A Church WITHOUT God?
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23-06-2013, 08:56 AM (This post was last modified: 23-06-2013 09:00 AM by Carlo_The_Bugsmasher_Driver.)
A Church WITHOUT God?
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/22...?hpt=hp_c2

I've seen these before. I guess it's god, but it does seem a little........well,odd.

"I stopped outside the church house.
Where the citizens like to sit.
They claim they want the Kingdom.
But they don't want God in it."

- U2, The Wanderer (sung by Johnny Cash)


Boston (CNN)-– 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.

Godless congregations

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.”

Epstein is not alone in his endeavor. Jerry DeWitt, who became an atheist and left his job as an evangelical minister, is using his pastoral experience to building an atheist church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

This Sunday, DeWitt's congregation will hold its first meeting as a "Community Mission Chapel."

"When you become a part of this congregation, this community, you are going to become part of a family," DeWitt told CNN. "There is an infrastructure there for you to land in. There is going to be someone there to do weddings and to do, unfortunately, the funerals."

READ MORE: Unbelieving preachers get help to 'come out' as open atheists

Sunday school for atheists

As members of the Cambridge congregation file into a wood-paneled classroom at Harvard, singer Shelley Segal greets them with a few songs from her latest recording, called simply, “An Atheist Album.”

Taking a hint from the theme of the event, Segal strums on her guitar and belts her song, “Gratitude.”

“I don't believe in a great power to say thank you to,” Segal sings. “But that won’t take away from my gratitude.”


Harvard's humanist chaplain Greg Epstein leads an atheist gathering.
After the music, Epstein offers a few words of greeting before the meeting gets to its heart: a discussion about compassion.

A four academics and a journalist discuss the effects of religion on raising children and their ideas about compassion. Congregants listen intently, some even taking notes.

Each service has a message – compassion, evolution or acceptance - after which congregants engage in a lengthy discussion.

Before the main event, kids are invited to what some parents refer to as “Sunday school,” where Tony Debono, a biologist Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaches the youngsters about evolution, DNA and cells.

There's little talk about organized religion, positive or negative.

Likewise, down in Louisiana, said his atheist services will not be anti-religion.

"What we are looking at doing is different," DeWitt said. "If you are a religionist and you come and sit in our pew, the only way you can leave offended is because of what you don’t hear and what you don’t see. We won’t be there to make a stance against religion or against God."

Coming out of the closet

In the last few years, the number of “nones” – those who don’t associate with any organized religion – has grown at a rate faster than any other group. Nones now represent one in five Americans, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll.

Although the number of atheists has grown, too, there are still a large number of “nones” that choose not to associate with the label “atheist.”

Some at Harvard’s Humanist congregation fall into this category.

“I don’t particularly have a religion,” said Anil Nyer, a neurologist who brought his daughter to Humanist Sunday school. But Nyer also said he didn’t want to label himself as an atheist.

One reason to shy away from the atheist label: Many Americans hold a negative impression of nonbelievers.

According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll, nearly 40 percent of Americans believe that atheists are changing American culture for the worse.

“Whenever we put atheists on a list like this and we compare them to other groups, atheists tend to come in towards the bottom of that list,” said Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.

“Americans tend to hold a lot of reservations about atheists.”

Epstein hopes his congregation can change that.

By formalizing meetings and building a strong community, the Harvard group hopes it can be a model for other atheist congregations forming around the country.


A group meets during an atheist gathering in Boston.
More atheists may come of the closet if they know a congregation will be there to support them, Epstein said,

“Being an atheist is something we want people to come out and be,” said the Humanist chaplain. “There are so many people, probably millions, who are humanists or atheists or nonreligious in private and nobody knows."

Epstein said he gets e-mails daily from people founding atheist meet-up groups.

“Tulsa, Oklahoma; North Carolina; London; Vancouver, Canada; Houston, Texas,” Epstein said, listing the sources of the most recent e-mails.

“One part of what we are saying is come on out and let your neighbors know” about your disbelief, he said. “It is not going to make you worse of a person, it is going to make you a better person to be more open about who you are.”

Rituals for the irreligious

For the last few years, the Humanist Community at Harvard has operated out of a small three-floor walk-up off the bustling streets of Harvard Square. The walls are littered with posters about atheism – tributes to famed atheists Eddie Izzard, Seth MacFarlane and Stephen Fry.

Because of the scattered furniture and the Harvard dorm feel, Epstein jokingly describes the space as “college broke chic.” That’s being generous – but it's also about to change.

Starting in the fall, the Humanist Community at Harvard will begin meeting in a nearly 3,000-square-foot community center with an event space for nearly 100 people.

Although the plan is to use the space at the group’s headquarters, it will also serve as a broader community center for the group that Epstein and others are trying to build in the Boston area.

“What we really would like to see is a community center where people can come by at anytime and to use it as a space to study or have a meeting for various committee,” said Chris Stedman, the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard.

Stedman said he sees the new building as a place for people to gather, not only to become part of a humanist community, but to also become more engaged with the world.

When he talks about his plans for the future, Epstein appears to long for a time when the new community center could mimic aspects of church - a place for baby-naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals.

The success of an atheist church will depend on walking the thin line between too much and too little ritual, Epstein said.

