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Oct 18 2011

Just call me a Quaker, I guess

My post yesterday declining to support churchiness for atheists seems to have irritated a few people, including Greg Epstein himself, and there was a bit of to-and-fro on twitter trying to convince me of the folly of my rejection. It didn’t take.

(There is apparently going to be more twitter chatter about it today, at 5pm (time zone unspecified), under the tag #humanistcommunity. I can’t join in — I’m doing an interview with Michael Slate around that time. I think.)

Now Hemant has joined in with a deeply flawed argument. He criticizes my complaint with a little sarcasm:

Right… who wants to bond with other people, perform community service, have fruitful discussions, find a secular way to celebrate rites of passage, and have someone they can talk to when they’re going through rough times who isn’t going to spit religion in their face?

Who’s disagreeing with any of that? Regular meetings, bonding, service, etc., all sans religion is great! Nowhere in any of my criticisms have I objected to any of those goals.

I also had people claiming my objection was to having weekly meetings. Again, I have no idea where that came from. Minnesota Atheists has weekly meetings, too, and I’d be going to them regularly if I didn’t live a three hour drive away.

Secular parenting, service, discussion, etc fine but if done weekly they’re a cheat & a waste?

So that’s just bizarre. I don’t have a clue what’s running through Epstein’s head. Have weekly meetings; have bi-weekly meetings. Have ‘em every day. Organize for community service, have discussions about science and religion, socialize, all that good stuff. Have secular celebrants come in to celebrate milestones in people’s lives. That’s all good.

Just don’t turn it into church. Don’t develop a structure. Don’t have it led by chaplains. I’ve heard Epstein speak; a lot of what he talks about seems to be fond recollections of the way familiar old churches and synagogues were run, and I’m seeing that echoing in the way he’s setting up this “chaplain” nonsense. It’s un-egalitarian, it’s non-secular, it implies a special knowledge possessed by a Head Bozo. Epstein is a product of a theology program and a divinity school, and he’s still trapped in archaic patterns of thought, just trying to stuff atheism into a familiar model. We have lots of atheist groups out there that function perfectly well with things like elections and committees without granting special privilege to people who go through Epstein’s Magic Course. I stated my opinion of chaplains:

And chaplains? I suppose their entrails are just as good for strangling kings as a priest’s, but that’s their only use.

I also asked why the heck we needed them, what they were good for, etc. This is Epstein’s reply.

Humanist chaplains are trained in freethought history & philosophy, ceremony & meeting facilitation, counseling, etc.

People who do counseling and get specific training in it are called “counselors” or “psychiatrists” or “therapists”. They have specific and valuable roles in any community, and it’s not as a generic leader of a group. I’m suspicious of any organization that churns out “chaplains” and calls them “counselors”. The other examples of knowledge…why do I need to be a chaplain to practice them? How do all those other atheist groups out there survive without chaplains?

My objection is simple. No priests. I don’t care what label you call them, creating a hierarchy of privilege is not acceptable to me. As I’ve also said, though, the Epstein approach will definitely appeal to people who are looking for a church substitute — you just won’t find me among them. I don’t want another church, I want them all gone.

I’m living in a small town with 15 petty little sects, each with their building, from humble to historically impressive, and I can encourage nothing that might add yet another sinkhole to the mess we’ve already got. In my perfect atheist future, each of them would shut down, one after the other, and be replaced by secular institutions that actually contributed to the community economically and socially. Replacing them with little Epsteins leading their flock through ceremonies and doing such productive work as lighting candles and playing group therapist and singing godless hymns…<shudder>…no, I wouldn’t be going. I’d be saying nothing has changed but the names.

I will be disappointed that humanity just can’t seem to break free of bad ideas.

237 comments

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  1. 1
    Tabby Lavalamp

    What you said. 100%. This makes no sense to me at all.

  2. 2
    tsig

    Chaplains? chaplains? We don’t need no steenkn’ chaplains!

  3. 3
    Kristjan Wager

    I really don’t get the hunger for atheist churches that some people displays – why would I want to be part of such a thing? Why would anyone?

    And I totally agree with your views on priest, secular or otherwise.

  4. 4
    mikemixer

    It’s not the meeting part that rankles, it’s the needing to have a “boss” to run the thing part that rankles. I can get behind that sentiment.

  5. 5
    Mike Huben

    The Chaplaincy for Epstein is a Harvard University position. The problem is that Harvard University requires a representative for a religious belief to be responsible for leading that religious activity on campus. This (now heavily endowed) position was created long before Epstein.

    Perhaps he should subvert it with the approval of the local Humanist association.

    NB: I’ve been a member of that Humanist Association of Mass. for close to 30 years, and was married by Tom Ferrrick, the previous chaplain. I may have met Epstein once,but I don’t remember. I must be going to services only for Xmas and Easter…. :-)

  6. 6
    feralboy12

    You know who else was a Quaker? That’s right…that’s right… Richard Nixon.
    Seriously, though, many aspects of church are fine. What we want to avoid here are self-appointed authority figures and dogma. People who want a secular version of church that includes the crap we’re trying to get away from remind me of vegetarians who eat fake meat. I mean, if you don’t want to eat animals, why eat stuff made to taste just like them?

  7. 7
    johncole

    Has Greg Epstein not heard of the Unitarian Universalist Association? It’s not an exclusively atheist organization, but atheists are welcome, and it seems to me that a UU congregation would provide most of the things for which he’s looking.

  8. 8
    bbgunn

    Just call me a Quaker, I guess

    If it wasn’t for the associated xtianity stuff, I’d happily call you Friend.

  9. 9
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Just don’t turn it into church. Don’t develop a structure. Don’t have it led by chaplains.

    And don’t make “a book that will be more how-to manual than Bible”. Because that totally makes me thing it’s going to have the function of the Bible. Without fairy tales, of course (or rather, hopefully. I dread the abuse of the word spirituality), but still with the notion of becoming a guide for True Atheists.
    Anyway, I agree with you, PZ. Your argument makes much more sense to me than those of Epstein or Mehta.

  10. 10
    Gregory in Seattle

    I would have no problem with a bit of structure. I think a meeting hall would be nice, where people could get together regularly and hear talks on social concerns or science lectures or discuss the issues of the day. An adjacent multi-purpose room and commerical kitchen would be useful.

    Some kind of community leadership training would be nice: public speakers, peer counselors who lead Secular Sobriety meetings, and celebrants who know how to organize and conduct various celebrations and ceremonies like namings, comings-of-age, weddings, separations and funerals. No reason why one person could not wear more than one hat, but the roles would be clearly separate.

    Operations would be managed by SIGs (special interest groups) who can largely organize as they feel is best, with membership in a SIG open to all registered members. That is to say, the group who wants to put on a Wednesday evening lecture would organize the speakers; another group who wants to run a monthly pot-luck would get that pulled together; another group interested in community service might have a free, open-to-the-community dinner on the first and third Sunday evenings.

    The property itself would belong to the group, and would be managed by an administrative council elected to one year terms, and serving only three years out of five to make sure there are always new ideas.

    A community of like minded people with commonly held property operated for the good of all. No need for clergy, no matter what you call them.

  11. 11
    Anthony K

    Y’know, everytime I think these things seem like a fine idea for those who want them, their progenitors go and say something completely fucking stupid. Trained in ceremony? What does a Head Bozo study? Why, how to lead the Bozonian ceremonies that the Bozos crave, of course. If when describing a thing you inadvertantly sound like Dr. Seuss, that thing is stupid.

    But then, I didn’t grow up in one of these “hey, maybe there’s a god, maybe there’s not; let’s hug in tough times” church. I grew up in a real one; a tithing, sing on cue, shun the homosexuals, unwed mothers, miscegenators and divorcees kind. I really don’t know where these people get this kumbaya bullshit. You didn’t go to my church on Sunday because you really missed the comeraderie; you went every Sunday because to not go was to invite rumour and innuendo down upon the entire family, such that the primary school kids (like me) got in shit from their teachers at the affiliated school the next week. As a seven-year-old, how do you explain to your teacher that whatever the reason Mom and Dad didn’t take you to church on Sunday it probably wasn’t that they wanted you to rot in Hell and can you please be allowed to go to the bathroom now?

    But, that’s just my experience. And I think I went to a pretty moderate church.

    I’m sure all the atheist UUs remember church as nothing but golly gee swell, but please don’t necrotise all of us with the “humans have a church-like hole in their hearts and the secular community hasn’t come up with a reasonable alternative yet” meme.

  12. 12
    EricR

    Chaplains for atheists? uh…considering all the arguing back and forth with theobots about how atheism isnt a religion, I cant for the life of me Imiagine why that would be even a remotely good idea…

  13. 13
    slignot

    I might be careful about the idea that Quakers are all like the image you have in your head. I have a bunch of family who are a very different sort of Quaker, one that looks a lot like Baptist, actually. Spending my summers going to church/bible study/youth group and then two weeks of conservative Christian summer camp made me intimately aware that not all Friends are the same.

    It was actually a shock when I attended a more traditional Quaker meeting years later (for research for a class). My grams church is full of structured sermons and bible readings; this was people mostly sitting in silence with one guy speaking about how inspirational he found the Dalai Lama. Yet both call themselves Friends.

  14. 14
    Gordon

    If I want a “church” I can go to the bowling/golf/marxist/libertarian or whatever club which as far as I can see provides any possible benefit I am ever likely to get from a “church”, be it religious or atheist, and has none of the detriments. I find I can happily live out my atheist life without the need to group-analyse it every week.

  15. 15
    James Croft

    But your argument is just total bollocks, PZ. Which local atheist organization doesn’t have some structure or leadership to make it function? I’ve visited many such groups, as I’m sure have you, and every single one I have encountered has a structured set of processes and a leadership hierarchy. This is true of both student and non-student groups, and of skeptics groups, atheist groups, and Humanist groups.

    If your objection is simply to the word “chaplain”, well, that’s essentially the result of a historical accident at Harvard, as Mike Huben points out. I happen to think it is wise for Humanist leaders to have a strong grounding in Humanist thought, history and practice, but the label is completely irrelevant to the functions such an individual might offer a group.

    I think your posts on this issue have both fundamentally mistaken our intention and shown an unreasonable unwillingness to learn about what you are criticizing before making a judgment. The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard is an email away if you had wanted to actually find out accurate information about our plans and make an informed consideration of our position. Instead of taking that responsible and honest route, you instead have chosen to present a very misleading and vague picture of what we do and hope to do, and seem to have projected all your animosity towards the worst parts of religious communities onto our plans.

    This potentially has consequences for us: your misinformation and condemnation, without any effort to understand what your criticising, might make it harder for us to gather the support we need to pursue our goals (many of which you most certainly share). If your disagreement were based on a clear-eyed, well-reasoned assessment of what we actually wanted to do, then fine. But at the moment all you have presented are statements which amount to “Chaplains? Yuk! Ritual? Eww! Humanist music? Vom!” This is unreasonable, unfair, unthinking and dogmatic.

  16. 16
    erikjensen

    I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation (not church). Our pastor (or whatever) works for us, not the other way around. His job includes counseling for anyone who asks for it, giving interesting speeches during services, organizing weddings and funerals, etc. I don’t see a counselor performing all these functions. His job does not include telling us what to believe or do. He is not in charge any more than the janitor or secretary is. As an atheist and a liberal, I find it refreshing to socialize with people who don’t try to convert me and who basically share my social and political views. It really doesn’t bother me that our pastor wears a scarf and robe or that some members like to meditate or run around in the woods with flowers in their hair while praying to “the goddess”.

  17. 17
    Glen Davidson

    Train the chaplains in bartending, and structure services around that.

    I’d guess that would be popular enough.

    Glen Davidson

  18. 18
    The Ys

    @ PZ:

    Just call me a Quaker, I guess

    I’d rather call you a scientist, skeptic, and/or college professor, if that’s acceptable. Those are much more meaningful titles.

    I agree with what was said in the other thread – some people have managed to shrug off a god, but they haven’t managed to shrug off religion.

  19. 19
    Daniela

    I am italian and I live in a Catholic Country in which the priests have a big power and I would to tell you something….I totally agree with you, PZ, I have the same vision of the future, a perfect atheist future.
    The semantic is important.

    I totally agree with you about Epstein, I have the same opinion……

    My question is one: do the atheists in USA actually need chaplains to move forward in their fight for the seculrism?

  20. 20
    Anthony K

    If I want a “church” I can go to the bowling/golf/marxist/libertarian or whatever club which as far as I can see provides any possible benefit I am ever likely to get from a “church”, be it religious or atheist, and has none of the detriments. I find I can happily live out my atheist life without the need to group-analyse it every week.

    You fool! Don’t you see you won’t get any of the community-building and supportive effects unless such groups are headed by people trained in ceremony?

