I’m not really here

As an atheist, the reason why I go to church is not for religious reasons but a social one. It’s the antidote to my geeky tendency to stay at home and “socialise” from behind a computer screen.

In Talk To The Hand, Lynne Truss’s treatise on the rudeness of today’s society, she hypothesises that one possible cause of impoliteness stems from an increasing focus on individual rights, and the right to assert one’s personal space, freedoms and liberties even when in public. Therefore going out is no longer a social experience, but an exercise in managing one’s “bubble” necessitating new forms of etiquette that explain how to maintain one’s state of isolation without raising the ire of others (think mobile phones on the train).

Social Networking makes many bold claims about increasing peoples’ connectedness, but this too, is done entirely in isolation, with each person sitting alone in front of their own computer.

Truss spends a chapter talking about the historical impact of the telephone: one could, for the first time, speak to somebody that wasn’t physically present. The Internet has added yet a third layer on top of that – you no longer transmit yourself directly through your own physical voice, but with mere words. The book points out the rudeness of talking on the phone in the presence of others, but now now you can be texting somebody while talking on the phone, adding yet another level of “unpresence” to conversations.

Church, which is still predominantly conducted as a physical gathering, forces me to participate in a community, as week by week I see the same people. People who I may not want to talk to. Ironically, the small talk that I fear in “meatspace” is exactly the kind of thing that passes unremarked in a constant stream in cyberspace (via Facebook).

It’s ironic. A big criticism of religion is that it requires a belief in the intangible, the metaphysical, and yet religious institutions are the ones offering real community experiences.


This post is a part of the series An Atheist in God’s Kingdom.