Humanists boast a proud freethinking streak, and some at the Harvard event said they don’t want to be associated with any sort of dogma or belief system - or even a system based on disbelief.

Anyway, Esptein said his congregation will be less a group of people united by beliefs - or disbelief - and more like an opera, or a painting.

“Our community is like a work of art," he said. "Hopefully people will respond to that work of art and it will garner controversy and discussion like a work of art."

"IN THRUST WE TRUST"

"We were conservative Jews and that meant we obeyed God's Commandments until His rules became a royal pain in the ass."

- Joel Chastnoff, The 188th Crybaby Brigade
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23-06-2013, 09:53 AM
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
I was just coming to the boards to share this, but you beat me to itSmile Just read the article, and I have to admit I have mixed feelings. While I definitely think we, as atheists, need to be organized and rally ourselves because of the unfounded prejudice we face from the religious right of this country and also from the plain uninformed and uneducated. However I am not sure if this particular vehicle is the right way to go about it. Too church like for me. There can be other ways to organize and meet without inserting the rituals and traditions of religion in it. But to each their own, that is just my personal opinion, and I certainly don't hold it against them for wanting to organize in this manner.

"History teaches us that no other cause has brought more death than the word of god."
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23-06-2013, 10:17 AM
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
Mmm. I too, have very mixed feelings. Dodgy

I personally don't like it at all. I was trying to write something like 'I would rather people who insist on church-like activities, do this' but ... I don't even like that.

I don't know. There's something about it ... I can't put my finger on exactly what about it disturbs me.

I think I'm going to need to think and come back to this. Undecided

A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels. ~ Albert Einstein
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23-06-2013, 10:23 AM
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
Church isn't for everybody. Tongue

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23-06-2013, 10:34 AM
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
(23-06-2013 10:23 AM)cheapthrillseaker Wrote:  Church isn't for everybody. Tongue

I don't like how the religious can use this to claim Atheism to be some sort of faith. That is what bothers me about it.

I also am uncomfortable with Atheism resembling what I once left.

"Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind." -John F Kennedy

The way to see by Faith is to shut the eye of Reason.” -Benjamin Franklin

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23-06-2013, 10:37 AM
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
This isn't atheism, per se, but Secular Humanism.

I like it.
There is nothing wrong with building a sense of community, of cooperation, of shared caring for others.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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23-06-2013, 10:38 AM
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
I can see this working out for others, good for them - not so much for me.

I wonder how many people attend church services just for the comraderie and not so much for the dogma. If they had this alternative would they go to one of these?

I can see them performing the work that churches do like funerals, weddings and public services. You could say these already can be found in a community outside of a church such as Rotary, funeral parlors or a county official but none of these provide a sense of group fellowship; and none of these have potluck after service dinners.

(“The least healthy meal you can eat every week is at your church,” said Dr. Morris, a physician and associate pastor of St. John’s United Methodist in Memphis. “We have blessed the sin of gluttony for the sake of fellowship.”)

“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”~Mark Twain
“Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills.”~ Ambrose Bierce
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23-06-2013, 10:42 AM (This post was last modified: 23-06-2013 11:11 AM by Bucky Ball.)
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
Interesting.
I think it's just a continuation of the evolution in human ideas of what "god" means.
In the last century it morphed to "god is love", ((*love* used to be a *gift* of (the Christian) god. Now it IS the god.))
What does that even mean ? It means : "god(s) is/are *the best that is in us*/ the "ultimate value", (compassion/love)
This is more of that. It's just like the Elks or the Shriners.
Humans need social communities. Nothing wrong with that. As long as they don't force their views on others, or be all self-righteous about it.
Unitarian Universalists are like this, some of the Quaker Communities, (esp in the US), are like this. (Psst don't tell anyone ... I know of at least two Episcopalian communities that have evolved to basically this, and some Catholic nuns that have essentially this position. They got in trouble, but two years ago, they were talking about "moving past Jebus").
http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05...thin/?_r=0 )
Not every religious person is a fundie nut-case. My nun friends NEVER EVER preach at me.

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Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music - Friedrich Nietzsche
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23-06-2013, 10:43 AM
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
Personally, I don't like church like settings. But I think secular communities are a good thing, and any humane issues they solve, great by me.

There are so many church charities and so few secular ones that it puts churches in the light of being altruistic and atheists in the light of being selfish.

That is one of the prejudices against atheists I'd like to get rid of.

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23-06-2013, 10:59 AM
RE: A Church WITHOUT God?
(23-06-2013 10:43 AM)Dom Wrote:  Personally, I don't like church like settings. But I think secular communities are a good thing, and any humane issues they solve, great by me.

There are so many church charities and so few secular ones that it puts churches in the light of being altruistic and atheists in the light of being selfish.

That is one of the prejudices against atheists I'd like to get rid of.

Totally agree with you, atheists (in my experiences) are some of the kindest and most charitable people out there, yet we are consistently painted in that light. While I am not so thrilled on some of the aspects brought to light in the article, like I said before, I like the organization aspect of it and the possibility for helping the larger community and also dispelling popular myths about atheists is a definitely plus.

"History teaches us that no other cause has brought more death than the word of god."
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