up here, but these are some the connections I was thinking about / reasons I upvoted.

>You didn't see a connection between people suffering from a lack of meaning and purpose and the decline of an institution that basically specializes in that?

There's nothing concrete there. The fact that an institution that specializes in giving life meaning and purpose is seeing a steady decline in membership could be interpreted as that institution actually having a poor capacity to provide those things. The only connection is the one you made up.

Church was a weekly social activity shared by practically the entire community... Not to mention larger events organized by church's, and charity performed in the local community by many churches.

It's unfortunate IMO that there is no non religious equivalent.

Churches also do this in an intergenerational fashion. My office does volunteer work, but my kids and my parents don't take part. That's a hard bit to replicate in other groups even if those groups are actively engaged in charity.

I left the comment simply because a mention of the role that the church has played here historically seemed conspicuously absent. The only explanation I have for the response is that it was the first comment. However, if you read through the replies, it does seem that some have a similar perspective to mine on what could be learned from the church in how to solve this problem.

For the other part of your question...i’ll proxy spinning a globe and poking it with this: Wikipedia tells me that Elopteryx was discovered in Romania near Transylvania.

I can't find any churches with websites in Transylvania proper, so I looked for ones in Transylvania County, North Carolina.

Looks like the Brevard Community Church is one of the larger ones. They handily have a website, and their events calendar is here: https://brevardcommunity.org/events/

Take a look at it. There's something going on almost every night of the month.

Now imagine yourself a 78 year old widow that lives alone in town with kids grown and moved out of state. You could endlessly surf the internet looking for opportunities to volunteer at random organizations and events that happen throughout the year, or you could just align yourself with this one organization and get a flower for mother's day every year, a young mother or two to mentor and a steady stream of vetted and coordinated opportunities for you to engage with the community and others.

Many churches, if not most, have regular outreach and/or community service activities. It's easy to make an assumption that everyone is aware of this. But I can see how it might come off as a non sequitur.

I was well aware of that before I commented. It's still a non sequitur and a remarkable logical leap.

If he or she had left it at the church having the capacity to alleviate loneliness, I could go along with that. "Church maintains a healthy society" is a big assertion that is more multifaceted and complex than "church volunteer therefore good", not only within the topic of church but the topic of loneliness as well. Also without even beginning to define what constitutes "a healthy society". Furthermore the assertion is deeply lacking in historical context; what is the historical prevalence of loneliness? How long have we even been paying attention to the topic of loneliness as a public health concern to even keep track of this?

The article makes a very straightforward point: if you're lonely, volunteering could probably make you feel less lonely. But jumping from that to "therefore church is unequivocally and obviously a net positive on the fabric of society (than some people say)" is making all sorts of implications and doing absolutely no work to piece that thesis together.

It's a tenuous assertion, on multiple levels.

I have a feeling that OP hit on a sensitive issue for you. I'm not asserting that OP unequivocally and obviously did so. But I did present a perfectly plausible/tangential perspective which, given the up votes, some others might share. That said, this thread does not hold enough interest to motivate me to do the work of piecing together a thesis.

Who are you quoting here?

>"therefore church is unequivocally and obviously a net positive on the fabric of society (than some people say)"

If it’s me, how do you get to your statement from

>I have a feeling that church plays a larger role in maintaining a healthy society than it is given credit in some circles.

Give Putnam's Bowling Alone a read if you haven't already

It's worth noting that Bowling Alone was published in 2000, and grew out of a magazine article Putnam wrote in 1995. So this is a problem that's been slowly growing for a long time now.

It would be interesting to see the impact of the internet on these kinds of things. With Meetup and Eventbrite and Facebook organisation of a lot of social things has become easier.

Hopefully some researchers are looking at this.

So True. Unfortunately the media has convinced the masses to adopt political parties as their modern version of religion. Any atheist with half a brain can see how dangerous it is to put all faith and trust in the political class.

I have, for as long as I can remember, held the Sam Harris / Dawkins view that religion is nothing but an archaic and evil form of cattle management system. But the older I get and the more I contend with what religion actually is rather than what it is understood to be by the anti-theists, the more I approximate your understanding of the matter. The social fabric is being torn apart and there are virtually no institutions left to hold it together. This will most likely not end up in a very promising future for my generation and the ones to come after it.

