Atheism is steadily on the rise and we must consider:
Are there social frameworks and behaviors ingrained in religious practice that are inherently positive for humanity in general?
People that identify as non-religious are quickly growing in number. Particularly in first world countries. They’re the second largest “religious group” in North America and most of Europe.
In fact, in the past decade, non religious Americans have overtaken Catholics, Protestants, and all followers of Non-Christian faiths.
So how might this shift effect humanity?
Where Religion Went Right:
Regardless of your stance on religion there are some fundamental cultural practices that help religious people live happier, healthier lives.
For instance Christians, among others, say grace before a meal, which is ultimately a practice in gratitude. Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami have greatly researched gratitude. They found a daily gratitude practice helped people be more optimistic, feel better about their lives, and surprisingly, exercise more and take fewer trips to the doctor.
And Jews during the high holidays are encouraged to call friends or family they may have hurt over the last year to ask for forgiveness. Research shows forgiveness increases lifespan, lowers the risk of heart attack, improves sleep, and reduces levels of anxiety, depression and stress.
Clearly a culture that encourages us to strengthen gratitude and forgiveness is great, regardless of how we identify religiously.
So will we lose out on some of the positive practices and respected health benefits as we become less religious over time?
Filling the Void:
In my opinion, as religion becomes a historical cultural artifact we must redesign our collective culture to ensure we maintain the positive social reinforcements religion offers. Here are a few solutions to consider:
- We could take newly abandoned churches and turn them into a “Temples of Gratitude.” A space for atheists to regularly come together and practice and strengthen their capacity for gratitude.
- We could create a global holiday for forgiveness. Encouraging entire countries of people to let go of past pains and carry on.
- As autonomous driving takes hold more space in cities parking garages will open up. We could convert unused garages into “meditation towers”, giving the surrounding community an inspiring space for a practice they may believe in.
As our believes evolve over time so should our public space, holidays and culture. The rising atheist population has little institutional emotional infrastructure to encourage some of our most basic positive behaviors. During this shift we must take responsibility to encourage the healthy habits of this quickly growing population.