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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. Al O'Reid

    I have yet to found bored on reading posts in regards to this specific topic.

    In terms of another point of view, just as the many. It is easy for one to address the human creation by means of biological manipulation from technically advanced beings. Rather than acknowledging a sort of magical and spontaneous construction of everything by a thing/god (that usually is referred to be male); which is more alike magic.

    But again, to be created as a result of various actions arising from another material creature, is a elegant solution. But in any case, the god/creator is also extra-terrestrial isn't it? Is logically easier on the mind, right?

    This is an interesting standpoint, because I am a theist.

    July 16, 2013 at 2:37 am |
  2. Stephen Hawking is an Idiot!!!!!

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxRQahH0cqA&w=640&h=390]

    July 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • Observer

      How far far below that of an "idiot" must your intelligence be? Let us know your educational "achievements".

      July 14, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
      • RGE50

        That won't take long! His/her mother probably did the typing part.

        July 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  3. Mark

    "Atheism is more of a problem of the will than the intellect." Fulton Sheen

    July 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • sam stone

      "theism is more of a problem with the intellect then the will "- me

      July 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
      • AustinAtheist

        Good one, Sam! I hope you don't mind if I steal that.

        July 18, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • Observer

      Mark,

      What did Bishop Sheen say about unicorns and nonhuman talking animals?

      July 14, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
      • Cameron

        Observer,

        Have you not observed that the original languages do not say "unicorn" but the KJV English translation does because at the time this word would have described an animal with a single big horn? Atheists point out these surface level readings and it only shows how ignorant they are.

        And if you believe that Evolution could evolve us talking animals, then why do you preclude the possibility of it evolving other animals to talk? Are you a speciecist (= you think your species is superior), thus think only your species can evolve to talk?

        July 17, 2013 at 2:41 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Atheism isn't a problem. The more education an individual has, the more likely they are to be atheist or non practicing believer.

      July 16, 2013 at 10:26 am |
      • Mathews

        and by that logic, all PHD holders must be atheists? or does it start from Masters? or perhaps from Bachelors?

        July 16, 2013 at 11:39 am |
        • ANCampbell

          You missed the key word in his post. "the more likely" is the key word. He didn't say that ALL higher educated persons are in fact atheists. He said are more likely to be. That's because the higher educated person has a tendency to question more intellectually than that of an lower educated person.

          July 16, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  4. Mark

    Hey I love science. It is a wonderful type of knowledge. I'm glad I have mirror neurons and that oxytocin exists. This doesn't prove that God doesn't exist any more than sight can prove sound waves don't exist. There are different types of knowledge. Science is empirical knowledge. But there are other types including logic, systemic, semantic if you are interested. To speak of neurons and science is to speak as a scientist. To draw conclusions based on this knowledge about God is to speak as a philosopher and no longer as a scientist. Science by its nature is built upon limited observation. After observing something a number of times the scientist draws up a theory. Because there are limited number of experiments (you can't have an infinite number) to work from, science by its nature is approximate and not definitive. I don't claim that morality or value is the best proof of God's existence, but that atheists simply should be indifferent about everything if they are true to their principles.

    July 14, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • Dude

      Well said Mark. Religion isn't science..that's why they call it religion.

      July 14, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • RGE50

      Mark, do you find it disappointing that in the scientific community with all those thousands of accepted theories that not a single one invokes god as a part of it's solution?

      July 16, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
      • peripateopneuma

        Good God no, why would he? Science is a study independent of God. IT's a study of God's creations and the laws He laid down, if you wish to use a Faith based description.

        You can study the science independent of God, same as I can boink my wife without praying and singing hymns.

        Do you guys who are "bad ass" Xians and like to ridicule those without faith, ever sit and read what you have typed and actually think about it before you hit enter?

        There are great tons of us in the faith, who cringe every time some of you speak out. I'll buy you the book unChristian, if you'll read it and learn how you and your type affect my faith and my God.

        July 16, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • ANCampbell

      In my opinion morality is proof that a God doesn't exist; just like free will.