    If I’m going to be led by an expert in ceremony, it better be Bernard Sumner.

  21. 21
    Rob

    Well if we wanted our secular world to be run with added churchiness then it would already be happening. But it isn’t, so I suppose we don’t.

  22. 22
    The Ys

    James @ 15:

    This potentially has consequences for us: your misinformation and condemnation, without any effort to understand what your criticising, might make it harder for us to gather the support we need to pursue our goals (many of which you most certainly share).

    This potentially has consequences for usme:

    FIFY.

  23. 23
    Mario

    But… but… I already go to an atheist “church” at least three times a week, it’s called “La Parroquia” (parish church in Spanish) it’s conveniently situated opposite the village church, oh and it also happens to be a pub ;)

  24. 24
    Shripathi Kamath

    Just don’t turn it into church. Don’t develop a structure. Don’t have it led by chaplains.

    What exactly is the essential difference between organized events in a meeting place where talks are given by speakers on atheism, planning local activities with some refreshments and that what happens in a church with pastors and asst. pastors doing the same?

    Yes, theists and atheists obviously have different topics of discussion or soliloquy, but a church for atheists is something that would resemble weekly meetings, speakers involved in discourse, planning activities…. all sound churchish,PZ

    My objection is simple. No priests. I don’t care what label you call them, creating a hierarchy of privilege is not acceptable to me.

    I do not recall anyone advocating churches for atheists saying that they want priests with privilege either. The priest or chaplain is typically an elected president of a group who is the primary organizer, and sometimes the speaker, but not some private owner of a building and club. Chaplain or priest for such groups would be the “president” or “founder”, which exist for just about any atheist organization

    Your objection may be simple, but it fails to show what you are objecting to.

    Every call for some freethinkers’ conference with a list of priests featured speakers sounds like a mega-church event. The subject matter is more cerebral, yes. Cheaper perhaps. Churches for atheists would probably do this sort of thing, only weekly.

    So “meh” is probably right, “I object” is probably misplaced.

  25. 25
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Still no need for a formal organization. No need for regular meetings, or anything else. If folks want to set up a food pantry, do so. These days of distrubuted computing making communities on the internet is easy, so no need for buildings either.

  26. 26
    pelamun

    James,

    sure I hope PZ made it harder for you guys because what you are essentially doing is harming atheism by playing into the hands of the “atheism is just another religion” meme. So thanks to PZ for coming down hard on this!

    And it doesn’t matter what Harvard really means by chaplains, because most people don’t care about what that means for Harvardians, but what it means in the wider world. Thus, using religiously loaded terms is harmful to the cause.

    Also, PZ quoted about what Epstein said was required of the so-called Humanist chaplains. Tell me how this is different from a church. Why would humanist leaders also be required to do counseling?

    You were the one who praised inane rituals like HumanLight on the other thread. Plenty plenty plenty of people there expressed their dismay at this kind of rituals, a fact you chose to ignore.

    Many of us here apparently do no seem to share your goals. We don’t want your inane rituals, so please just go found your UU-lite church, but leave us out of it.

    Thanks.

  27. 27
    James Croft

    The Ys @ 22:

    Sure for me, but also potentially for all people who support Humanist values.

    I repeat – reasoned criticism is perfectly fair. Childish knee-jerking and mischaracterization is not.

  28. 28
    Chris

    If you are a non-profit, you need some type of organizational structure (even if it’s one or a couple of people in charge). In order to conduct community service, schedule meetings, conduct planning for the group and so forth, someone has to be in a position to set up and run all those efforts.

    I don’t know about the counseling aspect (I leave that to the professionals). But I know having a local group available is a good resource for non-believers that would like to meet people and do activities with those that are like-minded. Especially here in the south. If you “come out” there’s a very good chance that your social system (family and friends) will be impacted. I’ve personally met dozens of folks that have had to rebuild that from the ground up and relied on local groups to help.

    Having some sort of structure helps hold all this stuff together. No one is saying that the folks in charge are *special*. Rather, they just need to lead so everything works smoothly. Every year a new someone (or someone’s) can be in a leadership position.

    I guess I don’t see what the big deal is here.

  29. 29
    pelamun

    There is a difference between community leaders and chaplains. And if we can believe Epstein, it’s not just a semantics game. Also, on the local level, why do you need this kind of leadership anyways? One person to administer the meetup group, sure, but why does that person need to be schooled in the traditions of humanism and be a counselor?

    I really don’t understand why some people don’t get PZ’s criticism here…

  30. 30
    James Croft

    pelamun @ 26:

    1) We are a Humanist organization, not simply an atheist one.

    2) I did not ignore the many people who expressed distaste with the idea of ritual (something the is nowhere mentioned in the article PZ was responding to – a case of real misrepresentation). I recognized repeatedly that this will not be for everyone, and also invited those who are opposed to ritual to present their ideas.

    3) You are quite welcome not to join what we are looking to create. You are not welcome to misrepresent it and smear it with thoughtless ‘criticism’ which has no basis in fact.

  31. 31
    Matt

    I hate the idea of atheist churches too. Want to socialise? Go down the pub. Want to socialise in a non-public environment? Go around a friend’s house. Why go through silly rituals when you know nobody believes in it anyway?

  32. 32
    footface

    Extreme Digression Warning!

    @6: Why would vegetarians eat fake meat, if they don’t want to eat animals?

    Because they like the way the stuff tastes. (Or was this question asked rhetorically?)

    People don’t (typically) become vegetarians or vegans because they’ve realized they don’t like the taste of meat.

  33. 33
    The Ys

    I do not recall anyone advocating churches for atheists saying that they want priests with privilege either. The priest or chaplain is typically an elected president of a group who is the primary organizer, and sometimes the speaker, but not some private owner of a building and club. Chaplain or priest for such groups would be the “president” or “founder”, which exist for just about any atheist organization

    Then why call this person a chaplain? Why state that one goal was to create rituals and ceremonies to celebrate events?

    If I wanted this shit, I’d attend church. Since I’m an atheist and don’t believe in that bullshit, I have no interest in imposing the same power structure on our lack of belief.

  34. 34
    pelamun

    Chris, look at the tweet by Epstein quoted in the post. Maybe then you’ll get it…

    Sure it can all have been a misunderstanding, but if that were true, his communication skills must suck. PZ asked him what he meant by “chaplains”, and his reply shows quite clearly, those are priests by another name…

  35. 35
    Zeppelin

    @feralboy12

    Uh…because they avoid meat for reasons of morality, not taste? And therefore eating something that tastes like meat but doesn’t require animal abuse is a reasonable alternative?

    Is this actually a thing people are confused about?

    Just so this isn’t a complete derail —

    I think the reason the concept of “atheist church/church-style community” is so completely bizarre to me is because the only reason there even IS an “atheist community” in the US is because they face so much outside pressure, and because everyone else is in some “[christian sect] community”.

    Here in Germany, where religious belief is basically irrelevant, the idea that you should want to have a weekly meeting with a bunch of people with whom you share only the fact that you DON’T belong to some other assortment of clubs would really confuse people.

    Atheism itself isn’t a belief system, it’s a single opinion that can be summed up on one phrase.
    Humanist Club, Science Enthusiast Club, sure — but Atheist Club? What are we even supposed to talk about?

  36. 36
    pelamun

    James,

    it’s not that easy. You are hurting atheists by perpetuating the atheism is just another religion meme, even if you claim otherwise. So it’s not just done with “you’re welcome not to join”.

    So yes, I hope that PZ’s post has raised some awareness here.

  37. 37
    pelamun

    Zeppelin,

    I actually disagree (and I wrote about this in the other thread). Churches in Germany have many more privileges than in the US (I mean the salaries of Catholic bishops are paid for bu the state!!), and most politicians won’t do anything about it. There needs to be more awareness about this in Germany. Getting more organised would help.

  38. 38
    NervousABoutAngels

    What the heck use is ceremony anyway? I can put on a silly hat and recite nonsense without employing anyone, and it will be equivalently meaningless either way. Atheism is about breaking away from such mind-numbing skullduggery, not just doing it by ourselves. We already have groups to meet with and develop relationships and support structures, and that requires no leadership and no fancy hats. Sure, we may delegate some tasks, but that’s not the same thing as handing someone the Authority Hat and a pulpit.

  39. 39
    The Ys

    Sure for me, but also potentially for all people who support Humanist values.

    No. There is no downside for me, because this is idiocy and I have no need for it in my life. There will be no downside for most of us, because most of us think this is a ridiculous idea.

    I repeat – reasoned criticism is perfectly fair. Childish knee-jerking and mischaracterization is not.

    Uh huh. You had multiple people (on the other thread) explain all of the problems and their misgivings over this, but obviously we’re acting in a knee-jerk fashion and not giving you the benefit of the doubt…because we disagree with you.

    You realise this is the same sort of reasoning men use when they ignore women who say “no”, right?

  40. 40
    James Croft

    You are hurting atheists by perpetuating the atheism is just another religion meme, even if you claim otherwise. So it’s not just done with “you’re welcome not to join”.

    Except that we are an explicitly nonreligious organization, as a simple visit to our website would attest: “The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard (HCH) is dedicated to building, educating, and nurturing a diverse community of Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious at Harvard and beyond”.

    And before anyone responds with “but the article said…”, just think about it for a moment.

  41. 41
    pelamun

    OK, James, you asked for suggestions:

    - get rid of the idiotic leadership requirements Epstein gave in his tweet. Have confidence in the democratic process, the community will choose leaders who are competent.

    - never use the name chaplain in your own materials. If Harvard requires it try to negotiate some neutral term, like convener, I don’t know. WORDS MATTER.

    Unless you do at least these two things, I will stand by my opinion that you’re hurting atheism by perpetuating the atheism is just another religion myth.

  42. 42
    satansparakeet

    Today’s objections make more sense, but they’re not what I thought PZ was saying yesterday.

    I do agree that priests as counselors are a bad idea. The main advantage a priest position could have is as someone paid to look after the group and its property. I could totally see the advantage of a paid administrator looking after a building, collecting dues, coordinating an advertising strategy, all those sort of things. I do see the same problem PZ has with such a person, that they shouldn’t be doctrinal leaders or anything like that. Unfortunately, those lines between organizational administrators and elected (or otherwise chosen) policy makers and thought leaders get easily blurred.

  43. 43
    Matt W

    I went to a UU service once. Once. There were “hymns” (including John Elton’s Candle in the Wind) and a “message” (a bunch of teenagers giving a presentation on the value of the internet), and it generally had the trappings of a religious service without any overtly religious content. As I left, I couldn’t help but think that it seemed pretty pathetic, both because it lacked the ritual significance of a bona-fide religious service, and because why would you copy that? Why keep the trappings? Just tear it all down.

  44. 44
    James Croft

    @The Ys # 39:

    I didn’t see anyone articulate what I thought was a well-reasoned argument against our actual plans on the other thread. If you could produce one I’d be happy to engage it.

    Your analogizing of my very measured engagement in this discussion the the actions of a rapist is both disgusting and completely outrageous, characteristic of those who do not wish to engage in reasonable discourse.

  45. 45
    pelamun

    Except that we are an explicitly nonreligious organization, as a simple visit to our website would attest: “The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard (HCH) is dedicated to building, educating, and nurturing a diverse community of Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious at Harvard and beyond”.

    And before anyone responds with “but the article said…”, just think about it for a moment.

    head -> desk.

    You do know what the atheism is just another religion meme is right? Of course you won’t call yourself a religious organisation, because acc to the meme, you’re a religion by another name.

    Sheesh…

  46. 46
    Peter Whiteley

    Even before I comprehended the illogicality of “my” deity I found the weekly meeting known there as a service stupefying.

    My background was British Methodist and even after coming out I was involved in the youth and community aspects of my family’s church. I still do things like talks at meetings linked to the church but also have a lot of involvement in community projects that are completely secular.

    Perhaps it is that in the UK there is a whole host of grouping, specialist and general, that allow educational, community and health issues to be developed away from any religious influence.

    In fact most of what I do would not get funding or support if linked to any church.

    We have all been subjected to meetings that seem pointless. Clearly church services are far beyond this. However I see no point in replacing these with meetings to confirm that gods have no place in what I do. I have too many other godless projects that take up my time.

  47. 47
    Ant (@antallan)

    Hmm… it seems like you’re criticising a straw Friend, PZ.

    Yes, no priests or chaplains or pastors or vicars or imams or cantors or whatever.

    But let’s have competent administrators and logisticians.

    And (if people want to mark significant events within this community) let’s have celebrants who can carry off a naming or a funerary ceremony with the right balance of gravitas and lightness of touch, etc. Maybe that role needs training or maybe someone (or more) within the community will demonstrate a talent for the role.

