And no wonder. We’re five times as numerous as the more organized and vocal atheists, yet we’re neither seen nor heard except to be dismissed as crystal-gazing new-age caricatures, resembling no one I know. We are sidelined while the defenders and the would-be destroyers of religion slug it out, but between rounds, they team up to beat on us. The one thing traditionalists and atheists can agree on is that the “spiritual but not religious,” or SBNR, as we’re called for want of a better name, are cop-outs, flakes, and narcissists. To the godless, we’re soft-headed suckers who moon around reading deep meaning into random coincidences.
To the godly, we’re runaways from discipline, responsibility, and community, seekers of nothing but self. “The problem with cafeteria-style spirituality,” finger-shakes religion scholar Huston Smith, “is that Saint Ego is often the one making the choices at the salad bar. What tastes good is not always the same as what you need.” A steady diet of such condescension can get you down. I’m going to cheer you up, and soon. To start to play our rightful and central role in the culture wars, we will need high spirits.
We will also need an ability to stand together, to make common cause, and that’s my second purpose. Both the other camps in this fight for the soul of the future are organized and unanimous, and that’s why you hear from them and not from us. Religious traditions are “organized” by definition, and their stress on doctrine, dogma, and creed insures that each has a set of core ideas its members agree on. Beyond that, religious conservatives in opposing fortresses have now banded together in a united front to defend the walls of Tradition itself. Despite their virulent differences, conservative Christians, Jews, and even Muslims often say they have more respect and understanding for each other than for anyone who would lower those walls, much less leave them. So the traditionalist position is as clearly defined as it is fiercely defended.
Atheists, meanwhile, have joined forces across the blogosphere to become much more organized and “of one mind” — strengthening their perverse resemblance to the religion they despise. They have a coherent culture and ideology, with strong, witty memes that crop up again and again, like the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” and the practice of calling a believer’s God “your imaginary friend.” They even have their own “old man with a long white beard” – Charles Darwin (and his Saint Peter, Daniel Dennett, the rock on which his antichurch is built).