Sunday Sermonette — Economics of religion

Recently the unemployment rate has hit 7.2%, the worst it has been since 1945. If I recall correctly, an IBMer not long ago told their employees that the key to survival in this global economy was not lifetime employment, but lifetime employability. It is important to keep the skills and knowledge sharp to be able to maintain your position or to easily move into better positions while taking advantage of opportunities. Small consolation when the layoff comes though. Having been there, I know that full well. Psychologically, it is tough because for many; the job comes with a sense of identity and a sense of belonging.

So it didn’t surprise me when I caught a snippet on NPR not too long ago when they had a story about religious organizations reaping the benefits from job loss and the uncertainty that environment entails. I’ve blogged about this before. One pastor, I believe it was, said, without apparent awareness of the irony, that churches are good for economic bad times because churches understand money. I think it is more to the point that churches provide a sense of certainty, a sense of identity, and a sense of belonging. No doubt some also feel that they are developing a personal relationship with some fictitious being, but I suspect the security and personal fellowship is really the stronger pull.

What is the humanist/free thinker/atheist response? Although true, it is probably not enough to say that putting trust in imaginary beings to make things alright simply doesn’t work. That doesn’t give one the sense of security or a feeling that somehow things are under control. If you are one of the unfortunate to get laid off, I would suggest keeping in mind that, as a human, you have in your possession one of the most powerful and complex instruments in the universe. Honed over millions of years of evolution, the brain, although very much susceptible to fooling itself, is nonetheless capable of much when used correctly. Use it. Analyze what happened. It may have been out of your control, but were there ways you could have been more secure? How can you build yourself so that you are stronger next time? Learn from this. One is never too old to learn new things. Perhaps now is the time to take some classes, if you can. Increase your skills and knowledge.

The time off may also provide opportunity to deepen your personal relationships with family and friends. You probably also have friends from your old place of work. Keep up and grow a network. Perhaps something like LinkedIn or maybe something more specific for your career. Talk with your old colleagues. Perhaps there may be a business idea you all could explore. By the time you’ve gone over it, put together a business plan, etc., the economy may have started on the road to recovery. Hopefully during this time you are getting unemployment. So, there’s a lot of things to do instead of giving up and counting on a fictitious being with a really poor track record of actually helping people.

For those of us fortunate enough to still be working, remember, there is a lot of hurt out there now. The official season of giving may be over, but the real season of giving never is. I and others have posted on charities before, but just in case, here’s here’s another list. There’s lots of good causes. If you are unemployed now and would like to donate time towards helping, there are probably quite a few organizations that would welcome your help. For example, another great organization, FeedAmerica, has a volunteer link to help in your local community. Another good group to which to contribute is Oxfam. I would be remiss to not mention the Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Efforts (S.H.A.R.E.) organization. I highly recommend this one.

What about that sense of community offered by religious organizations? Compared to them, we free thinkers and atheists are fairly new at developing community. Check out Atheist Meetup Groups to see if there is a local group near you. If you want your group to become part of something even larger, you can also have it become part of Atheist Alliance International.

If you know of any other good ways to cope with the economic meltdown, good charities to which to contribute, or have any thoughts on community building, feel free to leave them in the comments.


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