Some quick thoughts on “humanist communities”

Since James Croft asked (on Facebook), I’m going to quickly dash off some thought in response to his post “The Argument for Humanist Communities.”

It seems to me that the main thing atheist groups do is give people a place to land when leaving religion, and help people in more religious parts of the country connect with like-minded people (see here for some discussion). As a result, they can ironically be stronger in more religious parts of the country.

And it seems like there’s a similar dynamic with a lot of James’ other suggestions as to functions for a “humanist community.” In a culture where religious weddings and funerals are the default option, there’s value in humanist organizations providing resources on how to have a non-religious ceremony. But if we could get to the point where non-religious weddings are normal, non-religious weddings would just be “weddings,” not “humanist weddings.” That’s how it is right now in South Korea. (ETA: Some discussion of current US practices here.)

Similarly, in a country where lots of schools deliver terrible sex ed thanks to religiously-motivated sex-phobia, I can see wanting to take your kids to the Unitarian Universalist sex ed courses (which I confess I know little about, though I’ve heard they’re very good). Even in the current environment, though, I’m not sure “humanist” (and liberal religious) organizations are the best people to count on to develop stuff like that. I’d ask existing, nothing-to-do-with-religion-or-any-specific-philosophy sex-positive educators for advice on that before I’d go to a “humanist” organization.

In other words, the value of humanist organizations comes from the current dominance of religion, not anything inherent in the nature of the things religion currently dominates. And if people can figure out how to do those things without any help from either religion or “humanism,” more power to them.

  • Annatar

    Second paragraph, did you mean “…when leaving theism?”

    • Chris Hallquist

      Er, yes. Fix’d!

  • miller

    I agree, but there are so many more questions to explore. My experience with atheist groups has been mostly with California public universities. Is the fact that they’re thought of as atheist groups rather than humanist groups mean that they are qualitatively different? Since religion isn’t as dominant, what motivations to join remain? Is it that urban society is inhomogenous, and that there will always be some people whose personal life has been dominated by religion? Is it that even when people are only nominally religious, a few people will find that religion profoundly touched their lives (in a negative way)? Or do people have different motivations, such as national politics or interest in philosophy?

  • drdave

    The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix ( has been around for 40 years. We get together to listen to known and unknown speakers hold forth on a wide range of topics. Over the past 5-6 years we worked on the possibility of having our own building and 3 years ago we bit the bullet, raised funds and completed it. We move in two years ago this coming Winter Solstice.

    And yes, we chuckle amongst ourselves that our main speaker driven meetings are every other Sunday morning. We routinely see 80-120 people at these get togethers. Some breakfast munchies, some HSGP business and announcements and a fascinating lecture / discussion. We look forward to Bruce Merrill from the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism coming to discuss the election and its results. We have had Lawrance Krauss, Richard Carrier and even James Croft speak.

    The availability of the building means that we now have a large number of ongoing events: Game Night draws 20-30 people once a month; the Book Club has seen as many as 50 people turn up to discuss the monthly book; Inquiring Minds meets to discuss a topic of interest; we teach Tai Chi; the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society meets here; Movie Night draws 20-50 people; we have begun an Odessey of the Mind program for kids. This Saturday, we have the FSM Spaghetti dinner (beware of the pirates in attendance). We mark Darwin Day with a Fish Feast.

    All this, and not a ceremony, song or sermon in sight (although we do have several good piano players). I know that there are a lot of atheists out there shun such a social environment, but that’s ok with us. Most of us like each other, and the discussions are lively and enlightening.

    As for

    … if people can figure out how to do those things without any help from either religion or “humanism,” more power to them

    , if you don’t build a community, how are you going to “do these things”?

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