Seeking a secular community

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February 9, 2015

9:19 PM

We live in an increasingly secularized nation. Among millennials, about one in three are unaffiliated with any religion. We can debate whether this is a good thing, but I’m not sure how productive that would be. What concerns me, however, is what the secular have left behind with religion. While there are many thriving and public religious communities on campus, there is not one organization addressing the spiritual needs of the secular, which constitute 37.7 percent of students at the College of William and Mary, according to the recent Campus Religious and Spiritual Climate Survey. This needs to change.

Everyone carries their own burdens — religious and non-religious. For the religious, those burdens could be doubts about their beliefs or their perceived inability to translate them into action and do what their higher power expects of them. For the religious, these can be painful struggles, but not ones they necessarily have to face alone. College students have access to over 30 faith-based organizations that can guide them through uncertainty and crisis, engaging their beliefs in a caring and supportive environment.

Non-religion brings challenges of a different nature: I know this from experience. I’ve cobbled together what I think is a decent set of beliefs and practices, built on empathy, reason and science, and borrowed in no small part from religion. But is that really enough? I’m not so sure. It doesn’t leave me feeling completely satisfied, and it doesn’t really fill the spiritual void left by religion — that sense of being intimately a part of something greater than oneself.

It also lacks clarity. Most religions provide guidelines and leaders to help their adherents make decisions. Faced with moral complexity, the religious have firmer ground to stand on. The non-religious are on their own. While some atheists and agnostics I know take pride in this fact, acting without the backing of an engaged community isn’t always as empowering as it seems.

For example, spiritual bonding with my fellow non-religious students often consists of talking about how there’s just too much undeserved suffering for there to be a higher power, and that there couldn’t possibly be an afterlife. It certainly affirms our view of the world, but it doesn’t provide much comfort or fulfillment — nor does it benefit our fellow men and women. The secular too often chide or dismiss religion while despairing at their own understanding of the world, rather than using it for constructive means. We should spend less time denying there’s a big man in the sky and more time wrestling with its moral implications — trying to build lives as rich, purposeful and filled with beauty as those of the faithful.

This campus, and really that of every college, needs active and inclusive secular organizations — ones that encourage discussion and doubt. I don’t know if many would flock to them immediately or how they would advertise themselves. I also don’t know what forms they would take or whether it would be possible to unite people under a banner of non-religion. But I do know that it would be worth it to try.

Societal norms about careers, education, sex and marriage have collapsed so suddenly as to render many of us — especially the non-religious — utterly clueless. There are too many of us looking for guidance, finding it in the wrong places — or not finding it at all. We need to help each other through the ambiguity and confusion of modern life. That means cultivating communal values and behaviors that respect what religion already understands — that which makes us human is our endless search for meaning and connection.

Email Matt Camarda at [email protected]

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About Author

Matt Camarda

Senior staff writer Matt Camarda '16 is a government major from Ramsey, NJ. He was previously Flat Hat Blogs Editor, Associate Opinions Editor and Editorial Writer.

(5) Readers Comments

  1. Jorge
    February 10, 2015 at 9:39 PM

    This is really stupid. Athiests are like, not persecuted. Youre a bunch of angsty white boys who need to try and advocate for change that actually means something.

    • Gerhard "Grotowski" Jansen
      February 10, 2015 at 9:45 PM

      Woah Woah Woah Woah WOAH!!!! #notallatheists BRAH! You just live in a bubble and don't know about how serious religious normativism really is. Plus you sound like a total theist X-P Cuz you are soooo sheltered philosophically you don't understand how persecuting the crushing existential TRUTH can beeee. When you die, my soul will laugh at yours. SIKE there is no soul woweee

      • Jorge
        February 10, 2015 at 9:47 PM

        wow sounds like someone was able to break free of the "repression" their mommy and daddy put on them their whole life. thank you, you enlightened soul, you chandelier of light because god is real and athesits are not

  2. Gerhard "Grotowski" Jansen
    February 10, 2015 at 9:52 PM

    OK. First off, I'm not even an atheist. I'm ann ANTItheist. that means i believe in even less than a nihilist. Its kind of like skepticism, except more badass. You can check it out on my blog Sometimes i wish i believed. it would be like a soothing aloe on my mind-brain. But alas, I think, therefor, I am BETTER THAN THEIST FOOLISHNESS ok ok i think i won that one

  3. Aaron Accruso
    February 13, 2015 at 5:41 PM

    I am assuming that this is a satirical article, as I am sure that there are MANY non-religious affiliated secular organizations on campus (ie. the Greek system) that one can become involved with. If you truly have such deep questions and longings for fulfillment, maybe religion IS the way for you. Check it out.

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