Op-Ed: Vacuum Exists for Young Secular Church in Vermont

Even in secular Vermont there exists among her people a faith in something bigger than themselves. In the many interviews Vermont Gossip has conducted so far when asked if they believe in God or a higher power our young interviewees invariably said yes. They may not believe in any of the mainstream faiths. Perhaps too many black eyes over the course of history; the opposition to gay marriage, the opposition to abortion.

The mainstream faiths don’t have much pull in Vermont but I believe young Vermonters want to be spiritual and have a strong spiritual connection to each other. In some ways it’s innate to believe in a bigger purpose than just our small selves, and a secular church in Vermont could attract congregants who aren’t finding what they seek in mainstream faiths. Even the Unitarian faith seems too mainstream for Vermont.

Vermont needs a church that believes in evolution, same sex marriage, a higher power and a strong moral purpose on this earth. To be good not to get into heaven, but rather to make heaven out of our earth. Issues the church would rally its congregants around would include wealth and income inequality, climate change, and immigration.

The church would remind us to welcome the stranger into our homes and shelter them; remind us to have dinners with our neighbors; remind us to share things like baby toys and clothes instead of throwing them in the trash; remind us that we are all animals with instincts and purpose and that we do best when we trust our instincts: to be honest, to share, to hold the door for someone.

The church would also teach that happiness and satisfaction are biochemical rewards for behavior that is good for survival. For example, we feel rewarded when we fix a broken car by a feeling of accomplishment and purpose. This very task of fixing and then for that deed belonging to the community is good for personal survival. It assures the individual of a place within society. The church would teach that these are the highs we must seek.

The church would bring people out of their sometimes isolated lives into a community of others. It could include readings from the Bible, the Koran and Shakespeare. Any ancient text to show that humans today are not that much different from humans 400-2000 years ago. We all go through the same struggles, the same experiences of loss and joy. Ancient texts remind us of our roots and our collective purpose. Instead of seeing ourselves new and detached from ancient history, it is better to see ourselves as part of it and contributing to a future which will one day remember us at this pivotal moment in human history. A time in which we must drastically reduce our CO2 emissions to save our fragile planet.

Every morning this summer I have woken up to media reports of floods and fires and drought. The disruption of the climate has already had its effects and will continue to do so as long as we don’t dramatically reduce CO2 emissions. Isn’t it funny that in a way nature is responding violently against our assault? To be very practical and secular we could say God is saying, “Look you have limits and you have needs for survival. It is up to you to respect the laws of nature and physics and not emit CO2 from coal plants and cars.” We wouldn’t say God is punishing us because there is no need for that. We live in a practical world where blue collar men confront challenges like rusted off bolts and well caps that don’t want to come off. Not a supernatural world where if they can’t get the bolt or the well cap off they blame God. They just get it done.

Blue collar men and women confront challenges every day that call upon all of their resourcefulness and instinct. They use physics and hand tools to lighten their work. We need a church that reminds us that those of us who work with our hands for a living are smarter in some ways than those of us with law degrees. So why shouldn’t pay be equal for both? We need  a church with strong moral purpose that addresses the status quo and challenges it. Why do people hoard so much money when others go without? Why do we drive and travel so much?

The church would serve as a reminder that we still want to come together around a common purpose. God or a higher power may or may not exist, but we still find comfort in believing in something bigger than ourselves. Perhaps that’s all spirituality really needs to be.

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