Yes, but one reason they are torn apart is that people see the (terrible) flaws in these old systems of holding society together and abandon them, while new and better systems are slow to gain a foothold.

Some places manage to have community without religion, and that, I think, is what one ought to aspire to.

(Edit -> Some places)

People see the terrible flaws and little else because the media distorts the truth. The Westboro Baptist Church gets more media attention than a thousand inclusive churches.

So, are you saying that persecution of homosexuals was something only done by the Westboro Baptist Church? Or that the anti-abortion laws currently being implemented all over the US only exist because the members of the Westboro Baptist Church voted for them? Or that the Westboro Baptist Church were alone responsible for the ban on stem cell research? Or that the Westboro Baptist Church alone are the ones pushing for creationism to be taught in schools? ...

The media certainly distorts the truth, but the idea that somehow only some very small religious fringe groups are responsible for all the terrible political decisions that have been and are being made exclusively on the basis of religious ideas is just absurd.

Linking religion to the persecution of homosexuals is another distortion of the truth. There are atheist governments (for example, China and Russia) who persecute homosexuals terribly [1] and many churches who support them. [2]

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_China

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denomination...

Just because Russia and China do it, doesn’t mean certain large religions also don’t, so I don’t see how it’s distortion. Islam/Christianity/Judaism in particular are notorious for giving reason to many who are against civil rights for women and non heterosexuals.

Even saying "Islam/Christianity/Judaism" is too broad. There are many sects within each religion.

If someone wished to paint with an equally broad brush, they could say "atheists persecute homosexuals", citing the behavior of Russia and China. And that would be true, in the same useless sense the above argument against religion is true.

> Homosexuals are persecuted far worse in atheist China

Which is relevant how?

> and Russia

... because of religion?

> And they are supported by many churches.

Which is great. But also a very recent development. Before that, they were mostly a driving force behind the persecution.

> Linking religion to that is another distortion of the truth.

So, you are claiming that religions did not contribute significantly to the persecution of homosexuals in many parts of the world, neither in the recent past, nor right now, and that the resistance against equal rights for homosexuals is not significantly coming from religions?

The point is that you shouldn't judge all religions because some are bad, any more than you should judge all atheists by the behavior of Russia and China.

> The point is that you shouldn't judge all religions because some are bad, any more than you should judge all atheists by the behavior of Russia and China.

Except nobody is doing that.

First of all, a generalized statement does not necessarily mean that it applies to all individuals that are part of the group. The majority of religious groups on the planet are in favour of discrimination against homosexuals, and that position can be found in a significant part of all major religions. Also, almost all opposition to equal rights for homosexuals comes from religious groups and individuals. And it's also not just a coincidence, but rather explicitly justified with religous traditions and scripture, so the connection between persecution of homosexuals and religion is made very explicitly by those religious people themselves. And even those religious groups that support homosexuals now were to a large degree participating in the persecution just a few decades, many less than a decade, ago, so it is still often very justified to judge them for the damage they have done before they changed their mind.

None of those apply to atheists, let alone atheism. There is no connection between not believing in a god and wanting to discriminate against homosexuals. Atheists generally don't have any particular tendency to discriminate against homosexuals, and where atheists do discriminate against homosexuals, more often than not you can find religious influence on their culture as the cause behind that.

Also, I have no clue why you are constantly using Russia, a majority religious country, as an example of atheists doing things. And while it is difficult to know exactly how many Russians belong to which religion, it is just obvious that the opposition to equal rights for homosexuals in Russia is primarily the work of religious people on religious grounds, so it is just weird that you are using them as an example of supposedly atheists persecuting homosexuals.

If you are religious and do not and have never discriminated against homosexuals for their homosexuality, that's great, and I welcome your contribution to making the world a better place. But that does not mean that the generalized statement I made was unjustified, you personally simply weren't meant by it. However, it would still be appropriate to judge you for continuing to use the epistemology that those other people used and still use to convince themselves that persecuting homosexuals is the right thing to do, when that should be a clear demonstration that it is not reliable and is prone to lead to terrible outcomes.

> The majority of religious groups on the planet are in favour of discrimination against homosexuals

The majority of the people on the planet are, sadly. Religion isn't a useful distinction.

> Also, almost all opposition to equal rights for homosexuals comes from religious groups and individuals.

