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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. Tommy

    The book of Job which is one of the oldest in the Bible describes the earth suspended in the universe. Christ followers believe in gravity and a round earth. If it makes you feel more comfortable about your lack of faith go ahead a repeat your tripe.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      What point are you attempting to make with your first two sentences?

      June 23, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • sybaris

      I guess he was trying to say that Pastafarians think the world is flat.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      For Syphillis and Capt Dense: the poster is advising you Job is the oldest written book in the Bible-and yet it cites a truth found in the universe: that the earth is a sphere and suspended in space-it also speaks of the fountains of the deep (how would they know that at that time) and the tectonic plates in the earth's surface–another unknown at the time.

      But you knew that already.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Nissim Levy

      The earth is not suspended in the universe. The earth actually falls towards the sun. Nothing is suspended in the universe. All things in the universe are falling towards some other thing

      June 23, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  2. Vic

    This is intended for the discussion of Atheism and NOT for offense:

    [

    On atheism, Sagan commented in 1981:

    An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.[52]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan#Personal_life_and_beliefs
    ]

    June 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      in that quote, Sagan is incorrect about the proper definition of an atheist

      June 23, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Typical = commonplace
      Atypical = not commonplace

      Theist = believer of a god
      Atheist = not a believer of a god

      It's really that simple.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • Candiano

      Sagan was merely giving an opinion, and as FreeFromTheism stated, Sagan didn't know the definition of atheist. And as Cpt. Obvious pointed out, it is a simple as that.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  3. Michael

    Atheists are so full of BS. Drop their butts in a shark infested ocean-and every single damn one of them would recite the Lord's Prayer, faster than the Pope! Every single one of them!

    June 23, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      just because you would doesn't mean others would

      June 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Incorrect. I would not recite the Lords Prayer, since I do not know it by heart, and I do not believe. I would instead take my training and knowledge and do the best I could to get out of the situation, and then most likely be eaten by sharks.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • daphne

      Evidently you live somewhere in a theocracy. How sad for you.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Dandy

      Your religion has deluded you into thinking that everyone else is a mo ron like you. Not so.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Just as likely that the sharks would be praying, "Thank you, Lord, for this delicious meal!"

      June 23, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Tom b.

      You make so much sense. I was wondering what would make me believe in god. You just gave me a reason. I feel so much better now, I could go and live my dream of swimming with sharks knowing very well that god will protect me.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Shark Prayer

      ...or

      "Give us this day our daily blood...
      For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the gory, forever."

      June 23, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • One one

      Who would you cry for first, your sky daddy or your mommy?

      June 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Shark Prayer

      "Ah, men!"

      June 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • The Lord's What?

      forget the fact that the "lord" doesn't exist, leaving no logical reason to recite a prayer, I wouldn't even be able to recite it if I tried.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • pbernasc

      yes, which proves God is nothing but fear, just a state of mind and nothing real

      June 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  4. Tommy

    Shows that they are suppressing the Truth in unrighteousness and actually know it.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      A: Which truth do you refer to ( and be prepared to show evidence of the truth of which you speak.
      B: No one has ever been or is now righteous, least wise a people who believe it is moral to allow someone else to stand and take their punishment for them...the first sin of a christian is to accept Jesus taking your punishment.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • One one

      Not believing in magic does not make a person "unrighteous", but passing judgement for it does.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  5. Maryo

    Why use the religious terms "church" and "congregation"? The term "church' is definitely related to worship – what are they worshiping? If they, like I, want to get together to exchange ideas and strengthen their community, then community is the perfect word. If they feel compelled to adopt a term used by a religion, what about the Quaker "Meeting"? That would be much more apropos.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      The term church is likely in poor taste, but then claiming it for christianity is just as wrong, since the term originated as the lords house, meaning the lord Mithras, the sun god....just another thing that the christians took from other cultures to form their religion, so you shouldn't care so much that it is being used elsewhere, since it did not originate from your religion anyway.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Dandy

      Simple ... religious or church organizations get all kinds of favored treatment from the Government – like no tax on Church property and a number of other things are entirely overlooked. Beyond that some states, like Indiana, subsidize some Church and Religious activities .. seriously. If you run a private school in Indiana you can receive government aid. Yeah, crazy... go figure.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  6. Richard Cranium

    "you see a woman there with an expression on her face of wanting to worship".
    Seriously?...That's an expression of wanting to worship? really, you can tell that from a picture, what was going through her head at that precise moment from a photo?

