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
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

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. MD

    Too many Christians here with just a label of being a Christian – based on comments Christ's love is not there

    June 24, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • bostontola

      Ghandi was very perceptive regarding the same point.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      too many Christians believe that Christianity is about being able to quote bible verses and being able to judge other people.

      (then there's the ones that fall on the floor and twitch and speak in tongues ... but let's not go there)

      June 24, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Science

      Not in the stork either ?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Peter

      "Christ", who will return to end all democracy here on earth, and become it's dictator? Maybe these nasty types really are expressing Christ's idea of "love". Sounds to me like Christ would get along pretty fine with Stalin and Hitler.

      June 24, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  2. Erasmus

    Per the Progressive Humanism website

    "....however, you can be a humanist in practice even if you choose to believe in some higher power. Some atheists might dispute this,......"

    WOW, humanism vs atheism, can this forum be anymore divided?????????????????????

    June 24, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • bostontola

      Not really. Most atheists and humanists don't care what others believe, unlike many who believe in god(s).

      June 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      To quote an ex-pentecostal minister and one of the heads of the Clergy Project...
      " Skepticism is my nature.
      Free Thought is my methodology.
      Agnosticism is my conclusion.
      Atheism is my opinion.
      Humanitarianism is my motivation."
      —Jerry DeWitt

      I would like to think this speaks well for most non-believers.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Doobs

      So the approximately 41,000 different denominations of Christianity are a perfect representation of unity among Christians?

      Humanists and atheists don't wage war against each other like religious groups do. I don't care what someone believes, as long as they keep it out of civil law and don't push it as something everyone has to believe.

      June 24, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  3. Dyslexic doG

    Honey Badger Don't Care wrote "I will mock anyone who believes in, and talks to, a mythical being for which there is no evidence."

    Dear Honey Badger Don't Care. I applaud your noble quest. Let me know if I can assist you in any way with your good work.

    June 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Sarcasm

      Mockery..perhaps the most noble quest man has ever known.

      June 26, 2013 at 6:50 am |
  4. john316

    I called it years ago and now its finally time but atheism just reared its stupid ugly head as its own religion just like weve been saying it would after all the years of pretending it wasnt hows that egg on your face atheists?

    June 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Dippy

      John, you could use a few lessons in punctuation. You know, those funny little marks on the lower right-hand part of your keyboard.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Athy

      OK, John, call atheism a religion if it makes you happy. Did you have some point to make?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • bostontola

      Seems like this needs to be explained too many times.
      Atheists can create a religion, or many religions, but atheism isn't a religion. Theism isn't a religion but there are many theistic religions (including many Christian ones).

      June 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • tony

      "It" didn't. A CNN writer for money, just found a tiny minority that enjoy being together.

      IAs a bible supporterr, I guess you are already good at drawing big wrong conclusions from tiny amounts of un referenced data.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Christians are obsessed with calling Atheism a religion.

      Like drug addicts that know what they are doing is wrong so they want everyone else to be doing it too.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • ReligionIsBS

      Atheism is defintiely not a religion. And for the life of me, I cant understand why some religious people like to say that it is. As if that makes your god real because atheism is a religion.....?????

      June 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      I think they're afraid. Their greatest enemies are now forming groups and potentially might open a mind or two, in turn leading to the decline in the believers numbers.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • sam stone

      you were wrong then, john316 and you are wrong now.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  5. tony

    Not my thing. I can disbelieve without needing a support group or social group to do it with me.

    June 24, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      There are a lot of people who find it hard to admit disbelief to their families and friends, this sort of thing is a good outlet for them.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  6. required

    No thought or brain power, blatant copying without any understanding of what's going on:

    Sunday's congregation, church, chaplain, preach, hourlong service, homilies, passing of the plate, church, "We can learn from the positive while learning how to get rid of the negative,", “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", "left his job as an evangelical minister", "is using his pastoral experience to building an atheist church", "When you become a part of this congregation, this community, you are going to become part of a family,", "What we are looking at doing is different,"

    No, it's taking it all, copying it, and saying you want to exclude the main reason anyone goes there, to find, understand and love God.

    That is his mindset, someone that has no idea what he was doing before, or after.