That belief is one of the distortions of the truth I was talking about and why Russia and China are relevant to the discussion.

> Also, I have no clue why you are constantly using Russia, a majority religious country, as an example of atheists doing things.

The Soviets were militant atheists and oppressed homosexuals. It's not clear what Putin's religious beliefs are, but he didn't start the oppression anyway.

> If you are religious...

For the record, while my beliefs should not be relevant to the discussion, since you brought them up, I'm an atheist.

But sometimes I'm able to defend beliefs I don't agree with.

> The Soviets were militant atheists and oppressed homosexuals. It's not clear what Putin's religious beliefs are, but he didn't start the oppression anyway.


Do you see any major errors in that article? And if not, can you honestly say that you see no significant connection between religion and the oppression of homosexuals in Russia, neither historically nor today?

> But sometimes I'm able to defend beliefs I don't agree with.

So, you don't agree that religion is the primary factor behind oppression of homosexuals in Russia? Why are you defending the position, then, and so badly at that?

As one of the debaters you don't get to decide whose argument is more persuasive. Putting that aside, that article doesn't say the oppression of homosexuals was for religious reasons, in fact, it says the opposite:

> Government attempts at preventing homosexual practices began in the 18th century, with Tsar Peter the Great banning homosexual relations in the armed forces in 1716 as a part of his attempt to modernise the country.

"as a part of his attempt to modernise", not for religious reasons. The article repeats the same point later: "The prohibition on sodomy was part of a larger reform movement designed to modernize Russia"

> [Under the atheist communists] gay people were still persecuted and sacked from their jobs for being 'homosexuals'. In 1933, the Soviet government under the leadership of Joseph Stalin recriminalised homosexual activity with punishments of up to five years' hard labour. A 1934 article in the new Criminal Code outlawed 'homosexuality'.[5] Following Stalin's death, there was a liberalisation of attitudes toward sexual issues in the Soviet Union, but homosexual acts remained illegal.

...and that was under an atheist regime.

> As one of the debaters you don't get to decide whose argument is more persuasive.

I sure do.

> "as a part of his attempt to modernise", not for religious reasons. The article repeats the same point later: "The prohibition on sodomy was part of a larger reform movement designed to modernize Russia"

And where did the idea that that should be a part of "modernization" come from?

> ...and that was under an atheist regime.

And how did Stalin get the idea?

> And how did Stalin get the idea?

Clearly you think that the only reason anyone, even a militant atheist, is ever against homosexuality is because they are religious or got the idea from religion.

As that's a belief not based on reason or facts, I won't try to argue you out of it. Been nice talking to you.

> Clearly you think that the only reason anyone, even a militant atheist, is ever against homosexuality is because they are religious or got the idea from religion.

No, I was simply asking you for justification for your position.

Because, you know, there is not exactly an obvious connection from "let's modernize this country" to "let's oppress homosexuals". Or from "I want to have someone to blame and a method to be able to discredit and punish who I consider my enemy" to "let's persecute homosexuals". That is just a complete non-sequitur, in either case--unless there is some pre-existing reason why you would connect the two. A reason why less homosexuality would be considered "more modern", or a reason why the general public would be expected to agree that homosexuals are a group of people that deserved punishment. I would be interested in what you think those reasons were.

Sorry about the delayed response; I'm on the road.

I can't explain why the article says that. I didn't write it, or even cite it. It's your source.

I'm just pointing out what the article says.

I think the worldwide occurrence and generations-long cover-up of abuse in the CC has been a much bigger factor in pushing people away. WBC are known primarily for being attention-seeking nutjobs; they sit quite a bit lower on the spectrum of religious authority than the Catholic Church.

Are Hollywood or Washington any better? I think recent scandals are sufficient evidence that any large human organization is going to suffer from serious misconduct by powerful people.

And that is in fact another (even better) example of selective coverage. That cover up by the CC has received vastly more coverage than churches doing good things.

The topic was about the decline of the churche as a space for social connection, a role it has held for centuries across nearly every Christian community worldwide.

How do you manage to wrangle "Hollywood" and "Washington" out of that?

I was discussing a broader topic, but if you want to narrow it to just that: how do you think scandals in the Catholic Church caused the decline of the church as a space for social connection in mostly Protestant America?