    I don’t think community ‘leaders’ should be counsellors in any formal way. If people want something other than a professional counselor (psychiatrist, &c.), then there will be folks amongst the community who will be recognised over time as empathetic listeners and sound guides and mentors.

    /@

  48. 48
    truthspeaker

    Humanist chaplains are trained in freethought history & philosophy, ceremony & meeting facilitation, counseling, etc.

    So, again, what do we need them for?

  49. 49
    Jim Ashmore

    “Have weekly meetings; have bi-weekly meetings. Have ‘em every day. Organize for community service, have discussions about science and religion, socialize, all that good stuff. Have secular celebrants come in to celebrate milestones in people’s lives. That’s all good.

    Just don’t turn it into church. Don’t develop a structure. Don’t have it led by chaplains. ”

    I really don’t understand your argument against two words, “church” and “chaplain”. To me this is superstition and unnecessary bias. Instead of using church, suppose we use “community”. Instead of using “chaplain”, we substituted “director”. Would that then get the PZ seal of approval? Why the superstitious leanings against two words?

    I have been involved as a founding Director with the Houston Church of Freethought for 11 years now. Without a structure and leaders, whatever they are called, the organization would not exist. Without services for our members, we would not exist.

    So, I’ll keep my Church of Freethought despite your disapproval.

  50. 50
    truthspeaker

    Personally I wouldn’t go to meetings. Send me an email outlining telling me where to sign up to volunteer. Anything beyond that is a waste of my time.

    That’s more my personality than an atheist thing, though.

  51. 51
    Wesley

    I don’t get what the big deal is; we could just have an “atheist church” with all the meaningless religious crap taken out of it. So no arbitrary hierarchy, no pointless ritual, and no dogma. Once all that’s stripped away, you basically just have a group of like-minded individuals meeting up to do whatever they want.

    … So not really church-like at all.

    Epstein’s idea makes sense if atheists need to be coddled, but it seems to just replaces the handicap of religion with a secularized version. Best to just throw off the shackles entirely.

  52. 52
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Which local atheist organization doesn’t have some structure or leadership to make it function? I’ve visited many such groups, as I’m sure have you, and every single one I have encountered has a structured set of processes and a leadership hierarchy. This is true of both student and non-student groups, and of skeptics groups, atheist groups, and Humanist groups.

    So this goes against the argument that many campus groups are in dire need of your organizational skills, and raises once again the question of what the hell you’re bringing to the table other than smugness. PZ didn’t say they had no leadership structures. He said: “We have lots of atheist groups out there that function perfectly well with things like elections and committees without granting special privilege to people who go through Epstein’s Magic Course.” But yet again if it doesn’t fit your narrow mold it doesn’t exist to you.

    The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard is an email away if you had wanted to actually find out accurate information about our plans and make an informed consideration of our position. Instead of taking that responsible and honest route, you instead have chosen to present a very misleading and vague picture of what we do and hope to do, and seem to have projected all your animosity towards the worst parts of religious communities onto our plans.

    When you’re ready to present it in full, do so. Until then, no one is obliged to contact you personally to get the alleged details, especially when you yourselves link to an article which you claim is misleading (and is the one Mehta quoted from as well). Furthermore, we have developed an impression of what you guys are about based on your writings over many months. You’re not fooling anyone. All anyone has to do is go to Stedman’s blog to see what he’s been writing about us, which you’ve defended.

    This potentially has consequences for us: your misinformation and condemnation, without any effort to understand what your criticising, might make it harder for us to gather the support we need to pursue our goals (many of which you most certainly share).

    ahahahahahaha

    You know, James, it’s not the first time I’ve said it but I’m increasingly convinced that I don’t share your goals, and that you don’t share mine. You can all stop with the fake “we” now, thanks.

  53. 53
    Ichthyic

    …creating a hierarchy of privilege is not acceptable to me.

    *ding*

    that’s it, exactly.

    I refuse to support replacing one idiotic hierarchical structure with another.

    as for the rest?

    hell, we have weekly piss-ups at the local pub for both skeptics and scientists and atheists.

    works out grand.

    that’s about as much community for group’s sake as I can stomach, frankly.

    :)

  54. 54
    jfigdor

    Hey, I’m the Assistant Chaplain at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, and I can say that Greg and I have no intention of considering ourselves “holier than thou.” We are about creating community for Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics and the non-religious. If you’re interested in building atheist/Humanist communities with us, shoot us an email.

    Love the site PZ, except for these two articles about the good folks at HCH.

  55. 55
    Ichthyic

    … So not really church-like at all.

    ROFLMAO.

    uh… exactly.

    not church like.

  56. 56
    dferrantino

    Interesting. So Atheists are going to fragment based on being more or less religious. That’s some irony right there.

    I, for one, will happily continue being irreligious, regardless of what the more prominent members of our community say. I’ve done pretty well about shunning Catholicism, it’s not any different if I have to stop calling myself a Humanist as well.

  57. 57
    truthspeaker

    Jim Ashmore says:
    18 October 2011 at 9:26 pm

    I really don’t understand your argument against two words, “church” and “chaplain”. To me this is superstition and unnecessary bias. Instead of using church, suppose we use “community”. Instead of using “chaplain”, we substituted “director”.

    Just as bad. I get my fill of directors at work; I don’t need to be around people directing things in my leisure time.

    Gordon says:
    18 October 2011 at 8:37 pm

    I find I can happily live out my atheist life without the need to group-analyse it every week.

    QFT.

  58. 58
    pelamun

    Ant Allan,

    in European countries, there are a lot of people making a living off their oratory talents, mainly at funerals. Your funeral director will be able to recommend good ones. There might even be Free Orator Guilds or whatever, and you can search for them, like you would if you needed an interpreter.

    But they’re usually not community leaders.

    Most communities have leaders, unofficial or official. But why would a humanist organisation need to prescribe such prerequisites as just re-cited again by Truthspeaker in 48?

  59. 59
    Anthony K
    Except that we are an explicitly nonreligious organization, as a simple visit to our website would attest: “The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard (HCH) is dedicated to building, educating, and nurturing a diverse community of Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious at Harvard and beyond”.

    And before anyone responds with “but the article said…”, just think about it for a moment.

    head -> desk.

    Head-> desk is right, Pelamun.

    Think about what? The fact that the article fucked up? Well, that’s great, because in the world of anti-vaxxers and global warming deniers who spit “Atheism (and/or evolution) is just another religion!”, we can surely count on everyone but the journalists to take a quick jaunt to the website to say, “Oh, I see. ‘Chaplain’ is just a figurative, historical term. Carry on.”

    James, can you send somebody else to argue for your cause? If you think PZ is mangling your vision, you should read your own comments.

  60. 60
    Zeppelin

    @Pelamun

    I’d disagree with your assessment of church privilege.

    Ya, on paper the separation of church and state is stricter in the US, but since everyone in power there is some flavour of Evangelical (if they’re not Mormon) they can actually get away with shit that would never fly in Germany.

    Hell, the Christian Democratic Union is run by an atheist woman. Everyone with half a brain knew that before she was elected. No-one gives a fuck. In fact, I don’t recall anyone relevant even bringing it up.

    I’d assume that bishops’ salaries are paid for out of Church Tax (I assume, correct me if I’m wrong), which you only pay if you’re part of a church. So I’d say it’s more a case of the state assisting in the collection of tithes than actually paying for them.
    Which is questionable, but not really a MY TAXES issue.

    I think the reason politicans are hesitant (and the public isn’t behind an effort) to curtail church privileges is because with how irrelevant churches are here today, they don’t really get to do anything heinous outside of occasional abuse scandals.
    I think most people view them as charming, old-fashioned cultural institutions as opposed to a political force. That’ll only change if they start openky getting in the way of social change, which they’ve been careful to avoid.

  61. 61
    John Morales

    James Croft:

    If your objection is simply to the word “chaplain”, well, that’s essentially the result of a historical accident at Harvard, as Mike Huben points out. I happen to think it is wise for Humanist leaders to have a strong grounding in Humanist thought, history and practice, but the label is completely irrelevant to the functions such an individual might offer a group.

    If it were irrelevant, it could be changed without any problem*.

    So, why the recalcitrance?

    * That’s what irrelevant means!

  62. 62
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    What other nonreligious SMOs are led by a chaplain?

  63. 63
    Tom

    jfigdor

    Can anyone be chaplain there? How soon before there is a training requirement? After all, according to Greg “Humanist chaplains are trained in freethought history & philosophy, ceremony & meeting facilitation, counseling, etc.”. It sounds like a tricky job, you wouldn’t want just anyone walking in off the street. So if they need training maybe they need some kind of accreditation? Maybe you should stop other people running humanist groups who aren’t accredited, after all they could do tremendous harm to the members and to the image of the organisation.

    Now, what if some humanist groups want a local non-accredited person? Maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to pick there own person? and if they insist maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to call themselves humanists?

    I’m sure all you folk have great intentions and nothing like that could happen while you are there; I hope it all works out for you.

  64. 64
    Anthony K

    Great. Fucked up my blockquotes.

    Who do I pray to for help? Epstein? Croft? Your expertise is priesting is needed.

  65. 65
    truthspeaker

    NervousABoutAngels says:
    18 October 2011 at 9:18 pm

    What the heck use is ceremony anyway? I can put on a silly hat and recite nonsense without employing anyone, and it will be equivalently meaningless either way. Atheism is about breaking away from such mind-numbing skullduggery, not just doing it by ourselves.

    Also QFT. And just to be clear, I include ritual and ceremony, but especially coounseling provided by anyone who does not have a degree in psychology, psychiatry, or at least social work.

  66. 66
    Alex

    Using “church”, to me, just implies a vestigial NEED for the word itself. Church implies religion. The very etymology for the word directly incorporates God/the Lord/worship.

    It’s like asking why someone doesn’t call a loved one’s funeral “a party”. Sure, it’s a gathering of people, for the benefit of another person, some even call it a “celebration of” the deceased’s life. But a funeral implies death, loss, the mourning of someone. You don’t use the word because it implies something entirely different from the word “party”.

    So either there’s this inescapable NEED for someone to have some comparable establishment to the Christian church, or it’s just used to be mocking or satirical. Either way, it’s incredibly unnecessary.

    Don’t use words that don’t make sense.

  67. 67
    pelamun

    Zeppelin,

    of course I’m not denying that in the US there is a much stronger influence of religiosity in people’s daily lives, but your own comment on bishops’ salaries shows how little Germans are interested in the topic.

    Bishops’ salaries are not paid out of church taxes, but by all tax payers. it’s due to the Reichskonkordat in 1933.

    Also, while the churches do compensate the state for collecting the church taxes for them, the compensation only covers a fraction of the costs.

    I’ve gotten so frustrated about the indifference this topic generates in Western Europe that I’ve started a blog about it…

  68. 68
    forsythia

    One reason that I don’t like this idea: I know any number of people of faith – Jewish, Christian, Islam, etc. – who happily join secular social and service organizations. Restricting this to Atheist seems, well, restrictive.

    Then again, Public Health seems to be disproportionately comprised of UUs, Atheists, Jews and Mormons and we seem to get along fine in our secular work lives. Perhaps that’s my template?

  69. 69
    Matt Penfold

    But your argument is just total bollocks, PZ. Which local atheist organization doesn’t have some structure or leadership to make it function? I’ve visited many such groups, as I’m sure have you, and every single one I have encountered has a structured set of processes and a leadership hierarchy. This is true of both student and non-student groups, and of skeptics groups, atheist groups, and Humanist groups.

    Sorry, but this is total bollocks.

    It is true that almost any group is going to have somekind of leadership hierarchy. However in most groups the people who end up in such a position do so as the result of being elected to office by the members of the group. Epstein is suggesting something quite different. His vision of leadership is one imposed from above. That he talks of the special training for Humanist Chaplains is telling.

    So please, if you are going to complain about someone writing bollocks, make sure you do not do the same thing.

  70. 70
    Trixie

    The whole idea of ritual and ceremonies is disconcerting – ritual breeds attachment. This is why churchgoers for the most part don’t like change, they are numbed by the comfort of ritual. As atheists and skeptics, we are charged by change and making change. Change in the skeptical community and the community at large won’t happen if we are chained to ritual and ceremony.

  71. 71
    Rieux

    John Cole @7:

    Has Greg Epstein not heard of the Unitarian Universalist Association? It’s not an exclusively atheist organization, but atheists are welcome….

    Sigh… I guess I have to say this again on every Epstein-related thread.

    If you actually talk to those of us who are or have been UU atheists, you will learn that it is not in fact undisputed that “atheists are welcome” in the Unitarian Universalist Association at all.

