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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. Will Ruppel

    @Bob

    Sorry Bob – thank you for pointing that out – I did not see his post – Doobs My bad – I did not see your post

    June 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Psst...

      Can't find the reply button? Is that why you have to start new threads?

      June 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  2. Russell

    Do any of you understand why there are so many religions?
    Thousands of Christian demoninations, a few different Jewish groups, two primary Islam sects, Hindu, etc .....
    It is because they actually provide valuable services to their members.
    People want to have a community and a group that accept them. We need friends and social interaction. All the successful churches i have ever seen offer activities outside of services – especially for youths.
    This man is showing you can provide all of that for people without worshipping a god.

    June 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN

      I always thought it was more about varying degrees of interpretation and general overall stupidity coupled with raising one's offspring with the same deluded beliefs.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • 1word

      Russell
      You can do all those things but you will still be a sinner. The Love God can give you, you cannot get that by trying to be good. Loving your neighbor as your self, humility, forgiving and long suffering. You cannot get that without Christ in your heart. Being that God is smarter than us, I trust he knows what he's doing.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Just remember Russell, if it weren't for the bible 1word would commit murder.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • sam stone

      1word: sin is a man made concept. looks like you swallowed sin, heaven, hell and god hook, line and sinker

      June 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Russell

      I should have said 'churches' instead of 'religions'

      June 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Madtown

      You cannot get that without Christ in your heart
      ----
      "Who's Christ?"

      – signed,
      A person who God created equal to you, yet placed in a corner of the world where christianity isn't practiced

      June 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  3. Will Ruppel

    @Psst...

    Hitler was a Christian? – THAT IS MY POINT!!!!!

    Hitler may have referred to himself as a Christian but HE CERTAINLY WAS NOT A CHRISTIAN....

    Stalin was an Atheist – does that mean all Atheists are like Stalin – no of course not

    WEAK ARGUMENT, sir – if we are attempting to discuss a subject with mutual respect then I am all in – but your comment is simply offbase

    June 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      As if your no true scotsman argument is any better.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      No true Scottsman falacy.

      Hitler WAS a xtian.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      fallacy

      June 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Only two parties can make the call as to whether a person is a Christian or not, God and the person in question. Since we have yet to get a clear answer from God on every Christians current status, we can only go by what that person claims to be. Some might say that the 9/11 bombers were not true Muslims because they go against some of the fluffier parts of the Koran about protecting the innocent. They however, professed to be Muslim so all we can do is believe them. Hitler professed to be Christian, and since God has never weighed in on it, we can only take him at his word.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • Jimmy

      And don't forget that God apparently had the Romans siege and then destroy much of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 ad where he killed over 1 million jews, how do we know that Jesus isn't rewarding Hitler for his service this very moment?

      June 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Will Ruppel
      Hitler was a christian. He was one of your brothers in Christ. That lame No True Scotsman defence doesn't change the facts. In his own words.

      This human world of ours would be inconceivable without the practical existence of a religious belief

      Adolf Hitler

      Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator:
      – by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord

      Adolf Hitler

      “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a
      fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded
      by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and
      summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest
      not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian
      and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord
      at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the
      Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight
      against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with
      deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact
      that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As
      a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have
      the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is
      anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly, it is
      the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty
      to my own people. And when I look on my people I see them work and
      work and toil and labor, and at the end of the week they have only
      for their wages wretchedness and misery. When I go out in the morning
      and see these men standing in their queues and look into their
      pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very
      devil, if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two
      thousand years ago, turn against those by whom today this poor people
      are plundered and exposed.”

      [Adolf Hitler, speech in Munich on April 12, 1922,]

      That is a christian. Deal with it.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  4. 1word

    God does not hate Gay people. He loves all people. It wasn't God that caused man to fall, man sinned on his own. Today, people continue to make the same mistake Adam did way back then. If you turn to God and keep your eyes toward him you will be Blessed in all you do. God is not a man that he should lie.

    June 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • ME II

      Why did God put the 'tree of knowledge of good and evil' in the garden if man wasn't supposed to eat from it?

      June 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • 1word

      Maybe, because he wanted too. As a loving God he gives your freedom of choice. He told Adam if he choose to disobey God he would suffer the consequence. Maybe if Adam had obeyed, God would have told him to eat from the Tree of Life first and then he could eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Will Ruppel

      GOD LOVES ALL PEOPLE!!!!! A great place to start – Love – pass it on!

