A Successful Humanist Community in Boston

Over at Harvard, Humanist chaplain Greg Epstein has been hosting a series of Sunday gatherings featuring talks and discussions:

Image Credit: Suzanne Kreiter of the Boston Globe

At a recent meeting, Epstein and his acolytes — they included students and people whose college years were far behind them — shared plastic chairs in the chaplain’s modest office suite. There was a guest speaker, a young man with a buzz cut. Jason Torpy, a former Army captain, had asked the military to instate a humanist chaplain of its own.

“They said, ‘Listen, we’re not interested,’’’ Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, told the group. “Then they clammed up and sent me on my way.’’

If this had been a church, Torpy might have raised his voice in righteous indignation, pounding the pulpit. Instead, he asked for questions. Hands shot up.

I spoke at one of these gatherings last year and I hope to go back again soon. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had giving a talk. Actually, it isn’t even fair to say I “spoke” there. I said a few words, split the crowd into groups, and each group (led by a moderator) discussed scenarios atheists have to deal with on a regular basis. It made for great conversations and it couldn’t have happened without the type of community they’ve built there.

It’s not exclusive to Harvard, either. Any campus or local group, with the right leadership, could do the same things.

Greg’s hoping to spread what he’s doing at Harvard to other schools:

Epstein wants to create something more permanent with a carefully thought out infrastructure.

Everything the Harvard chapter does will be carefully documented, spread to sister groups by social media, and eventually written up as a book that will be more how-to manual than Bible.

The groups will also engage in community service.

Recently, Epstein’s flock gave out energy-efficient light bulbs in low-income neighborhoods — the sort of project any church might engage in, though the group gave it some cheeky humanist flair. It called the event “green without God.”

Sounds awesome.

Of course, we need someone to complain about all of this…

“I’m kind of ‘meh’ on the whole idea — I’d rather see us break away from the old reliance on empty ritual and move on to more useful ways to spend our time,’’ said P. Z. Myers, a prominent atheist writer and biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

On the other hand, he added, “Some people seem to want [groups like Epstein’s], and I’m not going to stand in their way.’’

Right… who wants to bond with other people, perform community service, have fruitful discussions, find a secular way to celebrate rites of passage, and have someone they can talk to when they’re going through rough times who isn’t going to spit religion in their face?

PZ says he has an issue with the language:

… freethinkers ought not to be shackled by rote and rites. And they especially should not be led by “chaplains” or whatever the hell they’re going to call them. No gods, no masters, no dogma, and no goddamned priests…not even atheist priests.

Except no one is demanding that all Humanists participate (or give a mandatory tithe). It’s just nice to have the option to participate in a like-minded community and I know a lot of atheists would be glad to join such a group if one formed in their area.

No matter what it may resemble, though, it’s not “religion.” (Even if a random headline writer calls it a “Church for the Churchless.”)

If Greg and company happen to take some pointers from churches along the way, so be it. There’s a reason those damned things are so successful. Except we can do it without the lies and guilt. We can keep the good stuff, keep it secular, and do it better. Don’t want to join in on the secular “meditation” because it’s too touchy-feely for you? No problem.

It’s just one way to do things. And it’s clearly working.

Ian Bushfield at Canadian Atheist echoes the sentiment:

Perhaps I’m missing something, but Myers’ entire objection seems to be semantics. He despises the idea that atheists could go to church to hear a chaplain give a sermon, but has no trouble giving a lecture to the same atheists at a conference. While semantics can be important, in this place they simply get in the way. No one is calling it atheist church (except PZ) and there is nothing compulsory.

It sounds like PZ is complaining just for the sake of being a contrarian. He’s not going to stand in the way, but since it’s not his thing, he can’t let it go without trashing it along the way. It’s unnecessary.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Matt Penfold

    There are no shortage of non-religious groups around, especially at a university. If you want to talk philosophy there is bound to a philosophical discussion group. If you are into music, I imagine every possible musical taste is catered for. Music not your thing, but sport is ? Again, no shortage of clubs.

    Even outside of universities there is no shortage of non-religious groups. I live in West Wales, and the local councils maintain a list of local groups. They run into the hundreds.

    Epstein is trying to solve a problem that does not exist.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryurack Rebel Yurack

      It might not exist in Wales, but it certainly exists in the US, and especially in the Bible Belt. Finding like-minded people in your area is awfully hard because everyone feels the need to be “in the closet” about what they actually believe.

      • Matt Penfold

        I am puzzled by your reply. If people feel they need to be “in the closet” about their lack of belief that is indeed a problem. However such people are not going to want to attend an atheist replacement for a church service. It would “out” them surely!

        Also, are you really saying that there do no exist, or there is a distinct lack of,  secular groups for people with a shared interest in an activity ?

        If you get together to share an interest in a non-religious activity, then why would be an atheist be an issue  ? Who in the group is going to know your beliefs, unless you tell them.

        • Karen L

          Being ‘out’ in the US really can be a problem.  People can lose their jobs and friends.  There really are places in the US where there is a distinct lack of groups where participants feel comfortable being ‘out’ as an atheist.  I could attend an atheist group (if such existed in my area) without outing myself.  (No one would know I participated unless they themselves participated as well).

          While there are groups for people with shared interests outside of church, most people are religious (at least where I live) and there is often an unspoken assumption that everyone shares  Christian beliefs.   This means that those activities can include subtle religious components and hostility toward those whose views are not consistent with the majority.

          • Matt Penfold

            If being “out” as an atheist is going to be a problem, then attending atheist events is going to be a problem.

            • Karen L

              I really don’t think so.  My religious friends and acquaintances don’t attend atheist events, so how would they know that I do?  I would never know what church they attend if they didn’t bring it up.

              Some atheist groups do warn people to be careful about taking pictures of group activities and posting them on the web, out of concern for outing members.

              • Matt Penfold

                So why the concern about being “out” ?

                If being “outed” is an issue then attending regular meetings of atheists is going to a bit of a give away. Whereas joining secular groups of people with shared interests is not, unless you tell people your religious views.

        • Trina

          Matt, you’re not alone in being puzzled – I hear similar things from many of my friends outside the U.S.   The anti-atheist stigma here is astonishing.  I have anxiety disorder and depression, and thought I knew stigma – until I became an atheist.  I’m a strong believer in education and advocacy, and will develop conversations on one of my subjects of concern when the opportunity arises, but the ‘atheism taboo’ here is strong enough that a reasonable opening to discuss atheism calmly and reasonably is far rarer than one to discuss mental illness.  The U.S. is one of the countries that’s very, very backward in this regard.

        • Neilt42

          It seems to me like you’re missing the point of the groups…there are of course plenty of groups that are by definition non-religious, where common interests or hobbies can be shared, or community improvement or charitable works can be performed.  But while these groups may be “non-religious” in the sense that anyone is welcome to participate, they generally do not cross over into areas of secular awareness and activism, or “community improvement” that might be of more interest to secularists.  If they lean toward any opinions at all in that area, it will likely be vaguely christian or “interfaith”, or maybe a soft, unspoken secularism…but never truly, openly secular, and never concerned with any of those issues.  Your local automotive hobbyists club may raise money for local homeless or cancer research or whatever, but they are never going to wade into separation of church and state issues or protest the people who denounce vaccines that prevent cancer on religious grounds.    The local philosophical club may have great debates, but will not likely be too involved in secular activism or charitable causes.    

          It looks to me like the people who join such groups are looking for a group in which, unlike a church or car club or Mason’s lodge, they can have the open debate of a philosophical club with no faith-based interference, discuss purely secular issues in society and politics (such as church & state abuses, spreading secularism, fighting theocracy, or raising the local profile, awareness of , or public opinion regarding non-religious people), and ALSO contribute to improving the community  through organized effort and/or raising money for charitible causes, as proud secularists and humanists, without having to quietly partner up under the umbrella of some religious or interfaith organization.  

          Not everyone has the time to devote to several different groups, with different goals and procedures and schedules, for every last important interest in their lives.  You can’t rally the local kite-flyers club to protest  blatant church-state violations without looking like a zealous jerk and alienating people who just want to fly their kites in peace, and the university philosophical club will never get done debating and become an active force in the community.  It ‘s just not what they do.  It may not be my “thing” personally, but I think that the “good” parts of a church routine which can be salvaged for any purpose- like expressing shared community, social, or political  concerns(not just “music” or “hobbies”), organizing for secular activism,  or to improve the local community, or provide charity for those in need, and having a reasonably regular schedule of meetings to promote a little group cohesiveness and personal connections between group members, can be good things.  Especially when stripped of the evils of faith, dogma, and exclusivity that are the hallmarks of pretty much every religion and church.  Large, impersonal, national secular advocacy groups and occasional conferences just don’t have the sense of personal community involvement and day-to-day hands-on connection that some people appreciate.  I don’t see what’s so hard to understand. 

          • Matt Penfold

            Well maybe it is because simply not believing in god does not seem to be enough to make me want to associate with others. It is not much to have on common, and given how some atheists behave (witness the sexism evidence in respect of Rebecca Watson) there are many I would want nothing to do with.

            If you are so insular you can only get a sense of cohesiveness and personal connection when with other atheists I pity you. Your life seems rather impoverished.

            • Neilt42

              Thanks for responding to absolutely nothing I wrote, and including unecessary and insulting assumptions about me as a bonus.  Thanks also for being completely ignorant about the pervasive influence of religious thought and attitudes on American society and political policies.  And thanks once more for making the assumption that people about whom you know nothing can’t possibly have any important secular issues, or social & community concerns in common besides lack of personal belief, or want a cohesive community that isn’t beholden to the religious by default as many American groups, clubs, and societies are.
              And I loved the way you dragged in the flogged-to-death equine specter of  overdramatized non-issue gender politcs even though it was completely and totally irrelevant- a true Pharyngulite zombie  indeed!   Most of all, thanks for the generally smug, insulting, know-it-all attitude.  I’ve seen you display it often on Pharyngula, I don’t know why I might have hoped for anything better here. 

