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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. great job

    LOL, I was just telling somebody that religion, their baseless beliefs and number of followers were shrinking year after year and secretly they knew there days were numbered.

    If this isn't more proof that that is in fact going to come to fruition – hopefully even in my lifetime! – then I don't know what is.

    Organized non-religions who would have thunk? Good luck stopping us now.

    June 24, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • jkb1977

      Would it interest you to know that there's been a net gain in religious believers over the last twenty years? Losses in North America and Europe have been more than offset by gains in Asia and the former USSR.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • Austin

      God is revealing Himself in supernatural ways. The Day of the Lord is drawing near.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:27 am |
    • Tired of Christian Lies

      @jkb1977 Russia has never been an Atheist nation and neither has any nation in Asia. The only reason you think Russia was an Atheist nation is because of the Cold War. Russia has always been a Catholic nation. The primary two religions of Asia are Buddhism and Hinduism.
      @Austin God is the imaginary being the ignorant masses use to explain everyday rational occurrences.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • juan frias

      TO EACHE HIS OWN BUT WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST PEOPLE LIKE DO BELIEVE. MY FAITH IS NOT DEBATABLE BUT IWOULD NEVER INTERCEDE ON ANYONE ELSES BELIEF. I HAVE A FEW FRIENDS WHO DON'T BELIEVE & WE DON'T DISCUSS RELIGION. BUT I DO FEEL SORRY FOR THEM. THIS COMES FROM A GUY WHO HATES GOING TO CHURCH. BUT EVEN THAT DOESN'T SWAY MY FAITH

      June 24, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • PaulD

      Austin
      But, can you prove that "supernatural ways" actually exist outside of people's imaginations, or mistaken perceptions? That's the dividing line between reality and delusion.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • Tired of Christian Lies

      @juan frias I have nothing against God Jesus or Christianity, or for that matter any of the other 19 religions in the world. What I hate is when fools feel the need to pass laws based on their religion. To me it says that only their religion matters and everyone has to follow it. If religion stayed the hell out of government I would be very happy but that will never happen.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:47 am |
    • PaulD

      juan frias
      What would you say to a sizeable number of astrology believers who all read the stars and decided that they needed to do something that you disagreed with? Would you be saying "to each his own" then? Do you say that now regarding everyone who believes differently than you do?

      June 24, 2013 at 12:51 am |
    • Oh God how did I get here?

      @Tired of Christian Lies"Russia has never been an Atheist nation and neither has any nation in Asia. The only reason you think Russia was an Atheist nation is because of the Cold War. Russia has always been a Catholic nation. The primary two religions of Asia are Buddhism and Hinduism."

      oh good, an idiot. Most English speakers call Russia's church "Eastern Orthodox", not Catholic (though technically it is, but when talking about "Catholics" most understand that to be the Roman kind). The Soviet Union had as its official policy universal atheism (Marxist–Leninist atheism). All church property was seized by the state and many priests were killed. Only recently was the Orthodox church allowed to regain its full historic position in Russia (mostly because Putin needs their support, strange bedfellows for a KGB guy).

      China suppressed and currently suppresses religion. The various programs (such as the cultural revolution) replaced traditional observances with Maoism (a personality cult that was essentially the state religion). Monks and religious people were brutally suppressed in several country wide upheavals (some of which killed millions).

      June 24, 2013 at 1:05 am |
    • Observer

      Austin

      "God is revealing Himself in supernatural ways. The Day of the Lord is drawing near."

      Thanks for this news flash from THOUSANDS of years ago.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:08 am |
    • required

      The bible proves God is more than able to do whatever he wants, any time he wants to. That includes then, now, or any time in the future. God is not stopped by someone's disbelief.

      A bible is $10, free if you know where to get them.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:26 am |
    • Hear This

      required
      "The bible proves God is more than able to do whatever he wants, any time he wants to."

      The Bible proves nothing of the sort. It is fantasy stories from Middle Eastern Hebrew men.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:37 am |
    • Hear This

      required,

      A being like that certainly cannot be trusted. Good thing that it doesn't exist.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:51 am |
    • required

      How can you not trust someone that gave their life for you, so you could live?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:15 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      "How can you not trust someone that gave their life for you?"

