They’re popping up everywhere. Dan Merica at CNN covers Greg Epstein‘s congregation, part of the Humanist Community at Harvard University (HCH):
A longtime advocate for community building, Epstein and his group of atheists have begun to build their Cambridge community and solemnize its Sunday meetings to resemble a traditional religious service.
To Epstein, religion is not all bad, and there is no reason to reject its helpful aspects.
“My point to my fellow atheists is, why do we need to paint things with such a broad brush? We can learn from the positive while learning how to get rid of the negative,” he said.
For Epstein, who started community-building at Harvard nearly 10 years ago, the idea of a godless congregation is not an oxymoron.
“We decided recently that we want to use the word congregation more and more often because that is a word that strongly evokes a certain kind of community — a really close knit, strong community that can make strong change happen in the world,” he said.
“It doesn’t require and it doesn’t even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”
Every time I’ve written about these congregations, there’s always pushback. But I can’t express my support enough for those people who find this sort of service helpful. I don’t know that I would go if one was near me, but I like the idea that these services are available for people who find value in them. Hell, this week, I’ll be meeting with folks in Chicago to see if we can plan something similar. The demand is there and I suspect it’ll only increase if we create something worth attending.
Unlike churches, the focus has to be on the people and their needs. It’s not serving some higher power and (while atheists may be just as susceptible to it as Christians are) it’s not about elevating the status of the “pastor.” It’s about providing a place for atheists to get inspired and encouraged, for their kids to get a education beyond what they get in school, and for all of them to come together to do good for their communities.
Incidentally, the HCH is currently fundraising to rebuild and restore a building that can serve as a Humanist Community Center for local atheists. If you can, consider supporting their work.