    June 24, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      No more copying and pasting than the christards did.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Doobs

      Mr. Doobs gets together every Friday night with some other guys to play poker and socialize. There's music, food, conversation and the ritual dealing and gathering of cards with numbers and symbols on them around a pile of money.

      He's going to be surprised when I tell him he's copying Christianity and that the main reason he goes there is to find, understand and love God. All this time we thought he was just having fun with his friends.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:15 pm |

      Which god?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Roger that

      I guess you could say it's like church minus the make-believe part.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • required

      He's completely confused. It has nothing to do with a building, or even people showing up to a building, or special words.

      Jesus taught on a hillside. When God interacts, it often is not in a church, or even with a lot of people around, or any other people. It's up to him, not a building or the people showing up on cue, a specific day and time. The entire point is to find, understand, and love God, that is why, not what the confused atheist thinks it is. He's taken the main reason for any of it, tossed him out, or said he doesn't want him there, then took all the words people often use, thinking that would give the same effect. If that was so, Jesus would have herded people into a temple each time, and not on a hillside, or at a meal, or anywhere he was talking with others. The point was to get people to God, not a building, ritual, or other people... but the people, to God.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • Doobs

      He's completely confused. It has nothing to do with a building, or even people showing up to a building, or special words.

      So when Christians end every single prayer with the words "in Jeebus name. Amen." they are not uttering "special words"?

      June 24, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  7. Three kinds of believers

    ❶ Those who believe in God.

    ❷ god believers

    ❸ Godless believers

    This article goes on to show that atheism by whatever name (secular humanism) called is another belief system.

    June 24, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • Tony

      Three options; only one is right.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • Doobs

      You forgot the fourth one:

      People who don't believe in deities. There's no "system" required.

      Are there Zeusless believers? Raless believers? Tooth Fairyless believer? Why not?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • Archangel

      There are only 2 choices in life.

      You believe in God


      You believe in satan

      June 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      And bald is a hair color and NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Atheism = negative statement. It says only what one does NOT believe.
      Secular humanism = belief system
      Naturalism = belief system
      Materialism = belief system

      Not every atheist is all, or indeed any, of those things.

      It is akin to saying that all apoliticists are socialists.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Archangel

      There are only 2 choices in life.

      You worship God


      You worship satan

      June 24, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • bostontola

      I'm an atheist. I not only don't believe in god(s), I affirmatively believe there are no gods (as deeply as the most devout Christian believes in Jesus). Other atheists and agnostics have other positions.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      If I don't believe in your imaginary friend god, then it is safe to say that I don't believe in his imaginary enemy satan. You don't get one without the other or did they not teach you that yesterday in Sunday school?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      I'm with bostontola!

      June 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Define "godless believer"

      June 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Humans invented god... god invented satan?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Doobs

      @ Archangel

      Wrong. I don't believe in the existence of god or satan.

      You obviously believe in the existence of both.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Three kinds of believers

      Godless believers:

      Atheists do not believe in God; A-theos which means they are Godless . Atheists are Godless believers or God unbeliever.
      Belief in God= Theist
      Unbelief in God= atheist

      June 24, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Doobs

      I asked this before but you didn't answer.

      The absence of belief does not imply a system. Are there Zeusless believers and Tooth Fairyless believers? What about nonbelievers in the thousands of deities created by man over the years?

      June 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Three kinds of believers

      Doobs-'The absence of belief does not imply a system'

      To call yourself an 'atheist' you need God in the equation. Just that you don't 'believe' in God.

      You are therefore Godless believer.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Three kinds of believers

      " Atheists are Godless believers or God unbeliever."

      This is not an "or". Only the second argument is accurate. Atheists do not believe in God.

      Your other definition is fine:

      Belief in God= Theist
      Unbelief in God= atheist

      It still doesn't make God real, except in the mind of believers.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Archangel' is an instance of a False Dichotomy.


      June 24, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • Can you be good without God?

      Archangel hit the nail in the head. Spot on!

      June 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • SOn of Ether

      @ARchangel – Regardless of what you think, I worship neither.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • Doobs

      @ three

      What about the thousands of other deities that you and I don't believe in? Does that make you a Shivaless believer? a Teshubless believer? a Tuoniless believer?

      Why does my non belief in your particular god make me any different from you? You just believe in one more god than I do. Why are you so sure yours is the right one? Because of a moldy old book of unknown authorship, cobbled together by rich white men to control people and enrich their coffers?

