I just read an article singled out for a Sydney Award by David Brooks, here: http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/magazine/104901/ex-mormon-romne... It's entitled "Confessions of an Ex-Mormon" and is written by Walter Kirn.

It's an interesting story in its own right, despite being a little long, but it brought to mind something I've thought about for a long time. Back when I was married, a friend of mine visited, and at one point he commented that one thing he liked about me was how I always tried to find something to do that all of us would enjoy. Kirn remarks at one point something about how he had forgotten that ordinary, everyday tasks can be done together. I would add (if he didn't--and I don't now remember whether or not he did) that that sense of togetherness seems to me to be something good on its own. It's not that I'm a gregarious party-going sort who spends all of his time socializing with other people and can't stand being alone. In fact, apart from attending chess club once each week, chatting with the countergirls at the local pizza shop on my daily walks, and talking to various members of my family, I spend most of my time in my room, reading or writing or otherwise using my laptop or watching TV. It's not that I wouldn't like to socialize a bit more; I simply don't know anyone and, not driving and disliking bars anyway, I don't meet people except the few with whom I "correspond" via discussion thread posts over on www.chess.com . And when I was married, the sense of being together was in itself enjoyable--I'd work on what I had to work on while she worked on what she had to work on in another room. But we were together nonetheless.

None of that is the point of this, but I'm getting there. Robert Heinlein mentioned the idea of the "synthetic family" in the first chapter of his book Friday, and although he only used it as a plot device to get things moving, and although it didn't work well in his book, the idea of forming a family of people who choose to be together and who love and care for each other has long been an idea that has appealed to me. And I have heard of intentional communities--groups of people of various numbers who, usually, share an interest or goal (sometimes religious, sometimes ecological, sometimes something else)--of people who have chosen to form not families, exactly, but communities of people who live with or near each other and who work to further the interests of the community together and who form, in a way, extended families.

Still getting there.... Kirn talks about how the Mormons form a long-lasting communitarian experiment. They help each other automatically and without question. (They also help other people automatically and without question, if those other people suffer calamities like floods.) They share the work of daily living and they pool resources. And I like the idea of living that way. But (a) I have no desire to infuse such a group with religiosity, and would like to see it done by a group of people who practiced rationality in their beliefs about reality and who practiced the same sort of automatically helpful sharing of both warmth, caring, and affection, on one hand, and of work and resources, on the other (the latter really being a consequence of the former), and (b) I have no desire to infuse a group with the sorts of irrational limitations on human behavior, and particularly on sexual behavior, that religions and even simply the dominant culture often impose. The expression of warmth can naturally lead to sexuality, and when sexuality is not expressed in order to hurt anybody, then assuming that the potential transmission of STD's is not an issue and that potential pregnancy is not an issue, I see no reason why it should be restricted between people who care about each other.

I would love to be part of a warm, caring, affectionate group of rational nontheists. Some might be artists. Some might be musicians. Some might be mathematicians. Some might be chess players. Some might be architects. Some might be authors. Some might be assembly-line workers. All, however, would be part of the group because they wanted to be; all would share in the benefits and share the burdens of living together or near each other. Were it large enough a group, it could do the sorts of helpful communitarian things some religious groups--like Kirn's Mormons--do for other people, but without encouraging religious belief--indeed, showing people that doing good does not require being religious, thereby encouraging reasonable people to cease holding the irrational religious beliefs that all too many do hold. I do not have any idea how to get such a thing started; and I certainly do not know how to arrange it in a small geographic area. And it would have to be done in small geographic areas, since an Internet community can't go out and directly help people the way a church group can (and because that would hardly be a synthetic family). But I would like to know whether other people here were interested in creating such a family or such a community--somewhere, sometime.

And that was the point.

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