Every community of value, religious or otherwise, becomes a denomination in America. Atheists, as they want public recognition, begin to exhibit the characteristics of a religious denomination: They form national organizations, they hold conferences, they establish local branches (“churches”, in common parlance) which hold Sunday morning services—and they want to have atheist chaplains in universities and the military. As good Americans, they litigate to protect their constitutional rights. And they smile while they are doing all these things.
Berger points out that this drive towards denominationalism is a modern phenomenon; in pre-modern times there were only the “church” or “sects.” The post goes on to trace this “denominational impulse” to the need to accommodate religious pluralism, to allow different religious bodies to coexist peacefully. Read the whole thing to get a sense of how atheism is conforming to the same evolutionary patterns of American religion. Getting a hold of the nature of our society’s spiritual landscape is an essential task in this time of shifting religious allegiances, and there is no better guide than Berger in helping us do so.[St. Patrick’s Cathedral image courtesy of Shutterstock]