      July 16, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  5. GOOD NEWS

    Atheism is a dead end;

    because GOD is absolutely Real,

    and HE is Omnipotent and Omnipresent.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    July 14, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • better news

      nobody cares

      July 15, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • Stephen Jones

      The number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent. Seems to me Christianity is on the fast track to a "dead end".

      July 16, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • Angi

      It must be nice to be so impartial to fact and reality, to live with such an assuredness.
      Though without Certainty- without Fact, life wouldn't be real.

      July 18, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  6. George

    Why are atheists posting in a religion blog, anyway?
    It's like barging into a church and starting some Shi'ite with the priest. How rude!

    July 14, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Get a clue, buddy

      Wow, that's really clueless. You think atheists should not comment on a story about atheism, or on a blog that regularly addresses atheism?

      Why are you so afraid of freedom of speech?

      July 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      it is a BELIEF BLOG, not a religion blog, georgie. try to comprehend a bit better

      July 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • Mathews

      Because Atheism is a religion too.

      While religious people believe in a Creator, an Atheist believes in monkeys

      July 16, 2013 at 11:43 am |
      • ANCampbell

        Atheism is NOT a religion. It's the absence thereof.

        July 16, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
      • Stephen Jones

        Everyone should believe in monkeys. They are a species of primate just like humans.

        As for atheism being a religion, not so much.

        July 16, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
      • AustinAtheist

        You're right. I am an atheist and I believe in monkeys. Because monkeys actually exist.

        July 18, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  7. George

    If atheism is the one true way, then how come everyone is not flocking to it?

    July 14, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      But statistically they are. The "Nones" are growing faster than any religion, The only place religion is gaining market share is in third world countries with high birth rates.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
      • Hmmm...

        Statistically, no. The opposite is true. There was a larger percentage of American atheists, for example, in the 1960s than there are even now. That's also reflecting the impact of a growing population. The trend is reversing – fewer and fewer atheists.

        Source: Look at The Spiritual Brain by Mario Beauregard. An interesting read by a non-materialist neurosurgeon searching for existence of the soul.

        July 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Your information is wrong. Atheism is indeed growing in the United States. Research.

          July 16, 2013 at 10:23 am |
        • Mathews

          Research was done and it was found, that Atheism was dying. Then the media like CNN and the public schools jumped in and tried to bring back atheism. They are trying desperately. But we see more churches being built. More people going to churches.

          So now, the atheists have started a new kind of attack – Church without God. HA !!!

          July 16, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • George

      Why aren't they at 90%?

      July 14, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      2,000+ years of societal and parental indoctrination and possibly because most people are slow learners and/or sheep.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
      • JimAgain

        Huh? This coven is not involved in indoctrination? There is no indoctrination in the science lecture hall? In law school? Stop with the biased language!!

        July 16, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Get a clue, buddy

      Why isn't Christianity at 90%? It isn't. Why isn't ALL religion combined at 90%? It isn't.

      You are a clueless wonder.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Jon

      They aren't flocking because they truly afraid to identify with that label. They can say they don't believe in God, but that is usually only when they are surrounded by others who feel that way. It is a very weak system. But, let them stir up what they will. If it makes them feel important to try to show that God doesn't exist then go for it. They sure do spend a lot of energy on something they swear doesn't exist. Hmmm. Bunch of fools. They will see. I know I can lay my head down at night knowing the truth. They say they can, but they always wonder in the back of their minds. They will never admit it, but they do. Now watch how many will get all fired up about these statements. It is funny in away. But I know the truth.

      July 15, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • JimAgain

        Jon, I get your comment, but becareful– the line that concerns me is " I know I can lay my head down at night knowing the truth." How? Are you the arbiter of what is, in fact, true, about any such thing? That, by the waym, is my problem with atheism at its heart, and it is shared by other religious viewpoints too often– teh absolute certainty, the difference between saying "I belive" and "I know." I was young and am now getting old, and the older I get t the less I know. That's why I can't be an atheist.

        July 16, 2013 at 10:22 am |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Right, Jim. If we don't know much, we admit that we have no way to know any particular religion's god is THE god. If we don't know, we admit it, and so we don't believe. (After all, if you don't know if bigfoot exists, you probably also lack belief).

