I Don’t Need A Congregation – I’m Looking For A Community

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clipart of a family in churchOnce again my pet peeve scab has been plucked. A Humanist leader is profiled on the CNN website talking about forming warmed over religious services he calls ‘congregations’. This is my pet peeve because I don’t care for using religious terms with new definitions. It is being abstruse in the least and at most dishonest. A church or congregation without god is not something I need and I wish we would get media coverage that shows how Humanism is totally different than theism.

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.

For Epstein, who started community-building at Harvard nearly 10 years ago, the idea of a godless congregation is not an oxymoron.

“We decided recently that we want to use the word congregation more and more often because that is a word that strongly evokes a certain kind of community – a really close knit, strong community that can make strong change happen in the world,” he said.

“It doesn’t require and it doesn’t even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”

Church without God – by design

For the 90% of people in this country who are believers, they have a different idea about what a church or congregation is and it isn’t just a close knit community.

Why meet on a Sunday, the traditional Christian Sabbath? If you are really going for something godless why meet in a building on a Sunday, singing hymns, and listening to someone lecture about how to live one’s life?

Religious Humanism has been known to do the church thing but that doesn’t set Humanism apart from religious beliefs. A church without god is still a church and is nothing I want to experience.

As my friend Derrick noted when I shared the CNN post with him:

To locate and organize other secular people we need to make clear who we are. I’d really like to make clear our emphasis on critical thinking and on investigation not revelation. Clarity takes clear language.

I agree 100%. The differences don’t seem to get much media coverage unless some religious person is complaining about us or as in this case a Humanist tries to be like a church.

The other problem I had was Mr. Epstein cherry picking the “good” parts of religion and complaining when we atheists point out the negative parts. That is a common response from religious apologists and something I’ve personally experienced even in a liberal Unitarian church. I’m just tired of being told to be silent. I’m an atheist because I am dissenting against religion and dissent means pointing out the bad things about religion.

Unitarian churches are doing many of the things that Epstein is doing and have been doing it for decades so I’m not sure what he is doing that is different.

In his post at Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta wrote:

Every time I’ve written about these congregations, there’s always pushback. But I can’t express my support enough for those people who find this sort of service helpful. I don’t know that I would go if one was near me, but I like the idea that these services are available for people who find value in them. Hell, this week, I’ll be meeting with folks in Chicago to see if we can plan something similar. The demand is there and I suspect it’ll only increase if we create something worth attending.

Unlike churches, the focus has to be on the people and their needs. It’s not serving some higher power and (while atheists may be just as susceptible to it as Christians are) it’s not about elevating the status of the “pastor.” It’s about providing a place for atheists to get inspired and encouraged, for their kids to get a education beyond what they get in school, and for all of them to come together to do good for their communities.

CNN Covers Godless Congregation in Massachusetts

I agree with his idea but again if you want to serve the needs of atheists why does it have to be on a Sunday, in the form of a religious service, with washed up ministers, and warmed over religious words and rituals. If someone can explain that to me then maybe I might come around.

The claim that people “demand” it seems to point more to culture indoctrination than something that is unique to atheist people.

I don’t need a “congregation” – I need a community that can meet anytime of the week and focuses on teaching Humanism in clear non-religious language.


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