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Church without God - by design
Members of an atheist congregation at Harvard listen to music during a recent gathering.
June 22nd, 2013
11:25 AM ET

Church without God - by design

By Dan Merica, CNN

Boston (CNN)-– It’s Sunday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a rapt congregation listens to a chaplain preach about the importance of building a community.

A few dozen people sit quietly for the hourlong service. Music is played, announcements are made and scholars wax poetic about the importance of compassion and community.

Outsiders could be forgiven for believing this service, with its homilies, its passing of the plate, its uplifting songs, belongs in a church.

If so, it’s a church without one big player: God.

Sunday’s congregation in Cambridge is a meeting of the Humanist Community at Harvard University and the brainchild of Greg Epstein, the school’s Humanist chaplain.

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.

Godless congregations

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.”

Epstein is not alone in his endeavor. Jerry DeWitt, who became an atheist and left his job as an evangelical minister, is using his pastoral experience to building an atheist church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

This Sunday, DeWitt's congregation will hold its first meeting as a "Community Mission Chapel."

"When you become a part of this congregation, this community, you are going to become part of a family," DeWitt told CNN. "There is an infrastructure there for you to land in. There is going to be someone there to do weddings and to do, unfortunately, the funerals."

READ MORE: Unbelieving preachers get help to 'come out' as open atheists

Sunday school for atheists

As members of the Cambridge congregation file into a wood-paneled classroom at Harvard, singer Shelley Segal greets them with a few songs from her latest recording, called simply, “An Atheist Album.”

Taking a hint from the theme of the event, Segal strums on her guitar and belts her song, “Gratitude.”

“I don't believe in a great power to say thank you to,” Segal sings. “But that won’t take away from my gratitude.”

Harvard's humanist chaplain Greg Epstein leads an atheist gathering.

After the music, Epstein offers a few words of greeting before the meeting gets to its heart: a discussion about compassion.

A four academics and a journalist discuss the effects of religion on raising children and their ideas about compassion. Congregants listen intently, some even taking notes.

Each service has a message – compassion, evolution or acceptance - after which congregants engage in a lengthy discussion.

Before the main event, kids are invited to what some parents refer to as “Sunday school,” where Tony Debono, a biologist Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaches the youngsters about evolution, DNA and cells.

There's little talk about organized religion, positive or negative.

Likewise, down in Louisiana, said his atheist services will not be anti-religion.

"What we are looking at doing is different," DeWitt said. "If you are a religionist and you come and sit in our pew, the only way you can leave offended is because of what you don’t hear and what you don’t see. We won’t be there to make a stance against religion or against God."

Coming out of the closet

In the last few years, the number of “nones” – those who don’t associate with any organized religion – has grown at a rate faster than any other group. Nones now represent one in five Americans, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll.

Although the number of atheists has grown, too, there are still a large number of “nones” that choose not to associate with the label “atheist.”

Some at Harvard’s Humanist congregation fall into this category.

“I don’t particularly have a religion,” said Anil Nyer, a neurologist who brought his daughter to Humanist Sunday school. But Nyer also said he didn’t want to label himself as an atheist.

One reason to shy away from the atheist label: Many Americans hold a negative impression of nonbelievers.

According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll, nearly 40 percent of Americans believe that atheists are changing American culture for the worse.

“Whenever we put atheists on a list like this and we compare them to other groups, atheists tend to come in towards the bottom of that list,” said Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.

“Americans tend to hold a lot of reservations about atheists.”

Epstein hopes his congregation can change that.

By formalizing meetings and building a strong community, the Harvard group hopes it can be a model for other atheist congregations forming around the country.

A group meets during an atheist gathering in Boston.

More atheists may come of the closet if they know a congregation will be there to support them, Epstein said,

“Being an atheist is something we want people to come out and be,” said the Humanist chaplain. “There are so many people, probably millions, who are humanists or atheists or nonreligious in private and nobody knows."

Epstein said he gets e-mails daily from people founding atheist meet-up groups.

“Tulsa, Oklahoma; North Carolina; London; Vancouver, Canada; Houston, Texas,” Epstein said, listing the sources of the most recent e-mails.

