I've belonged to a lot of different communities in my life. When we lived in Australia as part of an exchange, we were a part of the exchange teacher's group. I am also part of a large extended family that served as a community for me growing up. I found a new community when my son attended the Montessori school here in town, and now the town itself, being itty bitty, serves as a community for my family and me. Growing up, I felt part of a community with my neighbours. I felt a part of a community through my brother's baseball league. I was a part of a community with my school. We found community with all the other volunteers who gave their time for the same political party my parents did. We found a community with the staff at each of the places where my parents worked. We never went without a community to belong to, and we were never, ever religious.
What's more, it seemed to happen naturally each time. There was no difficulty in finding some form of community around me that was not religious.
As such, it's difficult for me to relate to people who feel a loss of community when they leave religion. I've never been religious and never had trouble finding a community to belong to. I come from a very secular part of the world where most social events are centred around everything but religion. I don't know what it's like to struggle to find community.
So, when a reader asked me this,
I've never labeled myself an atheist. But I'm the closest thing to it. Over the past several years I ve considered myself a "hopeful realist" per say. Most of my family are theists. My issue is I have two children (3 and 8) and my wife is on the fence I guess. Growing up church was always more of a social event to me then anything spiritual. And I had good times and made great friends. Am I robbing my kids of anything? How do I navigate this as they get older? TIA
I struggled to comprehend. I wondered how I could possibly answer this question, having never actually had this same struggle myself?
The thing is, though, the very fact that I've never struggled to find social events and community without religion makes me a pretty good candidate to ask this question, doesn't it? I've lived 43 years doing what this person is asking for help with.
So, here goes. A lifer-atheist is going to give you some tips on finding a social life, especially for your kids, without religion.
The first thing you need to do, I think, is to try to get rid of the thinking that social events and community tend to be tied to the church. From the way you phrased your question, it sounds as if you believe your kids will be robbed of a significant form of community if you stop taking them to church.
The feeling of community can stem from just about anything that connects people—your favourite coffee shop, your hobby, your kids' school, etc. Think about what you have going on in your life that brings people together. Maybe there are people on staff at work who have kids your age, or perhaps your son or daughter's baseball team can be bribed into forming a community with wind-up parties and barbecues and after-practice ice-creams. Literally, anything can turn into an opportunity for socialization and making friends. Especially for your kids.
You also need to consider that wherever you do end up finding that sense of community, you will likely end up spending time with people who don't share your position on god. That's okay, though, because if you're engaging in activities that have nothing to do with religion, you shouldn't hear about religion at all. In the church, you're all believers (though some might be faking it), and your community is centred around that. When you leave your religion, you no longer have to worry about setting up a social life structured around your position on god. Socializing doesn't have to have anything to do with religion at all. Go to the block party with Christians and Buddhists - you're still going to have a great time, and your kids are always going to enjoy playing with the other kids.
I understand, though, that sometimes you need to be around like-minded people, people who understand. Especially if you live in a place where most other people are deeply religious. For that, here are some tips:
1. Search for your local Skeptics in the Pub. You can do so on the Skeptics in the Pub website here, or you can just search your city name and Skeptics in the Pub. Of course, you can't take your kids to these events, but what you can do is meet like-minded people who aren't going to judge your position on god, and you might find that one or two of them have kids that your kids would love to meet.
2. Check out meetup.com and search your area for things like humanist, skeptics, atheists, agnostics, etc. - I know you don't specifically call yourself an atheist. Still, you're going to find people at these meetups who totally understand where your head is at with religion right now. They will welcome you with open arms.
3. Camp Quest - this is a totally secular camp for kids. From their website, "Camp Quest provides an educational adventure shaped by fun, friends and freethought, featuring science, natural wonder and humanist values." Your kids will meet a ton of other kids here, and there will be no religion.
Facebook - often, there are freethought, humanist and skeptic groups in your city that get together. Search Facebook for these terms and your area, and you should find a group to join.
4. Start something yourself - if all of the above fails, start a meetup or Facebook group for nonreligious parents yourself. There are people questioning religion all over the world. You will find some likeminded parents no matter where you are.
I'll be honest, when I first saw your question in my inbox, I was a little bit confused. Of course, your kids can find places to meet other kids outside of the church. Of course, you can provide a community for them without it being centred around god. It seemed so obvious to me because I lived an entire life full of social events and community, and it never had one iota to do with a god at all. But you know, I realized pretty quickly that this was my privilege speaking. I don't know what it's like to have your whole world wrapped up in church, and I don't know how difficult it is to replace what you lose when you leave.
I want you to know, though, that I am walking proof that it is possible. It's possible to give your kids the sense of community you got from the church as a child. I am walking evidence that what they never experience or don't remember isn't going to be something they miss.
Just the fact that you care about your kids enough to worry about these things means you're already doing a great job.
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