This year First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis is celebrating a century of humanism. Rev. John Dietrich, often called the father of religious humanism, was called as minister to the congregation in 1916. Dietrich had already been tried for heresy and had declared himself humanist in his previous congregation, so the folks in Minneapolis knew what they were getting.
The fact that the Society has been overtly and proudly humanist so long (long for humanism anyway) makes it a unique place. Our Sunday Assemblies are religion-neutral: we don’t attack religions; but we don’t use the traditional language of religions either. I don’t call what we do “religious humanism,” either. It’s congregational humanism.
As a minister there, I’ve been fascinated to learn the many ways people live out their humanism. The Society includes the ardent materialist atheists who are the cliche of humanism in so many people’s minds. But it also includes theists who just don’t feel comfortable with the dogmas and formulas of more traditional religions. A common phrase I hear is, “They sure do talk about god a lot.”
I’ve also discovered a variety of humanist I had not previously known existed. I’ve had more than one person describe themselves as apatheists. Little did I know that the term appears in Wikipedia. But I’ve written my own definition:
Apatheist: Someone who doesn’t know if there is a god or not and doesn’t care one way or the other.The first apatheist on record is the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who did not deny the existence of the gods but postulated that perfect beings wouldn’t have any truck with the imperfect world that human beings inhabit. So, why bother talking about them or worrying about what they might want?
Now, as someone raised in a fundamentalist Christian tradition, I find it difficult to comprehend that sort of apathy. The question of the nature of gods and whether or not they exist has been a central concern of my life. Humanism is in its fourth and fifth generation at First Unitarian Society, however, and that time has produced some people very chill about the whole concept of deity and religion.