      Mostly because we don't believe that particular fantasy ever occurred. Why do you believe someone rose from the dead? An event that has never been observed to occur anywhere by anyone except for the story in your holy book. And how did he give his life? Seems to me he was murdered and his life was taken , not given. And what exactly is your gods need for a human sacrifice? Why the blood lust? That anyone would buy into this ridiculous tale and not recognize how twisted and sick it is boggles the mind.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:46 am |
    • required

      It was a lot to pay for.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:12 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      required: That didn't answer the question's Steve asked. Your answer equates to pure gullibility and laziness. Quite apparently you've never thought much about how horrible your belief really is or the connotations that come with it, you just blindly accept it on faith (belief without evidence) and don't care whether it can be backed with evidence or not. You live in fear of stuff that there is no evidence to support.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:25 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      "It was a lot to pay for."

      Oh...well that explains everything...not! Pay for what?
      Is your god so incompetent that he couldn't simply forgive our sins without all the drama? Nothing you say makes any sense. First you think it's reasonable that all mankind is cursed with original sin because of some supposed transgression by the first people he created. Why didn't he just fix them? Oh wait..he tried to do that too. First by killing everyone except Noah and his family in a great flood. Then, because it didn't work the first time, to pay for this made up crime he waits a few thousand years then sends his son to die. Yeah.. that's the best and most loving solution to the problem. Why does anyone believe this garbage? Your god sounds like an idiotic maniac.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:40 am |
    • skytag

      @juan frias: Sorry, but it's hard for me to respect people who are deeply committed to beliefs unsupported by any evidence whatsoever. You believe in some god-based narrative for one reason and one reason only: because you like that narrative better than the alternatives. Not because there is any rational reason to believe it, but because you find it comforting to believe it.

      June 24, 2013 at 6:02 am |
    • skytag

      @required: "The bible proves God is more than able to do whatever he wants, any time he wants to. That includes then, now, or any time in the future. God is not stopped by someone's disbelief."

      More evidence religion makes people stupid. The Bible doesn't prove anything. It's a collection of stories and teachings. The teachings are generally good, but not unique to Christianity, and the stories involving spiritual and miraculous events are unsupported by any historical evidence whatsoever.

      June 24, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • skytag

      @Austin: "God is revealing Himself in supernatural ways."

      Such as?

      June 24, 2013 at 6:17 am |
    • skytag

      Austin: "The Day of the Lord is drawing near."

      Forgive me if this doesn't fill me with a sense of urgency. Apparently it's been drawing near for centuries.

      June 24, 2013 at 6:22 am |
    • skytag

      required: "How can you not trust someone that gave their life for you, so you could live?"

      How can you put your trust in something for which there is no evidence whatsoever? What evidence do you have that anyone exists in any form beyond death?

      June 24, 2013 at 6:26 am |
    • skytag

      There will always be plenty of people who choose to believe a comforting fictional narrative over cold, hard realities. Religion will never go away.

      June 24, 2013 at 6:28 am |
  2. mr.coco

    you are free to do whatever... but it's just like meat hating vegans eating soy product shaped and colored to resemble meat, you don't like it... live without it, don't fool yourselves... that is just sad.

    June 24, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • tallulah13

      Humans are social animals. Many enjoy meeting with like-minded individuals. This is not unique to religious people.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:29 am |
    • sam stone

      meat hating vegans? gosh, mr coco, you are a moron

      June 24, 2013 at 7:44 am |
  3. jboom

    timothy,

    I see your pint; however, I have good reason to believe that the current theory of evolution
    The reason I predict the eventual demise of Darwinian theory of evolution is for a few reasons:

    1.ID researchers have made significant progress in exposing weaknesses of modern, current Darwinian theory
    2.There are more and more scientists that are finally willing to take the heat for even questioning the orthodox view on current theory of evolution
    3. Evidence in support of modern theory of evolution is quite thin – it does fit the evolutionary theory, but the same evidence also fits the ID theory
    4. There are a few apparent smoking guns raised by ID researchers that as of today have not been adequately answered
    5. The media is slowly beginning to see and understand the differences between ID and traditional creationists; and ID will eventually receive a fair hearing (Dover case notwithstanding due to a variety of legitimate appeals)

    Much of the mountain of evidence that is cited either supports small scale evolution (HIV virus, bacterial resistantce, etc.), OR, is merely adopted uncritically and is interpreted within a Darwinian, naturalistic mindset (fossil record and DNA record). When we look at the evidence more critically, it becomes much more apparent that the evidence is neutral and no more denies evolution than ID.

