Hemant notes a rather annoying article at the New York Times about the shootings in Newtown, CT entitled “In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent.” The point of the article was to argue that atheist and humanist groups didn’t do what some religious organizations did in helping out after those shootings. The article does admit that many of our groups did step up to help out, but as Hemant notes:
This really highlights the crux of the problem. In the wake of tragedies, common wisdom suggests, people turn to faith. Any faith. It doesn’t matter which. And atheists are automatically excluded from that. The faith groups also have buildings that people can meet up at. Most atheist organizations do not. We do a lot of our best work through the Internet — or we meet up at public places that don’t always carry the weight of solemnity. But even when you do have a building, all you can do is advertise the fact that you’re there for the community in case anyone needs it — you still need the media and local officials to point grieving people in your direction.
I certainly agree with Hemant and with Greg Epstein that it is important for secular organizations to do more of this kind of thing, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it helps build alternative communities to religious ones. There’s little doubt that a sense of community is what keeps a great many Christians in their churches when they don’t really believe all that much of the church’s doctrines. And as my friend Luke Galen’s research has shown, being part of a larger community, whether religious or non-religious, is an important factor in helping people have happy and fulfilling lives.
I’m on the board of the Center for Inquiry – Michigan and we have a secular service committee that does incredible work in this regard. They were featured in a recent article in Free Inquiry, which discussed the variety of projects they do, from blood drives to river cleanups to preparing and delivering meals to those who need them. I really hope this becomes a model for other secular groups across the country. It’s exactly the sort of thing we need to be doing. But it sure would be nice if the media would give it some notice.