Well, I think reading "holy" books is quite enough to see those flaws, and the media in many places are far too reverent to the regionally prevailing religion; but maybe that's a discussion for a different venue.

My point pertinent to this discussion was that community is important, and thus it's a problem if community is based on wrong or unethical ideas. It puts you in a terrible quandary (consider also Nazi Germany, the Sowjet Union under Stalin, etc.).

You can't fairly judge modern churches by the text of ancient books. Most churches have abandoned a literal interpretation of ancient holy books in favor of some variation of the idea that God's true message was distorted, embellished, or censored by the flawed humans who recorded it.

Nietzsche's proclamation that "God is dead" was not a joyful or triumphant one: https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/what-nietzsche-really-...

I am agnostic to religion. But I cannot agree more that region (all of them) play a key role in maintaining fabric of society. I don't know how true the scriptures are, given that most of them contradict each other but regardless, more or less they all tend to drive society towards stability and tolerance.

I don't see any evidence that society tends to be driven toward stability or tolerance, and even if it did, why you would attribute that to religion.

I'd argue that over time society has in fact become more stable and more tolerant (read Steve Pinker's latest tome about the enlightenment), but that it was possible because of the simultaneous decline of religion.

What society has done or is doing is a rather different matter than what it tends to do.

I wish cultural Christianity was a thing.

I am an atheist who believes that Christianity is an important tradition to keep. Just like Judaism, I wish there was reformed Christianity that allows atheists to participate in their religion without belief in God.

In South Africa there are many beautiful churches from a bygone era. One of the most well known is in Graaff-Reinet. [1]

Church played a very dominant role in Protestant communities, together with the other pillars of the family and the school. I think that the cross-over period to more secular belief systems indeed does lose a lot of the community aspect of the church.

It is also not clear at all how to fill the void... Sports? Hobbies? Nature? Guns n' Roses concerts?

[1] https://www.graaffreinet.co.za/listing/dutch_reformed_church...

Agreed, it's important to have community.

It is very important to have community. However, church is but one way to achieve that (others are good city planning, with pedestrian oriented small town centres; a strong secular society with institutions and clubs supporting hobbies and sports, etc.)

The problem with the church as the main provider of community (and values) is (at least) twofold:

1. It tends to impose some bad values with the good values (not to mention bad epistemology and ontology), and,

2. when people notice that and leave church, they a) also lose their community (which can be devastating), and b) sometimes throw out the good values with the bad.

The problems you've described are problems with all human organizations, not just churches/religions.

FabHK 60 days ago [flagged]

1. Few human organisations nowadays promote values as bad as most religions.

2. You can be a member of several overlapping organizations, but only one church, normally. So, the problem of losing a community is exacerbated with church.

> 1. Few human organisations nowadays promote values as bad as most religions.

It sounds like your mind is inhabited by a caricature of religion, rather than a realistic conception of the thing. For instance, our neighborhood church uses their facilities to provide (secular) services to the local community. They also organize a monthly service day where community members (not just their congregation) provide help to people in need. Many other churches do similar things. And there is a reason why so many hospitals in the U.S. have religious names: they were started by churches.

If you want to hold religion to account for the bad that they contribute, you also have to give them credit for the good. And I think once you start doing that, you'll find that it's all pretty much a wash.

>If you want to hold religion to account for the bad that they contribute, you also have to give them credit for the good. And I think once you start doing that, you'll find that it's all pretty much a wash.


Commit mass genocide? That's ok look at these shiny new automobiles. The continued rape of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of children? That's ok, we taught them math.

You probably blame women for getting raped (What was she wearing? Why was she out alone at night?) instead of blaming men for raping.

Until all of these institutions are brought down and eradicated the "damaging good" will continue.

Look, I'm the last person to make excuses for the Catholic Church (I'm guessing that's what you were referring to), but the sins of the Catholic Church, which is a specific instance of a religion, do not tar religion as a whole. That's not how logic works. You have to show that A) sexual abuse of children is common in a significant portion of religious organizations, and B) that it's actually due to the religious part of the term 'religious organization' and not the organization part of the term. And I think you'd have a hell of a time making that case, since there are plenty of other organizations that also have issues with sexual abuse of children. Namely, any organization in which adults have regular, privileged access to children. For instance, US Gymnastics, Boy Scouts, Penn State Football, etc.