              Maybe the reason you have so much totally irrational hostility toward pleasant, ethical, well-meaning  groups of people is that after thiry seconds of experience, not one of them wants anything to do with a smug, ignorant, crap-spewing a-hole like yourself.   The only thing is, they get over you, which you seem incapable of doing yourself.    

              • Matt Penfold

                I see you are eager to dismiss the problems of sexism within atheism.

                What a nice person you are!

                I would ask you to apologise, but to be honest, I doubt you could begin to understand what did wrong.

                Mind you, you have made me change my mind about issue Mehta brought up. If the sexist arseholes like you group together then at least I will know who can be ignored.

                • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

                  Looks like you failed at ignoring him, moron.

    • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

      Spending more time at one of them there fancy universities would have likely helped to improve your opening salvo there, sparky. “There are no shortage”.

      Charming.

  • BrentSTL

    I’m a member in St. Louis of a similar group – the Ethical Society of St. Louis. There’s a similar society up your way Hemant (the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago, located in Skokie, if you’re familiar with them); it’s part of a larger movement historically called Ethical Culture (or the modern term, Ethical Humanism). Most of them are located in the Northeast (including one in Boston; I think they meet near Harvard, in fact) and Mid-Atlantic states.

    I met Greg last year too when he spoke in St. Louis as part of a lecture series. Got his book too, “Good Without God.” Great read and a great guy!! As far as PZ goes, he’s entitled to his opinion; in this case, I disagree with it. I think gathering together is as important to atheists and non-theists; I know the folks at my Ethical Society have been a good sounding board when I’ve had my rough patches.

    Just curious: Have you ever been to the Chicago society, and what are your own thoughts on the Ethical Humanism (or Culture) movement?

  • Anonymous

    I agree that there are plenty of secular groups out there for people to join (and maybe in the U.S. something like this really is needed) and I enjoy the company of other like minded atheists myself, but I don’t like this idea that, just because you’ve gotten rid of religion from your life, you need to replace it with something.  I don’t have religion in my life and I like it that way. I feel no need what-so-ever to replace religion with a substitute.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      That’s me in a nutshell, except that I never had religion in my life and don’t feel any need to join a community that imitates a church structure or church rituals.

  • Anonymous

    Semantics matters.  Self-conception matters.  Yes, the term “chaplaincy” is disturbing.   I would also never describe myself as a “Humanist”, a term that has no basically indefinite meaning.  The anti- New Atheist stance of the “New Humanists” at Harvard is also deeply divisive, and this Divinity-School style (let’s get into small groups and talk about our atheism) humanism is nauseating.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Epstein and his minions are in many cases ex-religious or ex-Divinity School people.  If people want to do it fine, but I take exception to is the claim that the rest of us atheists should be doing something like this.  I support efforts of groups like FFRF to secure the political rights of non-believers, but beyond that what is the point or organizing?  There are existing secular organizations (secular rather than Humanist or atheist) which do charity, discuss books, and give lectures.

    • James Croft

      Although I take strong issue with your disparaging and extreme language (you find our community practices “nauseating”?), you pose an interesting question when you ask what the point of organizing beyond political change. The short answers are: 1) our political efforts are currently foundering. We are consistently losing ground to a resurgent religious right. 2) cultural change is as important as political change. We make the judgment that real political and cultural change in favor of Humanist values requires living communities united by common beliefs. One of our great weaknesses as a movement is a lack of community spaces where we can build a constituency for change. We want to change that.

      • Anonymous

        Our political efforts are foundering?  It seems to me that FFRF and related groups has many more victories than defeats.  Establishment Clause jurisprudence is as healthy as ever.  The ranks of the unbelievers are growing.  The religious are really on the back foot and it’s now become possible to talk about religion in the public arena.  Witness how people are now willing to talk about Romney’s Mormonism.  Cultural change is happening and it’s the uncompromising New Atheism that is leading that.

        • James Croft

          Certainly we are making some ground in a rather basic sense, but the progress we are having is not the sort of progress I think we need to make. Look at the current political landscape: far from the rise of a powerful secular progressive lobby we have seen the complete reinvigoration of the worst aspects of the religious right, who have successfully tugged the Republican Party far to the right. At the same time, the supposedly progressive president is pandering increasingly to those who hate him and who will never support him anyway. The center of the political discourse is moving squarely rightward, with less and less respect for science and rationalism, less humane political policies, a generally less Humanistic outlook. The very fact that this is happening while our potential ranks are growing demonstrates our failure to take advantage of a promising social trend (one that has been going on for considerably longer than the existence of the New Atheists, although undoubtedly they’ve had some impact).

          • Anonymous

            As Christianity shrinks it will become more extreme, more insular, and more weird.  The Republican Party is now essentially the party of that insular Christian rump.  I fail to see how that indicates that our society is getting more Right-Wing or showing less respect for science and rationalism though.  Do you have any polling data or are you just making sh*t up?  In 2000, barely 30% of Americans supported marriage equality.  Now it’s over 50%.  Belief in naturalistic evolution has increased from 9% in 2000 to 16% in 2010.  I know that sky is falling is a good way to drum up publicity, but this is a golden era to be an non-believer in America. 

        • 0verlord

          The objective is SOCIAL progress.  Political progress will inevitably follow when the thoughts and values of the public aren’t as hostile toward atheism and humanism as they are now.

    • Tom

      There are a great number of atheists who shared ortcutt’s beliefs.  When I meet them in person, I find a lot of shared characteristics among them:  asocial, hermitlike, uncommunicative, introverted

      This is the status quo of what an atheists is when you look at the majority of atheist “communities” online.  It seems they are most vocal in part to their whininess…  There are a whole bunch of atheists out there who don’t take to crying as much as this visible bunch, because they would rather be solving problems rather than crying about things.  They are becoming visible through actions rather than the atheist go-to of verbal vengence

      • Anonymous

        Well.  I’m glad to provide you with an example of someone of my beliefs that isn’t an asocial, hermit then.  Maybe you need to get out more.  I’m glad that there are atheists like yourself around to tell me to STFU.  You make good bedfellows of the majority of theists who do the same. 

      • 0verlord

        …Interact with other human beings?  You wouldn’t rather wax pretentious on atheist blogs about words and semantics
        and other inconsequential bullshit nobody cares about?

        Accommodationist!

        • Tom

          Gasp!

  • http://profiles.google.com/noyourgod Tim Miller

    I don’t believe PZ is complaining simply to be contrarian.  He has probably been hit with the same BS line that I have been hit with:  “Oh, atheism is just another religion.”  My usual response is “Let’s go outside and look at my Mustang collection.  There are no cars out there, but using your “logic”, if atheism is a religion, then that nothing in the parking lot is a Mustang collection.  Or a herd of elephants…. or… or…”

    PZ sees much damage in religion.  As a friend recently posted on his Facebook page: “Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told.  Religion is doing what you are told, regardless of what is right.”  So any attempt to corral any atheist activity in with religion sets him off – rightly so, if I may add.

    PZ’s and others lectures are informational events, not structured, ritualistic events. 

    • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

       Um, you do know that “god” and “religion” aren’t the same thing?

      • http://profiles.google.com/noyourgod Tim Miller

         Absolutely – one can be a believer in a god without being a member of a religion, or even being “religious”.  However, to state that atheism is “just another religion” makes absolutely no sense.

  • http://thinkweirdthoughts.blogspot.com Phira

    I hate to be a stickler, but Harvard is in Cambridge, not Boston :-p  Normally, I’m fine with generalizing about Boston-area cities and schools, so maybe it’s because I actually go to school in Boston, and I’m feeling a bit competitive …

    • Anonymous

      HBS, HMS, the Dental School and the School of Public Health are all in Boston, so it’s actually more accurate to say that part is in Cambridge and part in Boston.

  • Anonymous

    I was there last year when you visited, Hemant and it was a nice experience for me.

    What Greg Epstein is trying to do is an extension of what he wrote about in his book. I understand what he is trying to do and admire him for attempting it. I am skeptical if he can pull it off, but I hope that he can. Your words from above:

    Except no one is demanding that all Humanists participate (or give a mandatory tithe). It’s just nice to have the option to participate in a like-minded community and I know a lot of atheists would be glad to join such a group if one formed in their area.

    hit the target. People have different needs and different ways to take care of those needs

    • Anonymous

      Maybe they believe they have those “needs” because religion has taught that they ought to have those needs.  Religion has a great interest in people believing that they need to meet once a week and give money to someone so they can be complete.  It’s sad that some atheists have apparently internalized that religious perspective instead of being self-reflective enough to see where it comes from.

      • Walker

        I grew up in what was a mostly non-practicing family. I started going to church because I wanted a community, I wanted some people I could see frequently and sing and talk with. I liked a lot of the people I met, but after some critical analysis and philosophical shifts, I left the church and became an atheist. I still want a community. I still want to have a weekly meeting I can go to and have philosophical discussions, play or hear music, see friends. This kind of project fulfills, or at the very least strives to fulfill, that need which I see as entirely secular.

        You can say I’m not “being self-reflective enough”, but frankly, if you’d rather hide away from other people because you’re so afraid of doing anything remotely church-y, I’d think you’re going to have trouble doing anything but self-reflecting.

        • Anonymous

          I hardly hide myself away from other people.  There are plenty of social opportunities (with friends and organized groups) out there that are thoroughly un-church-y.  You’re really buying into this religious mindset that if you think that people who don’t meet in quasi-church once a week are social hermits.  It’s complete baloney. 

          • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

            I agree. I grew up in a secular family, so the idea of going to a weekly service is completely foreign to me. It does seem like this idea of wanting or needing a religious community comes entirely from society. Certain parts of the United States (not mine, luckily) have a very strong churchgoing culture, and if you’re not part of that, it’s possible that you might feel like you’re missing out on something important. 

          • Karen L

            Sounds like you both have different needs, and are feeling that the other is criticizing those needs as irrational.

            It is entirely normal for some people to desire a sense of community, and not because they are brainwashed by church attendance (I always hated going to the one I was raised in).  Some people need a group or place that gives them a sense of belonging.   A group where the people in it look out for each other in times of need.

            The exact form such a group might take could vary.  Some people like
            singing, some don’t.  Some like philosophical discussion, some prefer
            science lectures.  I personally would not like to use religious language
            (such as chaplain, church or service) to describe the people or events.

            That said, there is, of course, nothing wrong with people who don’t feel this need, or who have it met through other means (family, friends).  But there’s no reason for people who don’t need it to belittle those who do.

            I personally felt this need more after having children, though never found a good outlet for it.  Years ago we tried a UU church, but there was too much ‘woo’ and a slightly new age feel.  Plus it was pretty far away.  I have few non-religious friends, and those was are seem to accept woo in its place.  So for me, a group like this would be great.  I always listen to the announcements at the start of ‘The Atheist Experience’ show with envy (as they describe all the different types of events their group holds).

             

          • Walker

            I’m wondering what exactly is “church-y” about it, though: the fact that it meets weekly? That they (occasionally) collect donations? They’re a nonprofit organization, they have to sustain themselves somehow. The weekly meetings are not mandatory for anyone, even people who *work* for the organization. And if religion has a monopoly on regular meetings and donation collections, I think we have bigger concerns than the fact that some atheists disagree on how much community they want in their lives.

            I’m not trying to say you’re a hermit, only that it seems silly to assume that an organization like the HCH is mistaken for providing a community to nonbelievers simply by virtue of it being a little bit church-y, if in fact it is. To accuse people with my perspective and desire for community, however, of being non-self-reflective is ridiculous. I’m sorry we disagree on the kinds of community we want to experience on a perhaps regular basis. But the problems I have with church are the dogmatism and supernaturalism, and I fail to see how the HCH is exemplifying either of those in their community model.

  • http://twitter.com/JoeCascio Joe Cascio

    While I might not be as vociferous as Myers, I do agree with him and I think it’s for a very good reason. One of the old chestnut lies that the faithful always pull out (I got this from two friends recently, in fact) is “Oh, atheism is just another faith”. This give creationists, for example, the perfect weapon to ply their annoying and bankrupt trade with. If they can’t teach their faith, why can we teach ours? Of course, we know it’s not faith, but calling people “chaplains” plays right into this lie.

  • http://twitter.com/JoeCascio Joe Cascio

    While I might not be as vociferous as Myers, I do agree with him and I think it’s for a very good reason. One of the old chestnut lies that the faithful always pull out (I got this from two friends recently, in fact) is “Oh, atheism is just another faith”. This give creationists, for example, the perfect weapon to ply their annoying and bankrupt trade with. If they can’t teach their faith, why can we teach ours? Of course, we know it’s not faith, but calling people “chaplains” plays right into this lie.

    • Trina

      That’s a valid point – another term would help avoid such confusion, at least to some extent.   Otherwise,our having groups for conversation, support, friendship and – far from least – community service is terrific and a no-brainer.

      • Anonymous

        i vote for “humanist.” all by itself, it still correctly expresses the secular, compassion-concerned, community building nature of the role. no need for “imam” or “chaplain” or “rabbi” to follow. when believers don’t understand, you respond, “you have priests, we have humanists. they’re atheists, you’re not.”

    • Tom

      So you concede in saying their logic is correct in this comparison?  I beg to differ.  What is correct in the statement that atheism is a faith? Nothing.  But you are afraid of the religious using that argument against atheists because of Epstein’s approach?  Come on!  I have a suspicion that the only argument you are using is the “if it looks like a duck” approach, which is based on one’s limited perception.  You have to admit that is weak logic!  It’s gonna look like religion because they’ve been the only game in the business, so to speak.

      Someone tell me you aren’t scared of the religious using whatever slippery argument to attempt to make you look like a hypocrite!  

    • His Shadow

      The problem isn’t semantics, the problem is fundamentalists. We won’t persuade, cajole, change minds or “get thru” to people who treat words as interchangeable synonyms for whatever they find distateful. These organisations know what they mean by the words they use, and if somone asks, they can give a cogent, internally consistent explanation of the terms and expressions they use.Atheists don’t do themselves any favours by treating simple words as toxic because someone with an agenda can twist those words into a tirade exposing the “faith” of atheists.

      • Absolutely Certain

        That’s so funny coming from yourself, the very definition of a fundamentalist.

        • His Shadow

          I’m going to need to get you a collar and register you, aren’t I?

          • Absolutely Certain

            No, you just need to stop talking crap. That’s all anyone wants really, a bit of a debate without hypocrisy and lies would do me.

  • Anon

    Because it’s just so *wrong* for him to express his opinion on what he thinks is and is not a good idea.

    Curiously, this is precisely what’s wrong with Epstein himself: he makes a habit of complaining about others who dare to be critical of something. Now you’re doing it, too.

    Epstein’s complaints are usually based upon misrepresenting others. Well, you’re doing that as well. Proof: PZ’s criticism isn’t dependent upon any idea of compulsion. He doesn’t claim there’s compulsion and doesn’t criticize compulsion. He criticizes other things. You don’t like that but don’t engage what he actually says directly; instead, you create a straw man and “engage” that. Rather like Epstein does.

    Can we be sure Epstein didn’t write this blog post?

  • Mike Williams

    I didn’t take PZ’s comments to mean he thinks we shouldn’t have gatherings.  Perhaps you’re reading too much into them?  The way I understood it, PZ thinks it’s a bad idea to have all of the trappings of a religious event and organization, just without the god part.  I agree.  We don’t need the rituals, save for a few special occasions. We don’t need the people organizing the events to have some special title that elicits reverence or deference. 

    Getting together with other non believers is a good thing in itself.  We don’t have to copy religious groups to make our meetings effective and meaningful.

  • Andy

    It seems to me that some atheists are so upset with religion
    that they are unwilling to see any of the good that can come from religion; especially
    religion stripped of the supernatural and along with that the unquestioned loyalty
    to the religious leaders.  It also seems
    to me that atheism needs to spread beyond the non-conformists.  Atheists groups can be a great way to get
    people that go to church not because they are strong believers in the
    supernatural, but want to feel like they are part of a group.  I’d love to steal any number of things from
    churches including Sunday school, expect instead of teaching about a magical
    man in the sky you teach about the history of science, about how to think
    critically and rationally, and even, dare I say it, religious studies.  (By religious studies I mean learning about
    the evolution of the belief in god, the different world religions, their
    beliefs and history).

     

    What is wrong about wanting to get together with other atheists
    and bringing in speakers to talk about everything from morals to personal financial
    planning?  This group can organize
    picnics, hikes, and social outreach. 
    These groups will have to be better than church since there is no
    magical guy in the sky to get mad and send you to hell if you don’t go.  People will have to want to go. 

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      I’d love to steal any number of things from churches including Sunday school, expect instead of teaching about a magical man in the sky you teach about the history of science, about how to think critically and rationally, and even, dare I say it, religious studies.

      The secular world has those. We call them ‘schools’, and they generally run Monday to Friday.

      • A Portlander

        No, see, Andy was talking about someplace that teaches critcal thinking and science.

        • cheron22

          Schools should be teaching those things. A large reason for why schools fail at that is because of the religious

          • Anonymous

            Agreed… the Kid came home yesterday saying that Darwin was mentioned and one kid yelled out, “Darwin was an idiot,” and heads nodding in agreement throughout the class.  We were in a rush, so I didn’t ask him what the teacher did but wow… nice.

            • 0verlord

              A quick slap across the face and a crash course in manners would fix that mighty quickly.

          • 0verlord

            A large reason for why schools fail is because parents fail.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Charlotte/100001257871259 Jim Charlotte

    We need to remember that the atheist tent is a very big tent. Atheists range from far right (Ayn Rand) to the far left. It includes those who spent decades in churches or places of worship, and those who never stepped foot in one.

    Some of us want to join secular clubs or attend skeptic conferences. Other want to join Humanist or Naturalist organizations. Still others enjoy the creedless Unitarian Univeralists which provides a great opportunity for children to meet and learn with other children without being taught want to believe.

    I like P.Z. and if he doesn’t want to attend any meetings that’s fine. Just don’t disparage us atheists who enjoy UU or Humanist services and who don’t find it a waste of time.

    • Matt Penfold

      I can get that you want to get together with people who share similar interests as you do. But what I do not understand is the need make such meetings look like a church service.

      What specifically do UU or Humanist services offer that you cannot get elsewhere ? What need in yourself do they fulfil ?

      • Anonymous

        anecdote is not evidence, but i’ll tell you what it means in my sister’s family. sis is an atheist. BIL is a baptist. UU is the place sis can take the kids when it’s her turn to run Sunday morning, and the kids need to feel a degree of routine so that what dad does doesn’t feel too out of whack. UU gives the kids the language to ask the right questions when it’s baptist sunday with dad, and helps sharpen their understanding of cults and theology and mythology. it also helps the parents not fight, which is important in marriages. i’m glad the UU exists and i don’t disparage those who use it as a way to express their understanding of humanism or secularism, however lightly.

    • EJC

      Well Said Jim.

      I choose not to listen to PZ, and if I had my druthers, I would encourage him to put a sock in his bologna-hole as he seems to be an atheist form of the woman going “look at me in the pretty dress”, however, he has his rights to spout whatever rhetoric and nonsense he chooses.