      June 24, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  8. Russell

    Let me explain this differently for those of you who think god has anything to do with a religion's success or failure.
    Please consider the Mormon church for a moment. The faith was founded by a know swindler, wear magical underware, have secret meetings, allow their church to keep track of who has not paid their 10%, and the men look forward to populating their own planet in the next life. Then it gets weird. However, they have grown and prospered as a religion. This is because they have a strong sense of community. They have worked to make their faith the center of their community. They do work together to help other members in need. They also demand a high moral standard (at least in apperance) from their members. They could be worshipping te FSM or the IPU and it would work just as well for them. God has nothing to do with the growth of that religion. It has flourished because of the sub culture that formed and community that has developed.
    Similar things can be said about all prosperous religions. This is an article about someone who understands this and is working to create a productive culture and community without worshipping any god at all. It could work.

    June 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm |

      Brainwashing is not equal to community.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The great difficulty in building communities is that they very quickly can descend into violent tribalism.
      How does one go about grouping like minded individuals without said group becoming sectarian?
      F'ed if I know, but for the first time in human history, we've the capacity for instant, global communication which might just be what we need to properly understand and work with the realities of moral relativism.
      Nobody is ever a villain in their own eyes. Keep that in mind and it may offer you a chance to make an adversary into a friend – but if not, then at least you can dismiss them quickly and without hate.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell


      some call them a business cult, is accurate to a degree..see Howard Hughes and the church leadership likes to head up insurance companies...not exactly the most honest business choice. They put on a good show but that is all it is. Dishonest to the core.

      I would love to shoot them apart all day, but they are no worse than the rest of the churches out there....

      that 'community' you speak of can turn on you on a dime....in Utah and S. Idaho, they will all but run you out of town physically if you part ways from them or don't buy into their crap from the start.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  9. Thomas Philip

    Feel SORRY for you guys,

    June 24, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Which guys, and why?

      June 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm |

      That is a very vague apology. Who are you apologizing to and what is it that you did to warrant such a request?

      June 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • sam stone

      who do you feel sorry for, tommy?

      June 24, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Athy

      I feel sorry for people who feel sorry for unknown people. Sorry about that.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  10. AverageJoe76

    @I AM A MAGICAL UNICORN – LOL, I kinda figured that, from the handle - but I couldn't resist answering. It's an addiction. And I'm working on it (sigh)

    June 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Awww shucks. I answered the wrong thread.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm |

      No worriee, Joe. I did find it funny, though.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm |


      Sorry. My hoof was stuck in a priest.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  11. Reality

    Had the author simply noted the following, there would be no debate about this group being "religious":

    "Mission Statement

    Our Philosophy

    Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

    Our Mission

    Our mission is to create, establish and connect a nationwide network of Humanist communities focused on individual, group, and societal betterment, by providing them with the tools and expertise needed to make Humanism recognized, accessible and influential across the United States.

    Our Values

    If you believe in: reason, compassion, creativity, justice, integrity, awareness, environmentalism, feminism, equality, science, progress, and pluralism…welcome to your community.

    Our Community

    A hand of friendship, a voice of reason, a space for questions, a place to make change —a Humanist community"

    From: http://harvardhumanist.org/

    June 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      There would still be a debate.

      This project can be construed as turning atheism into an organized religion (for want of a better word), with the exception that this religion is not based on belief in God.

      The argument is along the lines of the "if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck".

      There is still a distinction, but it is subtle. Organized religion is based on codifying a specific belief. The Secular humanist movement is about providing an alternative for people who share disbelief.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Reality




      1.The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.

      Yes indeed there are subset definitions but in general the first meaning rules.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      1.The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.

      Wrong that does not fit Zen Buddhism that does not believe in a personal God
      Hinduism does not believe in a supernatural beyond the material

      What is religion then? It is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing.
      The Reason For God - Timothy Keller page 15

      June 25, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  12. Erasmus


    "Lets use what the schools and librarys use to define church:"

    Let's just say you should visit a few libraries yourself. "

    Ok class, lets stay focused please...............on this "mocking" of (not just Religion's definition), but societys definition of Church.

