How to Accidentally Found a Secular Religion

You’d have to be a cartoonish atheist to declare that religion has no benefit.

Most atheists on the ‘militant’ end of the spectrum say it’s not worth it. No matter what benefits it brings, they say it’s not worth the crusades, intolerance, anti-science, brainwashing, corruption and human rights violations.

And so the quest begins:

Can you get all the benefits of religion… without the ‘religion’ part?

The cynics who say religion is nothing but the opioid of the masses fail at this project. They come up with an Xbox, realise those already exist, then given up in frustration.

Other doomed projects involve copying the surface elements. They gather every week, read from On the Origin of Species, and say the only way to salvation is through objective, rational inquiry.

When you imitate the superficial details without understanding why they’re there, your project falls apart ‘for no reason’.

Wiser folks realise part of the appeal (and trap) of religion is the community. That’s how religion keeps its hooks into those who have lost their faith – if they stopped going to church, they lose their friends, family and support network.

So these people create not just another atheist hobby group – they create a community.

Most of those fizzle, though, because they’re still missing pieces of the puzzle.

What makes religion so powerful to people – so much so they’re willing, eager even, to give up tithes, kinky bedroom fun and even their lives – is more than just community.

It’s a regular dose of altered states of consciousness.

Altered states plus strong communities make for strong bonds.

And it’s where religion’s staying power comes from. Many atheists look at religious cultures with frustration, wondering why another tribe of ‘smarter’, ‘less deluded’ people didn’t outcompete them.

A naïve view is fairy tales of the afterlife give them hope. Or the fear of eternal damnation motivates them to work and fight harder.


But think about what religion actually does for a religious person:

They toil all day – maybe in the fields as a feudal peasant, maybe in an office as a corporate drone. They spend every moment solving the problems in front of them, lost in memories and daydreams, unable to spare much time for some deep thinking.

Then they go home, eat a nice meal… and pray.

They spend some time connecting with something inside them… and something bigger than them. They can focus on the moment and imagine a better future. Old, buried emotions work their way up and they have the chance to resolve them.

It’s a form of meditation.

Once a week, they go to church. They hear fantastical stories about the fundamental forces of the universe battling each other. These tales hold clear lessons for their own lives. If they can’t see the metaphor, the preacher will point it out to them.

They chant, sing, laugh and dance as a community – as a collective – where their sense of self melts into the crowd.

It’s like philosophy, therapy and socialising, all at once.

Ignore the benefits of that at your peril.

Secular substitutes for religion often miss this part. As such, they miss huge opportunities for problem solving and emotional cleansing. They get together, talk, share… but they don’t transform.

Here’s my advice to anyone looking to wrestle the benefits of religion from religion’s grasp:


Hypnosis, hypnosis, hypnosis.

That’s all the preachers do anyway.

When a person learns to pray, they learn a simple form of self-hypnosis.

When the preacher passionately talks about a bible verse and the lessons it holds for the congregation’s lives, they’re performing hypnotherapy.

Once you see the hypnosis lying within religious rituals, you can strip away everything that doesn’t make sense and double down on the things that work.

If your people aren’t undergoing psychological transformations every week or more – even subtle ones – they you don’t have a church. You have a loose association of humans.

Want proof of my outlandish claims?

Tabletop roleplaying games – like Dungeons & Dragons – have these benefits. They forge strong social connections and induce altered states of consciousness, leading to psychological growth.

At least, the well-run games do.

D&D exploded in popularity among folks who churches rejected. The nerds, outcasts, burnouts, homosexuals, eccentrics, artists and anyone else too non-conformist to benefit from religion.

If you know your history, you’ll know that’s how Christianity got started too. Like D&D, Christianity reaches a critical mass among the fringe before bleeding over into the mainstream.

The only reason why D&D isn’t a literal religion (yet?) is the gaming groups are too small. If you could play in a group of 40 folks without losing the magic, so to speak, you’d create a group as strong as any church.

Gary Gygax didn’t intend that when he created D&D – he just wanted to play games. And since he died a devout Christian who adored tabletop roleplaying games, you can’t be offended by my comparisons either.