And religions are not the only human affinity groups responsible for other atrocities. Ethnicities have lead to genocide on several occasions. And so have political ideologies.

Has mass genocide ever been committed in the name of something other than religion? Yup.

Your second point is a fair one. Your first makes me scratch my head. Sure, maybe few organizations by number, but you might've noticed that the Western world is dealing with the resurgence of some real odious ideological movements (which, interestingly enough, mirror religious movements elsewhere in tactics and in epistemic closure) whose primary mode of attraction is providing some measure of belonging for people who don't, or feel like they don't, in the main.

I'm not religious, I'm not a fan of organized religion as a thing, at least in the modern era--'toasterlovin makes good points about the historical and even current positives of such organizations, I'm not convinced they balance out to a net positive today but I'm much more willing to consider the notion historically. But there are nastier partners on the dance card right now and this kinda minimizes that.

> 'toasterlovin makes good points about the historical and even current positives of such organizations, I'm not convinced they balance out to a net positive today but I'm much more willing to consider the notion historically

Huh, my intuition is the opposite: now that organized religions have been defanged and stripped of most of their political power they are probably more of a net positive force today than they ever were in the past.

Perhaps that's true outside of the United States and I'm showing my biases. Here, the religious-reactionary complex has been a prime mover to get us where we are today.

It feels like the evangelical movement’s power on the wane, and the subcultures gaining ground on that side of the political spectrum are less savory...

Sure, but they paved the roads.

You're right, I've overstated my point 1., and neglected how many organisations promoting terrible values there are these days.


1. Many of these share significant characteristics with religion (epistemic closure, or a stunning disregard for the truth; Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny touches on that).

2. For some reason religion still enjoys much more respect and reverence than these other organisations (among non-members).

Interesting that you're talking about epistemic closure. Have you considered that you may have epistemic closure with regard to your opinions on religion?

I don't know. I've read in the Bible, the Koran, and Buddhist texts, had some form of contact with religious communities in Germany, Spain, Israel, the US, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, making an effort to understand why people hold the religious beliefs prevalent in the region (somehow, God has chosen to reveal himself differently in different regions (maybe prayers from early weapons manufacturers?)). Furthermore, I've read several books about religions (I count 21 in my Kindle library since 2015, though cannot claim to have read all of them) and listened to courses about "Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life", theology, and comparative religion, going out of my way to include theologic and apologetic texts.

You tell me.

The only concrete argument I've seen you give against religion is that it promotes bad values. I think I demonstrated pretty clearly that they also promote good values. So religion seems at worst morally ambiguous, which is about par for the course when it comes to the affairs of man.

So why single out religion as a specific problem? Especially when the overwhelming majority of people in the world clearly find a lot of meaning in religion.

FWIW, I disagree with your post being flagged. While I disagree with you and think your position lacks internal consistency, it’s a common position and you’ve shown a willingness to argue in good faith, which I appreciate. So I’m sorry to see this flagged.

See you around.

Okay but religion and church aren't a necessary component for community.

I'm not religious, but I certainly think there's value in large groups of people with similar interests meeting in a positive environment.

I think that a bunch of basic social functions started out as religious and are now carried out by atheists and the like (marriages, potlatches, etc.). In a pre-scientific world, everything was religious. What is a church but community and religion? If we can strip the religion from marriage, why not church? I know atheists who attend Unitarian Universalist churches for the community (and my parents took me as a kid, my dad an atheist and my mom a mushy-not-really-religious-but-believes-in-somethingist). It's not for me, but that's probably a social issue related to how I respond to those sorts of groups and not really related to religion. Secular churches do exist.

In my experience (15 years or so) most people who attended my church didn't rush home or spend any time outside of church worshiping/praising their god. Even when I was at church, outside of the sermon, no one was talking about god or religion. Hell.. in my experience, with my religion, most people have never even read the book that the religion was based off of and knew very little about it when quizzed and yes I did quiz them from time to time.

So, aside from a few outliers, I have always been under the impression that most people attending church get far more enjoyment from the social aspects than the religious ones.

My experience is the complete opposite. Of course there's the social aspect, but almost every family had their own devotions they did outside of church. I remember clearly our teachers asking everyone in our class of 30+ in Catholic school to share our family's family-specific religious traditions. I think coming from a tradition rich with symbolism and tangible activities as devotions (Catholicism) helps with that.