    June 24, 2013 at 3:06 pm |


      June 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      I will mock anyone who believes in, and talks to, a mythical being for which there is no evidence.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Doobs

      "Ok class, lets stay focused please...............on this "mocking" of (not just Religion's definition), but societys definition of Church."

      Okay, class, let's stay focused, please. If you don't learn how to spell, use correct punctuation, and proper use of capitalization, you will end up being a dumbass like Erasmus.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  13. AverageJoe76

    .... And one more thing; If Jesus was God, Jesus was never a man. Men cannot walk on water or resurrect dead people. So Jesus was never a man. Also -- it makes no sense. Why would God have to die for my sins (defects from God, caused by Adam – another God creation) instead or just getting rid 'sin'?

    The story doesn't make sense. 'Free will' makes no sense when God can do anything (like see the future, past, and present). And therefore, 'H_ell' makes no sense...

    So much makes no sense. But y'know what does make sense; "Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you"

    June 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
  14. lionlylamb

    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 3:01 pm |
    • tony

      or there are none, as in reading text here, or looking at a picture in an ad.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Madtown

      That could be because there is no specific, right or wrong, answer to understand. The experience may mean different things to different people.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • meifumado

      Not at all true.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Dippy

      Hey, LL just made a comment using understandable English! What happened?

      June 24, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Athy

      Maybe it's temporary sanity!

      June 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  15. Typical Christian

    I know Atheists are stupid, but how can they not see that the only thing that can come from nothing is the all knowing, all loving, all powerful creator of the universe?

    June 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Colin

      lol. The Christians don't even get that positing something capable of creating the universe popping into existence or "always existing" is even more of a stretch than saying either for the Universe itself.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Oh dear, it's another "god did it" argument. Well I guess I'm bested. No need to learn any more.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • tony

      Because that means something even greater created god, and something even greater created god's creator – – and so on.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Stating, "I know Atheists are stupid", simply confirms your stupidity. Tell us something we don't know about you.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • tony

      Various atheists created computers and the internet that you use to spout your nonsense. If you were smarter, you have done that first.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm |

      Sarcasm AverageJoe76. You do not know it.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm |

      Sarcasm tony. You do not know it.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      If it's impossible for something to come of nothing, then your god, by defintion, cannot possibly exist.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Another "I don't understand, therefore..."argument.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm |

      "Typical Christian" is quite obviously a satirical name.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Pete

      I'm calling Poe on this guy.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Doobs

      I suppose it's because we took our education seriously, learned to think critically and didn't just believe everything that some preacher who lives on what's in the collection plate tells us.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  16. Mike from CT

    "We can learn from the positive while learning how to get rid of the negative," he said.

    I wonder how mr Epstien defines positive and negative. Is it him alone? What if someone hold the opposite view, is it just as valid? To be consistent Mr. Epstein would have to acknowledge in his world view the opposite view is just as valid.

    Oh the irony

    June 24, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • Akira

      He does. Organized religion takes the opposite view by aknowledging God.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • The measure of a man

      Without a Godly standard, against whose standard is he measuring himself against to declare himself to be 'good without God'
      What 'good' is he talking about?
      Being compassionate by giving away 5%/15%/30% of his earnings???

      June 24, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Why would he have to acknowledge that a world-view that is opposite his own is just as valid? What is his world view, anyway? How do you know it? Atheism is not a world view.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      There's the rub with moral relativism.
      Nobody is a villain in their own eyes.
      Morality is a covenant between humans that allows us not only to co-exist, but also to cooperate.
      A fine example is the Code of Hammurabi – an ethical guide that pre-dates Christianity.
      In the greater scheme, we must remember that sin lies only in harming others unnecessarily.
      All other "sin" is invented nonsense (with "blashphemy" and "heresy" fighting it out for which is the most ridiculous).

      June 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      How do you know positive and negative?

      June 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Mike: yes, it is ironic. as Dawkins himself points out as an atheist, there is no such basis for "positive" or "negative", much less good or evil, justice or injustice...

      "In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."
      —Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Basic Books, 1995), 95.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      The "godly standard" is horrific. We are all better than that. Even Hitler didn't manage to slaughter every single human, plant, and animal on the earth in a flood. Even Hitler didn't set up and run a place of ETERNAL torture. We can't imagine a more disgusting character than god. Thank goodness no one on earth tries to follow god's example!!! Can you imagine the sheer horror?!