      June 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • 1word

      Also, You are doing the same thing now. God said that if you come to him you will have life, but you rather eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      The idea of original sin is horrible. I am created sick and commanded to be well, based on something someone allegedly did 6000 years ago, that I had nothing to do with. Not only that but I am worthless, wretched, and covered in shame and filth. I'm lucky to be alive. But I need not worry, heaven has a plan just for me in mind.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • ME II

      "Maybe, because he wanted too. As a loving God he gives your freedom of choice."

      1) That seems rather arbitrary and cruel. 'Here's a beautiful tree with delicious fruit, but you can't have it. Nah Nah Nah'
      2) How was Adam supposed to know it was wrong to disobey God if he hadn't yet eaten from the 'tree of knowledge of good and evil'?

      June 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • 1word

      ME II
      God told him not too. If you discipline your baby by popping their hand, they will get the idea that they should do that again. Adam was a grown man, and he knew what he was doing was wrong because God said don't do it or you'll die.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • ME II

      @1word,
      " he knew what he was doing was wrong because God said don't do it or you'll die."

      How can he have known if he didn't have a "knowledge of good and evil"?

      June 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Pete

      The entire basis of Christianity is immoral. First all of humanity is being punished for something someone else did, and secondly all Christians are willing to let Jesus take their punishment for them. Neither of these situations is moral.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • sam stone

      "It wasn't God that caused man to fall, man sinned on his own"

      If god is omniscient, then there is no free will and god essentially did cause man to "sin"

      go home, boy, and get your shinebox

      June 24, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • sam stone

      Pete: Christians are not interested in morality. If they did, they would stand up and deny christ's supposed sacrifice and take the punishment that they feel they deserve. But, they would rather cower

      June 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  5. Will Ruppel

    @Cpt. Obvious
    Nor does Epstein choose to do something original – he copies what he detests – that is hypocrisy plain & simple – If you don't believe in God why would you emulate their traditions? whether they be similar routine a mosque, temple, and church services – Secular Humanists as I understand it don't believe in God – SO BE ORIGINAL – Copying those that you detest simply indicate you admire them, no?

    Imitation is the BEST FORM OF FLATTERY..is it not?

    – otherwise by your actions you admit that you can only copy what exists...then perhaps...maybe, just maybe there is more to the ritual than simply acting the part –

    June 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Bob

      Poor response, Will. Doobs has already responded very aptly to your absurd statements on the previous page.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Yeah, originality, like Christians did with their Bible.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Many social gatherings use a similar format. Clubs based on common interests tend to have a sort of "service" with a "congregation" and various levels of engagement in various activities at certain times in the program. They're not all copying church services because they admire them and are being flattering.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Doobs

      Stop lying, Will.

      Christians don't own the idea of people with common interests getting together in an organized manner.

      This is not an imitation of traditional Judeo-Christian rites and traditions. There's no ritual cannibalism, no pumping up of belief in a magic man in the sky, no condemnation of gay people, no bullying of members to tithe, and no threats of eternal punishment.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Doobs

      @ Bob

      Thanks!

      June 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  6. My Dog is a jealous Dog

    Deep Thoughts – by Jack Handy:

    f a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is "God is crying." And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is "Probably because of something you did."

    June 24, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Akira

      I LOVE "Deep Thoughts By Jack Handy"! Thanks for the laugh!

      June 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Doobs

      @ dog

      The nuns in my parochial school used to say stuff like that to us all the time.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  7. lionlylamb

    Denying one's spiritualism is not healthy for one's soul.

    June 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN

      You deny your own delusion. What is a soul? Where is it located? Do you have any evidence supporting the existence of a soul? Perhaps what would follow would be a need for the soul to exist in the first place, and surely you have such evidence to support this hypothesis.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Happy Atheist

      And getting to close to a girl can give you cooties...

      June 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Sue

      I consider listening to good music a "spiritual" experience. Basically anything that reaches you on a deeply emotional level would fit the bill, including professional sports, theatre, opera, hiking through nature ... you name it, and no god required!