“One part of what we are saying is come on out and let your neighbors know” about your disbelief, he said. “It is not going to make you worse of a person, it is going to make you a better person to be more open about who you are.”

Rituals for the irreligious

For the last few years, the Humanist Community at Harvard has operated out of a small three-floor walk-up off the bustling streets of Harvard Square. The walls are littered with posters about atheism – tributes to famed atheists Eddie Izzard, Seth MacFarlane and Stephen Fry.

Because of the scattered furniture and the Harvard dorm feel, Epstein jokingly describes the space as “college broke chic.” That’s being generous – but it's also about to change.

Starting in the fall, the Humanist Community at Harvard will begin meeting in a nearly 3,000-square-foot community center with an event space for nearly 100 people.

Although the plan is to use the space at the group’s headquarters, it will also serve as a broader community center for the group that Epstein and others are trying to build in the Boston area.

“What we really would like to see is a community center where people can come by at anytime and to use it as a space to study or have a meeting for various committee,” said Chris Stedman, the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard.

Stedman said he sees the new building as a place for people to gather, not only to become part of a humanist community, but to also become more engaged with the world.

When he talks about his plans for the future, Epstein appears to long for a time when the new community center could mimic aspects of church - a place for baby-naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals.

The success of an atheist church will depend on walking the thin line between too much and too little ritual, Epstein said.

Humanists boast a proud freethinking streak, and some at the Harvard event said they don’t want to be associated with any sort of dogma or belief system - or even a system based on disbelief.

Anyway, Esptein said his congregation will be less a group of people united by beliefs - or disbelief - and more like an opera, or a painting.

“Our community is like a work of art," he said. "Hopefully people will respond to that work of art and it will garner controversy and discussion like a work of art."

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Church • Houses of worship • United States

soundoff (6,897 Responses)
  1. KEv

    I think this atheist chaplain is very thoughtful and does not reject the positive uplifting parts of the traditional worship service like the musical instruments while still sticking to the beliefs of conscience in not believing in God :).

    June 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  2. Colin

    Oh my creationist friends, proof of evolution is all around you. Now, before you declare me “stupid,” “evil” or part of a worldwide conspiracy to deny the truth of your talking snake theory of life on Earth, please take five minutes to read this.

    The classic definition of a species is that two members of the same species can breed and produce fertile offspring, but cannot mate with members of a different species. A human of any race can mate with a human of any other race, but none of us can mate with a chimpanzee, for example. So, all humans are in the same species, but we are all a different species to chimpanzees. Easy stuff.

    Indeed, it is often easy to tell that two organisms are of different species just by looking at them. Compare, for example, a dog to a horse. Where it gets a little complex, however, is where you have two organisms that look very similar, but are of different species, or two different species that look very similar. Dogs are a great example of both. Compare a lighter-coated German Shepherd to the wolf. They look very similar, but are of a different species (or sub-species, depending on the definition one uses). Likewise, a Great Dane looks very different to a Corgi, but they are of the same species Canis lupis familiaris, the domestic dog.

    Why are Great Danes and Corgis considered to be the same species (along with German Shepherds) but wolves and German Shepherds not? For the same reason as humans. Great Danes, German Shepherds and Corgis can and will mate and produce fertile offspring, but none of them will mate with a wolf, absent human intervention. However, and this is where evolution kicks in, all breeds of dog alive today descended from wolves. In fact, it is likely that they all descended, ultimately, from a small pack of wolves that were domesticated in the Middle East some 10,000 years ago. Some research suggests Manchuria as the location, but I digress.

    What happened was that humans noticed that certain, less aggressive wolves were handy to have around. They ate pests and garbage and alerted the camp when predators lurked nearby. So, humans began to intentionally feed and try to tame them. The tamer, less aggressive wolves were less afraid of human interaction and less likely to harm their human hosts. They, therefore received more attention, food and protection, which gave them a breeding advantage, and they passed on this favorable trait, call it “tameness,” to their offspring.

