I first became associated with the Unitarian church when entering college in 1953; attendance at the church didn’t require any change of my basic belief structure, rather it was joining together with other people who had come to attend open ended discussions about the big questions concerning our life strategies. Many, possibly all basic religious questions are given firm and believable answers by all of the modern world religions, if you are willing to view the world as they choose to present it. The Unitarians take a different view and claim to be infinitely flexible on the answers to those big questions and choose, as a philosophical position, to assist each individual in their personal quest for the answers they need for their personal life journey.
I am not particularly atheistic, but I have been attending The Central Oregon Atheists MeetUp here in Bend, Oregon, and find them to be a congenial group willing to calmly discuss most things. I have even converted everyone of them I spoke with to admit they liked what Jesus had to say, when I presented as nearly as I could what Jesus himself actually said. It boils down to specific things to do to help people live their lives and live them more abundantly. That should strike every reasonable person as a worthwhile goal for any religion.
Jesus’ message got completely changed when Christianity became the State Religion of the Roman Empire. The organizational aspect of that religion is what has persisted and Jesus’ message got whittled down to the almost meaningless generalized statements of the golden rule (intentionally lower case). Be nice to people and they will be nice to you. Or the silver rule – Don’t be mean to people and they won’t be mean to you. Either way you flip that concept it is isn’t close to what Jesus was teaching. Go read the Sermon on the Mount Matthew KJV 5 – 7:27 several times through — it’s not very long — and then read the rest of Matthew for context. He was presenting a path for spiritual advancement.
The primary function of a religion is to bind a group of people together as a reproducing entity. That is necessary if the group is to survive beyond the lives of the individual members. Another necessity for a group to survive indefinitely is that it needs realistic external threats. These threats should not be so powerful as to easily destroy the group, but they must be realistic enough and powerful enough appearing that the people must stay firmly together or they will be attacked and destroyed. Formalized contentions within a group keep the people active and vitally alive because too much comfort and the group falls into petty bickering and loses sight of vital issues. For example, the government of the United States is intentionally divided against itself to promote contention and this keeps the various portions of the group strong so when an external threat appears it becomes easy for these already mobilized parties to join together and fend off the external threats.
A serious problem for those people who refuse to believe in supernatural entities and usually calling themselves atheists or agnostics is that they automatically generate suspicion, even hatred from theistic groups. Atheists by their very name proclaim themselves to be enemies. That coupled with the fact that they don’t have any natural cohesiveness created by a supernatural belief is disastrous for the permanent survival of atheist organizations. All successful religions have absurd supernatural claims, but these function to give these groups of people an absolute cause for uniting and staying united. The supernatural claim binds them together and when together they can fend off other groups and survive indefinitely. The atheists have very weak binding powers and until they find an essence of their belief which unifies them they will be forever weak. Weakness in Darwinian terms of survival of the fittest means they will be persecuted unto death when all inclusive survival problems arise, problems such as the ultimate long-term but reoccurring event – famine. During such stressful times the groups that are most cohesive will be best able to maintain themselves and survive. Atheists without any potent social cohesion will be the first groups to collapse and die.
Although atheists may be intellectually more correct in their beliefs, demanding reasonable proofs for their beliefs, they are socially weak. Social cohesion is the power of religions in the face of adversity. If atheists are to ever become more than a moribund splinter group of intellectually correct dissenters they must find a cohering principle. When a critical time arrives a group of atheists may say, “The problems are so severe you must join our group or die,” which may be correct but it is a temporary joining based on temporary expediency. A similar preexisting religious group based on a untestable belief in a supernatural god who protects his own people will have more cohesion. An atheistic group can only exist for long when social stress is modest and liberal laws are strong and enforced.
Atheists may be right but when problems get serious they will be the first to die.