      It just saddens me that he seems content with being a spoiler and pushing us back instead of forward. 

      And as an aside, things are hard to translate in html form; often, tongue-in-cheek gets taken as insult or mean spiritedness. I much prefer Hemant’s approach, and try to be somewhat civil. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    I don’t think PZ’s “complaining for the sake of being a contrarian”, but I do think he’s failing to acknowledge that “this isn’t for everybody” is not the same as “this is for nobody.”  

    I have a unique insight into this because I am more with PZ on this sort of thing, while my wife is more like Epstein.  We’re both atheists, but she’d like a nice Sunday service.  Me?  Blah!  No way!

    So it makes sense to me that two people could largely agree on the metaphysical and philosophical issues, but have completely different opinions on practice issues.   We need a little more live-and-let-live on this one:  I think Epstein’s (and my wife’s) desire for a regular Sunday ceremony is baffling, but if some people want it, fine.

  • James Croft

    Thanks for the supportive post – it has become somewhat tiring to correct people’s misunderstandings regarding our community and our new Project, so this was a breath of fresh air. PZ is entirely entitled to an opinion on the Project, but what he should not do is blatantly misrepresent our intentions with insinuation and innuendo.

  • Anonymous

    James Sweet:

    “We’re both atheists, but she’d like a nice Sunday service.  Me?  Blah!  No way!”

    I attend services every Sunday at 1 PM, again at 4 PM and again at 8:30 PM and Monday night at 8:30 PM – NFL services – religiously!

    • Anonymous

      maybe sometimes at a bar? this is no different. 

  • Anonymous

    I pretty much gave up on Pharyngula after it became official world HQ of the all-men-are-rapists brigade. Much as I respect PZ, he is often curiously blind to his own fundamentalism and dogmatism in some areas.

    • EJC

      I did the same thing.

      Not only is he ashamed of his penis, he wants all men to be ashamed of theirs as well. PZ really does nothing positive that I can see for our community.

      • Matt Penfold

        A good example of why simply not believing in a god is enough to provide common cause between atheists.

        What decent people would want to spend any time with you or HughinAz ?

        • 0verlord

          What decent people would want to spend any time with you or HughinAz ?

          Shut up, you rapist.

          • Matt Penfold

            What a vile piece of shit you are.

            • 0verlord

              At least I don’t rape people.

        • Anonymous

          Between this and your numerous other comments in this thread, I can see why you have no friends. You should find another hobby than coming into a group, being an obnoxious asshole and seeing how many people you can piss off.

          Everyone else: please don’t feed the troll. Ignore him and he’ll crawl back under whichever rock he came from, sooner or later.

          • Matt Penfold

            Oh you really are something.

            I do not recognise your name, but most of the others with the same sexist attitude as you have come from ERV. Not company most people would want to keep.

            I guess your standards are lower.

            • 0verlord

              That you think you have the right insult people without provocation and ruin the discussion for everyone else, that’s what makes you a cocksucker.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      That never happened. If you think those comments about the incident that shall not be mentioned apply to all men then you are the one tarring all men with the same brush.

    • randall.morrison90

      PZ Myers does not publish and peer reviewed science papers…in fact he is not even about science anymore.  That is one reason he left Science Blogs.

      And he is still just an Associate Professor at a third rate school.

      I don’t know why he gets so much attention, except maybe for his big mouth and hate mongering.

      On the other hand, the good thing is that he insures atheism will remain a fringe movement.

      • Anonymous

         Hold on a minute, I didn’t mean to start a “we hate PZ” thread. My understanding is that he is still on scienceblogs – all “non-controversial” articles are dual-posted there and at freethoughtblogs, while “controversial” ones are at FTB only.

        I can’t comment on UM Morris’s place in the pecking order but I know how hard it is to get tenure these days, even for the best and brightest. I always enjoyed the way PZ would tear a new one for religious hypocrites and the willfully stupid and ignorant. It’s just that for me, the comments section was a big value-add for pharyngula, with lots of different people giving different perspectives. But now only one voice is heard – that of the screaming, hating radfems, bullying everyone else into silence, and PZ seems to be fine with that.

        I’d love to see more women getting involved in science and atheism discussions, and offering a variety of perspectives. Sadly, that isn’t happening at Pharyngula, and I hope Hemant’s blog never becomes the other side of the coin.

  • Matt Penfold

    A thought has stuck me.

    If you have left god behind, but still feel a need for something to replace church attendance then whilst god is no longer part of your life, religion still is.

    The process of becoming an atheist would seem to have stalled in such people.

    • Anonymous

      Humans are social animals and need a sense of community. The idea that only religion can provide this is false. As Christopher Hitchens points out, there is nothing good and positive that only religion can provide.

      • http://www.facebook.com/melaniedawn.molinawood Melanie Dawn Molina Wood

        nicely said

    • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

      I’m pretty certain one’s atheism has absolutely nothing to do with whether they associate with other atheists for a common cause or not.  It’s flat-out untrue to claim atheists seeking a like-minded community are somehow less atheistic.
      Atheist: “without god.”  That’s the only qualification.

      • Matt Penfold

        Lacking a belief in god is not much of a connection is it ? Atheists are not all like-thinking, and it is ridiculous to claim they are.

        • Neilt42

          Wow, I don’t remeber seeing anybody claim they were all alike.  Once again, (even after others have helpfully tried to explain) you completely fail to understand that atheists can in fact have many different connections that have to do directly or indirectly with their lack of belief, without alienating themselves from society like a religious cult.  In the U.S., the political and social realities for humanists are often not pretty, and the options are not many.  If you are  politically liberal (or even a moderate, sane, compassionate conservative) and a non-believer or freethinker, there are quite a few perks of being part of a community that you will not have access to unless you build your own with people who are like-minded enough to get along.  Non-religious charitable services,  newcomers easily getting to know others in the neighborhood, finding other non-religious families in the area, potenitally like-minded political allies, babysitters who won’t talk about Jesus to your kids behind your back…you know…PEOPLE. 

           They can also have connections that have nothing to do with their lack of belief.  They can also have wonderful connections with religious people, but still not want to be part of the religious culture- but maybe have something similar of their own.  It doesn’t mean that they are “mimicking religion”, and it doesn’t mean that they have no friends with differing beliefs.  It doesn’t mean that they are capable of having a sense of connection with only other atheists…or liberals, or feminists, or straights, or gays, any other single category of person, personality, belief or opinion.

          Quit pigeonholing things you don’t (or refuse to)understand in order to make them fit your own opinions and biases.  For the record, I am not a ritual observer of any kind.  I hated church the few times I ever went.  I dislike rallies, I don’t like cheering for sports teams, I despise groupthink, loyalty oaths, jingoism, overblown patriotism, pledges, graduations or “coming of age” b.s., ceremonies of all kinds…I don’t even like weddings or funerals, really.  I won’t join any social or political organization, no matter how much I have in common, unless there is an open, unambiguous mission with which I agree completely.  What social needs I have, are fully filled by my significant other, my friends, and my family.  When I connect with the greater community, it is usually as a polical activist or concerned citizen, or in the arts- not in social groupings that exist as social groupings alone.  

          But I have no problem accepting that some people might see some value in some of these things.  Some people might want their kids to be exposed to more freethinkers than are found at their local school or sports club.   Some people might want to be more public with their personal ceremonies.  Some people might not have a life already full of friends and family.  Some people might have emotional needs that I do not.  Yet for some reason, I feel no need to diagnose this like some kind of illness, or look down on them as “stalled atheists”. 

          In fact, I have several friends and acquantances who go to a U.U. church.  They are all liberal freethinkers, some atheists, some with vague beliefs.  As a benefit, they have a larger, more connected circle of friends and acquantances than I do, they do more good in the community than I do in some ways, and they have  a sense of connectedness and stability that seems to serve them well.  It seems to work for them and it hurts no one, and I believe even benefits society at large by bringing open-minded and compassionate people together as a community with no real dogma or faith or political requirements.  If some atheist or humanist groups see the benefits as well, why should they deny themselves that simply because you, Matt Penfold, supreme perfect example of a self-fulfilled atheist, deem it unnecessary?   

          • Matt Penfold

            You do go on don’t you ? For a bear with such a small brain it is quite impressive. For a supposedly educated adult, less so.

            Now go away you sexist arsehole.

            • 0verlord

              Now go away you sexist arsehole.

              LOL.  If it looks like a Pharynguloid and it derps like a Pharynguloid…

              • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

                Now if it just claims martydom status, it’ll be a truly skepchical trifecta!

            • Neil

              Again, no substance at all, nothing to add, no thought given, no possibility of understanding before blanket condemnation.  Just name calling and silly insults.  The burning desire to set the whole world right by being a complete and total ass to everyone you meet.  How cute.

              Go away?  From you?  Your wish is my command, let me get my running shoes!

        • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

          Says someone from pharyngula . . . Rich.

          No one, but you, is claiming we all are like-minded. But a group of like, what? Somewhere around 10 people in that picture are.

          Fucking sheeple man – look at them getting together and doing stuff ONLY because everyone else is doing it. They’re way different than we are here at pharyngula. Isn’t that right, guys?

          Seems they do charity work. Apparently, they do something slightly more than sit around and sing “we don’t believe in god / doo dah / we don’t believe zeus / doo dah / we don’t believe in PeeZus / doo dah.”

          They have atheism in common, and a small group where they get together to talk about other things they have in common: helping the poor, climate change, energy conservation . . .

          They’re real losers, those bad atheists they are.  You sure do love giving advice to people who seem slightly happier about life than you are. =P

          • Neil

            I’m just in awe of his psychic powers.  He knows what “real atheists” want and need in their lives, he knows what’s wrong with those who desire a community that involves more than hobby clubs and political parties (and rabidly irrational movement politics of course), and he knows I’m a sexist arsehole because I don’t follow every screechy rant from pharyngula’s comment section like oh, I don’t know…gospel or something…how insensitive of me, I know…

            • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

              If you give him your credit card number, account information and banking information, I’m sure he’ll make sure to buy you everything you really want and need in life.

