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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. Dave

    Not going to church is my favorite part of being an atheist.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • sybaris

      I don't know, I find it kind of sporting to actually have first hand knowledge of all the fallacies and just bad information that is spewed from the pulpit.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • LOL @ ATHEISTS

      Not these atheists, they go to church to be reminded how much of a closed minded fools they are.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • The real Tom

      LOL, do alert the media when you learn to write a coherent sentence.

      June 23, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  2. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    REPOSTING

    Atheists are so desperate in converting many to their religion, they just to had build a CHURCH that religious people use for worship.

    BUT HEY, AT LEAST THEY WILL BE ABLE TO PROVE THERE IS NO GOD TO...............EACH OTHER. LOL!!!

    June 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • GAW

      REPOSTING = NEED FOR ATTENTION

      June 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • LOL @ ATHEISTS

      GAW – DESPERATE TO GIVE ATTENTION.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • xenubarb

      My reaction to this article was quite different. Guy says, “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."

      My question is, why do you think you have to ape a religious service? Why can't you leave the atheist/religion thing home and hold a community meeting with snacks and music to...discuss community?

      Because atheism is not any sort of religious belief and aping Christian rituals absolutely just muddles the water, confusing the simple-minded into mistaking a lack of belief in supernatural deity as a religion in its own right.

      It's a BELIEF. Not a religion. There is a difference.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • omeany

      Isn't that essentially what Christians do? Go to church to re-enforce their faith in God? Or rather re-enforce the propaganda. You might want to do a little research into Constantine and the true origin of what we call "The Church" today. It might suprise you to learn that Christianity had very little to do with the ministry of Jesus and was essentially decided by about 250 men each with their own political agendas.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Steven Harnack

      I suppose that you would also demand proof of the non-existence of croconoceroses too? You know, just because nobody has ever seen any evidence of a half crocodile, half rhinoceros animal there is no proof that they don't exist, eh?

      June 23, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • LOL @ ATHEISTS

      xenubarb – A set of beliefs is a religion, according to Durkheim. Atheism is a set of beliefs, therefore, it is a religion.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Charlie

      REPOSTED

      You are absurd. Are you representative of Christian thinking?

      June 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Oh, bull. I couldn't care less about "converting" anyone, you lying ass. Why would I? I don't need any collection plate. I don't require any tithing. I'm not interested in a salary for preaching anything, since I'm not, in fact, PREACHING ANYTHING. I don't need any income from anyone, since I work full time in a secular profession. I don't ask for donations to any cause. I contribute what I can to causes I find to be worthy, but I don't try to raise funds for them from others.

      So, do you have anything else, or is that about it, dum my?

      June 23, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  3. ATHEISM = RELIGION

    Atheists are so desperate in converting many to their religion, they just to built a CHURCH that religious people use for worship.BUT HEY, AT LEAST THEY WILL BE ABLE TO PROVE THERE IS NO GOD TO...............EACH OTHER. LOL!!!

    June 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Could you please try to be less boring? Thanks.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • GAW

      Is this response from your gut or from your brain? Certainly not from your heart.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • tony

      The bible already does that. See Exodus 14:19-28

      June 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • My Two Cents

      Really, your problem is that they may convert someone to athiesm? What a brand new concept, if only christians would have thought of such a ploy. (sic)

      June 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Peter

      Atheism is a religion in the same way that bald is a hair color. Atheists have nothing to prove.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • One one

      Your screen name is interesting. It says:

      Atheism = religion. Therefore you have also said:

      Religion = atheism.

      Is this what you meant to say or are you just confused ?

      June 23, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Nissim Levy

      One one, I am no theist but I must correct your logic. Consider this: A marble is spherical so using your logic, all speherical thigs are marbles. Actually Arheism = Religion 's point is that Atheism is a subset of Religion. I disagree with him but that's his pount.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Nissim Levy

      Christins are so desperate in converting many to their religion, they just to built a CHURCH that theistic people use for worship.BUT HEY, AT LEAST THEY WILL BE ABLE TO PROVE THERE IS A GOD TO...............EACH OTHER. LOL!!!

      June 23, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  4. Nick E.