    These tamer offspring were constantly chosen (probably unknowingly) for care and support and the wilder, more aggressive members of the litter discarded, perhaps for biting or avoiding humans. After hundreds or thousands of years of inadvertent selection for “tameness” the camp wolves started to become dependent on their human hosts and to even look different to their still wild ancestors. They lost the extreme aggressiveness that helped them in the wild, became less streamlined and tooled for the kill and had less adrenaline that causes aggression. In other words, they slowly became, in a sense, fat, dumb and happy. Doggie dough-boys. Girlie-men compared to their wild cousins, still red of fang and claw.

    These first domestic dogs were so popular with humans that their “use” spread and humans all over the globe – from Australian Aboriginals, New Zealand Maoris and other Polynesians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all began to use dogs. Then something else happened. Humans actually noticed that, if there was a specific trait you liked about your, say male dog, you could breed it with a female with the same trait and the offspring would inherit that trait. If, for example, a hunter-gatherer only ever allows the fastest male dogs to breed with the fastest female dogs, after many years of such selective breeding the resultant dogs would differ so much in body shape, leg length and, perhaps, lung capacity from their ancestor as to be considered a separate breed.

    No one set of offspring would differ greatly from its parents, but it will differ a little more from its grandparents, and even a little more from its great-grandparents etc., until we go all the way back to the original dog, which will be quite different in appearance.

    Bang – dog breeding was born. Humans selected for speed, resulting in the Greyhound, smelling and tracking ability (Bloodhounds) ability to herd sheep (Collies and Australian Shepherds) appearance (Dalmatians and Pomeranians) size (Chihuahuas and Great Danes) and a host of other traits.

    As with most human activities, as our knowledge increased, dog breeding improved and exploded in the 1900s. There are now 600 or so breeds of dog, all of which descendent from the original wolf. Many breeds of dog alive today evolved over the past few decades and did not even exist as late as 1900. But, every last domestic dog, from the Teacup Chihuahua in Paris Hilton’s purse to the Great Danes of European car advertisements, are the end result of selective breeding down different paths from the original wolf.

    Most breeds of dog do not (and likely cannot) breed with wolves for a variety of reasons, including allopatric and/or human induced separation and mating rituals. Not only that, but put almost any domestic dog in the wild and it would not survive a month. A wolf is much more likely to eat a Shih Tzu than bonk it. They are separate species. In the struggle for life, the domestic dog species originated through means of selection as a favored race from the original wolf.

    If this last sentence sounds familiar, that is because it is. It is essentially the full ti.tle of Charles Darwin’s seminal work: “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”.

    So there you have it, my Bible-cuddling friends. Evolution in motion. Undeniable; living in every suburb, licking our faces, fetching our sticks and messing on our sidewalks. Macro-evolution. A well recorded, understood, DNA mapped and uncontroversial case of evolution of one sub-species – Canis lupus lupus, the Eurasian wolf, into another, Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog.

    There are many, many others examples of evolution all around us by the way. Even the most cursory of research into any branch of horticulture or animal husbandry quickly reveals that the size, variety, health, longevity and resistance to disease of most of our domesticated plants and animals were the thing of dreams as recently as 100 years ago. Indeed, biotech companies like Monsanto would quickly fall behind the market if they did not spend millions each year on Darwinian selective breeding programs. Why do you think horse breeders spend thousands of dollars to have a fast male racehorse mate with their mare?

    Wheat is another great example, as are gra.pes. The species of wheat that we in the West use for bread only developed in the last few thousand years as a result of two episodes of sympatric speciation (different to selective breeding, but an agent of evolution none the less). Likewise, the various Shiraz, Char.donnay and Pinot Noir gra.pes we enjoy today, in the form of wine, were all developed and perfected in the last 100 years or so.

    So, Adam or Eve, the next time you kneel down in your church and take your weekly dose of the body and blood of your dead pan-handling Greco-Roman Jewish hippie, you might like to reflect on the fact that you are actually eating proof of evolution and washing it down with proof of evolution.

    “Body of Darwin?”

    Amen!