              You won’t have to do a bit of thinking about any of that on your own either. Just go to work, come home and it’s all taken care of. Now, be a good little worker drone and know your place.

        • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

          Wow, way to completely twist my words.  I made no such claim.

    • Tom

      What does this mean?  Please explain

      • Matt Penfold

        It means that the continued need for regular ritual after giving up belief in a god suggests that the process of leaving religion behind is incomplete.

        Evidence from Europe suggests that when people stop going to church they have no need to replace the church going with anything. In the UK only around 6% of the population regularly attends church, yet there has been no demand for atheist or humanist services on a regular basis. If those who claim people who stop attending church need something to fill the gap are right we would not expect that.

        • Tom

          Where is this idea of ritual coming from?  I fail to see anyone in favor of the ideas in this post clamoring for more ritual in their lives.  I think you mistake a coming together of people on a regular basis for “ritual.”

          “yet there has been no demand for atheist or humanist services on a regular basis”

          Who said anything about “services”?  And, can you show evidence that there hasn’t been a desire for what Epstein is offering, especially since people have almost no idea that his approach even exists?

          Where are you getting these notions?  Your own assumptions about these New Humanists? Have you been to a group like Epstein’s?

          • Matt Penfold

            From you it seems. I did not mention the word.

        • Suyamariyathai

          I think the right comparison is with the percent attending houses of worship on high holidays, for life milestones etc.  and who are nominally Christian despite a lack of personal belief.
          This article on Scandinavia talks about how many people are non-believers, yet describe themselves as Christians, were baptized and married in church etc.

          In my personal life, I’ve seen plenty of non-believing and educated immigrants start going to houses of worship once they have kids because those are the only institutions that offer kid-friendly “ethnic” socialization. 

        • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

          Then I expect that you are equally offended by: anniversaries, birthday parties, all holidays, working a standard week at standard hours, Renaissance fairs, not taking the last piece of bread at the table . . . all this symbolic shit we do for no real purpose other than, you know, somehow or another we’ve agreed among ourselves that many, many, many (almost all!) people enjoy partaking of some social activities, even if the thing at issue is only a symbolic thing.

          After all, having a yearly ritual of bringing presents and social gatherings to people for not dying? Sheesh, if they really meant it, if it truly were worthwhile, why we should do that every day.

          Hey kids! I was going to get you a car when you turned 16, but I’m a freethinker, so when you turn 32, then I will! That additional 16 years is how I’m showing my independence from god and the car-archy.

    • 0verlord

      A thought has stuck me.

      I find that unbelievable.  Evidence or GTFO.

      • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

        Evidence or GTFO. GTFO.
        No.

        As has been elsewhere noted (hi, Miranda!), it’s now operation #occupyhemant as #occupyerv didn’t seem to be quite as productive as original estimates indicated.

        • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

          Sure it was.  I laughed for hours. HOURS.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      “A thought has stuck me”

      Where? Your bum? crotch? eyes?

      With a pin? A finger?

      come now, show us on the doll where the thought stuck you.

    • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

       “A thought has stuck (sic) me.”

      “Struck,” Cupcake.  I imagine thinking is a novel experience for you, and that’s why you’re no good at it.  An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in god or gods, and that’s all it means.  Buy a dictionary, use it, and please share with your raging misogynist friends on Pharyngula. 

      • Rieux

        WTF? “Raging misogynist friends on Pharyngula”? Pharyngula is one of the most staunchly and loudly feminist blogs in the atheist blogosphere.

        • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

          it’s a curious kind of feminism that brooks no disagreement from dogma. The “cross the street so poor helpless wymyms aren’t a-skeered” kind.

          • Matt Penfold

            Well if feminism was examined to allow those who are misogynists, like you are, to call themselves feminists then the word will have lost all meaning.

            Thankfully people are not fooled by your little games of trying to garner respectability when none is due.

            Since Pharyngula is a place where your sexist ravings, and those of the likes of your fellow moron Justicar, it is not surprising you take exception. What is surprising is that you think anyone cares that you feel hard done by.

            • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

              Yes, I’m a moron. Hence why I wrote, “There are no shortage of non-religious groups around, especially at a university.”

              Oh wait; that was you. =P

            • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

              How unfortunate for you i’ve never called myself a feminist. That’s a flag for those such as you to wrap yourself in, a title to claim so you can feel superior. 

              You’re rather like those hyper-patriots who wrap themselves in the flag and claim some special “Extra-american” standing, yet never get around to actually serving your country, whilst those of us who did have no need for titles.

              By all means, wrap yourself in as many titles as you like, I hope they keep you as warm as their substance allows.

              Also, dude, seriously, start actually typing ALL the words in the sentence. For example:

              “Since Pharyngula is a place where your sexist ravings, and those of the likes of your fellow moron Justicar, it is not surprising you take exception. ”

              That’s not actually a complete sentence. It’s not even a fragment. I THINK you meant:

              “Since Pharyngula is a place where your sexist ravings, and those of the likes of your fellow moron Justicar are not welcome, it is not surprising you take exception to those who are.” 

              You see how the addition of those last few words really make all the difference? If you’re going to use “stupid” and “moron” as your primary weapons against all who disagree with you, it is rather incumbent upon you to actually type ALL the words in the sentence. Otherwise, when you call someone stupid, and/or a moron, well, you’re the one who looks stupid. Try it out, you’ll get better results.

        • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

          And pro-lifers are the most staunchly and loudly life-saving people on the planet. How do I know? Like at pharwyongula, just ask them; they’re all convinced it’s true.  Being a feminist is no more working for the good of women than being pro-life is saving people from death.

          As it happens, it’s entirely possible for people’s stated goals and actions to be massively unrelated to one another; so much so, that looking in from outside the cult makes it difficult to think the people in it believe what they’re saying.

          As it happens, a model of feminism that is very much against women is one which pressures women to forgo their own critical faculties in favor of adopting a party line. “Gender Traitor” I think they’re called.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    lol, you’re going after him for stating a negative opinion instead of just keeping quiet?

    No offense, Hemant, but nothing you blog is “necessary” either. It’s just good reading. Which is the same thing people go to PZ for.

  • Andy

    I am curious, for those that bring up a dislike about such groups being Church like, what aspects of Church is it that you fear such an organization would have that you dislike?  So far the only one I’ve heard articulated here is that if it is too church like this would allow the religious to claim that atheism is just like religion.  In some ways being able to point to how the atheist group is different (and the same) may make it easier to explain how atheism is different in a way that is more relatable to theists.  Anyway, I am curious as other answers to the question at the top.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      For me, personally, I have no desire to be part of an organization that imitates a church. Songs, rituals, chaplains, ‘Sunday school,’ etc. I’m not knocking anyone else for wanting this, but I think it stems from society telling us that we need it. If you grow up in a churchgoing culture, maybe this seems natural to you. If you grow up in a more secular culture, maybe it seems unnecessary and bizarre. It’s all a matter of perspective. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a humanist community, but I don’t think it’s some innate desire that people are born with. I think it’s the result of the culture around us. I’d like to work to change that culture rather than feed into the notion that church communities are something that atheists need, too.

      • Andy

        I would, obviously, disagree that this is purely cultural and something that needs to be “fixed”.  We are highly social creatures.  Many atheists don’t see the need, in part because up until now, and including now, atheism was only attractive to people that were if not anti-social, were at least, social neutral and were thus able to buck the social norms of our society.  (and this is a good thing)  We need to expand beyond that niche and get the people that want to be part of a larger social group.  I see two problems with doing so, one the resistance within the existing atheist community, and two, atheists are very diverse, I may not like how things are done at the group at Harvard, or they may be too far to the left (or right) for my taste.  They could be too much like a church in terms of ritual.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I want something more than some 40 year old white guys meeting at a pizza place every month.  I am curious as to what people would like to see and not see beyond a simple, “this isn’t for me”.

        • Andy

          I think there is a difference between needing these
          communities to grow the number of atheists and needing to be a member of one to
          be considered an atheist in good standing. 
          To me it’s about expanding the base, not forcing people to do something
          they don’t want to.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          “Anti-social?” “Able to buck the social norms?” That doesn’t describe me, or many of the other atheists I know. I grew up in a secular family. I have no Christian background, and my city does not have a churchgoing culture. I was not raised around church, expected to attend church, or taught that people who do not attend church are missing something. I’m not denying that human beings are social creatures, but I am denying that there is some innate desire for us to imitate religious rituals. Going to weekly humanist gatherings is, to me, mimicking Christianity.

          The United States is unique among developed nations in having such a high percentage of churchgoers, especially in rural areas and in the South. This may be why people from the UK and other parts of Europe are confused about why American atheists want to create specific atheist communities instead of just joining a local sports team, knitting group, or volunteer organization. If people in more secular countries do not feel the need to create organizations that mimic church rituals, then I think it proves my point that these desires are not innate, but are influenced by a culture that tells us we should have them.

          • http://www.facebook.com/melaniedawn.molinawood Melanie Dawn Molina Wood

            I really like and agree with just about everything you wrote, yet still understand the desire for specific atheist/humanist organizations – even one’s that resemble “church.”

            I disagree with Andy that atheists tend to be anti-social. I know I’m not. But because I do not believe in gods, I have that social isolation somewhat forced on me. I am a member of the Sierra Club. I started attending group hikes and events because I wanted to be social with like minded people yet there wasn’t a single meal at these events that didn’t start with a Christian prayer. Likewise for the WCR – a business organization in my area. So as much as I would love for all of our organizations to be as secular as they are in Sweden – they aren’t.