    It looks more like to me someone who is paying attention. To read more into it is YOU projecting what YOU believe into a photo of a person who appears to be paying attention.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  7. Nodack

    Two big thumbs up!

    June 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Dandy

      I agree. An idea whose time has come...

      June 23, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  8. Ron

    It sure looks like a reinvention of the many Unitarian Universalist churches in that area. I don't think Atheists are anti religious but rather do not believe in a god. So if people want to call Atheism a religion, so what.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • kyzaadrao

      A religion solely defined by what they're not, following in the footsteps of something that they're not, doing things that anyone regardless of belief or non belief can do, guilty of the same organizational and monetary motivations of religious organizations that they're not.

      If anything this article shows me that there is indeed a God, and that he has an awesome sense of humor.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Roger that

      So if people want to call Atheism a religion, so what.

      Exactly. It's nice that they aren't preaching the prejudice and hate that's in the churches, and they aren't going to judge you if you don't show up on Sunday.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  9. bRuno

    GREAT ARTICLE! Nice to see good people spreading the goodness 🙂

    June 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  10. Shelly

    Awesome idea. Not everyone believes the same things. Union of man kind for the betterment of its community has always been done by church. Who cares if there's a god? You don't need one to do the right things!

    June 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  11. Clint

    Maybe I missed something but, I thought "humanists" and "atheists" were not the same thing (as is being implied by the first few paragraphs of this story).

    June 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Candiano

      It's not.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Bostontola

      It's not, but there is a big overlap in the Venn diagram.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • pbernasc

      well .. the author has an agenda .. isn't it ?

      June 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • IntellectualViolence

      @Clint.
      I'd say you are entirely correct: Humanists and Atheists are NOT synonyms, and they should NOT be used as such. Doing so only seems to cloud an already cloudy discussion.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • One one

      Atheist is simply not believing in gods.

      Humanists are atheists who also embrace certain ethical or moral principles.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  12. Agnes Nostic

    These so-called "Atheists" are as obnoxious as religious people who proclaim that their way is the only way. Nobody but nobody knows if there is a god, much less it's form, and nobody knows what happens after you die. Period. To proclaim that god doesn't exist with the certainty and arrogance that these people do is just as ignorant as proclaiming he exists in only the form you believe in. It's just another religion, and religion is the problem. I know I wasn't put here to do harm to others, or to gobble up more than I need of this worlds resources, and that I should try to help others and learn as much as possible while I'm here. The rest is pretty much a re-iteration of these principles mixed with liberal amounts of hogwash.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • Bostontola

      No one said atheism carries immunity to any human characteristic including arrogance.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Nunua

      I know there is a God. I am sorry you do not. I used to be an atheist myself. I was wrong and I am glad I am no longer in that camp.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Fortune holds more for the bold

      One of the few honest statements I have heard today...thank you

      June 23, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Kara, mother of 7

      Stupid! lol 🙂 Try this. Think for a moment about all of the myriad deities that Humankind has come up with in the last 60000 years (over 24700 I believe!). Then understand that of course they are all false, mere musings by a newly sentient (scared) little species that is afraid of dying, has a hard life, and dreams of having a perfect easy life. So if you have no gods, you are not a theist. In the same way that you cannot turn lead into gold, you are not an alchemist. You can't read the stars to learn about your own little ego/love life so you are not an astrologer. You can't read playing cards to discern the future so you are not a Tarot card medium... etc. Since theism is dumb, identifying oneself as not being a theist is pretty dumb too. Or should we introduce ourselves as being an a-alchemist or a non-astrologer?

      ps. Atheism is a word that has changed meanings in the last 300 years. It is not a religion. It just means you don't spend you few precious days on EARTH dwelling on non provable existential B.S. Religion is a vast sickness across the Earth, there are no gods, there is no afterlife, you have no soul. Wake up and be happy!