    This isn’t a defense of Epstein (who has done plenty of nasty gnubashing of his own), but the UUA is riddled with atheophobic ministers and administrators who brutalize any and all of us who dare to openly criticize religion. It seems to me that anyone talking up UUism on FTB should perhaps take that into account.

    More here (i.e., the previous Epstein thread), here, and here.

    Atheists, at their worst, can be as nasty, as self-righteous, and even as violent as Christian and Islamic fundamentalists.

    The twentieth century was the first in which militant atheists gained significant political power. Quite often the results were horrifying. In Communist China, cadres destroyed Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian temples and herded monks and nuns into slave labor camps. Thousands of Jewish, Christian, and pagan religious leaders were murdered or imprisoned during the Stalinist years in the Soviet Union. Similar atrocities—committed in the name of “reason” and “progress”—have been seen in Cambodia, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and other nations.

    Be grateful for the wall between church and state that protects U.S. citizens. It’s a barrier that also defends Unitarian Universalists and others from government persecution directed by antireligious bigots. In order to appreciate the experience, talk with the Unitarians in Rumania who suffered through decades of Communist tyranny and abuse.

    - Andrea Liounis, “At Their Worst,” UU World denominational magazine, May/June 2003

    Our resistance to religious language, I believe, helps to account for the struggle that so many of us experience in trying to say who we are as Unitarian Universalists. I always encourage people to work on their elevator speech, what you’d say when you’re going from the sixth floor to the lobby and somebody asks you, “What’s a Unitarian Universalist?” You’ve got forty-five seconds. Here’s my latest: “The Unitarian side tells us that there is only one God, one spirit of life, one power of love. The Universalist side tells us that God is a loving God, condemning none of us, valuing the spark of divinity that is in every human being.” So my version of what Unitarian Universalism stands for is, “One God, no one left behind.”

    - Rev. Bill Sinkford (UUA President 2001-09), “Share the Good News with a world that badly needs it,” UU World, March/April 2003

  72. 72
    John Morales

    Jim Ashmore:

    So, I’ll keep my Church of Freethought despite your disapproval.

    Whyever would I disapprove of your embracement of an oxymoron? ;)

  73. 73
    pelamun

    Rieux, this is why I suggested they should go found a “UU-lite church” ;)

  74. 74
    truthspeaker

    The purpose of ritual and ceremony is to manipulate people’s emotions, and that has no place in an an organization dedicated to rational thought.

  75. 75
    Ichthyic

    I really don’t understand your argument against two words, “church” and “chaplain”. To me this is superstition and unnecessary bias.

    To Godwin this thing proper-like:

    “I really don’t understand your argument against two words, “Nazi” and “Hitler”. To me this is superstition and unnecessary bias.”

    of course, it’s not superstitious, but then that’s the point.

  76. 76
    James Croft

    @Matt Penfold # 69:

    Epstein is suggesting something quite different. His vision of leadership is one imposed from above.

    Can you give me one piece of evidence that he is suggesting this?

  77. 77
    matthewball

    Great stuff, PZ. But it does seem like many human’s have a need to submit to “leaders” / gurus, etc.

  78. 78
    pelamun

    Truthspeaker, as discussed in the other thread, there is place for ritual and ceremony in people’s lives.

    - birthdays and anniversaries
    - birth and death
    - marriage
    - rites of passage, such as becoming an adult
    - taking up a post, and leaving one (usually of leaders, like company executives, or politicians)

    But for most of these occasions, I can see some social value, though YMMV. In the other thread, I specifically asked ritual-averse people if they could imagine having a adulthood ceremony, like Japan does, for example.

    And naturally, a weekly regularly scheduled meeting of freethinkers does have social value as well, no doubt about it. But we don’t need any candle-lighting rituals or chaplains leading those meetings.

  79. 79
    Physicalist

    Different strokes for different folks.

  80. 80
    pelamun

    James Croft,

    either you’re dense, blinded by elitism, or you’re a troll.

    Plenty of people have cited the tweet by Epstein and his chaplain training programme.

  81. 81
    Tom

    James @76

    In the original article Greg is quoted:

    “When I wrote that,’’ said Epstein, who was appointed the university’s humanist chaplain in 2005, “I didn’t feel prepared to tell people what they should build or to give them a venue.’’

    He feels more prepared now.

    Sounds top-down to me.

  82. 82
    Zeppelin

    @Pelamun

    That’s good to know, actually! I just assumed that these things had all been rolled into one by now. (Also, I’m bookmarking your blog :p )
    That’s actually what bothers me about church tax collection — I understand that these kinds of systems were introduced to preserve social peace at a time when the churches were still politically important, and if it were cost-neutral I’d be okay with it, but I don’t see why non-sectarian taxpayers should come up for the churches’ collection admin overheads.

    You’re right, I’m pretty indifferent about religious institutions in my own country. Their minor drain on society’s productivity just can’t compare with the spectacle of callous disregard for basic human decency coming from across the pond.

    I think it’s partly my social circle skewing my perspective. It’s hard to be concerned about religion when everyone who comes to your house party goes to take their leak in front of the protestant outreach centre as a matter of course.

    I support a bunch of political organisations that are atheistic as a matter of course…But maybe I should be taking a direct interest. It’s not like I can only care about one thing at a time :)

  83. 83
    Matt Penfold

    Can you give me one piece of evidence that he is suggesting this?

    First, please at least read what PZ has written.

    Humanist chaplains are trained in freethought history & philosophy, ceremony & meeting facilitation, counseling, etc.

    Not hard to find. Can you offer any explanation as to why you had to ask me to do it for you ?

    We have already suffered one arrogant atheist organiser today. Do not be as insufferable as Bos please. (I note you have no comment to make about his behaviour, which was odd)

  84. 84
    A3Kr0n

    PZ Wrote:

    Just don’t turn it into church. Don’t develop a structure. Don’t have it led by chaplains.

    What you’re describing is pretty close to the “structure” of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a structure-less structure. Nobody is in charge. Groups rarely, if ever, own property. Only a couple months funds are ever on hand. Most people don’t realize this, but “Anonymous” in A.A. means everyone has one vote. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, just shut up and give your one vote. Because A.A has only a single purpose, which is to help other alcoholics, it doesn’t engage in other charity. It was tried early on, but failed miserably.
    Other than that, what you wrote is how I feel 100%.
    Let’s start the /Church of PZ!
    (“/” is pronounced “NOT” in digital electronics).

  85. 85
    Akira MacKenzie

    Believe me, if atheists start building churches I’ll be the first to show up.

    With a can of gasoline and a box of matches.

    Human beings don’t need ritual. We don’t need weddings, funerals, or ceremonies. We don’t need priests or litanies. We don’t need “community” or “family.” An atheist who “needs” these things is an clinging intellectual cripple, as worthless and weak as any of the sub-human scum who believe in a god.

  86. 86
    Monado, FCD

    I think one of the problems is lack of physical locations. As long as the atheist get-togethers are ad hoc, in someone’s living room or classroom, the organization tends to be volatile and peter out after a few years. The ideal would be to have a place to call your own and then you get into collecting funds and having an administrator. The short answer is to persuade the Center/Centre for Inquiry to hold pot lucks and fun expeditions; they already have the buildings for discussion groups, movies, lectures, and libraries. And it’s not and never will be a church!

    The other solution would be to have a Secular Alliance Club that rented rooms from community centres as needed.

    By the way, did you see that a country club in Michigan cancelled a book-tour lecture by Dr. Dawkins when they realized he’s an atheist? So no country clubs.

  87. 87
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Can you give me one piece of evidence that he is suggesting this?

    How did Epstein get his position?

  88. 88
    Anthony K

    Believe me, if atheists start building churches I’ll be the first to show up.

    With a can of gasoline and a box of matches.

    Human beings don’t need ritual. We don’t need weddings, funerals, or ceremonies. We don’t need priests or litanies. We don’t need “community” or “family.” An atheist who “needs” these things is an clinging intellectual cripple, as worthless and weak as any of the sub-human scum who believe in a god.

    I see what you did there.

    I hope.

  89. 89
    Matt Penfold

    How did Epstein get his position?

    Good question.

    I am pretty sure he is not elected by the staff and students of Harvard. Which suggests a top-down approach to leadership.

  90. 90
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Believe me, if atheists start building churches I’ll be the first to show up.

    With a can of gasoline and a box of matches.

    Human beings don’t need ritual. We don’t need weddings, funerals, or ceremonies. We don’t need priests or litanies. We don’t need “community” or “family.” An atheist who “needs” these things is an clinging intellectual cripple, as worthless and weak as any of the sub-human scum who believe in a god.

    Oh, STFU.

  91. 91
    Lancelot Gobbo

    You know, the problem with any organised attempt by human societies to formalise ceremonies to mark various rites of passage is that they will always come to resemble religion. After all, how do you think the religions we have (and have had) came about? It’s not like a god did it. One can feel mildly sad that we want a leader to take us through the ceremony, but it is only what our ancestors’ shamans did for them in their time. Social animals have their needs and this may be one of them. It might just be that we atheists can either be the cranky outsiders, or we can be the unwitting fomenters of a new church when we set up a secular rite. I think we should tough it out by celebrating all rites of passage with family, friends and beer. The community can come and join in, but please, let’s not formalise it with rules, prescribed words, gestures, costumes and other nonsense designed to reassure the uncertain.

  92. 92
    pelamun

    Well about the “don’t develop a structure” comment by PZ.

    I think on a local level, what you need is

    - mailing-list, and someone who administers it
    - location to meet. If you can’t get a local community centre, why not meet in a science museum or the like, or in a park, or art gallery? Or even a pub? The possibilities are endless.

    If you’re doing it as a campus group, yes, you might need more structure, but just go according to what the chess club does. Why imitate the religious ones? (and in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any organisational differences between the two)

    I don’t think the AA comparison is warranted. For regional/national organisations, atheists and humanists do have structures in place. But AFAIK, they all have democratically elected leadership positions, no-one being groomed in training programmes.

  93. 93
    Bill

    Speaking as a Quaker… While we certainly not free of the annoying theist we generally consider the whole belief thing entirely optional.

  94. 94
    John Morales

    Lancelot:

    Social animals have their needs and this may be one of them.

    You know that this is a not culturally-inculcated perceived need, how?

    a secular rite

    Care to define each term, in your own words?

    (I find their conjoint… peculiar)

  95. 95
    Kerri

    I agree with you, PZ, and I posted as much on Friendly Atheist. I do not like the term “Chaplain” (a term I grew up with as a military brat with a choir directing Mom) used for secular purposes. It does reek of someone who is completely unwilling to give up the religious way of life.

    HOWEVER, that is what they want to do, so cool, whatever. I don’t see that it hurts the rest of us. There is still plenty of other things coming from outside the secular movement that deserves more attention than someone calling themselves a Chaplain. While it does feed into the religious community’s need to brand atheism as a religion, it’s a minor fight in comparison to schools proselytizing and churches pretending to be governments.

    I think there is way too much infighting going on here rather than contructive battle with the real opponent.

  96. 96
    Matt Penfold

    I think on a local level, what you need is

    - mailing-list, and someone who administers it
    - location to meet. If you can’t get a local community centre, why not meet in a science museum or the like, or in a park, or art gallery? Or even a pub? The possibilities are endless.

    That is pretty much it. No special training needed. Certainly no need to have a “chaplain” employed to run it.

  97. 97
    Anthony K

    You know, the problem with any organised attempt by human societies to formalise ceremonies to mark various rites of passage is that they will always come to resemble religion.

    Not necessarily. Religions involve ritual, but so does nearly every other human social activity. The mistake is in thinking religion owns ritual.

    You know that this is a not culturally-inculcated perceived need, how?

    Humans are ritualistic animals. The culturally inculcated part of this is thinking that ritual = things that happen in an Anglican church.

  98. 98
    The Ys

    I’ve read back through the comments and can freely state that no convincing arguments have been made in favour of an atheist church or the top-down leadership style these guys seem to favour.

    I’m beginning to think PZ was too kind with his dismissive remarks.

    The fact that Croft and Epstein expect people to buy into their vision and follow them without question is deeply unsettling. OTOH, the fact that they see any disagreement as “knee-jerk” is actually kinda funny.

    If they want sheeple, I think they’re looking in the wrong place.

  99. 99
    The Ys

    While it does feed into the religious community’s need to brand atheism as a religion, it’s a minor fight in comparison to schools proselytizing and churches pretending to be governments.

    No, it isn’t minor, because turning atheism into something seen as a religion makes us part of the problem instead of people trying to create a solution.

  100. 100
    pelamun

    Kerri,

    it hurts the rest of us, as it perpetuates the “atheism is just another religion” meme. Focusing on rituals also distracts from the fact that atheism is about reason and evidence, and not just another belief system. Which also plays into the hands of the accommodationists.