        July 16, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • AnotherFreeThinkingDue

      George: If Christianity were the one true way, then why are there about 41,000 Christian denominations instead of just one "true" one?

      July 15, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
      • JimAgain

        What kind of logic is that? So all people who share one beleif system should practie and think and organize the same way? Do you think when someone becomes a Christian they lose their individualism and creativity? Of all places to see diversity, religion is the place I'd epect to see the most! The propble is really a very human one - religious or not, people seem to need to emphasize difference, but fail to notice that the person with a differnet experience or viewpoint is an equal and a peer and a companion on the journey. Sad but real.

        July 16, 2013 at 10:18 am |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        @Jimagain

        The problem is that no denomination or interpretation has any more claim to "the truth" than any other interpretation. There's no method provided to verify which flavor of belief is more accurate than another. You can't do math or chemistry wrong and have it work out correctly, but who knows with religion? There's no way to tell.

        July 16, 2013 at 10:21 am |
        • JimAgain

          I'll respond with a comment someone else made about the sense of hearing not helping your to see (it was stated moree elegantly before!) I'll leave aside for now the truth of your statement in the absolute (some of my math-oriented frieds would take issue), But if you want to know how physical susbstances interact, a statement of religious faith won't help. If you want tools to help you understand what you are for, and what you "ought" to do, don't go to chem lab. At least I know it didn't help me.

          July 16, 2013 at 10:27 am |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Quite right, Jim, religions are nothing more than philosophies. The point is that if god really wanted his nature and will to be known he could have made his existence as obvious as gravity and his principles as discoverable as the Fibinocci sequence or the periodic table. Instead, if god exists, he allows complete and total confusion over his nature and will since he does not provide a method by which to verify one religion's accuracy over any other's.

          July 16, 2013 at 10:36 am |
        • Mathews

          How do you prove something is right or wrong? how do you prove how something tastes good or bad?

          July 16, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  8. ignatzz

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

    Bet there are no poor people, either.

    July 14, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • huskiemom

      There are no poor people in Humanist church because they are not allowed. Hipsters are allowed because they have trust funds!

      Atheists and atheism are an illusion that won't go away(like a bad smell; it just hangs around).

      July 14, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • sam stone

      gee, huskiemom, do you spend a lot of time on your knees?

      it will come in handy when you spend eternity in front of your slavior

      July 14, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Ya think her slavior takes Viagra?

      July 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  9. Mark

    Where do atheists get all their "values?" If there is no God, actions are not really good or bad in themselves. Atheists can not live their "non-belief." As soon as they experience injustice, pain, truth, love or beauty, their emotional experience betrays a deeper reality. If they could truly live their belief system, they would experience INDIFFERENCE and only INDIFFERENCE. And yet many of them are passionate about these things. Try as they may, they will never truly be able to live their non-belief and they must always invoke God to define who they are.

    July 14, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Saraswati

      You really need to get out and meet a few atheists. People have had secular ethical systems for centuries, if not millennia. Humans get upset when they see other humans hurt for the same reasons a dog will protect others in its pack. We evolved because caring about one another protects the species. As a rule, we enjoy seeing others happy and instinctively work to protect others, even when this hurts us. To diminish conflicts we intellectualize these beliefs and come up with utilitarian ethics and laws which seek to maximize the groups happiness and diminish its suffering. This isn't complex and is essentially how all secular societies work.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Mark

      Animals do not experience injustice, love, truth and beauty. These are deeper realities beyond instinct. Animals do experience pain obviously and out of instinct will protect. Some insects will do the same. Hornets will protect their nest. Humans are both animal and spirit. So yes we do have some things in common with animals, but unlike animals we have reason; something completely immaterial and beyond instinct. It is the spirit that knows injustice, love, truth and beauty. I personally believe in evolution. I believe that our physical body evolved under God's plan, and I believe our spirit comes directly from God.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Mark, you said that "Animals do not experience injustice, love, truth and beauty."

