Humanists Want Community, Too

Robin Shulman of the Washington Post has an article in today’s paper about how non-religious parents are trying to recreate a “church” environment (community, values, rituals) without the religious factor.

They are not religious, so they don’t go to church. But they are searching for values and rituals with which to raise their children, as well as a community of like-minded people to offer support.

Dozens of parents came together on a recent Saturday to participate in a seminar on humanist parenting and to meet others interested in organizing a kind of nonreligious congregation, complete with regular family activities and ceremonies for births and deaths.

Religious congregations are good at supporting parenting, said Gregory Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard who organized the [secular parenting] seminar. Although most humanists may not believe in God, he said, they do believe in sharing their lives with others who share their values.

“Why throw the baby out with the bath water?” Epstein asked.

(Greg gets bonus points from me for using the phrase “throw the baby.”)

It’s amazing to me this is considered news.

I’m glad it’s getting attention, but it is that surprising to see that atheist parents want the same sort of community support and shared values for their children that religious parents do?

It must be… Too many people still attach a negative connotation to the word “atheist”:

A recent study found that many Americans associate atheists with negative traits, including criminal behavior and rampant materialism.

People often ask, “How do you expect to raise your children to be good people without religion?” said Dale McGowan, the seminar leader and author of “Parenting Beyond Belief.” He suggested the retort might be something like, “How do you expect to raise your children to be moral people without allowing them to think for themselves?” He advocates exposing children to many religious traditions without imposing any.

That’s not exactly what Dale said. He knows that many religious parents do, in fact, let their children forge their own paths:

The quote above assumes that all religious parents do not allow their kids to think for themselves, a false and ridiculous assumption. For the record, my suggested reply to the question, “How are you going to raise your kids to be moral without religion?” was this: “Calmly reply, ‘Why, by avoiding moral indoctrination, of course, which research has shown to be the least effective way to encourage moral development. And what’s your plan?’” Oh well. I’m a silly, oversensitive monkey to even point it out.

If the article helps introduce other atheist parents to the types of secular gatherings going on around them, then fantastic. I’m glad it was written.

But at what point will these stories stop being news?

How much longer will we be seeing stories about atheists parents wanting their children to get (*gasp*) good grades? To get a proper education about the various religious myths? To make life-long friends with people within their own non-religious community?

It’s not news. It’s normal.

We want the same things everybody wants. If anything is “news,” it’s that there are now more opportunities than ever before for atheist parents to become a part of these communities.

In that sense, any publicity about these gatherings is good publicity.

  • Richard

    “non-religious parents are trying to recreate a “church” environment (community, values, rituals) without the religious factor.”

    Two words: Unitarian Universalism. These guys could save themselves from re-inventing the wheel.

  • Kate

    Two words: Unitarian Universalism. These guys could save themselves from re-inventing the wheel.

    BINGO!!!!!! :) Community without the religiousness.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    It’s interesting that this humanist conference is happening in Boston at Harvard.

    Boston is where the national headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association is located.

    Harvard and Harvard Divinity School are connected with Unitarian Universalist history.

    Both Unitarian and Congregationalist churches are connected with the 1600s-1800s “standing order” churches back when taxpayers funded the local churches.

    In many New England towns, the “First Parish” church in the town is Unitarian Universalist (in towns where the Unitarian faction won) or United Church of Christ (where the Congregationalist faction won). Until the early 1800s, the Unitarian and Congregationalist “First Parish” churches were the last “established” (taxpayer-funded) churches in the United States.

    I would be surprised if these folks are not aware of Unitarian Universalism given the New England history of this denomination.

    I wonder if our New England Unitarian Universalist congregations are just not meeting humanist family ministry needs or if something else is going on here that we don’t know about.

  • Tin

    I don’t understand it. I’m European and where I come from only 10% of people go to church regularly. The rest go once or twice a year for a major holiday, or never. My family was never part of any particular religious community. It is true, though, that it’s assumed that most people there are members of the “national” church, but religion is rarely seriously practiced. Now that I live in the US, joining a community solely to replace something I never had as a child anyway seems awkward and unnecessary.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    I wonder if our New England Unitarian Universalist congregations are just not meeting humanist family ministry needs or if something else is going on here that we don’t know about.

    I know of the local UU organization. I haven’t been able to bring myself to participate yet. My impression is that they still use quite a bit of religious language. Just calling themselves a ‘religious community’…I know it’s not particularly rational, but I can’t easily put myself into that label.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    (Greg gets bonus points from me for using the phrase “throw the baby.”)

    Oh haha killing babies?!?! Get it? B/c we’re atheists and look how self-aware we are!!

    I think you’re now including baby references just to piss off your more mature readers. Anyone who finds that shit funny is a massive dbag. It really doesn’t make you cool, sorry.

  • Freethinker

    Correct me if I’m wrong but, UU’s still believe in the supernatural. That won’t work for me. I would like community w/o the supernatural.

  • Eliza

    I wonder if our New England Unitarian Universalist congregations are just not meeting humanist family ministry needs or if something else is going on here that we don’t know about.

    My understanding (from the minister of my UU church wayyyy out here on the west coast) is that the New England UU churches indeed have much more of a Christian-church flavor (in fitting w/ their long history as mainstream US churches in their neck of the woods).

    Not that a bunch of humanists etc couldn’t join the established structure of one and focus on their own reasons for being there. That would completely fit w/ the 7 UU principles (in which “spiritual growth” can totally mean “growth of community” and/or “skeptical inquiry for ourselves and our kids”).

  • http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com Dale McGowan

    Correct me if I’m wrong but, UU’s still believe in the supernatural. That won’t work for me. I would like community w/o the supernatural.

    Okay, I’ll correct you. UUs are creedless, meaning they demand no shared doctrinal beliefs, supernatural or otherwise. Most but not all UUs are non-theistic. They are organized around seven very admirable humanistic principles.

    As for UUs being the automatic answer for these parents, as one commenter has already noted, many still find them too churchy-liturgical-ritualistic.

  • Just Some Guy

    I’m surprised something like this made the news

    Slow news day, I suppose.

  • Eliza

    Well, there is this hot news.

  • Talented Chimp

    ceremonies for births and deaths

    Why do we (atheists) need a ceremony for anything? It’s like trying to play the religious at their own game, when we know that there is no game.

  • llewelly

    ceremonies for births and deaths

    Ceremonies for birth? What for? Atheists don’t need to say grace before a meal …

  • AxeGrrl

    “Why do we (atheists) need a ceremony for anything? It’s like trying to play the religious at their own game, when we know that there is no game.”

    Why are you assuming that rites that serve to celebrate/acknowledge milestones in life [i]have[/i] to be ‘religious’ in nature? What’s so terribly confounding about perhaps wanting to participate in such rites despite having no belief in the supernatural?

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