            Another aspect is raising children. My daughter is 22 now, and I can see some adverse results from the lack of ‘social community’ during her upbringing. Virtually everyone around us had a social community with their house of worship at it’s center. Whether it was church camp or the JCC, all of the children had a social network that was – at its heart – religious. My daughter didn’t.

            We did try the local UU Church for a little while for that specific reason. I must admit, it felt far too weird for both of us. It probably would have provided the social community we wanted, but ‘fake church’ felt far too much like real church to me. We both kept getting fits of giggles.

            So now, I have the Miami Secular Humanists group. We have a monthly dinner, monthly book club, movie nights, special events… just a social community without prayers before the meals – and where I can voice my lack of religion and/or annoyance with the latest religious/political issue without consequences.

            Perhaps when the US is more like Sweden, I won’t have the need to have a specific atheist/humanist group in order to feel comfortable, nor will I have the need to comment about the latest religious/political issue either. And both Hemant and PZ will no longer have a good reason for their respective blogs. LOL (sorry for the tl;dr)

    • Anonymous

      I don’t fear anything they might do.  I just left religion behind and have no desire to participate in any such rituals (discussions on Sunday morning with a group in a specific place IS church… period).  I’d love a humanist or atheist community locally (I live in the Northwest Bible Belt outside Portland) but I’d prefer meeting at a coffee shop or pub, having open discussion on a topic, on perhaps a weeknight or Saturday afternoon.  I grew up the daughter of the choir director and I was at the church all the time, observing the rituals and trying to fit in.  I want no part of anything that is named after that life or in any way mimics it.

      • Karen L

        It shouldn’t make any difference whether the group meets on Sunday morning or Saturday afternoon.  The key is what the group does.

        I suspect those that choose a Sunday morning meeting time are just being pragmatic, as that is the time that people are most likely to be available, simply because work meetings, kids soccer games, and other community activities aren’t likely to be scheduled then.

        But I’m with you on not wanting group activities to mimic church.  

  • EJC

    I wish PZ would just go away. His ego and self-aggradizing needs to go as he sets us ALL back by decades. The thing is, he doesn’t even come off as sincere, just a mouth.

    PZ please, follow Hemant’s lead, and use some courtesy and discretion, otherwise, please just shut up.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      “use some courtesy and discretion, otherwise, please just shut up.”

      ???

    • Tom

      Thing is PZ’s approach is good enough for a vast amount of atheists.  It seems we just want to feel vindicated, and get revenge on theists for what they’ve done to us…

      • 0verlord

        …get revenge on theists for what they’ve done to us…

        Which is what, exactly?

        • Tom

          I dunno, I’m being sarcastic.  I don’t feel vengeful, I’m making a claim that many atheists do feel that way and that dominates their motivations.  I hear from some atheists that they’re tired of all the righteousness and moralizing that the religious do.  I chose to use the pronoun “we” to highlight the group-think that these people get into once their own righteousness gets going

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            Well, I do agree with Dawkins’ point that it is not ‘bad’ nor ‘disrespectful’ to question religions as you would any other group. I agree with his point that the continual special standing and privilege religions have that somehow protects them from any meaningful criticism is unearned and ridiculous.

            But yeah, “revenge” is a stupid motivation for anything other than more stupid actions.

            • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

              I agree with giving to people and their groups the respect they earn – NOT the respect they demand because of label or other. No more, no less. Almost like merit badges or something.

              But I must confess I don’t agree with your stance on revenge. For instance, if Matt Penfold decided to take revenge against that thought that yesterday stuck him in an undisclosed location, I’d probably even join in his quest.

              I even have some coconut shells handy, and I’ve been practicing my percussion skills, and timing. For, we are the knights who say NO!

          • 0verlord

            I know, I’m agreeing with you in a roundabout way.  To qualify though, I know there are some legit problems and that there is a lot of progress to be made socially, but actual victimization seems pretty uncommon.

  • Trina

    There was a television documentary in the last year or two (sorry; don’t remember the source) about atheist ‘church-equivalents. ‘  They seemed largely by and for families with young children, though there were also older members (probably mostly former christians).   There was some singing of positively-themed songs, talk about ethics, activities for the kids, friendly talk among the attendees, a potluck lunch.  It’s not my thing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve a purpose for some people.  As long as it’s not run with church-type leadership and doesn’t tip over into nonsense, it does fill what for some people obviously is a hole that needed filling .  I’m very sensitive to use of terminology so as not to give the wrong impression or create cannon-fodder for the christians, but otherwise I’d rather put my activist energies toward the current and very real  serious religious threats we face. 

    • Anonymous

      I’m all for activism toward the religious threats… but a weekly or bi-weekly socialization opportunity, not just for the 11yo kid but for his asocial mom, would be appreciated.  I miss the after-church socialization time… the hanging around with a cup of coffee and discussing nonreligious or nonpolitical stuff… town stuff.  I miss the craft club and scrapbooking.  I miss potlucks. 

      Without a church or an active neighborhood or a big family, none of which I have, it gets kinda lonely.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with PZ in that I hate using “Chaplain” with regard to Humanism, Atheism, or any type of secular outlet.  I grew up an AF brat and Mom was the organist and choir director at the base chapels… I hear “Chaplain,” and I walk away.  Yes, it’s semantics, but I just don’t want to adopt religious words (or those commonly used by religion) for secular use. 

    Also, I don’t go anywhere on Sunday morning except to the coffee maker and then my trusty gaming maching for some WoW. 

    Why do we have to use the time and words that the religious folks use?

    Other than the word and the time, I’m all for organizing a group like this.  I used to be in a Meet-Up group that did a Kid’s Sunday School and I’ll admit, it was really fun.  We’d meet at an independent coffee place or a local community center and do a talk with the kids on a subject (dinosaurs, traditions, history, etc.), have some handouts or a craft, then go to a park for them to play and parents to chat.  (Though I hated that it was called Sunday School.)

    • Tom

      “Why do we have to use the time and words that the religious folks use?”

      Because some atheists don’t have such an aversion to these words?  

  • Anonymous

    The bottom line is an atheist organization does not need a leader to keep it moving on. Anyone in most Atheist organizations can answer any questions about the ridiculousness of  religion. In other words we are all Atheist chaplains.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    You should know by now Hemant, that you can’t have any kind of atheist activity without PZ approving or disapproving. If it involves atheists, he HAS to get his opinion in somehow. And if it wasn’t one if his ideas? Well, THAT won’t do. 

    PZ’s idea of community is the one where he’s at the top.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      citation needed

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        given the studies that show belief is never changed by fact, why bother with it anymore. That and “citation needed” has become the skeptic/atheist version of “pics or it didn’t happen”. 

        Why not just spine up and directly accuse me of lying instead of being such a wuss about it.

        • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

          Um, I believe the appropriate response to that last question is. Is!
          No.

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            Oh yeah, that’s right. 

            Citation Needed. NEEDED!

            NO!

      • 0verlord
        • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

          Oh great, links to freethought and yet more popups for churches and malware. Funny how peezus doesn’t mind shit ads when he’s getting a bigger chunk of the take. So much for his awesome integrity.

      • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

        See Pharyngula, any thread.  Mind you, I actually like both PZ and his writing, but the comments leave much to be desired, and he certainly does enjoy the power he wields.  That’s no crime, of course, most people do.  But lately, a lot of people are getting hurt because of it. Or maybe it’s been that way all along, but we don’t notice  until we become the targets.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    When PZ objects to having atheist “chaplains”, “churches”, and “sermons”, is it merely semantics, or is there some substantive underlying issue?

    I dunno, when Mehta objects to atheism being a “religion”, is it merely semantics, or is there some substantive underlying issue?

  • JeseC

    I don’t know how it is up there, but in the area I grew up in religious organizations were the only option if you wanted to be involved in charity work – especially for those of us that are young and may not have cars or lots of money!  I’d certainly love to see a humanist group that allowed us to get involved in the community under a secular banner.

    Regarding the bit about chaplains, I thought that originated with wanting a humanist chaplain in the military?  Not that I think chaplain is the right term, but given that the position exists whether we like it or not I think it would be good to get some secular people in the position.  I hate seeing our non-religious military members denied the support services a chaplain can offer.

  • Matt Penfold

    Of course, there is already an experiment taking place with regards what, if anything, church attendance should be replaced with. The experiment is taking place in North West Europe, where church attendence is in marked decline. For example, in the UK only around 6% of people regularly attend church. There is no notable demand for an atheist or humanist replacement.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Exactly! Instead of copying Christian church culture, I would love to see American atheists look to secular countries and consider how community works there. The lack of religiosity is even more pronounced in places like Sweden and Denmark, yet people aren’t flocking to atheist organizations for their social needs.

      • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

        A few people here, and a few people there isn’t exactly the picture which charges one’s imagination when discussing people ‘flocking’ to a thing.

        Like, you know, dozens of people in the whole world are doing this. DOZENS! Maybe even like 10 dozen people. Just imagine the stigma we’d all be tainted by if like 20 or 30 dozen atheists did this. Holy shit.  30 DOZEN! PZ might have to write two pointless articles instead of just the one!

        Almost no atheists are following this model. Unlike you, I would love to see local communities of atheists deciding things on their own, and enjoying their lives in a way that suits them.  But hey, you’re apparently find with people ‘following’ delineated models, so long as the model is one you prefer to theirs. You know, since they live there and it matters to them in a way it doesn’t to you new-age advice-givers.

        Seriously, people, the atheist complaint with religion is, you know, the whole god casts magical spells and makes people irrational bit. It’s not the ‘well, they get together and talk about things they find enjoyable, like, with people they like, and then sometimes do charity work.”