    That doesn’t mean that there are no other important issues. But what do you suggest, just pretend it’s all peachy when there is fundamental disagreement among atheists about the strategy? What good would that do?

  101. 101
    John Morales

    Kerri,

    I think there is way too much infighting going on here rather than contructive battle with the real opponent.

    Deep Rifts.

  102. 102
    Anthony K

    OTOH, the fact that they see any disagreement as “knee-jerk” is actually kinda funny.

    Knee-jerking is a ritual of mine. It gives me comfort in times of need, and is a way in which I identify with other members of my community. Of knee-jerkers.

    Why they would have a problem with this is beyond me.

  103. 103
    cyberCMDR

    This seems to be boiling down to what the Atheist community needs, that it doesn’t yet have. Do we need a pseudo-church for atheists? Probably not. Do we need something to enable us to work together locally, debate issues without an assumption of God and perhaps provide a support network? There does seem to be some need for that. Maybe the focus should be less on whether we need a church-like structure and more on identifying what we do need as a community.

    I kind of like the idea of duplicating the Minnesota Atheists template in more areas, with both local meetings and a virtual presence on-line. I would especially like to see a pooling of the talents available in the atheist community towards creating more educational resources for those on the fence. There is certainly no shortage of nonsense being put out by the creationists/IDiots.

  104. 104
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    OFFS, of course humans need rituals. Every culture everywhere has them. Hatches, matches and dispatches are the basics. Adulthood – the 21st birthday; the graduation ceremony. The farewell party at work; the birthday party; the wedding anniversary; the annual prize-giving dinner for your sports association; and so on. We like traditions. We’re social animals and we like to feel connected as a community. (Obviously not 100% of us, OK.)

    There’s simply no need to assume that a ritual is religious. And no need to dress it up with a fake moustache and glasses as if it were supposed to be. Secular celebrants do a great job of organising ceremonies – that’s their job. Why you would want them also to be a counsellor and magic candle-lighting hand-waver is a complete mystery to me.

  105. 105
    John Morales

    Brownian,

    Humans are ritualistic animals. The culturally inculcated part of this is thinking that ritual = things that happen in an Anglican church.

    You put it more precisely there, but yes, that’s basically what I put to Lancelot.

    (Perhaps not the only way to scratch that itch, if itch there be)

  106. 106
    pelamun

    cyberCMDR,

    I think the RDF forums used to be a good place. After forumgate, I think they’ve gone to different places, maybe rationalia among them? And I’m sure other places exist (maybe someone here could list them; also people have found help on this very blog in the past as well). Maybe someone needs to aggregate all different kinds of resources, that would be a great service to the community.

  107. 107
    Blondin

    A Canticle for Epstein?

  108. 108
    John Morales

    cyberCMDR:

    Do we need something to enable us to work together locally, debate issues without an assumption of God and perhaps provide a support network?

    Pssst…

    You’re on the internet.

    (Is that nothing?

    (Is not Pharyngula something?))

  109. 109
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    [idea]Actually, the concept of needing a place (large kitchen, etc) and not paying for it, would be to set up a catering type of business with ballrooms, doing various lunches, dinners and receptions to keep the till full. The atheists could gather there on days where it isn’t in total use for whatever purposes they desire.[/idea]

  110. 110
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Alethea,

    (Obviously not 100% of us, OK.)

    Indeed.

  111. 111
    screechy monkey

    If there’s really a significant number of atheists who feel the need to have an “appropriately trained humanist” preside over their wedding/funeral/whatever, well, good for them I suppose. (And good for the appropriately trained humanists who will charge for those services, I suppose.)

    I find that rather dubious. More and more weddings are being officiated by laypeople (or, you know, “Ministers of the Church of the Internet”) who seem to do just fine in my experience. But if it’s more important to people that their wedding be officiated by someone who can hold forth at great length on the writings of Ingersoll, I guess I’ll call it a victory if there are enough atheists that even a subset of us can support such a demand.

  112. 112
    John Morales

    [meta]

    screechy monkey,

    I guess I’ll call it a victory if there are enough atheists that even a subset of us can support such a demand.

    No-one expects subtlety from a screechy monkey!

    (Nice)

  113. 113
    Matt Penfold

    Cross-posted from “Your Name is Tucker”:

    Interesting. Over at The Friendly Atheist there seems to be some overlap between atheists who see nothing wrong with what happened to Rebecca Watson and those who think atheism needs something to replace churches.

    Some kind of patriarchal mindset do you think ?

  114. 114
    Kerri

    “That doesn’t mean that there are no other important issues. But what do you suggest, just pretend it’s all peachy when there is fundamental disagreement among atheists about the strategy? What good would that do?”

    I don’t pretend it’s all peachy… I’d prefer the Harvard folks forego this title and seeming ritual nonsense. But we are becoming no better than the religious folks who want it their way or no way.

    I’d love some socialization with like-minded folks. I’m very isolated where I live and I crave a good potluck and chit-chat with other atheists, similar to that I had as a teen in my mother’s church. I see comments here that insinuate I’m wrong to “need” that. So be it. But I don’t want a “Chaplain” leading the effort and I’d prefer it not be on Sunday morning.

    With this particular group of people, the commenters here and on other blogs, we will NEVER see a minute, much less a day, that they all agree on any given topic, even one as simple as “is there a god.” So I choose to let these folks do as they see fit in the confines of the Harvard system.

    The title was reportedly bestowed out of the ritual of the Harvard system, not the atheist system. I choose to fight battles that I can influence and impact, like keeping religion out of my son’s school, not those that are outside my purview. I leave that to those on a more national or global stage.

    This is just the opinion of a work-at-home, scrapbooking, atheist mom, not someone out to change the world. I’d be happy if my son decides to start an SSA in high school when he goes in a few years. I leave the decision-making and enforcement to folks like you.

  115. 115
    Akira MacKenzie

    I was facetiously grumbling about burning down hypothetical atheist churches and the sub-human status of theist and community-desiring atheists. (I still despise them, though.)

    The rest, I stand by. I remember sitting at Mass watching people mindless chant prayers and sing hymns in unison. It disturbed me then and it freaks me out now that I understand the lies and supersticions behind it. I got out of religion, and I’ll be willing fucked up the ass with a razor-blade studded sans lube before I see atheism take up its trappings to satisfy some perverse desire to be part of “society.”

    Weddings? Overpriced parties to boast to the world about how you got someone to fuck you more than once. Funerals? Why should I care if you’re dead? That’s not much of an accomplishment. They stick your corpse in a overpriced box and bury you while your “loved ones” (yeah, right) cry over you when a final and unremarked trip to the rendering plant would be more productive. “Birth ceremonies?” So, you or your female mate have crapped out another surplus human being to join the 7 billion plus other simian parasites who are ruining this rock we call “Earth.” Whoop-dee-fucking-do.

    @SC

    Oh, STFU.

    Tell you what, track me down and try, mother fucker.

  116. 116
    pelamun

    screechy monkey,

    this blog is not limited to Americans. In many countries outside of America, the idea that a nonreligious person officiates at weddings is an accepted one, and in some countries it is even mandatory that a government official do so.

    Same thing for funeral orators, see my post 58.

  117. 117
    consciousness razor

    Why should a single organization take on all of the following, if not others as well:

    1) Rituals, ceremonial events, rites of passage
    2) Other social and cultural events
    3) Philanthropy
    4) Political activism and lobbying
    5) Counseling
    6) Administration
    7) Public relations
    8) Research on the effectiveness of some or all of the above (1-7)

    What reason is there to think one group, even a group at Harvard, would or should have any idea how best to accomplish all of these? Some seem to be lumping them together, as if a ceremony were equivalent to counseling, or as if by doing that we have somehow also been effective philanthropists or political activists.

    What’s more, as many people have already said, this is like reinventing the wheel. Since it’s trying so hard to emulate religion, it’s a bit like reinventing some ancient version of a wheel, maybe for a chariot or an oxcart. But set that aside — there is no general shortage of secular social and cultural outlets. You want some beautiful and inspirational art? Go to any number of museums, galleries, concerts, dance recitals, theater productions, poetry slams, book clubs, or take a long walk on the beach for all I care. You can even find a diamond in the rough on youtube, FFS. The churches haven’t had any sort of monopoly on the art world for a long time, so this claim that they offer some kind of special experience is either based on ignorance or total bollocks. Maybe some don’t want art — maybe they want sports or rock-climbing or skydiving. That’s all good too.

    The same goes for philanthropies, political activism, and counseling of course. I don’t object to having even more efforts supporting humanism, atheism or secularism, or object to making them more effective. What I object to is the idea that they’re nonexistent or doing it all wrong, that somehow they need some special quasi-religious component to attract certain people. I don’t think it serves our cause to bait a bunch of suckers with empty garbage like lighting candles or giving them half-assed “counseling” from non-professionals. If they’re not humanists or atheists because it makes sense and is the right thing to do, but because the ceremony was really pleasant and uplifting, then they’re not humanists anyway. They just want a spectacle, which could come from any arbitrary source: the Mormons or the UUs or the local community theater troupe.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve got nothing against atheist organizations or having regular meetings. I meet with some folks fairly regularly, but we mainly just meet at a bar and talk. Occasionally we get involved in some other events, but it is mainly just a way for us to have a social life and openly talk about whatever we want with fun and interesting people. Our Dear Leader (who shows up most of the time) is not at all trained in philosophy, counseling, or presiding over ceremonies. Awesome dude. He has no interest in leading discussions, which is good, because we all have more important things to talk about: sex, drugs, and rock & roll, or whatever the fuck we want, because we’re there to meet others not listen to him lecture us. He’s not a big name like Epstein, so I guess it’s understandable that he doesn’t draw in much of a crowd.

  118. 118
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    I’m sorry. I still just don’t see a need.

    It still reeks of replacing religion with something highly fashioned after it.

  119. 119
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    HOWEVER, that is what they want to do, so cool, whatever. I don’t see that it hurts the rest of us.

    Here’s the thing. Google “chris stedman ophelia benson.” This is a recurring thing: After months of bashing other atheists and pompous pronouncements about what people “must” do, they expect the very people they’ve been bashing to accept their projects unquestioningly and uncritically. When people don’t, they start the “How could you be against communitieeeeeees? Why don’t you just let us do our nice and innocuous thing?” business.

    Of course, even if they didn’t act this way, we’d be under no obligation to cheer on everything they do. But this is the context.

  120. 120
    Kerri

    “No, it isn’t minor, because turning atheism into something seen as a religion makes us part of the problem instead of people trying to create a solution.”

    Granted… we do not disagree on that point. But I still choose to fight religion infiltration in schools and government and leave this particular fight to you and yours. We can’t all fight every fight every time they come up. I do not have that influence or time.

    As I said in my original post, and that you quoted, “…it does feed into the religious community’s need to brand atheism as a religion.” With that, we can agree.

  121. 121
    Matt Penfold

    Akira MacKenzie,

    Funerals are not about the dead person. They are about the family and friends of the dead person. Attending a funeral is supporting the family and friends.

    You seem a very embittered person, and rather callous as well.

  122. 122
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Tell you what, track me down and try, mother fucker.

    Ohhhh I love internet tough guys.

  123. 123
    cyberCMDR

    @ John Morales

    John, I know I’m on the Internet. It’s a great thing, but just as Internet porn is not as good as the up close and personal experience there are some things that proximity makes better.

    Why can’t we have both (ways of collaborating, not the porn), where we can support the local community? The denizens of Pharyngula make a great (and sometimes challenging) community, but they only really help those that visit the site. Or do we want to restrict our social skills to staring at monitors and debating through keyboards?

  124. 124
    Matt Penfold

    I’m sorry. I still just don’t see a need.

    It still reeks of replacing religion with something highly fashioned after it.

    If we look at Northern Europe, where church attendance has been dropping rapidly, to the extent in many countries under 10% of people regularly attend church, we can see there is no need for a replacement.

    Or are Americans especially delicate and precious, and unable to cope ?

  125. 125
    The Ys

    Interesting. Over at The Friendly Atheist there seems to be some overlap between atheists who see nothing wrong with what happened to Rebecca Watson and those who think atheism needs something to replace churches.

    Some kind of patriarchal mindset do you think ?

    That wouldn’t surprise me. This type of arrangement is an attempt to gain privilege. Privilege was the main problem with the elevator incident and its various responses.

  126. 126
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Tell you what, track me down and try, mother fucker.

    No, thanks, nutbar. Rant away.

  127. 127
    cyberCMDR

    Damn, forgot to close out the blockquote.

  128. 128
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Or are Americans especially delicate and precious, and unable to cope ?

