I am always fascinated by stories of faith or the apparent lack of faith.
NPR recently ran a series on how people are losing religion, and coping without it.  It things agot me thinking. 
One is that underlying the story is a confusion of terms: faith is not the same thing as religion.  Atheists have a certain kind of faith: they have faith in the proposition that there is nothing beyond human beings; that human beings represent the highest pinnacle of power.  This is as unproven as the hypothesis that there is a power greater than human beings themselves in this world and thus is a tenet of faith.  Not an original thought with me, but so obvious to me.

Islamic thinkers in the Middle Ages solved the problem of the definition of God simply.  Averroes stated that God is “that than which there is nothing greater”.  On this definition of what the word “God” means at root, it seems we could all agree.  That’s because truth is truth, no matter what you call it!  Christianity calls this God; the atheist calls this man, this “that than which there is nothing greater”.  Maybe we could start a more effective discussion from the first point, of agreement, instead of from the second one, which is where people just start polarizing.

My second observation is that religion is a set of practices that link us to this “that than which nothing is greater”.  “Linking back” is the Latin meaning of “re” and “ligio”.  In the absence of practices of religion, the atheist “must forge one’s own path” as the atheist does not have comforting rituals or prayers.  The NPR story one day was about how atheists have managed to find some comfort in the absence of traditional God-centered rituals.

NPR in this story made itself the link between the atheists; the stories provided communication between the atheists, it “linked” them to each other, and the story itself included two main characters, each of whom found that forming community based on their needs and beliefs was what helped them to cope with the death of a loved one.
So the story shows two women creating community based on belief in man as the greatest being, and NPR disseminated their coping strategies and the beliefs that grew out of their original beliefs and questioning.  Sounds like the women are working out their “religion” – practices that link them to their beliefs, and that NPR functioned somewhat like “church” linking the atheists and their way of practicing, acting on their beliefs, to each other.  The story promulgated information to and for atheists with the result that they can be strengthened to work out how to live with and in their belief system and to act out of it in forming their world.
Sounds like “church” to me!  And that is a good thing.  The Christian God is nothing if not “community”, right?  I mean, the Trinity is three persons right there.

What is interesting here is that believers and non-believers would come to the same solution: reach out to others.  Turn grief and difficulty into something good for someone else.  What is true, is true, whether you believe it as the result of being steeped in the story of the transformation of the crucifixion/resurrection cycle, the transformation stories of other religions, or whether you come to it through your own experience of what works.

Lest it seems I am criticizing, rather than observing, let me add that I do not object to the NPR story, and while I have different language about God, I think thoughtful atheists might be on to something.  The atheists in the story acted in congruence with Teresa of Avila (1515–1582).
Would that we would all do the same!

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

If the Christians can’t get it across — to ourselves much less to others — that God is in action and community, He is the Living God, then who can fault the atheists who do get it, painfully and slowly and largely one by one constructing their path, that we are called in this way?