        Dozens. Dozens.
        No.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          I’m sorry, but I’ve read through your comment several times, and I don’t understand what the problem is. As I said earlier, I simply happen to strongly disagree that church-like communities are natural and inevitable. These things are influenced by culture, and I would rather see the atheist movement focus its energy on secularizing American culture in general, rather than creating atheist-only spaces in a highly religious society. I’d rather see us be more like Sweden than Mississippi. Not all of America is the Bible Belt. I know it’s possible for Americans to have strong, vibrant communities without religion. That’s how it is where I live. I want to help make it possible in other places, too.

          There seems to be a lot of hostility on this thread. I’m not really sure why that is, but I think I’ve been polite in all my comments, and I don’t believe I’ve said anything that is untrue or fair. I think it’s possible to have a legitimate difference of opinion on this issue without attacking those who disagree.

          • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

            Clearly, it is inevitable that these things will crop up. Notice how often they have over the last couple thousand years?

            They are having a community without religion. Or did I miss part of the story where they’re praying, dousing one another with water and blessing crackers?

            Polite, one notes, isn’t in exaggerating the state of affairs (flocking?). Polite isn’t telling people that it’s cool they don’t believe in god, but that they should really go not believing in god the way you want them not to believe in god.

            They’re atheists. They get together on Sundays and have conversations, do community work. I think it’s a bit silly having a chaplain. But being able to piss off religious people (hijacking their words, yo!) and Miss Manners her PeeZus kind of makes it sound like a deliciously brilliant move.

            Plus, and this is trivial I know since people are all about whipping all those wrong kind of atheists in line, it hurts precisely no one.

            Incidentally, they want to help a strong, non religious community too. Notice how they’ve even started a group for that? Like groovy. So, they’re doing that whole thing . . . but apparently they’re just not doing it good enough to suit you.

            So, here’s what you do: don’t join their group.

            • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

              Okay, I really have no idea why you are being so hostile. Why don’t you go back and read my original comment? I said that people in secular countries like Sweden and Denmark are not flocking to atheist communities for their social needs. This is true. They are not doing that because they have alternatives. They have built strong, vibrant secular communities without making them specifically atheist. For example, a stay-at-home mom in Sweden can join a Mother’s Club without having to worry about religion. Unlike in the Bible Belt, the Swedish mother doesn’t have to fear that she and her children will be ostracized because they don’t believe in a god. I want to help make it like that for people in all parts of America, too. I want to make it so that atheist-only communities aren’t necessary.

              Again, I have repeatedly said that I don’t think humanist communities are wrong. If people want them, that’s fine. But I disagree that church-like communities are something that atheists need. I think that perception exists because of the heavily religious culture we have in many parts of the United States. If it exists here, and it doesn’t exist in other countries, then the issue is not that people inherently need community groups with songs and rituals, but that our culture promotes those things (in some areas) with a ferocity that makes people feel like they are missing out if they don’t experience them in a church-like setting. I hope that clears up what I was trying to say.

              • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                right. so long as they do it in a way you approve of it’s all good. As soon as they do things some other way, then it’s bad.

                • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

                  I never said it was bad. I simply said that I do not agree. I fail to see how Epstein’s promotion of church-like communities for atheists helps to secularize American culture. On the contrary, I think it does just the opposite. I think it gives credence to the idea that people need church-like groups to be happy, when I do not believe that is the case at all, and I think evidence from other countries supports my conclusion. 

                • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                  Your definition of evidence appears to center around anecdotes. Perhaps you have links to you know, valid , proper studies. That would then be “evidence” for your position. 

              • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

                I feel no hostility toward you (or anyone else, for that matter).  I think you just got in the crossfire between warring atheist factions, as it were. It relates to the problem of groupthink, which is something we’re all susceptible to if we’re not careful.  Confirmation bias creeps in when we least expect it… but I digress.

          • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

             What you fail to understand is that some “religious” practices are beneficial and desirable.  There’s a reason why non-believers attend church.  It fulfills an emotional need.  Moreover, most homeless shelters and food kitchens in the U.S. are church-run.  It would benefit society greatly if secular groups provided such services as well.

            • Matt Penfold

              In many counties they do. That is the point Anna is trying to get across. 

              • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                and if they’d only just do things the way you want, well then everything would be perfect. Silly atheists, doing things some other way.

              • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

                Thanks for the civil reply; I appreciate it and apologize for my rudeness earlier.  My question is, why does it matter what this group chooses to do when they’re doing no harm?  In fact, they’re making atheism/secularism more appealing to those who would otherwise shun it, and they’re engaging in activities that benefit their community. 

            • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

              Maria, I understand that. I am in favor of American society becoming more secularized and will do whatever I can to help make that happen. But I am highly critical of the “church culture” in the U.S. and I do not happen to agree that atheists copying it is the right way to go. I’d like to work towards moving us away from a culture in which churchgoing is seen as good and normal, to one in which secular activities are plentiful and welcoming to everyone.

              • http://twitter.com/bluharmony Maria Maltseva

                I can agree with that Anna.  I just think that to pull more people in we have to try a variety of approaches and learn to treat each other with respect, different opinions and all.  If we want a secular society, we need to offer people something positive.  And right now, I’m just not seeing very much of that.  While  the Boston group isn’t my cup of tea, it does no harm, presents a positive face for atheism, and provides the sense of community many crave.  That’s a much more appealing scenario than the fighting I’m constantly seeing online.  Most people go to church because it fulfills an emotional need.  I’d like to find a way to fulfill that need without the harm that the belief in lies and magic entails.  But you can’t fight intolerance with more intolerance; it doesn’t work.

          • Andy

            You use polite words yet you say that those that want to
            gather as atheists are broken (“influenced by culture”).  BTW – I live in the Northeast and rarely went
            to Church as a kid, I still like the idea of getting together with other atheists
            weekly, singing songs, having early childhood indoctrination in logic and
            reason, hearing lectures on topics of interest each week and a place where we
            can focus attention on local issues important to atheists. 

            • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

              Andy, I never used the word “broken.” Being influenced by the culture is not the same thing as being wrong, bad, broken, etc. I’m not telling anyone to stop organizing or attending humanist meetings. I am simply saying that I believe the desire for such things is culturally influenced. I really don’t think that’s a controversial statement. You’re entitled to your opinion, just like I’m entitled to mine. I don’t agree with Greg Epstein on a lot of issues, and I would rather see the atheist movement focus its energy elsewhere. That’s just my take on things. I’m not saying that you have to share my opinion, but there’s nothing wrong with me criticizing what Epstein is promoting. We’re not a hive mind. We’re allowed to disagree, aren’t we?

              • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

                It is controversial if you ask at PZ’s; see the conversation involving geneticist donkane when he asked about the genetic influence in the phenotype about this very issue.

                • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

                  I’ve never been to P.Z.’s blog, but I would question why, if people supposedly have an innate desire for church-like communities, does religiosity vary so widely? In places where churchgoing is not encouraged and where there are plenty of secular alternatives, people seem not to have this need to attend weekly gatherings that resemble religious services.

                • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

                  Well, it’s a good question at least in part. Consider that you are tying church-like to religiosity. The fact that the church-like bit transcends all levels of religiosity seems to imply that church-like activity need not imply religion.

                  Also, it doesn’t seem to be the case that religion itself implies church-like activity either. I know many people of some faith or another who attend no church services.

                  So, it doesn’t seem that one implies the other, despite the fact that there are many cases of overlap.

                  So, I think the appropriate question is what is it about structured social activities that draw people to it, and why are the religious so good at creating that environment.

                  Perhaps it is, as you say, partly influenced by culture, but so too is it likely that a non-trivial part of it is genetic. I grew up in the same culture as everyone else I went to school with, and I don’t attend such events while most of them do.

                  That difference, whatever it is, can’t be explained by the culture since the same forces acted on all of us, but fail to produce an impulse on me – there has to be at least some other component.

                  One also notes that religiosity is negatively correlated with education, but attending structured social events regularly doesn’t seem to suffer in the same way.

                  Perhaps there does exist a way to have similar activities without the religious aspect; in fact, having available such an alternative might well open up ‘options’ to people who attend church for its social atmosphere.  I’d be very interested to see how a test like that would work itself out.

                • windy

                  True, but consider how long it took for Scandinavia to get to that point. Maybe these alternatives need to be considered in the US, since  it doesn’t look like a strong social safety network that would help reduce the influence of religion will emerge any time soon.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Ah, behold Matt, who will tell you if you are a “real” atheist or not. Snerk.

    I am seeing rather a lot of insecurity. Seriously, “chaplain” is going to do what? Make you a SEKRET KRISTION? Are you all on the edge of lapsing? “DON’T USE RELIGIOUS WORDS MAN! I’M ON THE EDGE, I COULD GO WHOLE HOG BAPTIST AT ANY MINUTE! DON’T PUSH ME, ‘CAUSE I’M CLOSE TO THE EDGE!”

    Exactly what “harm” is caused by this? None. If someone’s going to hate on atheists, you think you’re going to stop them by not using religious terms? If you actually think that on any level, you have no high ground to mock theists for being stupid ever again.

    Yeesh. A buncha nice people are doing nice things for their community, and the PZtards have to get all whiny about it because of the WERDS THEY USE. If that’s your biggest complaint, you have none. 

    • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

      Well, so long as you know they couldn’t go whole hog Orthodox Judaism . . .

      Like I said at Abbie’s, it’s not my thing. But my life isn’t so boring that I have to go piss in someone’s wheaties because, you know,  I really have to pee and they have wheaties.

      However, knowing that the use of chaplain in this way can simultaneously piss off both the religious and pharynguloids . . . alas, I repeat myself.

    • Matt Penfold

      Tell me Welch, how long did it take you to become as unpleasant and vile human being as you have ?