    Darwin himself believed in considering the both sides of the theory. Finally, more and more are willing to be ostracized and attacked for doing so. But too many remain silent out of fear of jeopardizing their career. Some very well respected university researchers that are critical of Darwin theory advise younger researchers to simply go with the flow lest they hurt their careers.

    June 24, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • faith

      Int D is proof that Darwin is correct. Given enough time smart organism will degenerate into delusional ones.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • jboom

      June 22, 2013 – One of Britain's Top Geneticists Recommends Darwin's Doubt
      http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/06/one_of_britains073641.html#sthash.hRMGHfKu.dpuf

      http://www.evolutionnews.org/evolution/

      June 24, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • Athy

      Where did the creator come from? Is there an intelligent "intelligent designer" designer? That's where ID degenerates into mythology.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • tallulah13

      "Jerry Coyne has the story of the Discoveryless Institute bragging about a "top geneticist" who has endorsed Stephen Meyer's new book Darwin's Doubt.

      Of course, the DI fails to mention that the expert, Dr. Norman C. Nevin, is one of those Biblical creationists who believes that Adam was a historic person and the Flood was a historic event, which the DI keeps insisting has nothing to do with ID."

      June 24, 2013 at 12:39 am |
    • tallulah13

      "Nevin even edited a book, Should Christians Embrace Evolution, in which he concludes that "No coherent, cohesive theology has yet been offered that would allow Christians to embrace evolution with integrity."

      June 24, 2013 at 12:42 am |
    • tallulah13

      From

      http://d o d o d r e a m s . b l o g s p o t.com

      Sunday, June 23, 2013

      Sorry about the extra spaces. I can't get the thing to work otherwise.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:45 am |
    • ROO

      This simply highlights what you don't understand about evolution. There is no such thing as "Darwinian" theory of evolution.
      That's not what the modern theory is called.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:37 am |
    • redzoa

      Note that the 5 reasons offered amount to a negative argument of incredulity. Pointing out alleged weaknesses in evolution is not evidence for ID. And yes, the fossil record and DNA support evolution, but do not support ID. To claim this evidence supports ID, one must ignore the self-evident poor design in the innumerable extinct species, the incredible redundancy of forms, and the various examples of both anatomical and genetic vestigial traits (e.g. male nip-ples, our defunct gene for egg yolk protein, etc).

      As I've suggested before in response to this poster, ID is not falsifiable because its proposed mechanism is supernatural. ID has no potential for validation because: 1) it cannot make a viable prediction (one never knows when/where/how the supernatural designer might act); and 2) it can explain any and all outcomes, thereby, effectively explaining nothing.

      Additionally, the persecution claims are laughable in light of Behe, Minnich, and other ID sympathizers retaining their university positions. It is not persecution to fire or refuse to retain an academic when they fail to maintain a productive research program or when they chose to proselytize rather than teach science. Expelled was just another example of the ID movement employing PR rather than attempting to produce actual research.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:25 am |
  4. jchaven

    Reblogged this on The World of Dirk Radar.

    June 24, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  5. jboom

    secular,

    With all due respect, in addition to reading what others say about ID, try letting the ID movement spokesmen speak for themselves:

    http://www.intelligentdesign.org/whatisid.php

    June 24, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • ROO

      The ID movement spokesperson....is not a scientist. ID isn't scientific. No empirical support, no tenable hypotheses, proposes unsupported untestable supernatural causes, and has factual flaws contradicting data we already observe.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:42 am |
    • jboom

      ROO,
      Could you back up your libel and slander with examples? No.

      June 27, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • jboom

      ID challenges a reigning scientific paradigm. But as sociologist Steve Fuller says,
      ID is not anti-science, it is rather anti-establishment.
      ID theorists want more scientific investigation, not less.
      They just want freedom to let the evidence lead to where it may, without philosophical restrictions.

      http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/05/from_discoverin_5072541.html#sthash.hsujg7TT.dpuf

      June 27, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  6. don0011

    Who is the author of this work of art? It sounds to me like a cult. The reason you a belief, is to say to the pastor that they are out of faith, when they are. However if you a humanist church, who's compassion, who's guidance will you go on? I don't know if they know this but there is no love in human's science.

