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CAN YOU HAVE A SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY WITHOUT GOD?

That sounds like a goofy question, I know.

I'm really asking it, though. There's a way I am attracted to the idea of being part of a larger spiritual community, whether that is six people that meet and eat/talk with one another, or a larger group. I like the idea of the same folks being a consistent part of my life. I miss that about church. I miss that "extended family" kind of feel about church.

CommunityImage via Wikipedia

I'm not, however, interested in being part of a spiritual community if that means I'm supposed to believe a set of things that everyone in the community is agreeing is "truth." I not only don't miss it, I won't be part of something that bases its sense of community around believing a certain thing or things. What happens naturally in such a setting is those who don't believe or who are doubting end up feeling that they "need" to move toward believing whatever that thing is. Many times they just end up talking and acting like they do. Children who grow up in such a community "inherit" these beliefs; there is a built-in expectation that they will come to the same beliefs.

I specifically reject a lot of the evangelical beliefs that I grew up with, but it's not just those I take issue with. It's the idea that being part of a community necessitates that a person "get on board," "get with the program," "see the light," or however you want to term adopting a common set of beliefs specific to your spiritual community.

At the same time I understand that what makes a community a community is that there ARE some things the members have in common, and that usually, in some shape or form, involves certain goals, aims or desired outcomes. Religious communities seem to center around a set of beliefs about God, how to live here on earth and how to get to heaven when we die.


The community I'm imagining would function more like a family and would foster:

  • Nuturance
  • Unconditional love and acceptance
  • Authenticity/Honesty
  • Taking care of one another
  • Being there for one another
  • Calming fears
  • Supporting one another in pain
  • Providing physical assistance when needed
  • Eating good food together
  • Finding ways to serve the people each community member comes into contact with in their daily life
  • Compassion
  • Consciously showing love in intentional ways even/especially when someone isn't "doing right"
  • Holding onto one another
  • Wanting/trying to understand one another
  • Looking for the unique good/gifts in each community member and finding ways to help them express those
  • Kissing babies
  • Providing rites of passage for young people
  • Older people come alongside younger people
  • Making sure the elderly are not alone
  • Making sure single moms (and dads) have support in all senses
  • Doing stuff together
  • Hanging out together
  • Being silly together
  • Eating good food together (Wait...did I mention food already? Oh, well! Even more food, then!)

I could go on, but that's a list of things I feel deep down inside that each and every person should have. It's a list of things that I want. No ONE person can provide that for each of us. A spouse can cover a lot of those. A best friend can cover a lot of those. But no one person can provide all those needs, all the time.

I'm asking if there can be a spiritual community that would nurture an atheist, an Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, an animist, etc. equally well.And yet, we need those things. We long for those things. As you read that list, I am confident your heart whispered, "Yes..."

Desire for all those things is common to all human beings and the beautiful thing about it is that we don't just all DESIRE it, but we are all capable of giving/being those things for another!

Even if I look at the biblical account of Jesus' life, I see a guy who was talking more about this "community" and modeling how to live out my list above. Jesus' term for this "community" was "the kingdom of heaven." I don't see or hear him going around indoctrinating people or asking them to join a community based on common beliefs.

Going back to my original question: Can you have a spiritual community without God?

I'm not suggesting that I would prefer an atheist community. Even that would be a group of people coming together because they agree on not believing certain things and believing other things. I'm asking if those "agreements" about belief in God can be left outside the community's organization/focus. I'm asking if there can be a spiritual community that would nurture an atheist, an Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, an animist, etc. equally well.

I can imagine such a community. I really can. It's not so much that we wouldn't talk about God. Of course we would, but that would be one topic among thousands. But when the focus of the community is loving and understanding one another, not indoctrinating or trying to change one another, so much is possible in a connecting, relating and nurturing sense.

It's mind-boggling to contemplate. And stunningly beautiful.


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