Most atheists seem to agree that we would all be better off if religion were to gradually become obsolete. And yet, there are services currently being provided by churches in some communities that would be difficult to accomplish without them. In this post, I'd like to address the subject of religious people doing good works in the context of religious organizations. If we really want to see the demise of religion, we are going to need to figure out creative ways to do some of what they are currently doing.
Positive Aspects of My Childhood Religion
As a child, I was indoctrinated in a mainstream Protestant denomination of the Christian religion. One of the most positive things I can say about this experience is that we were encouraged to think about helping our neighbors and giving back to our communities in some way. I found this appealing, and I still do.
This may come as a surprise to some readers, but we were never encouraged to proselytize. While we were certainly taught about heavenly rewards for our compassion and good works, the primary message was that we should help others simply because it was the right thing to do. At the time, my only real criticism would have been that many of the people around me seemed more interested in talking about helping others than actually helping others. But there were some notable exceptions.
A few churches came together every year for a large and well-organized interdenominational project to benefit our town's food bank. The churches would get word out to the community that they were doing a massive canned food drive and that volunteers would be going door-to-door to collect donations. I remember being a part of this while I was in junior high and going door-to-door with a buddy. Some of us collected food, others drove vans to transport the food back to one of the churches, and others unloaded and organized the donations. So many people were mobilized to help with this effort that most of the town was covered, and the volume of food collected was astounding.
How Could We Get By Without Churches?
In my home town, the food bank provided a critical service in the community. They fed low-income residents, mostly seniors, year-round by delivering boxes of food to their homes and maintaining a soup kitchen. There simply wasn't an alternative at the time.
Could a service like this be provided without churches? Certainly. But who is going to do it? Most small-town atheist groups lack the numbers and the organization to accomplish something on this scale. And government cannot do it because we keep electing politicians who refuse to allow them to collect the tax revenue they would need to do so. That does not leave us with many options.
I know it can be tempting to wish for the quick demise of religion. Believe me, I know. But I think it is important to realize that some of the services churches provide are not going to be easy to replace.
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