Gaining Our Religion

We’ve pooled in the street in front of Chapman’s house. He’s not ready. He never is, and he’s never in a hurry either. So we talk. I think ‘banter’ is the term. There are bad, early morning jokes, but there are also sincere questions about each other’s well-being. We sneak up on intimacy. We take our time to get to the weightier issues, if we get to them at all.

But you don’t have to talk to connect with your friends.

I’m not much of a religionist. I tried a few when I was young but found they didn’t fit. Most religions actually don’t fit most people. We settle on one, and many of us remain ambivalent even about that. In a world full of mysteries, very few neat and tidy explanations hold water.

But most of us feel a need for what religions can provide, community and connection.

As an atheist, I struggled for a long time with spirituality, both the word and the sense that there is something in the concept I needed to consider, maybe even incorporate into my life. What I realized eventually is that spirituality need not be supernatural, that any unseen connection between people, places or things might be spiritual. Like a group united by a common purpose. Like a friend.

The New York Times’ Jessica Grose wrote a series this year about the fact that Americans are rapidly “dechurching.” Apparently, more than 30% of Americans don’t attend any religious service at all anymore. The series also explored where people are going instead.

Community and connection.

The ride group has a text chain three miles long. A lot of it consists of random attempts to get people together on bikes here or there or anywhere. But some of it takes in members’ difficulties, adventures, challenges. We ride bikes, but we are friends.

Can friends be a religion?

By mid-summer Grose had reached the point in her examination of non-church communities that she did a piece on group fitness. It turns out that people engaged in parallel, self-improvement activities form tight bonds. I ride bikes with the cabal of weirdos who gather in front of Chapman’s house, but the bike is simultaneously the group’s raison d’etre and a useful distraction from the simple fact that we’re all friends, all working on the same problems, all striving for a better way of being.

There are religions and there are religion-substitutes. These are not mutually exclusive. One might practice both or several. How much is too much? I guess that depends on what you want out of your life. My friends who are agnostic or atheist, irreligious at least, sometimes wonder what they’re missing by eschewing organized religious practice. I’ve often wondered myself. But the real question is, how do we arrive at connection and community?

And as usual, for me anyway, the answer is, we ride there.

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  1. dr sweets says

    ^^^This. Claiming spirituality has always come off as condescending. I am an antitheist and find all religion to be horseshit. Nevertheless, I am Jewish just for the jokes and brisket. So yeah, now lets ride.

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