There are all kinds of communities. Traditionally, communities were collections of residents located in the same geographic area. They were bound together, mutually interconnected by the material realities of their shared circumstances. They depended on one another for various skills, goods, fellowship, protection, and so on. People who lived in the same area naturally took on similar cultures and customs, and so on. This included spiritual forms of belief and practice.
In this kind of community, there wasn’t really a need to think about questions like, “How do we build or maintain community?” It simply happened naturally. Leaving a community was a big deal because it was more difficult to travel far historically. Less interaction over these distances meant one also felt far more out of place in other communities. There were good and bad things about this, of course. In fact, it was such a burden that ‘exile’ was once considered a harsh punishment.
Today globalized travel and communication makes it much easier to relocate. Modern society in developed nations also means we rely less on our neighbors for goods and services, giving us less need to interact with them. Fortunately, media, internet, and other communication also means we can form new communities bound by shared interests and values rather than geography.
Naturalistic forms of spirituality and religion are arising within nearly all religions and traditions. I call this the convergence. But Spiritual Naturalism is still an emerging movement. As such, there are not great numbers of us in any one single area. Fortunately, we can use today’s technology to grow our spiritual community despite being spread out around the world. Our experiences so far in the Spiritual Naturalist Society have been very exciting and promising, and we look forward to great things in the future.
But it is important to note some things we mean when we talk about our mission to build Spiritual Naturalist community.
One additional thing that happened in traditional communities was the effect they had on human interaction and society. Because it wasn’t easy to leave a community or make do without one’s neighbors, people had to learn to deal more effectively with one another. Inevitably, there would be human conflicts, arguments, and people who simply didn’t get along. But they had to learn how to do things like: be tolerant, forgiving, ask for forgiveness, humble themselves, learn to make up, learn to act kindly, and so on. The idea of having long term acquaintances that one needs to ‘learn to love’ was not uncommon. Certainly, there is no point in human history that was so romantic as to consist only of this. But the point is that these skills were essential in such an environment.
By contrast in a virtual community today, it is very easy to find offense and simply click over to another site, find another club, join another social group, and so on. This is great in terms of choice and freedom. But if we take this too far, we can lose out big time by never forming any deep roots and never learning or growing in the ways one does when having to work through problems with others.
The reason we speak of trying to form a real community at SNS, is because we seek to be more than simply a web forum, or a group of people who happen to be clicking on the same website. If we are to do that, it will take something from each of us.
Since we no longer have material dependency holding us together, we need something to take its place. For this, I would advise each individual take upon themselves a commitment. Sometimes we may create a login on a web forum, or talk in a group on social media and maybe we will move in and out of them on a whim. But if we want a community, then we need to commit to sticking with it in ways that are more involved than simply being subscribed to a blog, for example.
As in marriage, we don’t leave a spouse just because we have one argument. We make an attempt to work through difficulties. While not nearly as involved as a marriage, I think that a spiritual community should invoke a similar intention to ‘stick with it’. This means if we come across a community member and are offended by an interaction, or have a tiff, we don’t simply click out in a huff, never to return. Instead, we make an effort to talk through it, explain how we feel, and listen to the other person.
We hope to serve as a church or other kind of spiritual community for members, and the commitment goes both ways. So, we not only pledge to stick it out and try to reach understandings, but we also try to give others in the community a chance to learn and grow. We try to be tolerant, to forgive, and so on. Without this kind of stick-to-it-iveness, our “community” is simply a collection of web surfers.
In short, we are hoping to evoke a long-term outlook, and one where we try to stick together even when the inevitable human misunderstandings or offenses arise. In this, we can learn many more lessons than simply those we seek in our texts.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.