I’m sometimes asked how humanists can have “church” without invoking god. Here’s how I think about it:
Imagine this scenario: When Imhotep in ancient Egypt invoked the great god Ra, he was invoking the human consciousness, not Ra Almighty.
Imagine this: When Zadok, son of Ahitub, entered the holy of holies of Solomon’s brand new temple, perhaps he was talking to the greatest power on this earth—the human imagination.
Imagine this: When the evangelist Billy Graham made his vast alter calls in stadiums across North America, the Christ that thousands flocked to . . . was the human psyche. Whatever you think about powers beyond, imagine this for just a moment.
Entertain the thought for just a moment that every shaman, priest, and prophet who has ever lived . . . has created worship without god because . . . there never has been six or three or one to begin with.
Shared Subjective Reality
But wait! Isn’t there more to the question? Because, even granted the accuracy of my imaginings, didn’t Imhotep and Zadok and Billy Graham each have the advantage of speaking to people who shared a subjective reality?
Didn’t the Egyptians of Imhotep’s time have a mental image of Ra and the Hebrews of Zakok’s time have a notion of Yahweh and the Christians of Billy Graham’s time a common picture of Christ the Lord?
Good question. Did they really? Are people really like that? Or did the priests and preachers have, rather, the apparatus of worship embedded in a particular place and time—Ra’s temple, Yahweh’s temple, or the vast football stadiums of Jesus with great PA systems?
Could it be that what they all had is an apparatus for worship that individual psyches journeyed to . . . . Can we seriously argue that each ancient Egyptian had an identical psychological understanding of Ra? Not likely. But they did have a temple, didn’t they? Doesn’t the very fact of the rabbinic tradition argue that Hebrew worshipers exited Zadok’s services with very different views of ultimate reality? Still, they had that temple, didn’t they?
What’s so churchy about church? The apparatuses of worship change with time, as do the words and the concepts. It is the human mind and human needs for purpose and meaning that remain that same and come to the temple, the stadium, or the storefront church. These are what remain the same. For humanists, that’s as holy as it gets. And that’s fine: the proof is in the pudding. Ra’s pudding doesn’t do much for many of us. But the pudding of gathering together into community is quite tasty.
Just imagine that the point of worship (humanists prefer “assembly”) is calling individuals into community. Imagine that a community created in this way agrees to agree—despite individual understandings—on particular values that sometimes—in the best-case scenario—lead to objective common actions that may be considered moral and ethical (actions better because they spring from a common purpose).
That’s what “worship”—uh, assembling—will or won’t do. Gathering to invoke Ra or any of the deities or no deity at all leads to the same thing. It’s the human mind imbued with meaning and purpose and communal action that matter.
Imagine . . .