      June 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Jason M. Sanor

      For you to complain on how Atheist cram their ideas down your throat are you kidding me?!. Really do you not see it from the other way more so!!!. I have it happen to me daily, someone wanting me to come to their church or that I should realize "gods" love and accept him. I have great respect for them they truly are my friends but I believe or do not believe what I want not them. I have read the bible front to back 2 times I still do not believe, nothing is going to change that.
      What these people are doing is great. These people just want to meet, talk, live and have community within a community just like anybody else. I wish I had the money to start my own community on 10,000 acres of woodland where we as atheist would feel safe that we would not be shunned for our "thoughts" on non-belief, allowing ANYONE to live there under the understanding it is a atheist community and no special preferences or breaks will be afforded to them that everyone can't have.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Dandy

      Ever tried to deal with a Southern Baptist? Now that is the meaning or arrogance... sounds like you first hand experience..

      June 23, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Atheism is simply not believing in gods. It is not a certainty that a god does not exist. I disbelieve in Santa Claus, but I don't state with all certainty that on some planet somewhere in the cosmos there's not a being that looks similar to him who flies around in some sort of sleigh with some sort of reindeer who drops some sort of package down whatever they use for domiciles on that planet.

      Don't be so obtuse.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  13. Bostontola

    Religious people are right to fear this development. Atheists are weak because they are not organized. If that changes, yikes!

    June 23, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • pbernasc

      don't worry .. atheists by definition will not come after you .. instead you will grow to understand God is an idea and nothing more .. you won't be an atheist .. cause there is no such thing ...
      and the world will be a better place where God no longer will be the main reason to send people to war and yet, because God will be replaced with education and the recognition that humans have a soul without implying they have to kiss up to some other human talking for God ... things will be fine .. actually will be a lot better

      June 23, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Dandy

      Organized religion has its roots in government subsidy. There are many large churches around me that have hundreds of acres of land and hundreds of thousands of square feet of indoor air conditioned space. All of it is tax free (hence subsidized) by the government. Just wait... the real enlightenment is going to occur .... and that is that there is no god... and as such ... we are on our own. This is a great movement and long overdue.. Meanwhile you can pray to condemn these new churches and continue to spread hate and distrust as most organized religion has become very good at doing... all in your gods name..

      June 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  14. pbernasc

    Note: the fact the majority of man kind believes something to be real (God in various form and names, usually used to justify wars) does not make it true.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Bostontola

      There was a time when most people thought the earth was flat.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • pbernasc

        there is a time where most people still can't believe there is life all over in the Universe .. just because we can't see it yet ...

        you said, ignorance is what drive the majority of the human kind. Luckily enough, the educated minority is in charge

        June 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
      • pbernasc

        exactly so education is the best tool

        October 12, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • christiano

      Most wars were fought *save the crusades* for political reasons under the banner of religion.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
      • pbernasc

        yes, religion is a tool used in politics, ergo religion is politics

        June 23, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  15. Xtian trolls "be upset"! (Gone Wild!)

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0-04VDrCbM&w=640&h=390]

    June 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  16. IntellectualViolence

    With all due respect, I have to disagree: Atheism IS a religion, if an inclusive definition of religion is used. For example, Religion is a conceptualization of the divine. Even the disparate branches of Atheism have clear notions of the divine (or lack thereof).

    A less inclusive definition of the religion might be something like my operating system's built-in dictionary's take: "a particular system of faith and worship." That would seem to exclude religions / belief systems like Buddhism as there is no 'worship' per sé.

    Many posters seem angered or troubled by the notion of Atheism as a religion. Is that because of the positive/negative connotations of the word religion? That Atheists do not want any association with people like the poster just above mine or that theists want no association with the OP?

    June 23, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • IntellectualViolence

      My apologies: my post was intended as a reply.

