I’ve got a new piece up at CNN, responding to a recent video from CNN “Crossfire” host S.E. Cupp:
Conservative atheist and television pundit S.E. Cupp has come out swinging against progressive atheists.
In a clip for CNN’s “Crossfire,” she argues that conservative atheists are “better” than liberal nonbelievers. What’s more, Cupp says, those on the right respect and tolerate atheists more than liberals do.
She’s wrong, and here are three reasons why. (Click here to keep reading.)
But there’s something else Cupp said that I didn’t address in that piece.
“I became an atheist because I’m not a joiner,” Cupp says early in the clip. “I didn’t want to be part of a club or group.”
This seems like an odd way to frame her atheism; surely Cupp became an atheist because she found theism unconvincing, not simply because she’s “not a joiner.”
Regardless, “atheists aren’t joiners” is a common stereotype. And though it may be true for some, that doesn’t mean we can’t be “joiners”—or that there aren’t potential benefits.
I became an evangelical Christian as an adolescent; later, I reevaluated my beliefs and came to realize that I had converted because I wanted to belong to a community of people committed to supporting one another, reflecting on important existential questions, and working to build a more just world.
For most of the other people in my church, God was central to those things. To me, community, solidarity, and justice were central. I realized I wasn’t a theist, but I didn’t really see a nonreligious alternative.
Religious communities can sometimes offer a lot to believers—and nonreligious nontheists who don’t want to join a church don’t have many comparable options. But that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from being “joiners” if we find an alternative consistent with our own beliefs.
How can joining a community help? For starters, sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell have found that religious Americans are more civically engaged than the nonreligious. But they also found that nonbelieving spouses of religious people are just as civically engaged if they’re active in their partner’s religious community—leading Putnam and Campbell to speculate that civic engagement is connected not to belief, but to belonging.
Whether or not a person believes, participating in a community can help cultivate and communicate the values that move people to act for justice. For atheists, Humanist communities can function in this way.
And religious participation isn’t just associated with civic engagement in the U.S.—it’s also associated with overall wellbeing. As David Yaden, a researcher at The University of Pennsylvania, said when I interviewed him for a previous Faitheist column:
When it comes to facilitating mental health, empirical data demonstrates that religious people have more positive emotion, more meaning in life, more life satisfaction, cope better with trauma, are more physically healthy, are more altruistic and socially connected, and are not diagnosed with mental illness more than other people.
Again, it seems likely that belonging to a supportive community is more important to wellbeing than whether or not a person believes in God. And in that sense, why wouldn’t nontheists want some of the good things that religious communities can provide?
You don’t have to think that religious beliefs are true to see that many religious people get something positive out of participating in their religious communities. Similarly, you don’t have to believe in God to see the value in belonging to a community of like-minded others who support you in celebrating life’s joys, tackling its challenges, and acting on your values in order to improve the conditions of life for others and advance justice.
At the Yale Humanist Community, we’re currently working on setting up our first year of community programs—including Sunday gatherings for nonreligious people who still want a community.
Though we certainly have our differences, Cupp is welcome to visit any time.