I haven’t been religious for more than a decade now. From the day I decided to walk away from religion I’ve never missed it. It fills no essential role in my life, either ethically or logically. I almost forget what it was like to be religious.
But I have noticed one thing missing: the sense of community.
Church, or temple, or the mosque: these are all great places to meet a broad cross-section of neighbors. Consider that the people you see at your place of worship, you might never run into otherwise. They don’t work at your office; they don’t belong to your community pool; they don’t date your friends. But once a weekend, you show up at the same place. You bake stale brownies for the same picnics, assemble the same houses on church retreats to the Appalachians and chaperone the same pool parties. You’re forced to meet people whose paths would never cross yours normally.
Networking like that improves the quality of your life. The broader and stronger your network, the better the type of jobs, perks and friends you’ll find. Oh, you’re in the market for a car? My cousin’s a dealer out in Springfield – he’s been trying to offload some inventory. Or: sixth grade, you said? My daughter just entered sixth grade at that private school up in Clinton; she loves it. And my wife sits on the school board. Let me give you our number.
Religious services work like that, in a way few other groups do, because of the disparate interests they draw in. Other groups – professional organizations, amateur sports teams, bar-hopping circles of friends – can approach that level of networking success, but they can never duplicate it. You need the random-but-not-quite sampling that a faith draws in – people who believe enough in common to talk to each other, but not so much that they have nothing to say.
I’ve been part of like-minded atheist experiments – the Boston Objectivist Network being the most successful – but it’s never quite the same. And I think this is why religious people will enjoy a statistical, and thus political, advantage over the non-religious for decades to come. They have instant networks. They have a voter base – or, more importantly, a movement base – that can easily be tapped into. Atheists do not.
I’m not saying you should join a church you don’t believe in for the free brownies and car washes. But I’m always looking for ways to expand my network.