    The Unitarians have been doing this for a long time, more or less.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Geesh

      Emersonians have been doing this samenthing

      June 23, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  5. Stu

    Interesting perspective. My own belief is exactly the opposite: I believe there is some sort of higher existence; maybe god, maybe an evolved version of man. I DON'T believe in religion and see almost all religions as inherently evil. Religion is simply a man-made order to control weak-minded people and those without morals or ethics. It had a time and purpose centuries ago, but I believe man has evolved past the need for "religion" and can think with compassion without a person telling you what to believe or why.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  6. GAW

    It's nice to know that there are well balanced atheists out there. Even though I'm not one this is a good article.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • Peter

      You're not a well-balanced atheist? Are you an unbalanced atheist?

      June 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  7. Shayna

    There has been a Humanist Congregation in Farmington Hills, MI for at least 50 years called The Birmingham Temple for secular, Humanistic Jews. Since they were founded there are numerous Humanistic Jewish congregations all over the world with ordained Humanistic rabbis. There are also 100's of Unitarian Universalists Churches that are Humanistic. Epstein is wonderful for what he's doing, but he is in no way the first.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  8. Nissim Levy

    How can a Christian take the chance of not being a Muslim? Using the principles of Pascal's Wager I conclude that the risk of not being a Muslim are not worth it. Consider that according to the Muslim faith all non Muslims will go to hell. So you Christians should be Muslims.

    How can a Muslim take the chance of not being a Christian? Using the principles of Pascal's Wager I conclude that the risk of not being a Christian are not worth it. Consider that according to the Christian faith all non Christians will go to hell. So you Muslims should be Christians.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Peter

      One should be a member of all religions, and in that way, cover all of one's bases, just to be safe. Of course, that involves a lot of research and expenditure. What happens if the one true faith turns out to be the one practiced by a small tribe in the Andaman Islands, and that is the one we didn't practice? That means that more than seven billion of us are royally screwed.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Nissim Levy

      Pascal's wager is false because applying it leads to having mutually contradictory claims evaluating to true.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  9. RachelKate

    Proof that Atheism is a religion as annoying, sheeplike and judgmental as any other.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Please provide an argument that leads to your conclusion.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • One one

      Please explain how not believing in magic makes one sheeplike and judgmental.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • tony

      I think this 'logic" is faulty

      June 23, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Steven Harnack

      And, just like the idea of gods, all that your "proof" lacks is any reason to support it.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  10. Elliott Carlin

    imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Glad to see the athiests are coming around, albeit slightly.
    Much more ground to travel though before they get to the truth.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      By what method do you determine "truth?"

      June 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • Nissim Levy

      Which truth, ISlam or Christianity?

      June 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • sybaris

      yeah elliot, we've been slow to realize that we can write off out taxes too.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • One one

      Very cute. But you know it's not true.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • tony

      Call a lie "truth" is a violation of the 9th Commandment. Sort that one out of you can.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      Without evidence I will never believe your "truth".

      June 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Peter

      The word is "atheist". "Athiest" is the superlative of "athy", as in: "Many people are athy, others are athier, but some are the athiest of all."

      June 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  11. JMEF

    If there are churches that do not follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, it would be the money grubbing Evangelists and the RCC. The gods are all man made creations, the scams are all about religious creations. A church without god should also be a church without the scam.

    June 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  12. Bostontola

    "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!"

    Would Jews recite that prayer?

    June 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • ATHEISM = RELIGION

      LOL, great post!

      June 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Yeah, Paul of Tarsus didn't even know that prayer, allegedly right from the lips of Jesus (and he claimed to talk right to the guy).

      June 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Nissim Levy

      Bravo to you for creating such a succint proof of god's existence. You are a genius.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      And like all prayer it would have no impact on what happened to them.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Peter

      Of course not, but on the other hand, Jewish people, by definition, are not atheists.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  13. My take

    I actually really dislike the idea of atheists congregating. The fact that we don't feel compelled to surround ourselves with others who share our views every Sunday is, I think, the most important distinction between atheists and believers–other than the rejection of supernatural belief itself. I don't need reinforcement from others of what I can determine alone. It seems an admission of the weakness of your [non] belief if you feel the need to have a chorus backing you up

    June 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Bostontola

      Most important distinction to you. Not to me. The most important distinction to me is living this life, not a promised next one, all based on millennia old ideas mostly unfounded and conflicting with actual tested facts.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I like the idea of atheists congregating. It helps families realize that there are others who aren't part of the "church crowd" who still like the idea of coming together and sharing with one another ideas and goals. I see this as a good thing, and I wish there was one of these in my area.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  14. Jean

    There is a distinction between not believing in god and believing there is no god. I do not believe there is a god, however, I believe one should behave ethically and morally, for the simple reason it is right. Period. When one conducts their lives because they are god-fearing or to get into "heaven", it appears there is an ulterior motive for their "good conduct." I and many I know choose to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing. Sort of a moral imperative.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  15. jeremy

    They worship no god. The "No God".