      June 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Sue.........poor poor sue. Spiritual ballgame? Really, please tell me you really don't believe that.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN,

      The soul is the psychic connection by which the spiritedness of one's ego is allowed freedoms to fly with others who alight themselves with matters of spirited sameness. Atheists flock together as do the religious flocks fold together. Their true natures are of sameness which is their seeking from others the issues which they themselves dare luster upon. God or no god are divisive issuances to be transpired in one's lifetime here upon the atomized celestial shorelines of spatial transitioning.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Girls are infected!

      @LL – Cooties are, in American and Canadian childlore, a kind of infectious disease.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Girls are infected!

      If you can prove you don't have cooties then I might believe you have a soul.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Sue responded writing, "I consider listening to good music a "spiritual" experience."

      Listening to music is a 'sensual experience' while understanding the words of a song is a 'spiritual experience'. Far too often people have sensual experiences without understanding the spiritual undertones.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Sue

      AH
      I dare you to find a group of Superbowl, or Stanley Cup winning fans who didn't reach a fervor surpassing that any mega-church gathering.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Sue

      lionlylamb
      Wouldn't it be fair to say that far too many people fail to see the intended 'sensual experience' of churchgoing? That they fail to appreciate how their emotions and senses are being manipulated to help make the content far more palatable than simply reading about Christian belief for oneself?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  8. My Dog is a jealous Dog

    Deep Thougts – by Jack Handy:

    We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can't scoff at them personally, to their faces, and this is what annoys me.

    June 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  9. Atheist Hunter

    Play church all you want, Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and the father. You're self help mess don't work, look at history and the present shape of the people of the world. Where's your self help miracles? Why haven'y you all fixed the economy with your self help, we're all gods lies? Cause it won't and don't work, never has, never will. It's called narcissism and it's a mental illness.

    June 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN

      *your

      Why hasn't your god fixed the economy?

      Why hasn't your god restored the limbs of any of our veterans who have had their arms and legs lost to war in the "holy land?"

      Why hasn't your god been caught on camera somewhere? We've got plenty of UFO footage, but no god footage.

      Why is your god always hiding from us puny humans?

      Where is it?

      June 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • John Stemberger

      Atheist Hunter

      Play church all you want, Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and the father.
      -------
      prove it

      June 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • John Stemberger

      God has yet to grow a limb back for a human. God hates the handicapped.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Thoth

      What's narcissistic is believing that one species of many was specifically placed here, created in the image of some supernatural being, and that of all the gods and goddesses conjured up by man, YOU have chosen the exact correct one. There is nothing humble about religious claims.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Will Ruppel

      Does Secular Humanism fix the economy & Mental illness, too? Or do you simply like to lash out at Christians? Sound to me like Secular Humanists simply hate Christians...I guess Secular Humanism is the "kinder, gentler "belief"...pun intended

      June 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      God has cursed humanity, struck down Sodom and Gomorrah, flooded the planet, given us the 10 commandments, had a human being tortured, killed 25,000,000 in the Bible, threatened us with hell, and not taught humanity a dam n thing. I'd say his lesson plan isn't working.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Doobs

      " look at history and the present shape of the people of the world."

      Let's see...

      People are not allowed to own other people.
      Women are not considered the personal property of their husbands or fathers.
      Discrimination against others due to race, gender, religion, social position and soon, sexual identity is illegal.

      And yet, all of these are heartily approved of in your bible. Are you saying that we should go back and make slavery legal again?

      June 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN........cause you and many many other's reject him and his help, because he gave Adam earth and Adam gave it to Satan and this is his world, he may not restore all limbs but a true believer won't care because he knows God has a purpose for his lost limb and he works ALL THINGS for their good and this body is only temporary. Non-believers have shallow self serving thinking. Cause he is the great invisible God. it's he's invisible it means you can't see Him. Yet. He's not hiding, he is everywhere and with us all day long every minute of every day. It is you who is hiding like Adam and Eve in the garden. You have partaken of the forbidden fruit and you think he does not see. Call out to him if you want to meet Him. Don't complain about not knowing Him when you have not been seeking Him. He promises to answer and that those who seek will find Him.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • ME II

      @Atheist Hunter,
      That doesn't follow because one, you assume that the economy is something that all atheists want to "fix" and two, you assume that atheist have the power to effect their desired changes in the economy, neither of which is true.

