Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reasons to have a creed and a congregation.

In so far as I can tell the point of having a creed is not for internal use. It is the shorthand that you foist off on strangers so they can get an idea of what your community is all about. And the point of mentioning that you go to church to gain the moral credibility you get from your church. More specifically from them having not thrown you out. 

I think this one of the major reasons that atheists are so mistrusted. It's a comparative judgement against church goers. A church goer is tacitly approved of and vetted by their congregation. Someone with no affiliation at all can only be trusted on their own credentials. Credentials that they are unlikely to have and even then, there is no shorthand. So if you have a creed and a congregation it is a short hand to credibility. 

You have the tacit approval of your congregation and they have the assumed allegiance to a mission statement short enough to look up. Without those things a person is an unknown quantity who's morals are grounded in either "nothing" or some idiosyncratic philosophical justification. And that justification takes too much time and sophistication to evaluate, so one gets no credibility from it even if its better than most creeds. 

"Good without God" misses the totally legitimate game theory analysis that "Good without community" is an uncheckable assertion. Being outside of a faith group gives you the same moral appearance that being without a degree gives an intellectual appearance. Without a vetting organization no one is going to take you seriously until your personal reputation is spectacular. 
All of this is to say that I think even the atheists among us should reconsider what not going to church means intersocially and why belonging to a group with a creed might not be the moral subjugation that some folks imagine it to be.


  1. Having a creed might achieve the desired effect, but what set of statements would comprise an acceptable creed, other than to simply state a disbelief? I think you can have a humanist creed or a jainist creed, because here we are adding beliefs, rather than nullifying them. Consider that another of the major reasons atheists are mistrusted is historically we are associated with brutal authoritarian communist regimes. There are plenty of atheists - like Jeffrey Dahmer- who are plenty bad and brutal without ever having violating any precept of atheism. Good behavior just doesn't automatically follow from atheism, so it seems likely you'd be adding some such meaning in a creed.
    That said, there truly is social value enjoyed by theists, but in order to gain that value as atheists it would seem we need to go beyond atheism and declare what we do believe or ascribe to.

    1. Talking to Zac this morning he raised a very interesting idea that answers your "go beyond atheism" point. He said that religion provides answers, while science provides methods. So I don't see any reason, in principle, that we can't create a creed out of beliefs that atheists already hold. Figuring out what that would look like is another problem all together.

    2. Yes, figuring out what it would look like seems to be the main obstacle, since nothing about atheism really tells us what beliefs atheists already hold, does it?

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  4. So we're looking for a phrase that reduces to "Good! (This message implicitly endorsed by a critical mass of people you more or less approve of.)"