    June 24, 2013 at 12:02 am |
    • faith

      If you must resort to delusional beliefs to love people, then you might check to see where your humanity was lost.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  7. Lemarque

    Being a Christian, I understand why a lot of Christians hate atheists, and I see why a lot of atheists would hate religious people. Most religious people think atheists deserve to burn in hell, and atheists don't understand why, if God did exist, He would care to burn them in hell, especially since He is "our loving Father." I think it comes down to not really understanding our relationship to God. He is our Heavenly Father, the literal Father of our spirits. He wants what is best for us, but when we break His rules there is a consequence. Any good father will discipline his children because of his love for them. But because God loves us, he is also going to reward us as much as he can. If someone doesn't get the chance to learn about God in this life, God isn't going to throw them in hell for not accepting something they never knew about. He also isn't going to punish someone who didn't accept Christ because he/she was confused by all the different religions. God knows each of us individually and is going to judge us individually based on how what we did with what we were given. Where a lot of Christians turn people off to God is when they talk about burning in hell forever. God isn't going to burn His children for eternity. I'm a Mormon, and anyone who has a few minutes should take the time to go to the mormon website and read about what we believe happens after death. Whether you're religious or atheist or something in between, check it out. It's always good to understand someone else's perspective, even if you don't agree with it yourself.

    June 24, 2013 at 12:01 am |
    • faith

      Non-religious people (ie atheists) don't hate religiculous people . They just don't want to be enslaved by a delusional belief.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • Athy

      I'm an atheist and I certainly don't hate religious people. Why do you make that assumption, Lemarque?

      June 24, 2013 at 12:09 am |
    • tallulah13

      I don't judge people by what they believe. I judge them by their behavior.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:12 am |
    • Mirage

      Lemarque,
      " what we believe happens after death."

      This is what you (and your founder) **guess** happens. It perhaps is softer than many others, but the fact is, nobody knows - NOBODY.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • Lemarque

      I didn't assume that all atheists hate religious people, I said that I can see why atheists would hate us. I know many atheists that don't hate religious people. I'm religious, and I don't hate atheists, but I know plenty of religious people who do. The point of my comment has nothing to do with whether atheists or religious people hate each other. The point of my comment was to share my personal beliefs and encourage anyone who wanted to learn more to do so. If you felt like I was accusing all atheists of hating religious people, I am sorry. I tried to word it so people would know that what I was saying is that I can understand why some atheists would feel that way.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • ROO

      What you don't understand is that most atheists become atheists because they refuse to accept an unsupported assertion.
      Religious people have nothing to stand on. Their belief isn't based in fact or reality. It's no different than mythological lore. You can't claim the existence of something when there is no evidence to base the claim on. You wouldn't know any better. Hence....the rise of mythology.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:54 am |
    • devin

      talllulah

      " I don't judge people by what they believe" At best that statements naive, at worst outright lying. Don't be silly, the bulk of your postings are judgments against Christians for what they believe, you have no clue as to their behavior. How about a little credibility.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:10 am |
    • oOo

      Think just a little bit, devin. Behavior includes proselytizing, judgment and persecution of others within the community, attempts to tear down the walll of separation. These things are quite obvious.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Arthur Bryant

      "Any good father will discipline his children because of his love for them".

      Yes, and like any other loving father, his idea of "discipline" is sending his naughty children to hell where they will burn in horrific agony for all eternity.

      June 25, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  8. Reality

    Digging a bit deeper into this topic: conclusion- more of a community center than a church:

    http://harvardhumanist.org/

    "Boston’s First Atheist/Humanist Community Center

    Posted May 22, 2013

    I believe in community.

    For nearly five years, I’ve worked at the Humanist Community at Harvard doing what many would call “atheist activism.” I’ve been behind the scenes supporting a lot of great leaders and thinkers and helping to spread their messages of reason, progress, and pluralism to people around the world. But I’ve learned that, at the end of the day, what I’ve helped create is a network of people who turn to each other not only for shared philosophy, but for comfort and connection.

    In April of this year, the city of Boston was rattled by a terrible tragedy. Many were injured or killed at the marathon, including two women who are like family to me. A week or so later, I was in a major car crash that sent me to the hospital and my car to the junkyard.