    June 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      You seem to think that everyone is afflicted with this 'worship' fetish.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  16. Smeagel4T

    Many atheists support many of the teachings of Jesus, and are often better educated about Jesus that many Christians. Atheists just leave out the Harry Potter magical being stuff.

    How many Christians actually know that "Jesus" was not actually the man's name. For that matter, how many Christians actually know that "Christ" is not actually part of the man's name. Some do. Many do not.

    The man's name was actually "Yeshua", which Saul (later renamed Paul) changed to "Jesus" for marketing purposes in "the west" (Western Europe versus the Middle East). "Christ" is actually an honorific meaning "anointed", and often treated as "messiah" (messenger (from God)). The writings of Saul/Paul are not "Gospels" because Saul/Paul never actually knew Yeshua/Jesus and therefore would not be able to quote Yeshua/Jesus first hand.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • ATHEISM = RELIGION

      Liar, most atheists even denies the deity of Jesus Christ.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Dale C.

      Those details are trivial, what matters most is the message of salvation and the values Jesus urged others to possess. Moreover, just because someone only knows the common name for Christ does not suggest they are less educated about Christ's teachings, i.e. the things that really matter.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      A=R
      Calling someone a liar while you lie...how ironic.
      By the way...I am an athesit surrounded by christians, and they hold me up as the example of Christ and Christs teaching among my social circles far more than any of my religious friends. I volunteer at a local addiction treatment center, and the pastor who runs it, uses me as an example all of the time, and then in his story, the last thing he tells people, is that I am an atheist. He does it to prove a point, and I hope you get the point and stop lying, and stop bearing false witness on those that you do not know.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  17. Skeptic

    It's easier to get money from the stupid than from the intelligent. The stupid buy their way to "heaven" even if they are to find out that it doesn't exist after they die. It's too late to ask for refund. The intelligent knows there is no heaven and the money they give is their hope to educate the stupid that there is no heaven. Well, don't bother. If they are smart enough to be taught, they would have found out long time ago.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • sybaris

      Exactly

      Christianity, the ultimate ponzi scheme

      June 23, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Thanks fellas. You just lumped the entire US population w/your thesis
      After all, they are taking our money and flushing it down the toilet (Govt)

      We're all stupid by your definition.
      Nice job.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Elliott says: "We're all stupid" Thanks for admitting it, Elliott.

      The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. Good luck.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Dale C.

      Pascal's wager:
      give a finite amount of resources and get an infinite good
      give no finite amount of resources get finite good

      If a believer discovers there is no God then they suffered a finite loss of resources
      If a non-believer discovers there is a God then they suffer for eternity in hell

      Given that enormous disparity in potential benefits and the enormous disparity between risks, it seems that the smart investment is actually in God.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Dale C.

      Pascal's Wager:
      In effect, Pascal's wager states that while we can't know with absolute certainty whether the christian god exists, a rational evaluation should lead to a belief. If having to choose between believing (in the christian god), or not believing, the reward for being correct, and the price for being wrong, tips the balance in favor of believing.

      It says, if you believe and are correct, you will gain heaven, while the price for being wrong is nothing. On the other hand, if you don't believe, it says you will gain nothing for being right, yet lose everything if you are wrong. So, belief results in a win/neutral, and non-belief in a neutral/lose position, tipping the balance clearly in favor of the "belief" position.

      Why Pascal's Wager is a fallacy:
      a) Pascal's Wager assumes that there are only two options.
      b) Pascal's Wager assumes the christian god doesn't care whether someone actually believes, or simply goes through the motions.
      c) Pascal's Wager discounts the price paid for belief before death.
      d) Pascal's Wager vastly overestimates the odds for the reward and the risk of punishment.
      e) Pascal's Wager assumes that someone can will him or herself to believe.

