This post is prompted by some discussions among members of a local atheist group about building an atheist community.
My ideas orignate from several months of thought on the subject of community. A recent discussion thread in the groups online forum included descriptions of an Oregon-based community youth church, comments about the Flatirons Community Church (currently the second largest church in Colorado, based on weekly attendance), and another member's advocacy for recreating and protecting a Benevolent State. The latter's commented implied that if there was indeed as truly liberal state, there would be no need for churches.
I believe this illustrates the kind of thinking that prevents non-theists from forming communities that are personally satisfying and enduring.
In a benevolent state, we expect that everyone will be treated as equal citizens, that anyone who is in need will have their needs looked after and no one will be required to be a certain way and not be another way. Everyone will have decent and healthy housing, healthy food on their table, and everyone will get the best medical care available. The State will maximize individual freedoms of behavior while imposing constraints economically so that no one suffers from material want. This is liberalism.
I will contest the claim that people go to the Flatirons Community Church to find any of the above. Yes, they probably have a charitable relief fund for people who can't pay their bills. But they are not going there because they are seeking refuge from a malevolent government. They are not going there to seek personal freedoms denied to them elsewhere or find acceptance for their unique freethinking ideas. I believe they go there for the experience. In many ways that experience is similar to going to a sporting event or a popular musical concert. They go to "be on the same page" with other people for a while. They go to see and be seen. They are willing to put on their game face so that they (mostly) fit in. And they go because there are a lot of other people there and many of them are probably fairly compatible in their value systems and world view. That means that they might make new friends, connections, and allies. They might find a new babysitter, coffee and gossip pal, drinking buddy, golf partner, business client, or mate. They go to relate and belong. They go for community.
Having someone pay your food or medical bills when you can't afford them does not create a community. Having someone pay the rent so you can live in decent housing while you "get back on your feet" does not create community. Having a society where laws protect your rights to be who ever you want does not create community. Having public schools does not create community. (Even having a church does not create community.) Political philosophy and social policy does not create community. People create community.
I can agree that there are many forces creating deep divisions in our society. There is nothing new to this. But I don't think that simply moving back to more liberal social policies (and libertarian personal rights) solves those problems.