    I was overcome with grat-itude for the outpouring of support from Humanists here in Boston and all over the country. I received calls, emails, donations, and more from so many people after the marathon, helping raise more than a million dollars for my loved ones’ medical bills. My friend Molly Fazio, who has been coming to HCH since 2010 and is an active volunteer, was one of the first people to reach out to me in the aftermath of the marathon, telling me she had already sent in a donation. Two leaders from Tufts University’s Freethought group came by my office with a handwritten card the next day....................................."

    Sarah Chandonnet

    Sarah Chandonnet is the Outreach and Development Manager at the Humanist Community at Harvard.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
  9. Marc

    Religious Belief: Don't believe in god - good people is bad. Believe in god - bad people is good. Years later, guess what kind people are left in churches?

    June 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Tman

      Marc–> Don't believe in god – bad people are bad. Believe in god – bad people are still bad, just forgiven.Romans 3:23

      June 24, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • faith

      Tman if you are great at forgiven, you may just want to leave the other person alone, that being really forgiven.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  10. David From Canada

    Atheists are know-it-alls who actually know very little. They're so full of their smug selves. Instead of grinding their axe all the time, they need to go to a therapist and find out why they're so angry at religion and the whole world.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • le.Observer

      Christians need to find out why they are so hypocritically angry at gays and pro-Choice supporters.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • faith

      why is it that religious people ( XTians in particular) are so afraid of atheists ?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • Reality

      Just for Dave:

      The Apostles' Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen
      (references used are available upon request)

      June 24, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • tallulah13

      Why are you so virulent about people who don't share your particular belief, David? Is this something you learned in your church?

      June 24, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • Arthur Bryant

      David? Fvck off back to Canada, eh?

      June 25, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  11. Selah

    Check this out and have a relationship with God http://peacewithgod.jesus.net/mobile/ or your time meeting has no eternal vale. Because I care you have salvation. Thanks and may te Spirit of Go ead you to it.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
    • Marc

      Please stop the nonsense.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • faith

      Please worry about your own salvation first. Sounds too me like you are NOT really sure about own salvation. You don't need to work the other human beings in order to get your salvation. You nee to work on yourself.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:01 am |
    • tallulah13

      I don't believe in god because there is no evidence that any god exists. I do not desire heaven and I don't fear hell. I understand that my life is finite and that I will die, decompose and be forgotten, and that's fine by me because it's the natural conclusion to any life.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  12. Julia

    I am an athiest I don't need or want to be a member of any congragation or meeting of any kind. Why? First comes the warm handshake then the rules and then the plea for money, it has ever been so and always will be. To belong to a group means giving in to group thought, conforming to the groups ideas and will. As for god, heaven, hell and all the other mystical B.S. ya'll can keep it and you know where you can put it. When I die I don't want any priest, holy person anywhere near my rotting carcus no songs, no poems, no speeches, no ceremony, no flags, let the wind and waves take my ashes and go about your business. I fear no god, spirit, or dogma after death there is nothing ....NOTHING, no reward,punishment, harp playing, or bliss just NOTHING. This is it folks this is all there is so enjoy while you can because it all comes to an end one day.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • Athy

      Julia, that explanation is just too simple for the religies. They just will not let themselves believe it.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • Marc

      Well said.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      I kind of thought the same thing, but I guess some people need community to feel complete. I'm quite content with my belief without the support of others, but other people may need more support. At least they're taking the time to further their education.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • Nice Try

      Julia… You stated, "I don't need or want to be a member of any congragation or meeting of any kind." Answer: Yet, you belong to the group called "atheists" whether you like it or not...

      You stated, "As for god, heaven, hell and all the other mystical B.S." Answer: Such a statement only proves that you've fallen for the very same lies all other atheists has fallen for. You're no different…

      You stated, "I fear no god, spirit, or dogma after death there is nothing ....NOTHING, no reward,punishment, harp playing, or bliss just NOTHING"… Answer: You may not fear God right now, but you will some day. I can assure you of that fact…

      June 23, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
    • Observer

      Nice Try,

      You are very confused about the definition of the word "fact". It is not the same as "opinion".

      June 24, 2013 at 12:02 am |
    • Athy

      Nice Try is confused about a lot of things.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:26 am |
    • Julia

      Hi Julia,

      You are just like I am: Neither one of us know. I have faith in God. You don't. It would not be possible to either of us to KNOW,
      only to have faith. One of the basic tenets of Christian faith is God rewarding faith. I could not think of a better thing to encourage you in than to have faith in Jesus and see where it takes you.

