Community is what we make it.

If there is one question that stands out since I started publicly identifying as atheist, this has to be it: “What about the community?”. Church binds us together, it ensures that no-one is passed over or falls through the cracks. That’s the kind of community we want our children to grow up in. And if it doesn’t come from Church, how are we supposed to build a community? How are we supposed to make sure it takes care of everyone?

It’s a nice question. Genuinely difficult. How do we build a community like that if we can’t invoke the divine? The difficulty of the question hides the irrelevance of the conditional. Let me put the fallacy into more obvious form: How do we live on Mars if we can’t paint the turnips blue? It is plainly the case that I do not know how to live on Mars, so I cannot answer the question. It is, however, equally plain that my ignorance does not justify painted turnips.

Put bluntly, belief in gods is not reliably associated with prosocial behavior. Religion as a moral framework for social interactions strikes me as frighteningly unstable. And when (not if) it fails, it crushes people. Every. Damn. Time.

An anonymous letter cites your mother’s obituary listing you and your partner to out your sexuality after 19 years of service to the school where you teach. What kind of reaction do we expect of a good community- the kind we want to raise our children in- when confronted by this new information?

In their doubtlessly profound wisdom, the Columbus Diocese decided not to ignore the cowardly troll and not to burn zir nasty letter. Instead, a teacher of 19 years was unceremoniously shown the door: “I turned to the principal and I said, ‘Are we talking like immediately? Am I supposed to leave the building?’ And she just, she said, ‘Yes.’”

That’s what I think of when I hear churches referred to as communities. That and the dozens of times that I have watched family or friends in similar situations. To be honest, after 18 years of inclusion in Catholic communities, the above strikes me as fairly tame.

I don’t know how to do better. But when I read about something like this, I like to think I would have the grace to be ashamed if I didn’t want to try.

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