      You are very stupid, which makes one suspect it was long time, but then you are also so good at it it seems to be some kind of natural talent with you. Certainly concepts such as treating women as fellow humans is never idea those charged with your education can have ever bothered explaining to you.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        It probably took me about as long as it took you to be so close-mindedly dogmatic about what proper atheist behavior is. Given how narrow minded you are about the whole thing, I”m guessing years.

        Yes. I’m stupid and anti-woman. Of course I am. I don’t treat women as helpless children, in need of protection by TEH MENZ from the world. 
        That’s the domain of fine “proper” feminists like you.

        I don’t think they require me to cross the street to be safe but rather are fully capable, just like men, of being responsible for their own safety, and not needing the protection of TEH MENZ.

        That’s the domain of fine “proper” feminists like you.

         I don’t think that the mere utterance of certain BAD WERDZ will reduce them to helpless quivering sacks of tears and sobbing, because they are grown-assed adults. I don’t treat them as fragile china dolls who need TEH MENZ to ensure all possible problems are removed from their helpless little worlds.

        That’s the domain of fine “proper” feminists like you.

        I treat women the way I wish to be treated. As a grown-assed adult with strengths and weaknesses, smart in some areas, dumb in others, able to get through the day on their own, responsible for their own self-esteem, occasionally funny, capable of doing whatever they like, worthy of respect for their strengths, capable of handling criticism for their mistakes, you know the whole grown-assed adult package.

        But that’s why I’m a misogynist in your world.

  • Dan W

    I agree with PZ on this. Epstein’s group sounds way too much like a church to me. Atheists can meet up and hang out together in groups without modeling their groups after churches or other religious organizations, which is what Epstein seems to be doing.

  • Matthew S. North

    PZ Meyers is right. One of the many things about religion that turns my stomach is its hierarchy and its mindless ritual meant reinforce its influence in peoples lives. This smells of a “chaplain” administering to his flock, be it a Humanist one or otherwise, in a weekly ritual. Why have a “chaplain”? Also, why on Sunday? Why not a meeting a couple of times a month. Epstein is obviously trying to mimic religion. It seems pathetic and frankly as an atheist myself it’s embarrassing.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Why Sunday?!

      Maybe because they’re at a university and it’s one of the only days students don’t have classes…?

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        oh now you’re just being logical.

      • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

        And Friday nights are meant to celebrate biology; in particular, fermenting and the effect of ETOH on C-based lifeforms.

        Saturday is taken up reviewing the previous night’s data collection efforts.

        • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

          And lest you forget in the United States, Saturdays are of major importance to universities in the area of team sports, particularly football, and general other tomfoolery. Sunday has always been more of a “proper” day for calmer, more serious discussion and action.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2C6XFSMIUYAZUDZ4CWUWLV7CEY Josh Pearson

          That was one of the best, “get drunk, deal with hangover” statements I have ever read.

  • cheron22

    To paraphrase PZ “Epstein group is too churchy for me but some people seem to want it”.  That’s a perfectly non shrill, mean, or nasty summation of what MANY atheists feel about Epstein’s plans. Maybe Mehta got Epstein and PZ mixed up since the article has Epstein as the one “prepared to TELL people what they should build..”

  • Sailor

    Well I think I perhaps need to start a group for people who don’t believe in fairies. I mean  it is so damn hard not to believe in fairies when everyone  else believes in them. Now as you know people that believe in fairies have these rituals at the bottom of the garden in fairy rings made of daisies. They have fairy leaders that will interpret for you what the fairies are telling you. So what we need to do to promote our disbelief in fairies is to hold similar meetings at the bottom of the garden. Yes we can have un-fairy leaders that tell us what we should do just like they do.

    • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

      You’re a number of years too late for that. See, um, any-gardening club, USA.

    • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

      1) When the believers become a sizeable enough group and try to impose their beliefs on the rest of their communities against the wills, laws and rights of those who don’t believe, there is nothing unusual about banding together to push back in force.  Believers in the majority have used their power throughout human history to rig the system in favor of those who think as they do at the expense of the minority.  And seriously, there are loads of groups dedicated to debunking Bigfoot and UFO claims.  This isn’t unusual.

      2) “God” is an answer to some very large questions humanity has asked for thousands of years.  People who are unsatisfied with “God/gods” as the answer still continue to ponder their existence and place in the universe, and doing so while discussing ideas and philosophies with one another often broadens one’s horizons and exposes one to new ideas.  Science works because  it’s constantly tested and exposed to new hypotheses, and leaves room for change when proven wrong.  Same idea here.  Isn’t that why a lot of us read Hemant and PZ’s blogs–to interact with other atheists and hear their thoughts and perspectives?  Reducing it simply to “I don’t believe” with none of the nuances  taken into account isn’t accurate.  This blog would have been finished by its first post if that were the case.

      3) You’re being disingenous in claiming that people grouping together (especially when doing so to discuss, among other things, logic, empirical evidence and the problem with mindless groupthink) will blindly, automatically follow a leader’s every whim.  Come on.  If you’re going to throw these assertions out there, please back them up.  Otherwise, you’re just insulting us.

  • Jlbriggs

    You all know that you don’t have to read PZ’s blog or tweets, right?
    All of your whining about him imposing his will and opinions on you is completely asinine and far more of a waste of time and effort than you accuse him of being.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2C6XFSMIUYAZUDZ4CWUWLV7CEY Josh Pearson

    After reading through the majority of comments, I am dismayed by the vitriol and name calling.

    From my perspective it seems like you are all forgetting something crucial in this debate. People, atheists and theists, do not come in neat color-coded packages that dictate how to be. We all approach the world with a different lens, seeing only what we can.

    I, myself, don’t celebrate any holidays (except for National ones like Independence Day),and want absolutely nothing to do with a weekly atheist gathering. That’s just me though. I don’t need to be around, to speak to, or see, other human beings. That’s because I am an introvert.

    These “churches” exist for extroverts. For people that need the company of others to feel sane, normal, or just because they want to. A weekly gathering for these people isn’t inherently bad. Some people have to have a sense of community, or social support. This is not a weakness, it’s biological.

    While I understand PZ’s point about semantics; I myself am a huge stickler for using proper vocabulary. Some words though are essentially without meaning that they can be changed at whim to suit other needs. We still call a wedded union a marriage. We have changed the word gay many times (once meant a promiscuous heterosexual man), to suit our needs. Chaplain is no different.

    Chaplain, while pungent with Christianity, isn’t as divisive or important a term as say, Priest, Reverend, or Pastor. Chaplain, to me, paints a more ecumenical view, implying someone who is there to guide you how you need it. Usurping Chaplain for atheist gatherings isn’t a bad idea, or wrong.

    A lot of you forgot to consider what country this is taking place in. The extreme vast majority of Americans self-identify with some facet of Christianity.  Just because some of us have no need for social gatherings like this it doesn’t mean others don’t. And as long as these gatherings don’t fall into the pitfalls of religion (absolutism), this bickering seems silly.

    If having a viable “church” option for people actually helps those that only go to the church they do to socialize, this provides a gateway for them to walk away from religion. I know many Christians ask, “What replaces religion?”, and while atheism isn’t a religion, having this option can help make leaving religion more comfortable for people.

    So what if we have a sectarian-ideological split in what is best for atheists. No two atheists are identical, and no two require the same support. For those that have no need for the trappings of a social community of like-minded individuals we have the option to not participate. Isn’t having options, as opposed to absolute rules, part of critical thinking and advancement?

    If we all fought tooth-and-nail to make sure no atheists could gather socially using terminology that they are comfortable with, while pushing the “better” ideal of non-grouping atheists, wouldn’t that make us just as guilty of wrong-thinking as a religious proselytizer?

    Using religious terminology isn’t a big deal, not in the grand scheme of reality. But PZ still has a valid point, if you’re not careful starting with religious wording you could slide down that slippery-slope of religious rituals and trappings.

    Ironically this infighting reminds me of the South Parks episodes “Go God Go 1 & 2″. In it there was a future where atheists were bickering, and warring, over who’s idea of atheism is the “right” one. An atheist that sees a “Chaplain” and an atheist that doesn’t are still atheist, and still steps in the right direction away from barbaric mindsets and archaic ideas. Isn’t that what matters?

  • Thor

    I have to throw my support behind PZ on this one. The whole thing  just reeks of trying to turn non-belief into a religion. Peace out.

  • Anonymous

    I think this kind of thing is for people who grew up in religious families and miss the comfort of the ritual. In my experience, native atheists (or whatever you want to call people who grew up in atheist families) are less prone to engage in behavior that could be seen as religious (like these people with their chaplains and whatnot) and are also less prone to spend their time bashing religion or think that an atheist’s primary job is to bash religion.

    You can’t be open-minded, science-oriented, believe in evolutionary behavioral traits, etc., and then act like people who want a quasi-religious social structure component in their lives are demented. There’s just a religious instinct. That’s all there is to it. 

    I don’t feel the need to join a group like that, and it seems like the backlash against such groups is more concerned with how the backlashers’ perceived ideological opponents would view such groups. “But, but you’re going to make me lose an internet argument if you form that kind of group!!” If people want to join those groups, more power to them, as long as they are willing to acknowledge that the benefits of being religious go beyond simply believing in supernatural beings. 

  • David Leech

    Why do the PZ’ers and ERVist have to carry their battle though every atheist discussion, seriously keep your parochial pathetic little splat between your relevant blogs. The rest of the atheist world is simply not interested.

    As posters like Anna have pointed out such groups are not needed in Europe and it is probably better to ween people away from such activities. Though I accept America with a large church going population this might by problematic. If/when the USA becomes more like Europe in regards to religion then this might just need to be a temporary solution.

    • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

      And yet here you are showing you are interested. I like irony!

      • David Leech

        I am interest in the discussion on the blog (see my second paragraph.) I can smell agenda driven posts a mile away and the ones above smack me square in the nose.

    • David Leech

      Wean/ween. D’oh.

  • Ainewxj
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