      June 23, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • Dan

      I don't see how not believing in something is a religion.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      It is not a religion since it carries with it no supernatural component. NOT believing in the supernatural precludes atheism from being a religion. Similar to Bhuddism and Toaism, which are not true religions in that respect, they are more non-religions, while atheism has no feild guide with which to study.... basically atheism is simply not believing in gods, and since that's all it really is, it does not fit in with any definition of religion.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • IntellectualViolence

      @Dan
      While "not believing in something" is, in fact, a belief. Further, I don't think it is fair to assert that not believing in God = not believing in something. A rejection of a supernatural force could manifest as a belief in something else (e.g., elevation of humanity, science, etc.).

      June 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • IntellectualViolence

      @Mr. Cranium
      I've thought about your post and done some preliminary / further reference, attempting a diversity of sources, including the US Census Bureau. Nearly all of the them classified both Buddhism and Taoism as religions. Further, I emailed a former student, who is Buddhist, and asked him if he thought the label religion applied to him. He replied that it would call it a belief system, but also said he was comfortable with it being called a 'religion' and has even done so himself.

      I'd concur that atheism has no 'field guild' and that it is basically a disbelief in supernatural beings.

      On the other hand, I've come to the conclusion it is reductionistic to say that a religion must have a supernatural component, that a broader, more inclusive definition is both more equitable and accurate.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      IV
      That is really the point of the debate at this point. Many call Bhuddism and Taoism religions, other say they do not qualify...basically it boils down to who is doing the debating. The precise definition really become moot. With the case of atheism, it is clearly not a religion. It is simply not believing in supernatural phenomenon, while it does not actually address the BELIEFS of those who are atheists. So while you might call what I DO believe a religion, you cannot call what I DO NOT believe a religion. Therefore atheism by definition is still not and never could be a religion, and what I do believe is extremely unique to me, and is changing as I get more actual information, so not a religion either as it has no teachings nor doctrine, nor anything else that fits the definition.
      I really object to the need for others to try to define and pigeon hole others anyway.

      Is it a religion to not believe in the tooth fairy?

      June 23, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • lol??

      Wegodians fits just fine and dandy, Amos.

      June 23, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • IntellectualViolence

      V
      I think the defining of Buddhism and Taoism as religions is a critical element in the debate because previously you maintained that a religion must have a supernatural component. You are no longer asserting that the supernatural element alone precludes such a classification, instead offering an additional and supplementary reason as to why you think atheism should be not classified as a religion.

      You wrote, "It is simply not believing in supernatural phenomenon, while it does not actually address the BELIEFS of those who are atheists." I believe this is where your new assertion fails. Not believing in supernatural force does 'actually address the beliefs of those who are atheists.' It is not a question of what you do or not do, as you wrote, but a question of what is believed or accepted. The rejection of a given belief system IS an alternative belief system, specific or otherwise. Such a negation DOES describe the (core) beliefs of the atheist.

      More simply, on the purist level, a Christian could well be defined as one who believes Jesus Christ is a divine savior just as atheist could just as easily be defined as an individual who rejects the supernatural. Everything else about the individuals would be just that, individualized and outside of the core classification.

      If we return to my original post's more inclusive definition, that religion is a conceptualization of the divine, then Buddhism and Taoism qualify and anti-Tooth-Fairy-ism does not as I cannot see how it has anything to do with a view of the divine.

      Additionally, I am not certain how a more inclusive definition "pigeonholes" people more than exclusive definitions that allow for less self-definition.

      June 23, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  17. nannie

    we will be praying that you come to realize that there is a God & you repent before the second coming of Christ our Savior. God be with you all.

    June 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      While you pray for us, we'll think for you.

      June 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Howard

      A lot of us will be hoping you can just learn to leave us be without implying we're damned if we don't share your beliefs.

      June 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • j

      Without prayer True thought is impossible

      June 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Al

      I will be praying that you will return to the "true" god, Thor. You can at least see and hear a thunderstorm.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      Iceberg 7:13
      "so take me into your body, where you have salad, I will be there, and I will become one with you and make you stronger, and less constipated"

      Romaine

      June 23, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  18. muslim2012

    HEADLINE: MY BODY IS MY OWN BUSINESS By Naheed Mustafa

    I OFTEN wonder whether people see me as a radical, fundamentalist Muslim terrorist packing an AK-47 assault rifle inside my jean jacket. Or may be they see me as the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere. I'm not sure which it is.