    I think the saturation of religion in day to day life and as tradition keeps people longing for a replacement when they shed themselves of it.*

    *pulled directly from my ass but I think there is some merit to that assessment.

  129. 129
    The Sailor

    “What you’re describing is pretty close to the “structure” of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a structure-less structure. Nobody is in charge. Groups rarely, if ever, own property. Only a couple months funds are ever on hand. Most people don’t realize this, but “Anonymous” in A.A. means everyone has one vote. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, just shut up and give your one vote. Because A.A has only a single purpose, which is to help other alcoholics, it doesn’t engage in other charity. It was tried early on, but failed miserably.”

    Riiiight, AA which has 12 steps that mention dog every other one and then peer-pressure makes you link hands and do the Lord’s Prayer. And of course, there is no ‘leader’ just the person who runs every meeting and selects who gets called to ‘testify’.

    I’ve never been to a meeting where people get to vote on it, but atheists are hounded out because they don’t want to put up with that god bullshit.
    +++++++++++++++++
    UU, IME, is a very nice place to visit, but it’s led by one person, it’s preached to by that person, and it’s god (or turtles) all the way down.
    ++++++++++++++++
    I’ve been to Quaker meetings that were really nice people hanging out and people would ‘get the spirit’ and discuss what was going on and what god meant to them.

    Very nice people, very welcoming, very democratic. But also, too, god.
    ++++++++++++++++
    Most churches welcome anyone, it says so right on the literature they stuff in your mailbox, print in the local paper, those really nice folks who show up at your door.

    But they don’t actually welcome you, you’re on god’s probation until they convert you.

  130. 130
    Kerri

    Why does a secular, organized group, whether they talk about scheduled topics or just have a foodie day, have to be a bad thing? It’s not about replacing church with an atheist version of “church” because we miss rituals. It could be that some people are just more social than others. My husband would rather eat his shoe than participate in anything remotely organized with other people. Not because he’s an atheist but because he’s asocial. My son and I, on the other hand, are more social creatures and would LOVE to find a social secular group to hang with on occasion. Not just any old group with a nonreligious name that may or may not include religious people, but an atheist group of people who want to socialize as families or not, on a regular basis? I know… religious people call this church, but I don’t want a titled head of the group or a book to follow on meeting days. Just a few folks who don’t mind organizing or scheduling, like an admin or something.

    Yeah, I’ve been called naive before…

    This Harvard thing is dangerous to the rest of us, not just on a semantic basis. I get that now… but I still would love that social group I’ve discussed.

  131. 131
    pelamun

    Kerri,

    I’d love some socialization with like-minded folks. I’m very isolated where I live and I crave a good potluck and chit-chat with other atheists, similar to that I had as a teen in my mother’s church. I see comments here that insinuate I’m wrong to “need” that. So be it. But I don’t want a “Chaplain” leading the effort and I’d prefer it not be on Sunday morning.

    I don’t think anyone has said you’d be wrong about it. Some people have expressed disdain for any kind of rituals, but this is by far the majority opinion. Most people, myself included, think that humans do need some rituals, we should want them to be socially meaningful. I listed them in post 78.

    Many people here, and it seems that you are also in agreement, don’t want weekly meetings led by chaplains on Sunday mornings. PZ has said in his original post as well that having regular meetings of freethinkers is a great thing, and can provide the social interaction many human beings need. I mean potlucks can be great social occasions!

  132. 132
    Kerri

    “Many people here, and it seems that you are also in agreement, don’t want weekly meetings led by chaplains on Sunday mornings.”

    YES, this. Agree.

    “I mean potlucks can be great social occasions!”

    I really miss a good Winter Chili Potluck… those were always my favorite. :-)

  133. 133
    Michael Swanson

    feralboy12

    …remind me of vegetarians who eat fake meat. I mean, if you don’t want to eat animals, why eat stuff made to taste just like them?

    So that I don’t have to kill any animals. [/obvious]

  134. 134
    John Morales

    cyberCMDR:

    The denizens of Pharyngula make a great (and sometimes challenging) community, but they only really help those that visit the site.

    The denizens of Pharyngula include you, and I’m not here for help.

    That aside, you’re granting my point — you asked about something that would “enable us to work together locally, debate issues without an assumption of God and perhaps provide a support network?”, I answered you.

    (You think this place religious?)

  135. 135
    Rieux

    There is an infamous passage from the 1998 book the national UU Association calls “the classic introduction to Unitarian Universalism” that’s relevant to this discussion:

    One cost of avoiding religion altogether may be spiritual isolation. Too often today couples are already socially isolated. Their friends are colleagues at work. They live away from their families. Aside from parents, or perhaps a boss, they have few models for the next stage of life. If nothing else, a religious community, like a recovery of roots, can provide one with a spiritual extended family, and a safe context for discussing the deeper issues arising from success or failure, grief or illness, or the ultimate questions of good and evil. Having raised their children in a spiritual vacuum, apart from any religious discussion or community, committed secularists are sometimes shocked when their offspring suddenly join a high-demand cult or follow a seductive guru. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the human spirit. The lure of the various isms, though hardly unknown to religious people, may be even more intense for those who avoid religion.

    – UU Rev. John A. Buehrens (UUA President 1993-2001), in A Chosen Faith, “the classic introduction to Unitarian Universalism.”

    …Which is somewhat of an indication of how UUism, especially in the hands of certain clergy and administrators, continually mixes (1) attempts to address the needs that Epstein and Croft have mentioned here with (2) outrageous dehumanizing insults directed at atheists.

    All that said, I consider myself a gnu atheist to whom some of the ritual-and-community aspects that Epstein emphasizes can be valuable. Three years out, I’m still more than a little angry that I had to bail from UUism because I just couldn’t stand the idiot atheophobic bigotry that I kept running into, and that my co-parishioners utterly refused to do a thing about.

    I miss spending time with the community of friends I had in my UU congregation, singing in the choir, conducting (occasionally) constructive discussions about religion with folks of a generally liberal and skeptical bent, and spending structured quiet time with my wife, a cultural Catholic who’s a nonbeliever on some days and deist on others. It really sucked to leave.

    Arguably I’m an “atheist who hasn’t kicked the church habit” (a common but increasingly inaccurate description of UUs); that may well be true. I’m okay with that, because I don’t think that the elements of UUism that appeal to me—which certainly don’t include unchallengable clergy!—conflict with the principles I think are important to atheists, including gnu ones. (I’m no fan of using religion-drenched words like “chaplain” or “church,” either; I see plenty of religious privilege in them, too.)

    Quite possibly predilections like mine tend to only last a generation or so after “real” religion. I was brought up in the same mainstream Protestant denomination that PZ was—and that experience certainly wasn’t all bad, though the theology (among some other things) was obvious garbage. UUs constantly bemoan the fact that something like 95% (!) of children brought up in UU communities don’t stay in UUism once they grow up; that suggests that my children might well find my penchant for Sunday-morning services and choirs and whatnot a bit quaint and antiquated. And frankly that’s fine. Contra Buehrens, “avoiding religion altogether” very clearly does not make one a “vacuum.”

    My feelings about this stuff contrast fairly strongly with PZ’s and those of several others here, which doesn’t particularly bother me—but I think their testimony makes it very clear that an atheist organizational strategy based, as Epstein’s appears to be, on quasi-church communities complete with ritual and Learnéd Leaders and whatnot will never work on a large scale. There are simply too many atheists who (for reasons I well understand and don’t intend to denigrate) rankle at churchy overtones and what they imply.

    So fine, to each her own, let the atheists who are interested in quasi-church-ish stuff do our thing and the atheists who aren’t do something else, and everyone’s happy. That’s a nice model, except that the effort being discussed here is prominently led by Greg Epstein and Chris Stedman, two men whose respect for atheists of contrasting outlooks I trust about as far as I can bodily throw the two guys themselves. I don’t particularly object to ritual or certain arguably-churchy trappings in themselves, but I cannot possibly abide the amount of gnubashing and demands for atheist obeisance to religious privilege that Epstein and Stedman have repeatedly engaged in. I have no confidence in any organizational effort those two men lead.

    If the UUA could purge itself of its currently high levels of religious privilege and anti-gnu prejudice, I’d rejoin. Conceivably a network of humanist congregations could provide a reasonable facsimile of that kind of new and improved UUism. But I can’t help but suspect that any such network led or organized by Epstein and Stedman will have precisely the same problems UUism has. So no, thank you: I’m comfortable with Sunday morning services, but not when they come at the cost of stabbing good, out-and-proud atheists (who are neither “spiritual vacuum”s nor “fundamentalist atheists”) in the back.

  136. 136
    CJO

    ’cause, y’know, Akira there’s doing great without all that stuff that people don’t really need.

  137. 137
    John Morales

    Rieux,

    My feelings about this stuff contrast fairly strongly with PZ’s and those of several others here, which doesn’t particularly bother me [...]

    Which is how it should be, just as you don’t bother me.

  138. 138
    Rieux

    John @137:

    Which is how it should be, just as you don’t bother me.

    Certainly. But Epstein and Stedman bother the shit out of me.

    Whatever our various predilections about Sunday services and calling people “chaplain” and whatever, blathering about “fundamentalist atheists” and demanding that atheists cut it out with the awful “polemics” like The God Delusion and The End of Faith are simply not acceptable.

    I don’t have a problem with any atheist voicing any particular perspective on quasi-religious ritual. I have a Big Fucking Problem with stabbing vocal atheists in the back, thereby enforcing the ugly religious privilege that keeps religion powerful and us a marginalized and despised minority. I may have a soft spot for choirs and “scripture” readings and cozying up next to my wife in a pew, but I have no sympathy for Uncle Toms.

  139. 139
    F

    For this, and all of our other intentions, we pray to the lord.

    Fuck the back row!

  140. 140
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Epstein’s comment at Rieux’s first link @ #138 is classic:

    I also have no objection whatsoever, as I told Richard, to the idea that he and Sam and others like them have done an incredible amount to advance the cause of atheism recently. Absolutely, this is part of why we’re poised for explosive growth right now. But we can’t get anywhere, I firmly believe, if we don’t use this precious moment to start building more positive institutions, organizations, and communications that can serve real people in real ways– beyond the admittedly very important work of criticizing that with which we disagree.

    This pretty adequately sums up the whole arrogant, condescending, bullshit attitude. We’re, as James said on the previous thread, “precursors” to their constructive work, we are exclusively concerned with attacking, the movement isn’t actually experiencing growth and dynamism but still “poised” for it awaiting their valuable leadership, and gnus offer nothing positive. And the last sentence:

    I really am a fan, even after this post. But we all can and must do more.

    The fake-”we”/must combination! Impressive!

  141. 141
    blbt5

    The idea of growing up is to let go of parental control, the main object of theism and the antithesis of atheism. As Hitchens has pointed out, one of the the most repugnant religious ideas is of God as the omnipresent parent who never leaves his children, preserving an eternal infantile dependency. The root of chaplain is the same as chaperone. When you leave religion behind, along with the mythology goes the paternal bureaucracy. Chaplains are not required for marriages, funerals, graduation from high school, or for anything really, as millions who leave church and do not miss it can attest. The people who lead organizations, such as the Dawkins foundations or the many blogs such as Pharyngula and Skepchick do so as a risky process of hard work and evolution, in which leaders attract a following, some of who take on the tasks needed by the organization. It’s true some people miss a sense of the numinous when they leave church. But I think most of this comes back in new personal relationships. I’ve always found music to be a better ecstatic and transcendent connection than religion, musicians giving voice to a completely personal and idiosyncratic yet shared sense of moral and aesthetic values, as well as new insights and observations about everyday life.

  142. 142
    Anthony K

    @John Morales, 105:

    Yes, sorry if the way I responded gave the impression that I thought you were wrong there.

    And I totally misread Akira there. That’s some kind of fucked up. I mean, I tend toward nihilism sometimes, but…

    Interesting. Over at The Friendly Atheist there seems to be some overlap between atheists who see nothing wrong with what happened to Rebecca Watson and those who think atheism needs something to replace churches.

    Some kind of patriarchal mindset do you think ?

    Excellent! At least maybe they’ll drop the “church is all about the communitieeeeeee” (thanks, SC) and admit that it’s just as much about the slut-shaming and othering.

  143. 143
    Jafafa Hots

    I sometimes feel a bit left out around here because unlike others I never was religious. I was not raised NOT to be, I was surrounded by all of the trappings though we ourselves didn’t go to church.

    I watched Davey & Goliath on TV, all the Christmas specials, everything. I was surprised when, at age 4, I discovered that some people actually believed in these fairy tales – and that some of the fairy tales were DESIGNED to be believed.

    I found it amazing. Didn’t say anything to my parents – it wasn’t until adulthood (and just this year in the case of my mother) that I found out what their beliefs were.