    June 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • HeavenSent

      The evolution fairy tale is flawed, as are it's believers who think they are the strongest that survived. What a bunch of animals. LOL

      June 23, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • tom LI

      While I'm on your side, the Creationists will only say your piece points to Human intervention and does not support spontaneous, all by itself, and of course always random and chaotic Evolution of a different species of animal.

      Plus there's a school of thought that dogs did not descend directly from wolves, and certainly not thru humans means at all, but from a common ancestor.

      Till we know more the lines are still hazy, viewable for sure, but hazy...

      June 23, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • HeavenSent

      If evolution were true, why are we not witnessing zoo apes transitioning to neanderthals? Oh, that's right, you'd have to create the proper environment. If not neanderthals, then a chimp in a tuxedo will do. No neanderthals, no chimps in tuxedos, no such thing as evolution being true.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  3. J. SIPE

    I find it odd that everyone expects evidence in their daily life. We go to great lengths to pick jury members for a court trial. We spend a good deal of time investigating products we spend our hard earned money for. Life is about decisions and the ramifications of poor ones ; so it seems odd that a person would accept a belief system that has no real evidence to back it up. It seems much more odd that such a person would find fault in another who chooses to be more rational about such important decisions.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  4. Jack Ketch

    Religion is defined as the belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal god or Gods.

    Dogma is defined as a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.

    Psychosis is defined as a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  5. redgrandad

    Religious fundamentalism could soon be treated as mental illness

    Read more: http://digitaljournal.com/article/351347#ixzz2X3LBhRRv

    June 23, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Jan

      While I understand that opinion, I recall brain science research that suggests that there is a variations of brain biology basis for the degree to which people are highly authoritarian thinkers (and prone to religious fundamentalism) or highly libertarian thinkers (prone to give little or no special, not directly earned respect to any Authority, religious or otherwise). Those with a belief in/reliance on Authorities are not "mentally ill," and their brains and thinking differs from those of us who are less influenced by any reverence for Authority.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  6. TheTruth

    Every house had to be projected and built by someone...unless the house atheists owe appear out of nothing?!!!

    June 23, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Jadugara

      Yeah,...except in this case they "owe" THEIR "house" to themselves... They built it, and their sitting in it... No "god" needed...

      June 23, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Can we get an English translator over here?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • tony

      Including of course a god. Which kinda wipes out the point of that faulty thought process

      June 23, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  7. Jack Ketch

    There is no escaping the fact that all life on this planet evolved from simpler species. This is 100% confirmed by Science.

    What Scientists are trying to discover is HOW evolution works.

    The reason Gods will eventually disappear from the culture of mankind is because they are an INVENTION. Whereas, Evolution by Means of Natural Selection was not invented by Charles Darwin, it was DISCOVERED.

    The Intelligent Design (pseudoscience) movement are creationists plain and simple.
    There is no science that supports the existence of a God.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • 633music

      Sorry Jack, this regurgitation is just unimaginative and boring. Not your fault...well...not all your fault, your preachers are for the most part to blame.
      I applaud your faith however.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • Science

      Jack Ketch.................But

      Budding palaeontologists discover dinosaurs are dyn-amite

      http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/dinosaurs-are-dyn-amite-childrens-festival-1.279669

      Education does work for most humans...................creationists.

      Take dash out of url

      June 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  8. Jack Ketch

    "...And the halftime score here at the Coliseum is Lions 7,Christians Nothing. We'll be right back after these messages... "

    June 23, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • Austin

      The Lord will hold us up from the pit.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • G to the T

      Austin – I must say, I find your certainty both admirable and horrible at the same time...

      June 25, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  9. 633music

    Bible and religion aside, evolution is a silly little fairy tale. I do however respect the faith of those who believe in it.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • The real Tom

      Yeah, I heard you the first time. Who cares what you think? You do it so rarely.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • 633music

      Nice. The angry Atheist.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Yeah, the idea that a big invisible sky wizard just poofed it all into existence by chanting magic spells is so much more believable.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • 633music

      I see your point, but evolution is certainly NOT the answer...

      June 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • G to the T

      633music – what part of modern evolutonary theory has to be taken on "faith" in your opinion?