      Elephants mourn their dead, even visit their remains years after the death. They protect even the weakest members of their herd. Studies have shown that rats refuse treats, if that treat is accompanied by a shock to another rat. Dolphins will come to the aid of members of other species, even humans.

      You simply have an over-inflated view of humanity and a very outdated view of the animals around us. None of this is proof of god. It is merely proof of human arrogance and ignorance.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • Mark

      Animals operate on instinct. People have instincts too; but unlike animals we also have rationality. To suggest that an elephant's love is the essentially equivalent to a human's love doesn't elevate the animal species; it simply diminishes your view of human love. How do monarch butterflies, salmon and birds find their way to their original nesting grounds? Monarch butterflies hatched in a far away country will migrate to where their parents were hatched. This doesn't prove that they love with a human like love. It simply proves they are operating with some kind of instinct.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
      • ANCampbell

        You must be unaware that the human being in an animal as well. For you to sit there and type out that animals don't feel love, sadness, etc. is absurd. Animals experience all of these feelings. You tell me why a dog will sit in or go to the very place their human master utilized after their master has deceased. If that's not love and mourning then what is it? Dogs will also protect and/or seek help from another human being if their master is injured and cannot help themselves. You are very close-minded and I suggest you do a little more research on human being and all the other animals that roam this Earth.

        July 16, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Huh..

      "Where do atheists get all their "values?" If there is no God, actions are not really good or bad in themselves."

      Religious people find it very annoying that people don't need God to be good, as science has now incontestably proved.

      For millennia, we've been brainwashed into believing that we needed the Almighty to redeem us from an essentially corrupt nature. Left to our own devices, people would quickly devolve into beasts, more violent, tactless, aggressive, and selfish, than we already are.

      Today, we know that this isn't true. With the discovery of mirror neurons by Italian neuroscientist Giaccomo Rizzolatti in the 1990s, we now have physiological proof of why - and how - our species became hard-wired for goodness. Mirror neurons are miraculous cells in the brain whose sole purpose is to harmonize us with our environments. By reflecting the outside world inward, we actually become each other - a little bit; neurologically changed by what is happening around us. Mirror neurons are the reason that we have empathy and can feel each other's pain. It is because of mirror neurons that you blush when you see someone else humiliated, flinch when someone else is struck, and can't resist the urge to laugh when seeing a group struck with the giggles. (Indeed, people who test for "contagious yawning" tend to be more empathic.) These tiny mirrors are the key to most things noble and good inside us.

      It is through mirror neurons - not God - that we redeem ourselves, achieve salvation, and are "reborn" in virtuous ways once co-opted by religions. Evolution knew what she was doing. A group of successful cooperators has a much higher chance of thriving than a population of selfish liars. In spite of what we read in the headlines, the ratio of bad to good deeds done on any given day across our planet holds at close to zero any day of the year. Although we are ethical works-in-progress, the vast majority of us are naturally positive creatures - meaning not harmful to our environments - most of the time in most of the ways that matter. And God has nothing to do with it.

      Spirituality does but God doesn't. Evolutionary psychologists tell us that our brains are hard-wired with a five-toned moral organ that focuses on a quintet of ethical values - one of which is purity, or sacredness. In a world that can sometimes be disgusting, we evolved an upper tier of emotional longing - the aspiration for purity - to keep us balanced in this satyricon of carnal delights (where animality beckons and frequently wins). Our need for sacredness is part of our ancient survival apparatus, and manifests in what we call faith, the need to connect with that sacred dimension. This has been the primary purpose of religion, of course - to congregate people for the Greater Good - but God has been, in fact, the divine carrot. The important part was communion, a context in which to transcend ourselves, if only for an hour on Sundays. Without this ability "to turn off the Me and turn on the We," moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt tells us, our species would still be wandering around as groups of nomads, unable to create a civilization.