    I also got dragged along to churches for various summer programs and things, and just could not imagine why ANYONE would go through that crap, let alone BELIEVE it.

    So I have never felt the slightest need to go through some kind of formal group indoctrination of any kind.

    It’s not that something is missing. There is NOTHING MISSING. You are missing nothing if you don’t go to churchy-type places, unless the ritual fills in for some flaw in your character.

    NONE of the trappings of ceremony are necessary to socialize, exchange ideas, or be charitable.

    Religion is a pacifier and a binky to keep infants from fussing.
    And it’s meant to KEEP you as an infant.

    You may have recognized this, but instead of saying “I’m an adult, I don’t need this shit,” your solution is to get yourself a pacifier without a cross embossed on it and a binky that says “this is not a Jesus blanket.”

    The day atheists become known for having congregations is the day I find something else to call myself. Wouldn’t want anyone assuming I’m an idiot.

    Kumbayah.

  144. 144
    Akira MacKenzie

    @Matt Penfold

    You seem a very embittered person, and rather callous as well.

    Yes, I am.

    Oh! I’m sorry, but am I supposed to infere that those qualities are undesirable?

    I admit, I’m not a happy person. I’m (barely) functionally mentally ill and I’ve got a a 747-full of personal baggage, but given the shit I’ve put up with in my 36 years on this rock, I think I’ve earned the right to be “embittered” and “callous.” Yes, I’m a gouch, a cynic, and a curmudgeon. Any enthusiasm for humanity I had in my youth has been squeezed out of me by years of witnessing the collective stupidity of our species.
    I don’t “get” people or society, and I’m not sure I want to.

    @Rev. Chimp

    Ohhhh I love internet tough guys.

    Sorry, but I have a extreme dislike of people who tell me to “shut up,” even in Inter-tubes acronym form. Killfile me or ban me if you will, but don’t tell me to be quiet.

    Speaking of which…

    @SC

    Either you want me to “STFU” or you want me to “rant away,” make up your damn mind.

  145. 145
    Eric RoM

    Akira MacKenzie, internet tough-guy. And patented douche.

    Genius, not all ritual is religious, ie birthday parties. Is that part of your hated constellation? Really, fuck yourself, you bitter asswipe.

  146. 146
    Jafafa Hots

    Sorry I won’t be here to read any responses, I’m off to a non-stamp-collector’s show. Biggest one in the region – over 150 booths of no stamps.

  147. 147
    consciousness razor
    I really am a fan, even after this post. But we all can and must do more.

    The fake-”we”/must combination! Impressive!

    Indeed. Not to mention the fake pandering of being a “fan.”. I’d give it at least a 9.5 out of 10. Such agility, such grace, and the landing was incredible. No substance, but and the style was absolutely perfect.

  148. 148
    wondering

    I don’t need a church (religious or Epstein atheist) to throw a birthday or New Year’s party, take kids trick-or-treating, or throw a baby shower. Why do I need one to host a wedding or a funeral? (Well, if I were hosting, it would most likely be Excuse for a Big Party and A Wake Wherein We Bypass the Speeches and Go Straight to the Maudlin Eating & Drinking.)

    I was grateful to move out of my parent’s house so that I would never have to attend anything church-like ever again. Even though I enjoyed the singing. (I like singing, okay?)

    I can perhaps see the need for an atheist social outlet in communities where in-your-face religion is the norm, but the Internet is a pretty good ad-hoc substitute.

  149. 149
    Nepenthe

    Well shit, I love ritual. I go to the UU church just to watch the lighting of the chalice, stand up and sit down at the same time as a big group of people, sing vaguely silly songs, and look at the rose window. It would be spiffy if I could go to a place where we did those things without the sermons being stupid. I’d get behind a non-theistic church.

    But I know that makes me a weak and stupid human being, and apparently a patriarch as well. *shrug* Whatever.

  150. 150
    wondering

    Akira, on the You Are Tucker thread, you mentioned that you hadn’t had a date in some time. Reading your comments here, I can see why. Here’s a hint: It’s not because you share a home with your parents.

    Dude, please, get some help.

  151. 151
    John Morales

    [meta]

    but and

    Though explaining a joke entails ruining it, I note CR alludes to logic.

  152. 152
    John Morales

    Nepenthe:

    Well shit, I love ritual. I go to the UU church just to watch the lighting of the chalice, stand up and sit down at the same time as a big group of people, sing vaguely silly songs, and look at the rose window.

    So, you reckon that an innate, or an acquired desire?

  153. 153
    Akira MacKenzie

    @Eric RoM

    A ritual is still a ritual. Ritual is a tool of conformity and social conditioning. Those who don’t partake are singled out as “The Other.” Just ask any atheist what happens to them when they don’t join in the ritual of saying “under god” when receiting the Pledge of Alligence, particularly in some rural parts of this nation.

    BTW, what’s so special about living another year?

    Merciless Cthulhu! What’s with all the hate toward the “embittered?” Forgive me for not being a shiny, happy, person who wants to buy the world a wheat-grass juice.

    You don’t happen to work for the greeting card industry, do you?

  154. 154
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Either you want me to “STFU” or you want me to “rant away,” make up your damn mind.

    As I said, rant away.

    *backs slowly away from crazy person at the end of the bar*

  155. 155
    Akira MacKenzie

    @wondering

    No, being fat and ugly does help.

  156. 156
    Jafafa Hots

    When someone argues that there needs to be a hierarchy, you can pretty well guess just where they imagine themselves in that hierarchy.

    When someone says that there needs to be ritual, you can easily guess who they imagine will be leading that ritual.

  157. 157
    Anthony K

    Ritual is a tool of conformity and social conditioning.

    Godfuckingdammit will it kill some of you people to take a social sciences course?!

  158. 158
    pelamun

    Nepenthe,

    I fully understand. The time where I wandered in on the evensong of Westminster Abbey is one of my most cherished memories. Or the time where I was at a Yom Kippur service, or various Balinese temple ceremonies (though only up to the first hour, these things can go on for hours). I enjoy all kinds of religious rituals. But then, they have been designed to appeal to humans, and humans have been conditioned to respond to those. But I enjoy them while being fully aware of that fact.

    So why not, if that’s your hobby ;)

  159. 159
    wondering

    Akira, I am also fat and ugly. I’m also hairy and assertive. I wear glasses and don’t give a shit about clothing, makeup, and hairstyles. In other words, hawt I am not. None of these thing have stopped me from having had a partner for the last 17 years.

    Anger, bitterness, and cynicism are not winning personality combinations. Sure, everyone gets angry, bitter, or cranky sometimes, but dude, you went from 0 to I’ll-burn-it-all-down in micro-seconds for no apparent reason. Even on the Internet that is some scary shit you posted. If you across that way in real life – even a tenth of that – people are going to avoid you. Take some advice and get a good therapist. You don’t need to live like this.

  160. 160
    Jafafa Hots

    Godfuckingdammit will it kill some of you people to take a social sciences course?!

    Social sciences courses are tool of conformity and social conditioning.

  161. 161
    Akira MacKenzie

    @Brownian

    Godfuckingdammit will it kill some of you people to take a social sciences course?!

    Ok, how am I incorrect?

  162. 162
    Seeker of Reason and Amusement and Beer

    @Akira – 156

    Aw, C’mon Akira! You cannot be so embittered that you missed the genetic lottery of there being someone ugly and fat for everyone else out there?…even I got lucky with patience and fortitude and hanging about in elevators….

    Even an embittered smile is better than none at all.

    SofRandB

  163. 163
    consciousness razor

    Though explaining a joke entails ruining it

    I’ll ruin it a bit more, if I may. Puns were intended with “agility,” “grace” and “incredible.”

  164. 164
    Anthony K

    You’re incorrect in thinking that “tools of conformity and social conditioning” are uniformly bad things, that certain such tools (like rituals) are to be avoided, and that you do this. You can’t. You’re human.

    First of all, language is a tool of conformity and social condition. Just look at what a fucking shit-show occurs when someone like Epstein takes a word like ‘church’ and uses it to mean, what? Who fucking knows? We agree on common meanings of words for a reason. Yes, it’s conformity and social conditioning. You don’t like it? Too flkurible bodon.

    Secondly, rituals range from the inauguration of popes (dumb and ceremonial, sure) to sticking out a hand when you meet someone (pretty pragmatic not to have to reinvent the process of greeting every time you encounter someone.)

    You do these things. They’re rituals.

    Describing solely religious and ceremonial as the only rituals plays right into Epstein’s hands as much as deciding the Christians invented marriage plays into theirs. It’s incorrect, and it leads to bullshit thinking such as “people like rituals, so we’d better find someone to stick a hat on and call Chaplain.”

    You don’t like pomp and circumstance? No problem. But that’s not all ritual, and humans sans ritual would be chaotic and non-human.

  165. 165
    Seeker of Reason and Amusement and Beer

    So Nepenthe @ 150…

    This supposes you would also be just as happy going to a sport stadium and doing “the wave” with a crowd… or holding your lighter out at a rock concert …. or barking at the monkeys in the zoo like the other humans are doing from outside the cages…
    ?

    Just curious. I see no weakness, just a lack of imagination perhaps?

    SofRandAandB

  166. 166
    Anthony K

    This supposes you would also be just as happy going to a sport stadium and doing “the wave” with a crowd… or holding your lighter out at a rock concert …. or barking at the monkeys in the zoo like the other humans are doing from outside the cages…
    ?

    Just curious. I see no weakness, just a lack of imagination perhaps?

    SofRandAandB

    Says the person who appends an unnecessary signature to the bottom of his or her comments, much like is the tradition amongst those who cut their blogging teeth on Usenet boards.

  167. 167
    Buffybot

    Rituals? Hierarchies? Organisations? Meetings? Ceremonies?

    Oh, fuck no. If I wanted to waste my time on stupid redundant tedious bullshit I could just take up a religion.

  168. 168
    pelamun

    Brownian,

    thanks for bringing up the example of language as a tool of human interaction. That’s exactly right, a language community has to agree (usually done implicitly, through a process some call “the invisible hand”) on conventions governing its use.

  169. 169
    Pareidolius

    I’m a Priestmunty™ at my local Chabbernaggle™. Tarvu™, it’s so easy to join.

  170. 170
    Seeker of Reason and Amusement and Beer

    Brownian @167

    Alas, we big, ugly, fat, hairy, and-now-called-out-as-ancient gits do have some habits that die hard. I have all the imagination that my TRS-80 can muster.
    Reprobateness is only my middle name…betwixt the others…

    I do love the way you turn a phrase. (Blink, Blink)

    Mea Culpa (latin for: useless name withheld to avoid inanity)

  171. 171
    Anthony K

    Alas, we big, ugly, fat, hairy, and-now-called-out-as-ancient gits do have some habits that die hard.

    ;)

    It’s important to me that we nerdy atheists can embrace our human side, as we do, without needing to ape religious trappings.

    I mean, look at us, with our memes and traditions and jargons—I fucking dare anyone to say that rationalism means denying one’s human nature.

  172. 172
    Seeker of Reason and Amusement and Beer

    and Brownian ….
    I have been a fan of yours since way back when Desiree only had two caller/listeners and you would sit in and snark. And I am not the ex-Mormon (or Formon ala Mr. Deity)…

    So here I sit pleased to text with you while chagrinned that I merited your wrath…I think I need more ellipses to sort this all out in my big, fat, ugly, hairy brain.

    (Name/Nym Withheld for privacy reasons)

  173. 173
    Anthony K

    For the record, I’m a relative latecomer to the internet scene. I sent my first email in 1994, and my second one two years later. I do recall waiting with my friend as we downloaded a grainy jpeg of a nude from a BBS back in ’88, but that was it.

    I do have an eye for cultural indicators, though.

  174. 174
    Seeker of Reason and Amusement and Beer

    @172 Your Honor Mr. B.

    I am afraid that I must differ. My true nature leads me to baying at the moon and chasing cars….my rationalism, not so much.

    So, there’s that.

    (Signature required ….. even if extraneous)

  175. 175
    Pierce R. Butler

    ~170 comments involving heated disagreements on topics substantive and otherwise, including multiple easily skewerable inanities from those under explicit harsh criticism from our esteemed host, and some willfully dysfunctional personalities – and not one allusion to the famous posthumous proctological porcupine?

    What’s the matter with you people? I mean, it’s very upsetting when things aren’t done according to proper form, as we’ve learned and rehearsed so many times. There are Sacred Traditions being shamefully neglected here!

  176. 176
    Anthony K

    I have been a fan of yours since way back when Desiree only had two caller/listeners and you would sit in and snark.

    I think even then she had more than that, but the community was pretty small.

    The show is much bigger now. She’s one hell of a hard-worker.

