Why Humanists Needs Community
The healthy and psychological benefits of community are real. Why would Humanists deny themselves those benefits?
There is a really cool article in The Telegraph (See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10914137/What-God-does-to-your-brain.html) The first half of the article is a review of neurotheology, the study of how brains create or experience religious experience. But it’s the 2nd half of the article that interests me most. That is where the author, Julia Smith – an atheist, discusses the medical and psychological benefits of community.
“Spirituality, after all, serves a vital human purpose. Numerous studies show that religious belief is medically and psychologically (not to mention socially) beneficial. Reports have shown that churchgoers live an average seven years longer than heathens. They report lower blood pressure, recover quicker from breast cancer, have better outcomes from coronary disease and rheumatoid arthritis, have greater success with IVF and are less likely to have children with meningitis.”
Her conclusion? “if I want to be psychologically healthy, I need to ape the faithful.” And I think we should.
Benefits of community:
Lets start with the idea of community. Humans are tribal animals. We need a support network to help us when the going gets tough. A community helps in numerous ways. My husband has a job right now because one of his camping buddies (a form of community) recommended him for a job. When we lost our first child, our friends and acquaintances rallied to our aid and brought us food and other tangible support. It made getting through the experience easier.
Our connections to others matters. Our responsibilities to others helps us to find meaning and purpose in life, even if that purpose is on a small, local community scale. We can not be the best most ethical people we can be if we don’t interact with and support other people. That’s what a community provides.
I realize that many people have had bad experiences with community and as Humanists, we are always wary of the tendency of communities to become dogmatic. We humans are notorious for not getting along and arguing about what is or isn’t right. But having a community where these concepts can be discussed and more importantly discussed in a personal way, helps. When I left my last job I was worried that I was abandoning some of my social responsibilities and that it might not be ethical to leave. I ended up discussing and working through the ethics of the situation with my father over the phone. It really helped. If we are going to be ethical, we need an ethical community to discuss how best to approach the problems we have in an ethical way. For me, that would be one of the main benefits of community.
To learn more about community and creating humanist communities – check out this course I’m doing for John Shook at Partners in Secularism.
But there are other benefits to “aping” religion. And that has to do with strengthening our prefrontal cortex to practice transcending ourselves in a way that helps us be more connected to others. And, in a way that is consistent with our values and beliefs that don’t require us to go off into la la land about it. I’m talking about the benefits of meditation/prayer. I obviously don’t pray. But I do find a lot of value in meditation. It helps calm the mind and it helps me to think more clearly and be more relaxed, even when things around me are crazy. As Julia points out – “Sceptics such as me used to consider such fields flaky, but now their health benefits are proven – not least in the way they strengthen prefrontal lobes – it would be foolish to dismiss them.”
If you want to learn more about meditation – check out Rick Heller’s Humanist Meditation – Answers for Skeptics course.