    I get the whole gamut of strange looks, stares, and covert glances. You see, I wear the hijab, a scarf that covers my head, neck, and throat. I do this because I am a Muslim woman who believes her body is her own private concern.

    Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose to give back to women ultimate control of their own bodies.

    The Qur'an teaches us that men and women are equal, that individuals should not be judged according to gender, beauty, wealth, or privilege. The only thing that makes one person better than another is her or his character.

    Nonetheless, people have a difficult time relating to me. After all, I'm young, Canadian born and raised, university educated why would I do this to myself, they ask.

    Strangers speak to me in loud, slow English and often appear to be playing charades. They politely inquire how I like living in Canada and whether or not the cold bothers me. If I'm in the right mood, it can be very amusing.

    But, why would I, a woman with all the advantages of a North American upbringing, suddenly, at 21, want to cover myself so that with the hijab and the other clothes I choose to wear, only my face and hands show?

    Because it gives me freedom.

    WOMEN are taught from early childhood that their worth is proportional to their attractiveness. We feel compelled to pursue abstract notions of beauty, half realizing that such a pursuit is futile.

    When women reject this form of oppression, they face ridicule and contempt. Whether it's women who refuse to wear makeup or to shave their legs, or to expose their bodies, society, both men and women, have trouble dealing with them.

    In the Western world, the hijab has come to symbolize either forced silence or radical, unconscionable militancy. Actually, it's neither. It is simply a woman's assertion that judgment of her physical person is to play no role whatsoever in social interaction.

    Wearing the hijab has given me freedom from constant attention to my physical self. Because my appearance is not subjected to public scrutiny, my beauty, or perhaps lack of it, has been removed from the realm of what can legitimately be discussed.

    No one knows whether my hair looks as if I just stepped out of a salon, whether or not I can pinch an inch, or even if I have unsightly stretch marks. And because no one knows, no one cares.

    Feeling that one has to meet the impossible male standards of beauty is tiring and often humiliating. I should know, I spent my entire teenage years trying to do it. It was a borderline bulimic and spent a lot of money I didn't have on potions and lotions in hopes of becoming the next Cindy Crawford.

    The definition of beauty is ever-changing; waifish is good, waifish is bad, athletic is good - sorry, athletic is bad. Narrow hips? Great. Narrow hips? Too bad.

    Women are not going to achieve equality with the right to bear their breasts in public, as some people would like to have you believe. That would only make us party to our own objectification. True equality will be had only when women don't need to display themselves to get attention and won't need to defend their decision to keep their bodies to themselves

    June 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Bostontola

      Bare

      June 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Poltergiest

      Thats not hard to do. Just approach a male and strike conversation. Most women are advertising by looks to get a man to approach them so they don't have to risk rejection making the first move.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • Candiano

      Criminals will do harm to women no matter what. The old "blame the victim, she had it coming" doesn't impress me at all. Doing it in the name of religion is even worse.
      Women have equality (for the most part) here in the United States. This woman sounds repressed, as if she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
      Again, I repeat, I am not impressed with this essay. If she wants to cover everything up, let her. Just try to enact that in any law here in the US, and you will be shut down.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Your Mistake

      It looks like you became a muslim for all wrong reasons. You didn't' have to do that. All you needed to do is just change your wardrobe to somewhat modest style and say the %#@ with the rest of the phony world, refusing to play to their tunes.... Muslim religion is a very poor choice of shelter for hiding your insecurities.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • "MY" Mistake

      I just realized you posted someone else's article. It is Naheed's mistake. But since it is obviously something you agree with, you both are in error, just the same!
      Prism

      June 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • G to the T

      So eskimo's are some of the most advanced people on the planet because they've been wearing the most clothes for the longest time? whatevs....

      June 26, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  19. Chris

    I'm unaffiliated to church, god, and atheists. It's all ridiculous.

    June 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  20. Bostontola

    Muslims were the thought leaders of the world a thousand years ago. They saved Greek thought, advanced math and science. They held rational thought above all else.

    What happened?

    June 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • ArmyCSM

      Most of them are living 1000 years in the past.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
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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.