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Column: Rebuttal to ‘Church Without God’ article

I am commenting this week on the article written by Professor Jacqui Frost in the Faith and Family article in the Gazette, “Church Without God?” Jan. 19, 2024. I have some observations of my own about the nonreligious community that seems to be growing.

First, I think it is good to review a bit of history on the subject. There has been since the Enlightenment of the 1700s a search by the thinkers and philosophers of the time, to bypass religion. To be honest, there is a reason that this subject was a hot topic. The violent religious upset after the Reformation is just one of the factors; the other being the rise of science as an explanation for the natural world. Science gave birth to a new understanding of the use of reason as a method of proving natural laws. It was during this time that the philosopher, Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) wanted to eliminate religion. He developed in 1785 his Metaphysics of Morals, developing the Categorical Imperative, which says, “Act in such a way that you always treat others as others would treat you”. (It is similar to what is called the Golden Rule.) Christians follow the moral path as found in scripture “Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Mark 12:31). Kant puts his moral imperative in the realm of the secular.

We have to include Darwin (1809-1882) and his blockbuster, “The Origin of the Species,” here that challenged the very origin of sacred scripture. If we move on to Nietzsche (1844-1900), he claimed that God is a fiction created by human being for ethical control. Currently, we have people like Richard Dawkins, who says that science and religion cannot sit side by side, because God cannot stand up to scientific scrutiny.

I do not mean to give in this very condensed article a complete ethical argument. But what I do take away from Frost’s article, is that the gatherings that are being founded as nonreligious assemblies, have the same structure as most Christian churches. Secondly and perhaps the most important is that the human need to collect with others and find community for what she calls, “shared beliefs and cultivate a sense of belonging and purpose.” I believe this is important to our human nature, to find the transcendent. The ancient Greeks have told us we are body, mind and spirit. It is obvious that human beings seek this eternal part of us in some way. Perhaps not in a religious capacity of church but in a dedication to some abstract idea, perhaps commitment to a humanistic calling. This is what gives meaning to our lives.

The nonreligious of Frost’s article are nothing new. For the last 300 years, there have been movements to sideline religion. Yet after all that is said and done, the ache in the human heart to find purpose and belonging, comes into focus. God loves us, and if to go back to Old Testament times, there were plenty of examples when the Hebrew people left their concept of a one God and worshiped a golden calf, but ultimately, they were drawn back into the truth, usually after much suffering and disaster. God is merciful and forgiving, and when the Hebrews got back to his way, they prospered, and contentment and grace flowed.

St. Augustine 1,700 years ago, said, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The nonreligious are proving the point. Even if their gatherings do not mention an eternal being, their actions prove they seek, the good in the world and themselves. The good is God himself.

Kathleen Carlton Johnson, Ph.D., is a hospice chaplain.

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