What is(n’t) a Humanist Community?

After a practice run in early March followed by a particularly busy period, it looks like I’m finally just about ready to start blogging more. And just in time to share some results from a new little talk I gave last weekend. In it, I began to explore how we might define Humanist community in the 21st century. In recent years there have been several excellent short definitions of what Humanists believe. And over decades we’ve seen many important forms of Humanist community emerge: Ethical Culture; Unitarian Universalist Humanism; Humanistic Judaism; local chapters of groups like the American Humanist Association and the Center for Inquiry; atheist Meetups; Humanist chaplaincies; and more. (I summarize the history of these developments in chapter 6 of my book.) But one of the best lessons to take from the recent Reason Rally is that a community of Humanists, atheists, and secularists is emerging, bigger and more publicly than ever. It’s a community in which tens of thousands of people are now willing to come from all over the country to attend a major demonstration. But what should that community look like locally? What are the best ways in which this emerging phenomenon could impact our lives, where we live? (Watching youtube not included!) This is not a question any one person can answer. But neither is the question of what Humanists believe, which is why both the statements of belief I linked to above were written by distinguished committees, over relatively long periods of time. We now need to pool together our insight, wisdom, and creativity to articulate a new definition of Humanist community, in theory and practice.

I won’t get into the entire message of my talk from last weekend here, as it’s actually part of a series of talks and discussions I want to have on the subject in the coming months. Right now I just want to share a couple of lists that emerged from the group with whom I was speaking. I asked them: what is Humanist community? And what isn’t it? Responses ranged widely. Some were more expected, others less so. Some responses may be in tension with others, but I must say that’s going to have to be a characteristic of our community. We’ll never have universal agreement on anything. But we can turn that into a great strength if we see it as a sign we are rich with complexity, diverse but still recognizable. So…what would you add to the lists below? What would you remove? What is –and isn’t– a Humanist community in your opinion?

Things a Humanist Community is:

diverse

common interests and values

findable/accessible

bound by trust/commitment

voluntary

respectful

open to feedback

accountable

free of abusiveness

enjoyable/friendly/fun/joyful

familiar

recognizes individual contributions

resourced and resourceful for individuals and group

empowering

accomplishes things

food and music

gender-balanced responsibilities

well-organized

local and connected to larger context

visionary goals

dynamic and evolving

opposed to superstition

inquisitive

embedded in a narrative/story

democratic

stimulating

inspiring

Things a Humanist Community isn’t:

burdensome

authoritarian

coercive

fundamentalist

exclusive

Ayn Rand-ish?

trivial/superficial

hateful

contemptuous

superstitious

close-minded

dogmatic

smug/pompous

conformist

insistent on consensus

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About Greg Epstein

Greg M. Epstein serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, and is author of the New York Times Bestselling book, Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. A frequently quoted expert on Humanism and community for the nonreligious, Greg’s work has been widely discussed in the national and international media, including the New York Times, CNN, the Boston Globe, and on dozens of radio programs.

  • http://blog.OklahomaAtheists.com D4M10N

    When you say Ayn Rand-ish, do you mean followers of Objectivism as a worldview, or just people who have the same character flaws as Ayn Rand? I’m sort of assuming the former, because you already listed most of the latter separately.

  • earl

    What have you decided to say to Jesus Christ?

    • baal

      What does this question mean? As an atheist who doesn’t think we can talk to the dead (assuming Jesus’s historical existence), I don’t think we can tell Jesus what the humanist community is or is not.

  • Bob

    Your description of a humanist community sounds exactly like my church. With one minor exception, we believe in God.


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