      June 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I don't think Dawkins was implying that humans shouldn't strive for their ideals. The universe may be as he describes, but we can try to do good as we are able and see that there is "good" to be done. We do not seem to be blind and uncaring as the universe seems to be.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Cpt Obvious: and there's the rub. Why the inconsistency with your naturalism? either there is a purpose or there isn't. you can't have it both ways.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Roger that

      I see what you mean. It's sort of like in church when someone says that they are going to kill their disobedient son because Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says it's ok. Then another church goer says no that's wrong because the 10 commandments says that thou shalt not kill; and therefore, you should just beat the crap out of your son like it says in Proverbs 13:24.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Words that questions may not be questions at all. The universe has no purpose.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      What inconsistency are you talking about? If we're talking about inconsistencis, the bible is chock full of them.

      We evolved to find patterns because we are social, hunting mammals. Thus, we look for "purpose" or agency to help the entire organism survive. Just because we do not find an ultimate purpose does not mean we don't have that desire. As we see in other social mammals, we have a sense of social structure and crime and justice. Just because there's not an 'ultimate social mammal' (or god) does not mean we don't have that sense.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Words that ask questions...

      June 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • ME II

      I think that quote of Dawkins' is talking about universal or absolute purpose, a lack of which does not prevent us from finding our own purpose, nor determining our own relative good and bad.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Dawkins thinks that the question "what is the purpose of the universe?" is meaningless. Like asking "what is the color of jealousy?"

      June 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      Next time you run into Dawkins, ask him, "Of the three cosmologies, their being the atomic and the celestial along with the cellular cosmologies, just exactly how could such spatial similarities of cosmologic symmetries be made manifest and cosmically similar?"

      June 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm |

      lamb, his response would be, "I do not speak horoscope. Can you please rephrase the question in a dialect someone of even mediocre intelligence could understand?"

      June 24, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      I shall rephrase the question. "Mr. Dawkins, Why is it that the celestial cosmos is similar in designs around the atomic cosmos?"

      June 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Dawkins would say your question is meaningless.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm |

      Design? That would imply a creator. I would use the term "pattern." Starting small, the patterns replicate throughout the Universe (and possibly beyond if other(s) exist. They work at an atomic scale, so why not at a cosmological scale? There is no validation for the design implication simply because patterns exist in nature.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • ME II

      "'Mr. Dawkins, Why is it that the celestial cosmos is similar in designs around the atomic cosmos?'"

      I'm not sure what exactly your atomic cosmos is, but solar systems do not behave the same as atoms, nor do galaxies.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      "Why would he have to acknowledge that a world-view that is opposite his own is just as valid? "
      because it would be back by the same evidence - whether that be personal opinion or empiricistic

      June 25, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  17. Beam them Up!

    Ancient religions are just the first Star Trek fan versus Star Wars fan conflict. One group imagines their hero's and claims they are the best hero's ever, and the neighbors to the north claim their hero's are the best. Then they stand there in small groups outside Comic-Con and argue till they are blue in the face about imaginary c r a p as if it means something... "Tr ans-warp teleportation OWNS Star Wars tech and you know it!!" "Oh yeah! Well the Force would wipe tr ans-warp tech out in nano-par se cs!" "You moron! A Par sec is a measurement of distance, not time!"... that's when the mock phaser / light saber battles begin... although in religious conflicts real people actually died, and lots of them...

    June 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Dippy

      Heros, not hero's. go back to school.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Heroes, actually, if you want to get picky.

      Heros is okay if you're talking about sandwiches.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Dippy

      You mean Beam was not talking about sandwiches?

      June 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Now that I reread his post, he must have been talking about sandwiches. Otherwise, what would the trekkies eat for lunch?

      June 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • Beam them Up!

      Of course I was talking about multiple imagined sandwiches...

      June 24, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  18. Will Ruppel


    Actually, for many of the posts the only link I have access to is the "Report Abuse" link...perhaps CNN is indicating I have replied enough – Do I need to create an account to have Reply access?

    June 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Psst...

      Lol, no, you don't need an account. It must be the instrument you are posting with. Some phones display differently. You haven't posted too much. Thanks for clearing that up.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Are you using a mobile device?