      June 25, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  10. Jack Ketch

    The test that is used to determine the paternity of a child. The test that is accepted in a court of law to determine the father or mother of an individual child, is the same test that is used to determine common descent in a species.
    Evolution by means of Natural Selection is providing many uses and benefits.

    To Deny Evolution is to Deny Reason!

    June 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • 633music

      Grossly oversimplified.
      Evolution is a silly little doctrine. At best a poorly told fairy tale.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Science

      agree................unless they believe in the stork ?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • 633music

      I see your point, but evolution is certainly NOT the answer...

      June 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • The real Tom

      And of course, you know the 'correct' answer, don't you, 633? As if.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  11. 633music

    You have to give these new "preachers", they have found a way to fleece the flock!! Brilliant move. Disbelief is monetized just like the false religions have done for years.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Jadugara

      Pot....Kettle.....Black

      June 23, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Jadugara

      Sorry 633music, but your whole concept that "evolution is a silly little fairy tale" proves your process of reasonable thinking has gone absolutely haywire... Creating the universe, the Earth, and all life upon it in less than 7 days is a fairy tale, turning water into wine is a fairy tale, parting the Red Sea is a fairy tale, raising Lazarus from the dead is a fairy tale, Jonah and the whale is a fairy tale...

      June 23, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Jadugara

      The concept of survival of the fittest, and the process of natural selection, and the resulting evolutionary steps....that is accepted science, and is composed of evidence proven step by step functionally... We may not know every single bit of data pertaining to it, but even its haziest conjectures are based more in logic and fact than the mythology surrounding Christianity EVER will be...

      June 23, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Jadugara

      In fact, you saying that "these new preachers are fleecig the flock" in defence of religion is less like "the pot calling the kettle black",...and more like "the pot calling the kettle the N-word"...

      June 23, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  12. redgrandad

    A dangerous mental illness

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9zN3bw7Jok&w=640&h=390]

    June 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  13. Jack Ketch

    All Religion, every one of them, exist in a form of non-reality.

    This is the 21st century. The advancements mankind has made in the never ending quest for our place in this reality, have made it quite clear that we, as a species, are completely alone.
    There is no faith.
    There is no hope.
    When we die, we are gone FOREVER!

    Personally, I am okay with this.
    My morality is intact. My recognition of the wonders set before me is actually enhanced by this knowledge.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  14. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    HERE IS A COMMENT BETWEEN A CHRISTIAN AND AN ATHEIST:

    Dennis – a Christian:

    May the "peace that surpasses all understanding" reach you and your family in a VERY REAL and VERY PERSONAL way, Pastor Rick. I trust and hope that the GRACE that our Savior provides, gives us ALL the Hope that we Will, because of Jesus' great love for us, be together again, made whole, with no pain and no suffering! May the Grace of our Lord and Savior be with you and us all.

    ===========================================================================================

    Seth Hill – an Atheist:

    To Dennis: your comment was the best. I'm jealous of religious people because they have a faith to help when pain become unbearable. Atheists like me don't have much to fall back on. However, when religious people live a good life and pray, and still suffer immensely, I sometimes wonder if it's even harder for them?

    June 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • oOo

      Seth Hill is an obvious sock puppet.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Danny

      Yawn.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  15. Dogrek

    As a Christian, I applaud their congregation, and strongly support it... it is following, and is true, to the spirit of Christianity, if not the Creator of it.
    Relationship, community, service to others, is the core of most Theism's, especially Christianity.
    I cannot help but believe that my God smiles on them, even if they don't believe, because they are in fact honoring humanity and serving it, His children.
    Personally, if it's not already obvious, I am non-evangelical. I would hope that I would be welcomed with open-arms into the fold of their congregation, with the proviso of course that I would not try to convince anyone of my beliefs anymore than I'd expect them to enter into a debate with me about their beliefs.
    The focus, the message, instead being on the betterment of ourselves, our community, and others.
    Theirs is a positive one, and parallels the message of my God, hand-in-hand.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • N. Onbeliever

      " Relationship, community, service to others, is the core of most Theism's, especially Christianity." That's the story you tell yourself, and want others to hear. It's window dressing.

