Church without God – by design

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It’s Sunday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a rapt congregation listens to a chaplain preach about the importance of building a community.


A few dozen people sit quietly for the hourlong service. Music is played, announcements are made and scholars wax poetic about the importance of compassion and community.

Outsiders could be forgiven for believing this service, with its homilies, its passing of the plate, its uplifting songs, belongs in a church.

If so, it’s a church without one big player: God.

Sunday’s congregation in Cambridge is a meeting of the Humanist Community at Harvard University and the brainchild of Greg Epstein, the school’s Humanist chaplain.

A longtime advocate for community building, Epstein and his group of atheists have begun to build their Cambridge community and solemnize its Sunday meetings to resemble a traditional religious service.

To Epstein, religion is not all bad, and there is no reason to reject its helpful aspects.

“My point to my fellow atheists is, why do we need to paint things with such a broad brush? We can learn from the positive while learning how to get rid of the negative," he said.

Written By: Dan Merica
continue to source article at religion.blogs.cnn.com

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  1. On 17 June, Post 31, comment 8, in reference to the country-vicar-and-wife-looking couple, I wrote, “I foresee soppy moralism, touchy-feely mutual support, the emergence of a pseudo-clergy, laagered group solidarity, children being forced to attend, collection plates…..Oh Lord!” How prescient I was, but I didn’t get everything, I missed out mega-church style music. Depressing. Sunday is for cricket and rugby watching.

  2. You could have an atheist church. Many features would be similar.

    1. weekly meeting to say hi to everyone in the community.
    2. finding compatible dates
    3. pep talk
    4. a place when fledgling atheists can feel safe, can bounce off questions.
    5. arranging events during the week.
    6. political lobbying (letter writing RESULTS-style).
    • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      You could have an atheist church. Many features would be similar.

      weekly meeting to say hi to everyone in the community.
      finding compatible dates
      pep talk
      a place when fledgling atheists can feel safe, can bounce off questions.
      arranging events during the week.
      political lobbying (letter writing…

      I bet if people meet regularly like this so as to basically reenforce each other’s beliefs, it won’t be long before they find a god to worship.

  3. The whole idea of atheist churches really irritates me. Yes, have some sort of informal community centre where people can meet and put their skills to good use(run charity events, make & sell stuff & raise money, etc), but to have the formalities of the church where they sing and have sermons and all that… naa. It just totally puts me off the whole idea.

  4. An “atheist church” does not make much sense to me, but I can see the point of a humanist congregation and service based on human values and aspirations and celebrating certain aspects of life together. As someone in the article mentions, it is not about atheism (which provides nothing to celebrate or preach about) but about our shared humanity and offering support and guidance in leading our lives. I am not sure I would want to belong to such a congregation though, but others certainly seem attracted to it. I prefer to associate with groups that have a more specific focus where people can share particular interests, for example an athletics club or the Goethe Society. Tout à son goût.

    • In reply to #5 by Cairsley:

      Hi Cairsley,

      An “atheist church” does not make much sense to me, but I can see the point of a humanist congregation and service based on human values and aspirations and celebrating certain aspects of life together.

      I agree. The idea of an atheist church is a gross misrepresentation of atheists – it immediately misrepresents us as followers of an atheism. Being an atheist requires no ism.

      I too can see the benefits of a church of secular humanism. The word church originally meant congregation – an assembly of people. We should be assembling more often, and more regularly. One of the reasons religions have political capital – thus giving the religious power over us – is their visibility. Congregating on a regular basis will counter this.

      But then, that is what Epstein is doing …

      Peace.

  5. I think having thought this through what I am most unhappy about is the building of a community of atheists, when for instance simply building communities is the better thing to do. If you want things done, go to the appropriate political meetings, party political or single issue pressure group. If you want to improve your neighborhood become a local councilor or attend local meetings. Work for charities. For fellowship have good hearted bright friends, find a decent pub. For uplift go to concerts, join a choir…visit the local comedy store but please, please don’t build anything so permanent as a community of US to match the community of THEM. Don’t get your feel goods from being an us with a tidy attendance record.

    The community of US makes disagreement disagreeable. Hinging casual friendships on shared understanding as communities demand, undercuts the endless process of weeding out dogma and unexamined living.

    Be humanists, or socialists or environmentalists in communities but not, not that thing which if universally adopted would instantly cease to exist. Should atheists not discuss together, collectively counter religious attacks on education or sexist legislation? Of course they should…but not to build communities. As political groupings become more community like, the more the needs of the community subsume the internal discourse for its own protection and survival. Before long there is dogma everywhere.

    • In reply to #10 by phil rimmer:

      I think having thought this through what I am most unhappy about is the building of a community of atheists, when for instance simply building communities is the better thing to do. If you want things done, go to the appropriate political meetings, party political or single issue pressure group. If…

      Totally agree with everything you say. Atheism isn’t a religion, and as well as ditching god, we should ditch all the other stuff that goes with him/her/it.

      However, religion is so highly organised, politics, business, education and the public service are so full of clandestine religious networks, that I can’t see how they can be countered without some kind of organisation. Any suggestions?

      • In reply to #11 by Kevin Murrell:

        In reply to #10 by phil rimmer:

        I can’t see how they can be countered without some kind of organisation.

        I have no problem with organisation. Political programs need to be rolled out. I have no problem with social activism, just don’t make it the core of your identity. I dislike identifying as a socialist any longer though my underlying values seem hard-wired that way. The risks of uniformity of thought, the inflexibility of problem solving have caused me too often to cross swords with other socialists, who seem unprepared to take a step back from their consensus, prepackaged solutions and look at others.

        I loathed multiculturalism as implemented as policy in the UK, allowing an intellectual/cultural ghettoisation and a commending of the individual and her impression of her rights, solely into the hands of those immediately around her. It would be better as an atheist to be seen as embracing the widest of communities.

        Atheist should be one of many adjectives you would be happy to have of yourself, not the defining adjective, as in “I am part of a community of atheists”.

        • In reply to #12 by phil rimmer:

          In reply to #11 by Kevin Murrell:

          In reply to #10 by phil rimmer:

          I can’t see how they can be countered without some kind of organisation.

          I have no problem with organisation. Political programs need to be rolled out. I have no problem with social activism, just don’t make it the core of your ide…

          Very good answer Phil. It still leaves me uneasy, I worked in a big college for many years, and the whole place was controlled by god-botherers. It was all secret and we weren’t meant to know, but no-one else got a look in. If you were an adjectival atheist you could forget about advancing your career.

  6. This whole atheist church thing seems rather ridiculous to me. I can see getting together with friends at the pub or having a picnic at the park or something like that but having an organized service sounds very silly. If you want to organize politically that is one thing but trying to make an atheist church is not something that I support. I think it just adds fuel to the argument that atheists are just as dogmatic as the religious people which I think is untrue.

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