Any religion talk makes me nervous. I'm an atheist. Congrats - you're part of a major trend. By the numbers, atheists, the agnostic, the "unchurched" and the "spiritual but not religious" taken together are the fastest growing religious group in America. In the West, people are slowly but surely moving away from organized religion.
Not everyone is happy about this, of course. But some of those unhappy people might surprise you. Sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell are publishing the results of two of America's largest academic religion studies this October. They found that, simply put, "religious Americans are better neighbors than secular Americans - more generous with their time and treasure, even for secular causes - but the explanation has less to do with faith than communities of faith."
Incendiary words! But notice that it's not being religious that makes you a better neighbor - it's having a community of meaning. Having that group, beyond your families and coworkers, who encourages you to question yourself and to be a good egg seems to do have an effect. It makes us happier and helps the world around us.
There are a lot of ways this community can happen. The Ten Year Game is one of them.
But what about the content of religion - the dogma and such? That's usually the sticking point. Isn't religion usually about ideas?
There's more about that elsewhere. Suffice to say, religion hasn't always been about ideas. Ideas in a religious tradition rarely remain constant. And insofar as most religions are built on a theory or theology, most folks who practice it tend not to be caught up in its particulars.
Looking broadly backwards, the ideas - the logos - tend to not do the heavy lifting for keeping these communities together. The actions - or praxes - tend to be more enduring, more widespread, and carry a greater weight. As a famous saying goes, "As much as the Jews have preserved the Sabbath, the Sabbath has preserved the Jews." To carry this further, as much as we've carried the many praxes through the years - festivals and fasting, meditation and processions - the praxes have carried us.
So - the Ten Year Game is all about hacking the praxes from religions and other institutions, and making these the building blocks of an enduring community.
Is this game totally idea-free? Not totally. There's one more idea from the religion eggheads that is worth listening to. An old Oxford don named Gilbert Murray was trying to define religion so it could apply to the ancient Greeks, in all of its stages, and every oddball shape it had taken since. He said that religion is how we think about what we don't know - not just with our brains but with our bodies and our societies. Its the emotional and social language we use to phrase the darkness.
Since there will always be darkness, there will always be a need to face it. Some people do it through a why and a what - big reasons and ideas. This game does it through a how and a who - a process, and the people you choose to play with. Look at your own life. Ideas come and go. People endure.
All right. So maybe religion is a touchy, loaded, awful word for you. Choose another word. But a community of meaning -- especially one you help create - can do powerful things.
YOU HAVE QUESTIONS...
...is your question here?
Seems a little weighty. Doesn’t that make for a dull game?
Who’s in charge?
The religion angle makes me nervous. See, I’m an atheist.
The religion angle makes me nervous. See, I have my own beliefs.
Why does it take ten years? I don’t have ten years to play a game.