      However, being a member of such a large majority in the US I would have to wonder why such an altruistic association such as yours (assuming you are Christian) has not eradicated hunger, homelessness, or poverty in this country.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Well, Christianity is basically slavery.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      ME II.........cause the world was given to your god Satan...that's right there is no fence riding in this life. You either come to Jesus or Satan's got dibs on you. He want's you and the children to starve, die, and suffer. Get it. God will eradicate it for the ones who choose Him. It's you're choice if your starve or are homeless. We have an eternal home waiting. Satan can't starve us to death cause our savior defeated death for us and it has no hold on us. To die in this life for a Christian is to live an eternal life with no tear, pain or suffering. He is a good God! Open your eyes.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN

      Atheist Hunter, please stop now. Go to a bookstore, and purchase a bible. Next, read it. It is at this juncture that I am completely convinced you have never actually read one.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • ME II

      @Atheist Hunter,
      "....cause the world was given to your god Satan"

      What? Are you blaming Satan for preventing you and other Christians from feeding people? Really?

      June 24, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • ME II

      @Atheist Hunter,
      p.s. Obviously, Satan is not 'my god'.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Sue

      A.H.
      Why do you assume that everyone would want to go to your idea of heaven and be close to your idea of God? I personally wouldn't enjoy heaven if I knew that good people were suffering in hell just because they didn't believe. God could make me be happy, but if he did that then I wouldn't be me, but one of those robots you guys like to throw out in discussions about free will. The only way I would buy into heaven is if everyone automatically went there and, if that were the case, why on earth would I go through the hassle of trying to believe in a God? It just doesn't make any sense!

      June 24, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • sam stone

      The god that the internet christian trolls describe is a petty, vindictive pr1ck. Of course, internet christian trolls are petty, vindictive pr1cks so it makes sense they would see god as extensions of themselves. They just want to snivel before their savior

      June 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  10. Will Ruppel

    @Russell

    I would encourage you to re-read the article & it is my sincere hope that he does help people, but, I will indicate that if a man dislikes something he certainly doesn't copy/emulate it...its blatant hypocrisy – he is using the familiar to leverage his agenda...and he is using the disenfranchised to augment & promote his agenda...Read the article & ask yourself the question – he is COPYING JUDEA-CHRISTIAN RITES, TRADITIONS, & RITUALS because the people he is 'reaching out to' miss them? OR because they are familiar & if he tweeks them then he can create a secular version for WHAT PURPOSE? I

    If one does not believe in God then WHY would you want to follow the rituals, traditions, & rites of those who do?

    June 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      God believers don't own the method of a.s.s.embling together, sharing ideas, and enjoying the time spent with friends. Have you ever been to a club meeting somewhere? It's basically the same format. You don't get mad at the local country club for following a similar routine to mosque, temple, and church services, do you?

      June 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Doobs

      You keep posting this stupid idea that Christians invented and own the idea of people getting together and sharing ideas and each other's company.

      People have been gathering around the fire, talking, singing, dancing and socializing since the beginning of humankind's existence.

      The arrogance of some Christians is astounding.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  11. Atheist Hunter

    I know, I know, let's get together and make a club that talks about how we don't believe in God because he is imaginary and call it church! Great idea! Then lets get together and make a club that talks about the how we don't believe in the loch ness monster because it is imaginary and call it an atheist convention. Better idea!

    June 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Observer

      Atheist Hunter,

      They have clubs for HYPOCRITES who pick on gays while ignoring the MUCH GREATER number of their own ADULTERERS. They are called Christian churches.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      I don't pick on no one, my unrepentant sin will send me to he ll just as quick as an unrepentant gays sins. I just tell the truth. Had I not repented and accepted Jesus Christ's sacrifice then I would go to he ll with them.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Will Ruppel

      Actually the tragic irony is that the "club" Epstein promotes uses all the rituals, rites, & traditions of Judea-Christianity & call it secular humanism – he does respect his "congregation/community" enough to doe something original – his best game is to emulate the familiar to attract a following so he can have his 'strong community'...at least someone had the creativity to imagine the story of the Loch Ness Monster...Epstein simply copies that which he whishes to challenge & calls it his "church" – plagiarism perhaps an author such as Epstein should use a dictionary...

      June 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • ME II

      @Atheist Hunter,
      I think they went out of their way to state that is not what they discuss.

      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."

      June 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN

      Will, has it not occurred to you that emulating the ritual without a deity will prove the point that the results will be the same? I think you're a little bit paranoid about this whole thing, as though it'll anger some deity.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Doobs

      @ Will

      Read the article. He doesn't call it a church. The author does.

