One of the founders of sociology, August Comte, wondered what could provide the social cohesion for individuals living in the midst of a secular age. He posited a ‘religion of humanity’ to fill the void left by positive religion, a void that Emile Durkheim would later call ‘anomie’ in his attempt to understand the rise of suicide in an overly individualistic world. Quite apart from everything else, positive religion traditionally provided one with orientation and direction, rhythm and resonance as well as belonging, affiliation, and intelligibility.
Since then, more serious secular thinkers, the ones who believe that positive religion has long provided the social glue for an individual’s life, have come up with many alternatives to religious affiliation (almost immediately one thinks of ethical cultures, ethical societies, humanist societies, and secular churches) all in the hope of reintroducing ceremony and ritual into an otherwise atomized and disenchanted populace. (Sociologists of today point out that more and more individuals are choosing to live alone, but this fact about single habitation neglects to mention the ways in which autonomous individuals, having been thrown into what Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice, feel more and more unmoored.) Quite recently in the UK, some ‘atheist churches’ are drawing in large groups of young persons who come in search of music and community.