      Positing only two options is ridiculous. There are, of course, thousands of possibilities when it comes to gods. Based on the evidence available for these gods, it is not reasonable to assume one is more likely than any of the others. To increase the odds of a positive outcome of this wager, the believer would have to believe in, and worship, every possible god. Including the ones that haven't been invented yet. Aside from the drain on the available time, it presents the problem that quite a few of these gods are pretty selfish. They frown upon believers believing in other gods. In some religions that is enough to not be eligible for the reward (making the belief position a lose/neutral one).

      Also, just going through the motions and pretending to believe may fool your community, but it can't fool an all-knowing god. It is very unlikely that anyone would gain the ultimate reward for simply faking belief (making the belief position a lose/neutral one).

      The price paid for the belief position isn't nothing. It involves going through the rituals, day after day, week after week. It may have severe side effects on physical and mental health. Sex life suffers, too.

      In estimating whether the cost of any given action is worth it, an evaluation of risk versus reward is in order.

      Risk is (simplistically) the chance that a negative event occurs, multiplied by the cost of that event. As an example, being hit by a meteorite carries a very high cost (probably death), but since the odds are extremely low, the risk associated with it is low. Similarly, the chance of getting rained on is pretty high, but the cost is very low, representing also a low risk. On the other hand the cost and chances of, and therefore the risk associated with, a traffic accident are high.

      The choice whether to mitigate a risk depends on, among other things, the severity of the risk, the cost of the mitigation and the tolerance of that risk. In the above examples, the cost to mitigate each risk are; exorbitant, low and high, respectively. Methods to reduce or eliminate the risk of meteorite impacts are cost prohibitive and far exceed the risk. An umbrella and a check of the weather forecast effectively mitigate the risk of getting rained on, and is easily worth the cost. Car crashes, and their after-effects are mitigated to various degrees by expensive technology (from street surface technology to driver training, airbags and traction control). People bear those costs to their financial ability and tolerance for the risk.

      A similar reasoning applies to reward. The choice whether to pursue a reward is guided by the perception value of the reward, the perception of the odds of gaining the reward and the cost to pursue it.

      In the belief versus non-belief question, believers tend to irrationally overestimate both the reward for belief, and the risk associated with non-belief.

      If someone doesn't already believe there is a god, a threat of this non-existing gods judgment is very unlikely to yield any results.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Dale C.

      I appreciate this extra information. It's always good to see where an argument falls short because it spurs further reflection. Did you copy that from somewhere on the web or did you really have the time to write that yourself?

      June 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  18. Crystal

    That's kind of pointless, but okay if you want to waste your weekend (and sleep time) knock yourself out.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Roger that

      Taking your kids to Sunday school where they are taught by a biologist from MiT is pointless and a waste of time? Sleep well sleepyhead.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  19. Chris

    As Dostoyevsky said. "If God does not exist, then everything is permitted."

    June 23, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      God allows a place of eternal torture to exist and does nothing to stop it but rather enjoys it. I can think of no being quite so di.s.g.u.sting as that.

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

      granted he was wrong, either way, wishful thinking doesn't make the idea of god any more real

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

      So in other words you need a religion and whatever god to keep you from murdering and ra.ping.

      I prefer to be in keeping with people that are inherently benevolent and don't need such things.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Sean

      You raise a fascinating point; where does morality come from? Where do our values originate from? I spent years thinking about this, in college then afterwards. "God" is the obvious answer...for about 5 seconds, until you realize that there are literally thousands of gods out there, and there have been millions/billions in our history. Heck, even the same god can be interpreted in a thousand different ways ( and often is ). It gets even more muddled when you know your history, and you see how societal values change faster than religious ones; churches often only change when they begin to lose their members.

      And therein lies the answer; the same force that drives change in the church is the same that roots our values in something objective. The economy. Society itself is based on the economy, therefore it should come as no great surprise that our values are derived from the economy as well.

      June 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • sybaris

      Yay, Sean gets it!

      Morals, ethics and values evolved from the success of the group. They weren't handed to some old man on a mountain top thousands of years ago.

      If what Christians believed was true about morals than any non-Christian country, region or clan would be in chaos and that is simply NOT the case.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Roger that

      As Carlin said, "When it comes to bullshlt, big-time, major league bullshlt, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshlt story ever told."