      On a 'normal' browser there is a 'reply' button. This may not exist on tablets and phones.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Not at all. I'm going to suggest that it might be a browser issue. I'm using Firefox and don't have a problem.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Another thing to note is that you cannot "reply" to a reply, you have to scroll up and reply to the original poster, and some threads are long so you might not see a reply button for a bit at times.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Info

      Will Ruppel,

      Only the first post on each thread has the "Reply" button. Unless, as others said you are using some odd device, to reply here you need to click "Reply" under your original post above.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Will Ruppel

      Firstly, thank you all for the insight & recommendations – It is greatly appreciated..

      Secondly, I need to make an apology...and ask forgiveness...It occurred to me that I am to blame..for the times I have been too "religious" not looking at the person, but, at a situation...

      For not stopping to think & simply act...post...I am a fool...

      Obviously, there are reasons & situations that form all peoples decision making process...I have no right to judge...I am to follow my beliefs no matter what, to care, to love..

      If this were my example, people would react differently...there is enough strife in the world...what is missing is the love & respect that EVERY human being is endowed with...

      My sincere apologies to all...Especially, Greg Epstein...I do not know the man, nor do I know his intention...I sincerely hope he helps...for no one emulates God's love (I mean NO DISREPECT) better than when one denies themselves to love another person for EXACTLY who they are & where life finds them....

      Someone posted asking if I am an idiot...Admittedly I am...as well as a hypocrite.

      May you find what you seek, be open to what is presented (unlike me), & find the love & peace you desire...

      June 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  19. Will Ruppel

    @Secular Humanist from Ohio

    What do you think Epstein wants?

    I hope he wants to help people – I sincerely do – he indicates he wants to make STRONG CHANGE, but what doesn't he say or clarify?

    In the very next quote he indicates that "“It doesn’t require and it doesn't even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”"

    I have re-posted the two quotes below – his words not mine – their intentions are diametrically opposed, are they not?

    If he wanted to provide a means where NONES (as the article states) can have a sense of community that is one thing because then each group would be free to form their beliefs, traditions, etc.

    Strong change happen in the world infers another agenda when juxtaposed against non-specific beliefs...The two statements require further clarification, however, further inferences can be made – he has invested 10 years into this idea, he wrote a book about it, therefore, I am certain he has VERY SPECIFIC beliefs...incongruent with the quoted statement – “It doesn’t require and it doesn't even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”

    If he has an agenda, he should be honest enough to indicate it rather than obfuscate it – STRONG CHANGE IN THE WORLD is different than providing a means for people to assemble – that is the distinction ...

    Lastly, if he copies/emulates that which he challenges he does to leverage the familiar rather than support his 'non-belief'?

    All I ask is he indicate what strong change in the world actually means...

    Thank you for your question

    “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.”

    June 24, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Do some research on the guy. It's not like a cnn article is going to delve into anything.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Russell

      The answer to your question is that you are puting each quote in different context, and assuming you have the only answer.
      If we took your bible out of context it could look down right evil too.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      What "STRONG CHANGE" do you think he wants to make?

      It's not like Epstein is hiding here. He's been featured here on the belief blog several times as has his activity with his congregation.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      In case you don't follow the advice above,

      Greg Epstein is the humanist chaplin at Harvard. He wrote "Good without God, What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe". You can find his 'beliefs' articulated there.

      Here is the project referred to in this article: http://harvardhumanist.org/cambridge/

      June 24, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • Akira

      What if the article was on a bunch of people getting together to affect change by bringing potable water to third world populations, and it ended with the "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.”

      Would you still object to that? Because I'm having trouble understanding exactly what your complaint is.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  20. Happy Atheist

    I think it's great that like minded persons can get together and re-affirm their beliefs or lack there of. However, I think copying any church to do so is a bit sad. Will we see some atheists wanting to set up more mosque-like atheist groups? Temple based atheists? Hasidic atheists with hair curls to signify their atheism?

    I'm all for getting together but feel they should break with religious tradition and try something more akin to a book club than another religious service.

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

      Hey AH watch out !

      Zombies roam the animal kingdom — and some of them may be after us


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

      Oops the zombie Chad/Bill Deacon ?

      June 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Good point. I know of pagan groups who don't do the ritual thing but do get together for camping weekends and brunches...it's still an outlet and it does build community.

      June 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      I agree, copying church seems like a mistake.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:10 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.