      How many times are you going to post your ridiculous notion that Christians invented organized meetings of people with common interests?

      Why don't you go after the Girl Scouts? They meet together, pay dues, sing, learn about the world, have activities and go on trips together. They are emulating Judeo-Christian rites and must be stopped!

      June 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Doobs

      "Epstein promotes uses all the rituals, rites, & traditions of Judea-Christianity & call it secular humanism " is a lie. (And a poorly constructed sentence.)

      There's no wafers and grape juice, no ritual pumping up of belief in a magic man in the sky, no condemnation of gay people, no bullying of members to tithe, and no threats of eternal punishment.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  12. Observer

    Luke 16:18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.” [Jesus]

    Has anyone heard Christian HYPOCRITES ever trash their own ADULTERERS like they trash gays?

    June 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Observer..........an unrepentant adulterer will face the same he ll as an unrepentant gay. There happy!

      June 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • sserver

      Atheist Hunter,

      HYPOCRISY Test:

      How many of your fellow Christians have you told to divorce and repent since they are ADULTERERS according to Jesus?

      Number please. You frequently trash gays so let's compare.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Doobs

      "an unrepentant adulterer will face the same he ll as an unrepentant gay."

      So why aren't churches trying as hard to pass laws making divorce and remarriage illegal as they are same sex marriage?

      Hypocrite.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  13. 1word

    Even the Atheist looking for a spiritual experience. Imagine that, what would happen if they just believe in Jesus and accepted him as their Lord and Savior. I guarantee you, there will be no more Atheist.

    June 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      I'm hardly going to look a someone for morals who only has them because of a book.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  14. Atheist Hunter

    Atheist have church to prove to Christians that they can. What are you guys just totally bored or something?

    June 24, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Thoth

      Are you unable to wrap your head around the idea that people enjoy gathering, sharing ideas, meals, etc... without the need for religious dogma? Why does it bother you so that some folks seek to be good and moral without being feared into doing so, or promised some fantasy dream land when they die?

      June 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  15. Pete

    To everyone who says that Atheism is a religion, what is your point? If you able to prove that Atheism is a religion what exactly have you gained?

    June 24, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Russell

      It has been said a lot, but atheism is a religion like not collecting baseball cards is a hobby.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      What have atheists gain from bashing religion and God? That goes two ways huh?

      June 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Happy Atheist

      My favorite hobby is not collecting stamps. My second favorite hobby is not collecting baseball cards. My third favorite hobby is not believing in God.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Happy Atheist

      @Atheist Hunter – How is my saying God doesn't exist bashing you?

      June 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Happy Atheist...........then leave him alone if you don't believe in him. Why fight your imagination. That's a little mental.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Akira

      Atheism IS a religion as proven by this article. If it wasn't, they wouldn't need a church PERIOD.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • It's because christians are desperate

      To bring us down to their disgusting level

      June 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • John Stemberger

      Atheist Hunter

      Happy Atheist...........then leave him alone if you don't believe in him. Why fight your imagination. That's a little mental.
      ....
      What makes God a "he"????????????????

      June 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      LOVE the argument from a CNN article!

      June 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Pete

      But why are you guys so set on proving it is a religion? In the end whether it is a religion or not is meaningless.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN

      I want to throw puppies into the sun every time I hear someone say this.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      AH, I have no problem not pointing out the delusion you share with other believers – I'll stop pointing it out when believers stop pushing their beliefs on the rest of us.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Happy Atheist

      "What makes God a "he"????????????????"

      I'm pretty sure for Atheist Hunter it's the imagined galactic sized cosmic penis...

      June 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Akira

      Nice try, fake Akira.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Sue

      Akira
      If we're not worshipping anything then this is more like a concert hall, lecture hall, or sports stadium where people get together to enjoy something common. Think more like Comic Con than church, a celebration of logic, reason and clear, unfuzzy thinking.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  16. Russell

    No wonder the fundies are all upset by this.
    It does everything they do, except lie to people.
    All of those young people who can't find a god to believe in could find the support and sense of belonging they seek through organizations like this.