      Aside from mirror neurons, there's oxytocin, the molecule of connection (also known as the molecule of love). It's fascinating to learn that the vagus nerve produces more oxytocin when we witness virtuous behavior in others that makes us want to be better people ourselves. We are wired by nature to be elevated at the sight of other people's goodness, mirror neurons and oxytocin conspiring to improve the species. Miraculous though it is, this natural human phenomenon has nothing to do with theology.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
      • Mark

        Hey I love science. It is a wonderful type of knowledge. I'm glad I have mirror neurons and that oxytocin exists. This doesn't prove that God doesn't exist any more than sight can prove sound waves don't exist. There are different types of knowledge. Science is empirical knowledge. But there are other types including logic, systemic, semantic if you are interested. To speak of neurons and science is to speak as a scientist. To draw conclusions based on this knowledge about God is to speak as a philosopher and no longer as a scientist. Science by its nature is built upon limited observation. After observing something a number of times the scientist draws up a theory. Because there are limited number of experiments (you can't have an infinite number) to work from, science by its nature is approximate and not definitive. I don't claim that morality or value is the best proof of God's existence, but that atheists simply should be indifferent about everything if they are true to their principles.

        July 14, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Mark, I get that you need to cling to outdated information on animals to make yourself feel special. The problem, however, is that when you persist in using outdated information, those who are more informed recognize your ignorance. You can't prove your god exists by ignoring facts that are inconvenient to your argument.

      Of course, no one has ever successfully proven that any god exists. Perhaps you ought to concentrate on finding actual evidence for your god before you make claims about how special you are because of that god.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
      • Mark

        I guess I'm dumb

        July 14, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • sam stone

      we get our values from an understanding of what impact our actions have on others. how about you? do you ever evaluate the morality of the values you get from a religious text? if not, you are not making a moral choice, you are acting as a dog who has been told not to jump on the couch

      July 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Mark

      Hey I love science. It is a wonderful type of knowledge. I'm glad I have mirror neurons and that oxytocin exists. This doesn't prove that God doesn't exist any more than sight can prove sound waves don't exist. There are different types of knowledge. Science is empirical knowledge. But there are other types including logic, systemic, semantic if you are interested. To speak of neurons and science is to speak as a scientist. To draw conclusions based on this knowledge about God is to speak as a philosopher and no longer as a scientist. Science by its nature is built upon limited observation. After observing something a number of times the scientist draws up a theory. Because there are limited number of experiments (you can't have an infinite number) to work from, science by its nature is approximate and not definitive. I don't claim that morality or value is the best proof of God's existence, but that atheists simply should be indifferent about everything if they are true to their principles.

      July 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  10. Jim

    I'm not sure the terms "church" or "chaplain" are appropriate in this case. It seems like a bunch of folks just listening to a motivational speaker, self-help speaker, or community organizer.

    July 14, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  11. J P McMahon

    Can we please have a moratorium on the word "compassion"? It has had every bit of meaning stomped out of it by overuse. It has become a trope that people break out to say "Oooh, look what a nice person I am." You CAN"T know how someone else is suffering, and to declare otherwise is an utter lie. If someone asks you for help, by all means give it to them if you can, but just shut about it!

    July 14, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  12. Devout Atheist

    Just like many of us have (or have had) unintentionally bigoted grandparents, all of you (who are relatively young) are going to be considered by your grandchildren to be the crazy, gullible, and simple-minded grandparents who prefer to believe in sky-gods and magic rather than facing the "harsh" realities of being human.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  13. linda

    God is like the sun , where God is there is life anything outside of that is just shadows and darkness. It is a cheap attempt but it wont succeed. People are trying to remove God and to declare themselves as Gods by that they only hurt themselves and not God."He that hurteth, let him hurt still: and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is just, let him be justified still: and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still. Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to his works. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end"

    July 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • Devout Atheist

      I think you meant to write, "God is like a mirage of the sun..."

      God and to a greater extent religion is fools gold. Nothing more, nothing less...

      July 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
  14. fred bowen-smith

    Pete, ya missed the boat...
    God is outside of this box, not in it. Christ was in this world, not of it.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  15. Raymond Valenzuela

    Good day! I just wish to give a huge thumbs up for the nice info you have got here on this post. I might be coming again to your weblog for extra soon.