      June 24, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  13. jboom

    This OP should have been posted on antoher thread.

    Athy, my point is that we now have a "Darwinism of the gaps". The "god of the gaps" argument, as you likely know, is the idea that if we cannot explain something, then we say "god must have made it." That, as evolutionists would agree, is not a valid argument. But why, then, is it ok when the shoe is on the other foot.

    Now, we have a molecular motor, the bacteria flagellum, that cannot be explained by modern evolutionary theory. It simply cannot explain it. Attempts to do so have been inadequate.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
    • Athy

      So how did god do it? With a microscope and miniature tweezers? And, more important, why did he do it?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      jboom believes in intelligent design. nuff said.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • jboom

      Athy,

      For starters, you can read about it here:

      http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/03/michael_behe_hasnt_been_refute044801.html

      June 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Athy

      But he can't provide the details on how the designer actually made the flagellum. He needs to fill in these "gaps".

      June 23, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • jboom

      secular,
      see post at on this blog June 22 11:27pm where scientific basis of ID is discussed

      link provided for your convenience:

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/22/church-without-god-by-design/comment-page-3/#comments

      June 23, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • jboom

      secular,

      With all due respect, in addition to reading what others say about ID, try letting the ID movement spokesmen speak for themselves:

      http://www.intelligentdesign.org/whatisid.php

      June 24, 2013 at 12:06 am |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      What would falsify intelligent design?

      June 24, 2013 at 12:09 am |
  14. John P. Tarver

    Just like Jim Jones, how special.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  15. Steve

    What are they thinking? I'm a committed Christian and church services are the worst part of the whole gig.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • lol??

      It would be cool if the PUblic Servants would take a break from servicing the MASTERS, too.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • Athy

      Then don't go to church, Steve. Go to a library and learn something useful instead. Your pants knees will last longer too.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
  16. روحى

    نعم

    June 23, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
  17. Ivanhoe

    Throughout history religion has been abused by its leaders and believers - leaving bad impression on many people of injustices done in the name of God. I try to capture all of this in books - king of Bat'ha by Hashim; and - Tales from the East by Ivanhoe.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  18. Randy

    You can be a nice person, help old ladies across the street, etc. – but without God, specifically Jesus, when you die, you'll rot in Hell along with Hitler and Charlie Manson.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      HA HA HA HA HA HA!

      June 23, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
    • Athy

      Did you learn that in Sunday school, Randy?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
    • le.Observer

      Randy,

      The Bible says that if anyone believes in God they will make heaven. So if Hitler changed his mind right before dying he is in heaven while the nicest nonbeliever is in hell. Sounds fair to you.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      Hitler was a self-proclaimed Christian... I'll take my chances. Thanks anyway. If there is a god, that rewards a magic deathbed prayer as a get out of jail free card, while condemning good people who didn't say the prayer, I'd rather be as far away from that god as possible.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • jboom

      GodFreeNow,

      Know that Randy's version of the Gospel is not that of the most ancient Christian tradition such as RCC and EOC.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • Marc

      That's why many people left churches and became born-again atheists.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
    • lol??

      GodFreeNow sayz,
      "Hitler was a self-proclaimed Christian... I'll take my chances. Thanks anyway. If there is a god, that rewards a magic deathbed prayer as a get out of jail free card, while condemning good people ......................" You are pathetically weak on sound Christian doctrine. One example is from your statement about "good people".

      "Luk 18:19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none [is] good, save one, [that is], God."

      June 23, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
    • Nice Try

      le.Observer… You stated, "The Bible says that if anyone believes in God they will make heaven."…

      Actually, you have to do much more than believe. You have to also follow the scriptures and do what it says. If all you do is just believe then you'll still burn in hell. That same bible states that even the devils believe, and they tremble. Yet, despite their belief, not one devil will be saved….

      June 23, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • Marc

      Religious Belief: Don't believe in god - good people is bad. Believe in god - bad people is good. Years later, guess what kind people are left in churches?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      @lol?? still vying for attention. "oooh, ooh... look at me!"

      Word of advice that has been mentioned before, using the Bible as a pillar for your argument, does not strengthen your point, it weakens it. Take a reverse perspective if you can. Imagine a satanist trying to convert your or argue a point to you. Does quoting his unholy book lend credibility to him in your eyes?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • logan5

      Correct! A non believer can lead an exemplary life...volunteering, giving to charities, and yes even helping little old ladies cross the street, but still be sentenced to an eternity of pain and torture, by your god. While a child raping murderer only need accept Christ before he dies and he goes straight to paradise. What's wrong with this pic??