      June 23, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  16. Jack Ketch

    If you truly believed what your saying, then the last day of your life should be the happiest day of your life.
    Why is this not manifested in reality.
    I have been present at the death of many people.
    There are no songs of celebration, there's no cake, there's no dancing girls. no one is giving high fives and pats on the back to the imminently departing.
    By our very instinct, we know death is the end.
    This is the 21st century. Its time to put away your childish notions and fearful delusions.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Austin

      yo that weak, and dead moment cant pervert the life in God. and this is the Glory God, NOT mans idea of a God.

      Jehovah Shammah, The Lord is There

      June 23, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  17. Jack Ketch

    I sincerely cannot fathom why any soul would want to spend all of eternity at a church service.
    Heaven must be exactly like going to church 24 hours a day FOREVER!
    Only difference being you wont have a body, So you can't get up and leave.

    At least there's Golf in Hell.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • N. Onbeliever

      Golf, sure, But only on Hades TV. If you do get picked by Satan to actually play, the pits of brimstone give a new meaning to the term 'rough'.

      June 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  18. Colin

    The believer teaches his children the story of Noah’s Ark. The atheist teaches their child the simple, yet extraordinarily powerful principles of biological evolution.

    The believer sees the stars and thinks about how the three wise men followed it to the baby Jesus. The atheist sees the wonder of star formation and supernova explosions and ponders on the fact that every atom in his or her body heavier than lithium was created in the furnace of dying stars.

    The believer foresees his own death and spends his life obeying priests, pastors and ministers in a futile attempt to achieve immortality. The atheist foresees his own death, accepts that he was dead for the last 13,720,000,000 years and strives deeply to make the most of the tiny sliver of time this Universe grants us.

    The believer doesn’t understand something and jumps immediately to the conclusion that, therefore, his or her god is the answer. The atheist wonders in the unfathomable complexity of the Universe and is secure enough to say, when confronted with our current limits of knowledge, “I don’t know.”

    The believer is moral because he believes he is being supervised for the purpose of reward or punishment in an afterlife. The atheist respects his fellow man and the other millions of species we share this rock with as an admirable end in and of itself.

    The believer cringes under the pressure of day to day life and thinks that he can have his prayers answered to make his problems go away. The atheist confronts the realities of life without thinking a benevolent sky-fairy reads his mind and answers his prayers.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • smarterthanyouthink

      Why do you assume believers do not believe in science? I teach my children both because we believe that all is created by God. These two beliefs are not mutually exclusive, but of course this is a polarizing forum. I just get tired of all the hate from both sides. Everybody needs to just chill and we will see in the end.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • myuntidydesk

      This believer does not know how literally to take the story of Noah, but would teach it to her kids anyway, and add how important it is to work together and help family.

      This believer would tell her children that yes, the wise men followed the North star to Jesus, and that all of the cosmos are made by God, and aren't they amazing?

      This believer knows she will die, but doesn't live her life in fear of it. I'll be glad to go to Heaven because life on Earth can suck.

      This believer frequently says, “I don’t know", and DOES question why something terrible would happen... can't God stop it, but often realizes humans hurt each other and God, despite knowing right from wrong.

      This believer is moral because it is the right thing to do. God won't send me to Hell for littering, but I don't litter because I think it is wrong.

      This believer prays for strength to get through each day, then puts on her big girl panties and deals with it.

      If you don't want atheists painted with the broad stroke of being mean spirited and uncaring, then don't paint all believers with the broad stroke of foolish and confused.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      A basic understanding of science will not allow for a literal interpretation or any fundamentalism. The more an individual understands about science, the more discrepancy exists between reality and any "word of god." For example, Jesus mentioned a world-wide flood, but we know that no such flood could have ever occurred.

      The matter doesn't seem to be what you imagine. The real question is: How do you reconcile your mind's cognitive dissonance when proven scientific fact disagrees with your holy text?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Don

      I agree.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Sorry, typo. "Such a flood could NEVER have occurred."