    July 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  16. Elaine

    I think I do understand some of the reasons for this community to be growing and thriving in our modern world, especially in a community of scholars. We , as humans, desire to be connected to one another and respected by one another. I don't have research to prove this but I think it could be found. Our world is getting smaller and smaller. We, as human beings, are seeing the division and pain that religion continually causes in our world. Our humanity is what can and should bridge us. I get it! However, there have been teachers, such as Jesus, who have taught compassion, love and acceptance. I think you are, perhaps, silent disciples. When will it be acceptable to admit to using the teachings of the past that can be used to shape the future? When can we be free to throw our hands up and say that perhaps "God" is really love, and only love? Just wondering.

    July 12, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • fred bowen-smith

      Here we go again to redefine a word and destroy our culture. Started with marriage and now your going after "church"
      Church is church, God, Christ and religion are a bases of a church. Normally know to be Christian and not other.
      Certainly not a gathering of atheists, lets call that what it is and stop pretending its something its not...

      July 13, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • Aud

      Nice post Elaine, something to think about.

      Fred – the world is, and will be, continuously redefined, get used to it.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • ANCampbell

      Problem is your God isn't love and only love. According to the bible, your God says you have the right to stone your children to they are dead for being unruly. That is NOT a loving God, but one that promotes that same ultimate sin he is against.

      July 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  17. GOOD NEWS

    There is only one Real GOD;

    HE is the GOD of Abraham,

    and Moses, Jesus, David, and Muhammad.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    July 11, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Ra

      Abraham, what a joke you mean the nut job who would have stabbed his own son to death for his dream god.
      Say it with me: Owa tafool iam, say it five times fast "good news".
      Let's not forget the pedophile know as Mohammed, a 50 year old with a ten year old, oh boy he liked the tight young stuff.

      July 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • JonathanL

      Look, here is how it is. Some gods are real and some are fake. Like numbers, some are real, some are imaginary, and some people who are deists believe in 1, or -1, in fact any number including 0 gods (most gods are male because men did most of the writing back then). This is good info because in a lot of places they torture you if you don't believe in at least some kind of god, especially the extreme godists of the south in the west and all around the middle east or or on the scientology yacht, or in the tax free environment of the Jehovah Witnesses' Condominiumland USA, they are awful. The ones who couldn't care less are better, but they usually don't tell you what they are. But you can say you believe in 0 gods and get away with it. you can argue that 0 is a number and that is how many gods you believe in, and you can say that it is not odd, because 0 is an even number, and that 1 is actually an odd number of gods so you don't believe in one god, or even 2 or 3 gods. Then just slip away slowly into the background and disappear before enough time passes for them to think of a way to demonize you for believing in a different number of gods (usually takes about 15 or 20 minutes so you should have planty of time – most have difficulty with addition).

      July 12, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • fred bowen-smith

      Right on... he is love

      July 13, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  18. mzh

    How can you disbelieve in Allah when you were lifeless and He brought you to life; then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you [back] to life, and then to Him you will be returned. – 2:28

    July 11, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      "But of Olórin that tale does not speak; for though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. In later days he was the friend of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness." – Page 31

      July 11, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  19. Frank H. Burton

    To ultimately cohere as a congregation, the Boston atheists will need to identify the beliefs they share that are much more fundamental than any worldview. When they do, they will find that their congregation need no longer be an atheist one. - Frank H. Burton, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Circle of Reason (the first society for pluralistic rationalism).

    July 11, 2013 at 2:42 am |
  20. mzh

    Say, [O Muhammad], "O mankind, indeed I am the Messenger of Allah to you all, [from Him] to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. There is no deity except Him; He gives life and causes death." So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered prophet, who believes in Allah and His words, and follow him that you may be guided. – 7:158

    July 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Pattherealist

      Im drawing pictures of Allah and his sidekick Muhammed right now, with a big pork and bacon buttie! I hope you're not offended.

      July 10, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • mzh

      Dear Pattherealist,

      I am not... every move counts and every soul will be compensated based on their action in this life...

      I am here just to let you know and not to force anything as Quran says 'there is no compulsion in religion – 2:256'

      Peace...

      July 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
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About this blog

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