> I have always been under the impression that most people attending church get far more enjoyment from the social aspects than the religious ones

You were clearly not a Pentacostal then.

> Folks can say what they want about religion

...and for those who are no believers, perhaps becoming a Pastafarian is a good alternative option : https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pastafarians

It does, unfortunately, with a lot of folks turning away from religion, there is no support system left anymore.


I actually think it's oversold. I used to feel a bit lonely but found a bunch of friends through work and just said yes to everything. Now I always have someone to hang out with because they introduced me to their friends and so on.

I don’t think many would deny churches provide their members community. Reinforcement of social ties with weekly meetings is strong.

This isn’t a good reason to permit superstition to remain at the center of community life. We can find something better.

I actually recently had a discussion on here about how, as a religious person, I'm baffled at how arbitrary some religious people are in their religion (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19915081). Yet at the same time, I'm equally disturbed by the way we seem to have a problem "permitting" a belief in something?

edit: And I realize your point, which is one I do agree with, is that the benefits of community are not a reason to be religious and is distinct from that. But your choice of words is indeed reminiscent of many things I've heard from people in somewhat mainstream political discussions about how freedom of religion essentially needs to just go away. And as someone who has campaigned and voted for the very things many people are against on religious grounds precisely because I think anything that doesn't hurt somebody should be legal, I can't stand to see it backfiring equally on my self as it does upon religious bigots.

By discounting religion, there’s also a tendency to minimize the human need to embrace the transcendental, while maximizing one’s own secular beliefs as well-founded and not superstitious. How many non-theists will just as readily believe in irrational things that they take as dogma?

I suspect you won't find it quite as easy as that to divvy apart a church community from its creed. Most of the New Testament writings are devoted to teachings about how the church and its community ought to function, and it's all very firmly grounded in the "supernatural" aspects of Christianity (especially the resurrection of Christ). Take away the latter, and I think you're likely to lose much of the former.

If church was not solving a real problem it would not longer exist at scale. Is just not the problem most people thin

It also makes money, tax-free. And by quoting scripture, it helps politicians and grifters appear to be above board to some people, without requiring them to make the sacrifices faith asks for.

Get rid of those aspects, and religion really will disappear.


Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion

(my favorite philosopher)

izzydata 60 days ago [flagged]

The harm far outweighs the good in my opinion. There is no reason such communities can't exist without pushing their agenda on young minds.

All communities push agendas. It just doesn't feel like agenda-pushing when it's something you agree with.

Children don't know what they agree with. It's unfair to them to be forced into a particular beliefs due to fear of repercussions in an "after-life".

Is it unfair for parents to pass on to their kids what they themselves are firmly convinced of? Isn't that what all parents (are supposed to) do?

The method of passing on knowledge is extremely relevant.

Oh really? What way of passing on knowledge do you have that is free of all bias?

We can see by your sequence of comments that you're not in good faith. I believe that you understand exactly what is being discussed here but you are trying to derail the conversation.

'Passing on "knowledge"' in a religious setting means indoctrinating children from a very young age, very literally since they become sentient beings. You say something to the effect of "here is a set of things that are true: I'm daddy, she's mommy, the sky is blue, and Jesus is god." You present your faith as a dogmatic view that will become entrenched and an integral part of his/her identity. As something that is above questioning. I find this deeply wrong from an ethical point of view, but also very harmful from a practical point of view, as you're teaching them some very twisted things (obey without question or you will be punished; accept things from figures of authority without evidence; etc.).

> obey without question or you will be punished; accept things from figures of authority without evidence; etc.).

That is a wild mischaracterization of religion. If you read sources like Thomas Aquinas or Catherine of Siena or Thomas More or Cardinal Newman (I can go on), you are not exposed to this kind of childish religious experience you are criticizing. All these people questioned and did not accept authority without evidence.

I fail to see how telling your children what you believe is any different from your indoctrination. For example, you say 'I am mommy', 'I am daddy', as if that's not equally societally constructed. Now, I personally believe such things are from a transcendent creator. However, ignoring that, it is unclear why you think those statements are any more 'true' than mine. Not all societies have this, so I'm not sure where you get the idea that this is also not a form of cultural indoctrination.