      June 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  19. Rob S

    God doesn't care what you think you believe in. It only matters that you are a compassionate person. If you are not a compassionate person then you should strive to get yourself there ASAP. God is about Love with a big "L", and not about dogma, incense, crucifixes, stained glass, prayer rugs or cathedrals. It's what's INSIDE that counts and not what's OUTSIDE. Inside versus Outside is the whole nine yards, the whole ball of wax, the Big Enchilada!

    June 23, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      If the bible is even close to correct, then god "loved" a lot of people to death.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • G to the T

      And yet another version of Christianity presents itself. For ease of reference I will call this "Christianity – type A"

      June 25, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  20. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    When something has been accepted as the truth for thousands of years, and you want to make a claim it is not true, you must provide empirical proof to the hypothesis. Otherwise, the current belief stands.

    Now the ball is in your court. As God is and has been considered fact for thousands of years, God or gods are the prevailing and current theory. In order to now say there is no god or gods, you must disprove existence of such using scientific method.

    As one of your fellow atheists mentioned earlier...the earth was considered flat. That was the prevailing theory and considered fact. That theory did not cease to be considered fact until it was PROVEN incorrect. Why do you have to disprove the flat earth theory, but not the god or gods theory?

    It makes it fact because no one has disproved God's existence and there has always been a God or more gods.

    The God belief has been around for thousands of years. It has been known fact in most of that time. (Whether it is provable or not). The burden lies with the people trying to discredit what has been fact for so long.

    When trying to claim there is no God, YOU have the burden of proof...not the other way around. In order to disprove, you must provide sufficient evidence and your analysis must be peer judged and re-created.

    If you are going the route of science, please follow your own rules.

    Any hypothesis is put forth to either prove or disprove something taken as fact. Since God has been considered fact so long, it stands that any attempt to disprove that fact will take scientific methodology. You must first start with the hypothesis that God does not exist, and work from there.

    Until I see peer reviewed studies proving without a doubt there is no God, I choose to believe the current and oldest theory that he does.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • I Am God

      It has been proven that the Earth isn't 6,000 years old. Get a clue you useless troll.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Where is YOUR "empirical evidence" that your deity exists?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Colin

      Saying "you can't prove God does or does not exist" is to create a false equivalence between the two positions. Think it through.

      There is no evidence God exists. Correct.

      There is also "no evidence God does not exist." What "evidence" could there be? Think about it. What possible evidence of non-existence can there be? By definition, there is no evidence of a negative. What evidence is there that Santa Claus does not exist? What evidence is there that the Hindu god Shiva does not exist?

      That is the fundamental difference between there being no proof of a fact and there being "no evidence of a non-fact." The latter is meaningless.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      A=R
      More lies.
      God has never been considered fact. There is a reason they have always referred to the belief in god as faith. To say faith is the same as fact is you lying again.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Secularbear

      You can offer the same hideous logic about ghosts, Sasquatch/Yeti, leprechauns, unicorns, and vampires.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Nodummyheads

      And yet, even WITHOUT proof, it did not in any way make it less true that the earth IS NOT FLAT. Again, a believer is confusing "belief" with "fact". Your bible is no more proof of the existence of a god than The Lord of the Rings is proof of the existence of elves and dragons. It's just a book, and not a very well written one, at that.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Mr. Orange

      The problem is, that's just not how logic and rationality work. Although religion may have been accepted as fact for a large amount of people for a long time, as we advance as a culture we realize even more of a need for fact to prove these things. There is no burden on us of disapproving any one religion when none can prove themselves. Besides, it's literally impossible to disprove any God or Gods with the parameters set for them, since he's essentially a metabeing that permeates all existence and transcends physical form.

      Furthermore, you group your choice of religion in with all others when you speak on this matter. This just d

      June 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      @Mr. Orange

      The more narrowly defined a deity, the easier it is to "disprove." Of course, the believer usually "shifts the goalposts" when that occurs, but you see what I mean.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • daphne

      "It makes it fact because no one has disproved God's existence"

      Wow – do they let you out in public sometimes?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:33 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.