    June 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  17. Sue

    I simply can't see how this could work, especially if you want to keep it open for drop ins. How could you keep the religious protestors from disrupting everything? They would barge in, of course the would. If high school kids could be recruited to disrupt science classes, who's gonna bet that pastors wouldn't be sending their minions into such gatherings for the specific purpose of making people feel uncomfortable? It's what they do. If they can't own a thing completely, they'll ruin it for everyone else.

    June 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • My Dog is a jealous Dog

      Explain how high school kids are recruited to disrupt science class – by whom? For what purpose? Aren't they already in the class? How is their presence in a class that they are supposed to be in count as "recruited"?

      June 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • darrin

      There were some religious groups organizing their young persons to intentionally disrupt their science classes trying to inject their brand of intelligent design theory instead of just showing the students what science has actually learned over the last few centuries.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  18. Observer

    Atheist Hunter,

    Tell us EVERYTHING Jesus said about gays.

    He said a lot about the s-xual lives of heteros and much of it was bad.

    Oooops! Lots and lots of HYPOCRISY for people like you who trash gays.

    June 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      It's an abomination. Repent and turn from you sins.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Jesus didn't say that about gays, honey. But you knew that-you just like having an excuse to hate them.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Shellfish are an abomination and so is shaving your beard and poly-cotton blended clothing.
      "Abomination" = ritually unclean.
      You don't worry about the other stuff the OT calls abominable, so why cherry pick?

      June 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Observer

      Atheist Hunter,

      Did Jesus say it was?

      Being gay is an "abomination" like eating lobster, scallops, and Alaskan King crablegs.

      All of the Christian HYPOCRITES who divorce and remarry commit a TEN COMMANDMENTS SIN.

      Ooops!

      June 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • John Stemberger

      Atheist Hunter

      It's an abomination. Repent and turn from you sins.
      --------
      Who said it was????????

      June 24, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  19. Arthur Bryant

    JMEF: Just a historical note.....no "witches" were burned in Salem. They all died by hanging except Giles Corey who was pressed to death. Pressing is having rocks piled on you until you suffocate. Because gawd loves you!

    June 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • My Dog is a jealous Dog

      You are absolutely correct – no witches were harmed in any way in Salem – because witches don't exist.

      Churches and deranged townsfolk killed innocent women.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  20. Will Ruppel

    @Erin, Unfortunately I can make the same case for governments that you make against Christianity...Stalin, Hitler, Attila the Hun..so what do we have in common – they all had power that was not questioned – that is my point – I sincerely hope Epstein does not have an agenda, however, in this article his ambiguity speak far more than his words...He needs to be HONEST that is my point – not sell a franchise of familiar religious rituals under another agenda whereby HE becomes the individual that drives strong change – All I is that one thinks critically...WHY WOULD ONE EMULATE WHAT ONE DOES NOT BELIEVE? TO CHOOSE THE POSITIVE OR THE FAMILIAR?

    June 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Psst...

      Hitler was Christian. Do try again. And if you don't want to go to their establishment, DON'T. All they are proving is that humanists and atheists don't require God to congregate, and you are proving that you are very uncomfortable with that idea.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      What do you think Epstein wants?

      June 24, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Akira

      What part of this bothers you so much? The music? Religion doesn't own that. Passing the hat? Religion doesn't own that. Lectures about doing good and affecting change? Religion certainly does not own that, either. Calling it a congregation? Religion does own congregating either.
      With all due respect, Will, I don't understand what you are upset about, if indeed you are upset...

      June 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      Will

      Stalin and Mao were autocrats that would do anything to anyone to keep power. they didn't care about belief or nonbelief, everyone was a tool or cannon fodder.

      Christianity and Islam...bad things happen to you because of the ideology......19 young men threw their lives away killing thousands of people in NYC directly because of Islam.....for Christianity it was the various inquisitions, trials and burnings.....religion will kill you for though crimes.

      Add to that the normal human bullshiit and you got the world today...

      June 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Akira

      S/B "Religion doesn't own congregating either."

      June 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Doobs

      "All I is that one thinks critically...WHY WOULD ONE EMULATE WHAT ONE DOES NOT BELIEVE? TO CHOOSE THE POSITIVE OR THE FAMILIAR?"

      As I have said before, Christians don't own the idea of people gathering together. But it is a hell of a lot more positive than a typical Christian service. There's no ritual cannibalism, no pumping up of belief in a magic man in the sky, no condemnation of gay people, no bullying of members to tithe, and no threats of eternal punishment.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:52 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.