Now, of course an easy retort is that such things, while perhaps constructed, are still true, since a child is obviously brought up in a certain culture. However, most parents lessons to children go well beyond 'I am mommy'. Most parents give their children an entire worldview, which contains certain beliefs, etc, that cannot be justified on their own.

One will then claim that well perhaps that is true, but the goal is to teach questioning. And while that is perhaps true, I do not see in my own generation and younger, a generation of questioners, so I'm unconvinced that such things are automatic the moment one gives up religion. But I'm convinceable, so please..

Why do you believe this is a matter of bias? I'm talking about the difference between handing your child a book and whipping them into submission. Clearly one of those methods is terrible. I'd consider instilling fear of damnation on your children much closer to the latter. One of those things promotes critical thinking and the other locks them into a singular set of beliefs.

I can't think of anything worse for society.

> I'm talking about the difference between handing your child a book and whipping them into submission.

Isn't that a false dichotomy?

No, but you didn't read the rest of the comment to find out why.

> child a book and whipping them into submission

That is an incredibly false dichotomy, and one at odds with the existence of many fine Catholics (my religion, and the only one I can really speak on) who questioned / refused to bow down to bad authority.

I feel a more nuanced approach to religion would do everyone justice.

That's true, but you're also dancing around the relevant thesis: not all agendas are created equal. Some agendas are better than others in very real and practicable senses, and thus if you assume people are able to optimize their agreement based on shared values, there is little reason to assume their disagreement with the stated agenda-pushing is so arbitrary.

I'm having some problems parsing the triple negative in your second sentence...

But if I understand it correctly, it's the old accusation that religious people effectively "brainwash" their kids when raising them to their beliefs. The problem with that is, that it is impossible to raise a kid without some kind of worldview - for the simple reason that it is humanly impossible not to have a worldview.

As long as you teach your kids to think, and allow them to make their own choices once they are old enough, I don't see how you can be accused of "pushing your own agenda". At least not in a way beyond what all other parents (atheists and agnostics included) also do.

it's fine when they are gay or trans to please their parents but god forbid they go to bible study.


> The people that attend churches are the most egotistical, delusional, and vapid people you'll meet.

I'm not a believer myself, but having worked with those people over many years I can tell you that's a pretty shallow view. The people I worked with where all honest, hardworking individuals who really tried to live their values.

Have you actually participated in a church community? If so, have you participated in more than one? What you're describing does not match my experience at any of the churches I've belonged to. At all.

Certain churches are definitely filled with very judgemental people and full of cliques.

Yes, but that happens everywhere. It's very easy for us to point fingers at a group labeled as "good" and point out their flaws, when in fact these flaws exist everywhere.

Much easier to call out a group that is "good" that they are "bad", when in fact the "bad-ness" gets spread equally around people whether or not they are in this "good" community.

The 'badness' in people is supposed to be tempered or mitigated by these 'good communities' though. That's their whole point.

If they can't even manage to better people as part of their church than the average person is then what good is it other than creating cliques and an 'us versus them' mentality?

A church, or other "good community" doesn't make people better, this is an individual's decision. Of course, it attempts to make good in the world, but the people inside this community make the decision to be good or bad on their own.

I say this to protect churches and other good communities.

> A church, or other "good community" doesn't make people better, this is an individual's decision.

but the churches we are talking about are religious organisations that claim a monopoly on morality.

The whole (claimed) point of their existence is to preach, convert and forge people into better, more virtuous versions of themselves.

If it is failing even in that one simple premise, then what good is it?

Again, they can preach all they want and try to convert, but it's up to the individual. We can tell all the people we want to be good people, but its ultimately their decision.

So, to that end, let's ask ourselves - why don't we find churches interesting? Are they boring, are they full of ceremony? What's the point, we might ask? Do we have other "better" things to do? Do we not trust they are authority on morals, or do we not care about becoming more virtuous?

Conversely, high school was a great time for some people as they had friends and support, while it was the worst time of other peoples lives. There are many people who were forced out of churches or treated poorly and will never go back.

Sadly, I know some churches that are indeed like that. Fortunately, the vast majority I know are nowhere near. Please don't lump them all together.

I would think given the very diverse audience enjoyed by HN, this kind of statement would not be posted.

I don't think the poster is trying to behave in a bigoted way, but that could be a very reasonable interpretation.

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