      June 23, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • exred

      Charles Manson accepted Christ as his savior. He's going to Heaven.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:03 am |
    • lol??

      logan5 sayz,
      "............What's wrong with this picture?"

      Your idea that a dust ball could fake out God.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • lol??

      GodFreeNow, you ain't any more free know than the day you were born.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:06 am |
    • Observer

      Nice Try,

      "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

      So that's not true? There's fine print in this false advertising? So much for bearing false witness.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • GodFreeNow

      @lol??, I couldn't agree more. My captivity was when I was brainwashed into believing in an all-powerful deity. I'm happy to say that I've been reset back to the state of zero I enjoyed when I was born. Finally, a sentient observation. Kudos.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:05 am |
  19. dfasdfsdfs

    Science=The study of how God creates.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
    • le.Observer

      Bible – the book of ZERO new science, but with the assertions that all laws of science are OPTIONAL.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      science studies the universe and how the world works.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • Nice Try

      Secular… Yet, despite 6,000 years they still haven't figured it out…

      June 23, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Where do you get 6000 from?

      June 23, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • ROO

      Science= no measurable data that any god exist. Proving such a thing a baseless assertion.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:18 am |
  20. kyzaadrao

    Through all these comments, I'm not seeing one bit of logic as to why atheists need community to do good works. We've got an overload of non profits, both religious and non religious working on most of the issues that plague our society, our health, our children, conditions around the world, disaster relief, etc.

    Where is the reasoning that an atheist community is somehow needed to accomplish these things. Is it that unbearable to work with non-religious non profits? There's virtually no persecution or discrimination in this country against atheists.

    The vibe I get is that the atheist community needs some sort of edge "against" religion. This is not a very healthy basis for community. As we can see from the reactions, if anything what an atheist specific organization brings to the table comes with the baggage of controversy, which doesn't help anyone's cause. And it re-invents a somewhat flawed wheel.

    If it's about sheer community, then why are we talking about duplicating churches without god? A church-like structure isn't exactly the best way to run a non religious community by far.

    We're not talking about civil rights, racism, discrimination or gender issues. It's simply that they don't believe in a deity of any sort. When I get past all of the borrowed rhetoric I still end up with the feeling that it's a vindictive sort of anti-group at heart.

    As churches struggle with larger issues and try to become as accepting as possible to everyone while still maintaining the integrity of their beliefs, and try to shed centuries of abuse of religion, this particular anti-church seems to just say "you don't own church, we can do anything you can without the rules". And that's true and fine.

    And it's also childish and petty. If atheists feel the need for community, I understand that. This particular strategy? No, it's just rude.

    June 23, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      I'm not seeing anything factual in your post.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
    • Roger that

      As churches struggle with larger issues and try to become as accepting as possible to everyone

      I guess you haven't seen this?

      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=w2839yEazcs

      June 23, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
    • Ivanhoe

      Excellent synopsis. People on here could learn more if they read books - -king of Bat'ha by Hashim: Tales from the East by Ivanhoe.

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

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2839yEazcs&w=640&h=390]

      June 23, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • kyzaadrao

      @Secular Probably because it's a subjective topic.

      @Roger That would be the abuse of our religion that I mentioned. We have our crackpots and over-zealous bits. It's a problem, as are those that would prey on us for money or try to control the message.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Atheists cannot hold public office in Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. So much for subjectivity and lack of discrimination.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • kyzaadrao

      @Secular I find that a bit err ... hard to believe (couldn't resist). Without looking it up I have to wonder if you're talking about old laws on the books or laws that are actually in practice and enforced in all those states.

      I know that atheists were killed at various times past in the name of religion, and shamefully "unbelievers" are still killed in various parts of the world in the name of religion. I'm not familiar with any modern and fairly common discrimination against atheists in this country.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Just Google "states where atheists cannot hold office." Lots of info.

      June 23, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • Roger that

      That would be the abuse of our religion that I mentioned. We have our crackpots and over-zealous bits

      I guess you didn't read this?

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/31/southern-baptists-to-urge-churches-and-members-to-cut-boy-scout-ties/

      June 24, 2013 at 12:03 am |
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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.