One of the central messages of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers is that there are secular ways to achieve all the benefits of religion. It's true. I've even been so bold as to suggest we do some things better. Time to let that other shoe drop. Here are six things Christians in the United States on the whole do much better than the nonreligious.
1. Give generously. Although the nonreligious outpace the religious in vol-unteerism once "church maintenance" volunteering is eliminated,2 when it comes to actual giving of actual money, there's no contest: The religious have us licked. Regular churchgoers are more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent versus 66 percent).3 Obviously, there will be notable exceptions—three of the top four philanthropists worldwide are atheists or agnostics4—but the overall picture of giving by secular individuals needs improvement.
Part of the solution is the systematizing of giving. That offering plate passing beneath one's nose on a regular basis has a certain loosening effect on the wallet.
2. Connect their good works to their beliefs. As noted above, the nonreli-gious are very good about rolling up their sleeves and volunteering, but abysmal at making it clear that those good works are a reflection of our humanistic values. As a result, the presence of nonbelievers doing good works is often overlooked. That's why Dinesh D'Souza was able to write the ignorant screed "Where Were the Atheists?"5 after the Virginia Tech tragedy. Nonbelievers were present and active as counselors, rescuers, and EMTs at the scene, but because they were not organized into named and tax-exempt units, their worldview was invisible. We must do a better job of making it clear that we do good works not despite our beliefs, but because of them.
3. Build community. The nonreligious to date have been miserable at forming genuine community. We fret and fuss over the urgent need for more rationality in the world, completely ignoring more basic human needs like unconditional acceptance. Most people do not go to church for theology— they go for acceptance. They go to be surrounded by people who smile at them and are nice to them, who ask how their kids are and whether that back injury is still hurting. Until we recognize why people gather together—
and that it isn't "to be a force for rationality"—freethought groups will continue to lag light years behind churches in offering community.
4. Use transcendent language. There are many transcendent religious words without good secular equivalents. There is no secular equivalent for "blessed." I want one, and "fortunate" doesn't cut it. I also want a secular word for "sacred." I want to be able to say something is "holy" without the implication that a God is involved. I want to speak of my "soul," but do so naturalistically, and not be misunderstood. Miracle, spiritual—the list goes on and on. [Molleen Matsumura offered a thoughtful rebuttal to Salman Rushdie when he made a similar point. Visit www.humaniststudies.org/ podcast and scroll down to #19 for the podcast. Ed.]
5. Support each other in time of need. Individuals do a lovely job of supporting each other in times of need, regardless of belief system. But when it comes to the loving embrace of a community, the religious once again tend to do it much, much better than any nonreligious community I've seen. Yes, they have the numbers, and yes, they have the structure—but I'll also give them credit for recognizing the need and having the desire to fulfill it.6
6. Own their worldview. Yes, it's easier for the religious to be "out" about their worldview because they are everywhere. Guess what—we're everywhere too. Current estimates put the nonreligious at 18 percent of the U.S. population. There are more nonreligious Americans than African Americans. Think of that. Coming out of the closet and owning your worldview makes it easier for the next person to do so. So do it.
Need more incentive? Think of the children. I want my kids to choose the worldview that suits them best, and yes, I'd like secular humanism to be one they consider. The more visible and normalized it is as a world-view, the better chance that it will appeal to them. But in the meantime, it would also help if we gave more generously, connected our good works to our beliefs, built communities, learned to use transcendent language, and developed a better collective ability to support each other in time of need.
Q: My wife and I are facing a dilemma as my son is moving into middle school next year. Our local public school system is significantly missing our expectations for both environment and academic standards. We have decided to enroll him in a local private school, but all of the good ones in our area are religiously based. The one we like best is a "multidenominational" Christian school with bible study
Was this article helpful?