      June 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Sean
      One thing blows your economy theory out of the water. Many other animals exhibit the same "moral" behavior as we do...from creating cultures, language, using tools, feeling and showing emotion, shariing and co-operating...all are done by animals, with no economy or concept of economy.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      sybaris

      "So in other words you need a religion and whatever god to keep you from murdering and ra.ping.

      I prefer to be in keeping with people that are inherently benevolent and don't need such things."

      So would Christians, but since God doesn't exist as you say, please explain the existence of evil in the world and why man tolerates it?

      June 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Roger-I'd hate to think my moral compass depended on the sayings of a comedian, but have at it.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Roger that

      Elliott Carlin,

      You obviously haven't read the Bible.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • sybaris

      Elliot, the flaw in your position is that you are associating a religiously defined thing with what is otherwise considered relatively the opposite. In other words there is hot and cold, relative to each other.

      Regardless, the existence of non-benevolence or non-good doesn't inherently mean that a "devil" is the instigator.........unless you subscribe to some dogma that brainwashed you into believing it.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Evil exist (according to the bible) because god both created it and allows it to flourish. (Scriptures on both of these ideas exist). And furthermore, god is the MOST evil because he performs an act that no one else could ever do. He builds a place of eternal torture and stocks it full of people he hates-–so much for "love your enemy and do good to those who spitefully use you." God just throws you into his never ending torture pit.

      June 23, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Dale C.

      God is all-powerful, wholly good, and all-knowing. One could say if evil exist God could only be two of three of those adjectives. For example, God cannot be all-powerful if He knows evil exists and is wholly good. Ultimately, to my knowledge, the only way to resolve this apparent conflict is to say that God allows evil to happen for an ultimate good. It might be comparable to a mother letting a child get a vaccine. Simply put, the pain is endured but it is necessary for the long term benefit of the child, regardless of whether or not the child knows that. The issue of free will comes to mind here too, but determinists might not find that satisfactory...Just some thoughts for your own edification.

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

      @Richard Cranium: ( clever nick btw )

      Not exactly true. You are viewing the economy as being based on "money", whereas it is actually based on "resources". Money, to us, is simply an abstraction of resources. Animals, too, partake in their own economy; they want stuff ( food, companionship, ect.. ) and thus they work cooperatively to achieve more than they could alone.

      June 23, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Peter

      The existence of a deity is not a prerequisite to morality. And if the only reason theists behave is because they are afraid of eternal punishment, then they are essentially acting out of self-interest, not out of any inherent goodness. Frankly, I would rather cast my lot with atheists, who have nothing to lose, and act morally because it's just the right thing to do, not to save their own souls.

      June 23, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • Sean

      @Peter: It's a bit more complicated than that, I'm afraid. Everyone, everywhere, is acting out of their own self interests. Think about it; can you name a truly selfless act? One which the doer derives no benefits, whatsoever?

      You probably won't be able to. I can ( mainly because I've been thinking about this for decades ), and you won't like the answer; only the insane commit acts in which they derive no benefits. Well, only they are capable of it anyway. Everyone else has cause to do what they do; that's kind of the differentiating factor between sanity and insanity, when you think about it.

      So what, then, makes your statement true? It's not that atheists do what's right "just because it's right". Rather, I think it would be more accurate to say they are acting in their long term self interest. Therefore, that makes their beneficial behavior predictable. Your religious person, acting out of fear, is inherently unpredictable; the emotions that predicated the behavior are unpredictable, and therefore the outcome is random.

      June 23, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  20. Remy

    I had an idea similar to this a while ago. Its good to see someone actually doing it. A congregation of people that come together to celebrate learning, understanding and helping the community. You dont need religion or god for any of that. I always felt that Atheism gets a bad rap because there are very few groups that go out and truly help the community in the name of Atheism. Which since not believing in something isnt a religion to begin with it doesnt really make sense to come together for it.

    However, being an Atheist myself, I can attest to the celebration of being human. Learning and the betterment of ourselves and the community. A place where people can be taught new forward thinking ideas in science. Or perhaps take a yoga class or just meditation, or help clean up the community. Every Sunday instead of being fed the same old fairy tales. People could actually be enriching their lives.

    June 23, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
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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.