There is a certain need for humans to work as groups. The needs seem to be different for the genders. Men need collaborative work, like team sports, where stubborn determination is key, but emotions need to be subdued (anyone who has seen a 9 year old throw a tantrum in the middle of a football game can attest to emotions not being helpful in sport). This is probably a psychological left-over from hunting. After all, if you’re hunting the last thing you want to consider is the possibility that Steve is distracted by his partner fancying someone else or Alan skitting out because he fears death. Women, who probably provided most of the food for the community, could afford to discuss emotions because they were gathering berries and tubers and roots. Any emotional requirements women had the community could meet. Either way, men’s stoicism and women’s emotional requirements can be met in many ways. Personally, I recommend barbecues and community halls.
Religion actually fills this niche pretty well. It gives excuses to claim part of a group, much like football teams do and creates the sensation of being loved and accepted as if by a sorority (without the hazing… except, sometime with the hazing).
Think for a moment about British life for a peasant during the Industrial Revolution. Their life was 12 hour days working, 6 days a week, in gruelling conditions. That leaves 1 day a week for socialising a building a community. And social pressures dictated that it must happen in Church.
Capitalism took away our fire gazing, gathering, farming and hunting. Religion took advantage of our need for social interaction. Now, we’ve lost the gruelling work day and, religious or not, we’ve lost the social pressure to attend Church. I think that (alongside a culture of self-entitlement and “I-know-my-rights-(but-not-my-responsibilities)”-ism) has cut us off from our sense of community.
But, I believe we can regain this without the Church and definitely without atheist Churches (because… what?!)
(1) Community halls¹
Imagine if we used community halls to have a barbecue, meet the neighbours and relax on a weekend or weekday evening. Imagine how many more people would offer to help out. I know from experience that I end up training the elder generation to get comfortable enough with their computers to email and (at a push) Skype the families. They love being able to share pictures. A friend of mine get roped into helping build a house. Consider that. Building a house on community labour.
(2) Community pets
My girlfriend wants the local old-people’s home to adopt dogs and employ a dog carer. She also wants the dog carer to be her. Her reasoning is that she loves dogs and that dogs can be demonstrated to lower morbidity and mortality.
(3) Community projects
I work with people I basically never got on with. Except, last week I (de facto) became the head of a small project to get people to use Google Docs. I pushed for my school to use Google Docs because using collaborative live documents reduces paperwork duplication, makes liaising and collaborating more time efficient and reduces the number of emails we receive. Since I have helped collaborate on this project, I have found myself getting on better with these people. And that was a 1 day project. Imagine if we ran our own town Newsletters, tried to out-do the local newspaper or ran a community library. How many friends would we develop then. These are the standard community projects. More ambitious projects, like homelessness projects are also valid and secular ideas.
(4) Free exercise classes
In Asia it is common to walk past a park and see people doing step classes or Tai Chi or yoga, free. Someone brings music and someone does yoga and people from the community join in. It is mostly stay-at-home parents; the kids get to go to the park and the parents get to do some exercise. But the hectic life of a stay-at-home parent shouldn’t mean they are outside of the community, so this is actually a great idea.
My point is that religion does not monopolise our sense of community, but we live in a society that doesn’t seem to realise how much time we have gathered since the Industrial Revolution to start rebuilding our communities around values which actually reflect us. I dare you to rent out the local community hall for a barbecue or start a book club or (as bloggers) use social media to start a local newsletter (and, in it, advertise a local barbecue). When you start doing things for community, look at how many people start to give you things for free.
1 – if you don’t have community halls, consider the local Church a community hall. Be cheeky.
Text in blue is an edit for clarity, after a short discussion with SilenceofMind.