    So here I sit pleased to text with you while chagrinned that I merited your wrath…

    Hardly wrathful. More snarky.

  177. 177
    Seeker of Reason and Amusement and Beer

    I also got tired of having a flattened nose all the time when they stopped short …

    That would be another cultural indicator for you, I suppose.

    (I just can’t stopping signing…)

  178. 178
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Social sciences courses are tool of conformity and social conditioning.

    snicker

  179. 179
    Alteredstory

    Well, if you’re a Quaker, you’d probably be a New England or maybe London Quaker.

    Most Quakers these days have churches/pastors/etc., since that’s the branch that went around the world converting people.

  180. 180
    Alex

    One thing I truly want to know is, why are people so eager to stuff themselves in a building with a bunch of other people with whom they only have one guaranteed thing in common?

    Sure, I’ve been to my fair share of internet forums, but there’s a huge difference between reading posts and then sharing so many feet of personal space with others. If I don’t like certain people on a message board, I can just ignore them, overlook them. Being in a room with people just because I’m an atheist, even though some may be assholes and others might watch reality TV and all other manner of bullshit that makes people annoying to me, just sounds . . . like church. All the affected politeness and decorum and display and ugh. And chaplains? LEADERS? Gross.

    I’d personally rather spend an evening with the handful of atheist FRIENDS and maybe the one or two theists with whom I’m also good friends, rather than a bunch of strangers just because we’re atheists. Not believing in God doesn’t automatically make us all socially compatible.

    And if it were a choice between starting up a group that I wanted to call “a church” even though it turned off some people, or simply not calling it a church and having it more accessible and appealing to even MORE people, then I’d choose the latter. Because that sounds, you know, sensible.

    Let this guy start his church, but I sure as shit am not going near one. I escaped church with gusto many years ago and I’m not going back.

  181. 181
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Secondly, rituals range from the inauguration of popes (dumb and ceremonial, sure) to sticking out a hand when you meet someone (pretty pragmatic not to have to reinvent the process of greeting every time you encounter someone.)

    You do these things. They’re rituals.

    Describing solely religious and ceremonial as the only rituals plays right into Epstein’s hands as much as deciding the Christians invented marriage plays into theirs. It’s incorrect, and it leads to bullshit thinking such as “people like rituals, so we’d better find someone to stick a hat on and call Chaplain.”

    I’m not opposed to ritual for ritual’s sake for the reasons you list. Everything has ritual. I have my own rituals. Fuck, I was a god damn dead head. All kinds of ritual there.

    However, I’m opposed to feeling the need to replace religious ritual with what appears to be the same sort of ritual just cloaked in the robes of freethinking and excused with chants of “we’re not religious!”

    It’s just not something I need and I think it plays into the nonsense that being an atheist is belonging to a religion.

    Maybe I’m just lucky that I have plenty of other support groups I can rely on, Friends, family, professional, hobby, and charity among others and that’s clouding my view on this. But I also don’t feel the need to “celebrate” my atheism or my skepticism or my assumed freethinking. It’s just who I am. I’m more than happy to discuss it. Or argue about it. Or be a snarky asshole with it but it’s not some glorious thing I feel the need to sing about or have some ceremony to mark the awesomeness of.

    Part of shedding religion was shedding the silly rituals and self congratulatory annoyance that is tied to it. I’m not talking about gathering together with people, or potlucks or discussion groups. It’s the rituals that are replacing the same things done in churches, synagogues and mosques around the world.

    Sure I have bouts of “holier than thou” because Of the position I find my self in in regards to my non belief. But i also have to remind myself that it shouldn’t be anything special. It should be where people find themselves.

  182. 182
    Anteprepro

    What’s the matter with you people? I mean, it’s very upsetting when things aren’t done according to proper form, as we’ve learned and rehearsed so many times. There are Sacred Traditions being shamefully neglected here!

    We would take your advice, Pierce. But, sadly, we’ve found that your qualifications aren’t sufficient to hold the relevant official titles necessary for planning and conducting the activities of a large group of atheists. Suggest the idea to the nearest Certified Atheist Leader, or, if you wish for us to be able to listen to your direction, undergo the Official Atheist Authority Bestowing Program (The OAABP) so you can pass the Authoritative Church of Atheism Leadership Exams (The ACALEs) and become a Certified International Church of Atheism Vicar, or Atheist Vicar, for short. Then, and only then, can we commence with The Eternal and Majestic Ritual of the Quillful Rectum, according to the Authority of the Great Church of Atheism, as stated in Dictums 12 through 14. Bonus if you decide to become a Leader yourself: If you get to be Atheist Vicar, you might be able to work your way up the ranks all the way to Atheist Cardinal, if you can get friends in the right places and court enough favor. And with that, will come power, prestige, and a good amount of money in your back pocket. But, mind you, Cardinal is as high as we go, so we don’t have an Atheist Pope. That would just be tacky.

  183. 183
    John Morales

    [Buffybot!]

    (Hey!)

  184. 184
    Nepenthe

    @John Morales 153

    I was raised without religion and with very, very little ritual. (Just candy hunting on Easter aka spring equinox and some normal Christmas traditions.) So ritual wasn’t taught to me. On the other hand, I could certainly have picked up everything up from the culture at large.

    I’m not convinced that it matters. There are a lot of behaviors that I engage in that are not innate, but make me happier. Standing up and sitting down in unison aren’t intrinsically bad, so I don’t worry too much about engaging in it.

    It could get bad, if the standing up and sitting down was accompanied by, say, fascist propaganda. But, similarly, drinking alone during dinner isn’t intrinsically bad, unless it’s accompanied by alcoholism. There’s no good reason to condemn either based on behaviors they are correlated with.

    Maybe some people are innately drawn to ritual and some aren’t. Maybe it’s all cultural. Maybe it’s all innate. This doesn’t take away from the pleasure derived from it.

    @Seeker 166
    Well, I really hate watching sports and the venue isn’t nice so I can’t look at the rose window during the boring bits. The Wave is fun though. Rock concerts give me headaches and claustrophobia. Zoos make me sad for the bored animals. Are these really more imaginative than UU services? Sports and imaginative entertainment are not two concepts I ever thought I would see linked.

  185. 185
    Anthony K

    However, I’m opposed to feeling the need to replace religious ritual with what appears to be the same sort of ritual just cloaked in the robes of freethinking and excused with chants of “we’re not religious!”

    It’s just not something I need and I think it plays into the nonsense that being an atheist is belonging to a religion.

    Yes, and if it isn’t clear why I wrote all that, it’s because I’m not willing to let the religious hold sway over the term ‘ritual’. We do all sorts of things that are ritualistic. Because we’re human, not because we wish we were Unitarian Universalists. We don’t need to be ‘fixed’ with candle-lighting. So I’m not letting Epstein get away with saying “you want rituals? Well, the only answer to that is Anglicanism-and-water with me playing Rowan Williams!”

    We’re just fine as we are.

    But maybe that’s just my privilege showing. I live in Alberta, religious asshole redneck capital of Canada, and I haven’t been to a marriage presided over an actual, practising member of the clergy in years. (Okay, I was at one presided over by a retired SDA minister in May. But the bride was his daughter, so it doesn’t really count.) Hell, I was at a lesbian wedding in July, for crying out loud. So, we’re not hurting for secular alternatives to churchy weddings. We have them all the time.

    But I understand that Harvard isn’t nearly as progressive as Alberta. Must be all that conservatism that universities are hotbeds of.

  186. 186
    DimmestLemming

    On the one hand, it’s probably unfair for PZ to call churches a “bad idea” in this context. There is a good reason atheists are a minority just about everywhere. There are 15 different religious sects in PZ’s town: Whatever churches are doing, it works.

    But no secular church-like group could ever compare to a religious one. Religion is designed around closed thinking and respecting authority. Those things are reinforced every Sunday with group chants and emotional speeches. The whole premise of church is to take away your individuality, and that’s a huge part of the reason they are successful.

    Now imagine a group of atheists chanting together. You should already see the problem. Atheism is based around a fundamentally different premise than any church is, and to try to implement the same principles simply can’t work. You cannot apply mob psychology to a group that goes by the name “Free thought”, and to do so is to defeat the purpose.

    It’s true that there are some people who survive best in a church setting. We might convince a few of them to switch over if we offer an alternative. But at the same time, we stand a chance of losing true free thinkers who DON’T trust church settings, for precisely the reasons they should not generally be trusted. So this would be a trade for the worse.

  187. 187
    Anthony K

    Now imagine a group of atheists chanting together.

    [Begins intoning] “Gnu Atheist disrespect for Sophisticated Theology™ concerns Accommodationist Troll. Gnu Atheist disrespect for Sophisticated Theology™ concerns Accommodationist Troll. Gnu Atheist disrespect…”

    Works for me. Epstein? Croft?

  188. 188
    Inaji

    DimmestLemming:

    On the one hand, it’s probably unfair for PZ to call churches a “bad idea” in this context. There is a good reason atheists are a minority just about everywhere. There are 15 different religious sects in PZ’s town: Whatever churches are doing, it works.

    I don’t think it’s unfair at all. Religion works because it’s a habit. A bad one. People are inculcated with it from birth.

    There’s no solution in atheists attempting to mimic churches and the routines and rituals of religion. In a different thread on this subject, I said it all smacks of “Look, we’re just like you, we go to church! We really are good people!” crap. I want no part in that sort of thing whatsoever.

  189. 189
    Akira MacKenzie

    @Brownian:

    OK, if you put it that way, I can see your point. I do react strongly to the word “ritual” because it does evoke images of sectarian or secular ceremonies where people are in required to conform and obey some pointless action without a damn good reason. OTOH, I’m get really uncomfortable and creeped around any group of human beings that’s bigger than my weekly OD&D group.

    That said, it still doesn’t mean I like the institution of marriage or see the need for funerals… at least for me. I don’t see myself as ever being in a situation where I’d ever get hitched, unless they make it legal to marry one’s own right hand. As for the whole “funerals are for the families and friends,” I imagine my funeral will bring out all of my Catholic and WELS relations to smugly tell everyone how I’m roasting in Hell for not accepting JEEZ-us or how great it will be that I’m no longer around to embarrass the family with my failure. Fuck that, I might not be around to hear it, but the last thing I want is for them to have a forum for their superstitions! Just scoop out any usable organs for transplant and grind the rest of me down for fertilizer. No ceremony. No grave. No mourners. No muss or fuss.

  190. 190
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Being from the Boston area originally, I’ve got to say that Epstein, Stedman, and Croft all have that distinctive Cantabrigian and especially Harvardian odor of “We have been appointed as Lights Unto The Unwashed Masses, and all of you are doing it wrong and should be grateful that someone is doing it right.” And they include us plebes among the Unwashed Masses…even though many “plebes” here likely outrank any of them in terms of academic degrees. Anath’s earnest outrage that anyone would question her Leaders intensifies this entire impression.

    Harvard is frequently bashed by wingnuts for being “radical,” but, as someone I know who went there for a Ph.D. said, “It’s a bastion of white male priivege.” I’d forgotten about Stedman sticking up for Soujourners until SC brought it up above. And the article PZ links to says that they’re honoring Seth MacFuckingFarlane, creator of a stridently unfunny pile of hipster bigotry masquerading as “edgy” animated comedy, as “Harvard Humanist of the Year”… yyyyyyeah. Okay.

    So, yeah, Caine (previous thread, #258), SC, and The Ys are correct in their impressions of condescension, non-listening, and taking criticism with bad grace.

    Matt Penfold, #113: Zachary Bos actually reminded me of MRA trolls: disrespect for boundaries, endless internet lawyering, tone trolling, and calling himself the victim of “bullies.” Croft isn’t as offensive, but he’s more politically polished. He’s definitely petulant that we aren’t lapping up every word he says, as he’s accustomed to (see SC above at #119).

    I agree with the bulk of Pharyngulites w/r/t ritual, at least the sort Brownian identifies specifically as “pomp and circumstance.” I don’t know how many atheists in general, and how many “gnu” atheists particularly, find value in it, but I wonder how much of its rejection here corresponds to this being a rather introverted crowd. P&C is highly social, and the motive for participation is often to gain status in the eyes of fellow attendants (as Koshka alludes to in #255 of the previous thread). If you don’t play these sorts of social games well or at all, you tend not to be drawn to them.

    A3Kron, #84 above: AA fails miserably as it is. It’s a religious organization masquerading as a “spiritual” one, and it has about the same success rate at getting people to quit drinking as going cold turkey does.

    Matt P. again, #124: I haven’t traveled extensively in Europe, but society over here in the U.S. seems much more atomized than it does over there. As little as I like Chris Hedges, his book American Fascists does illuminate frighteningly well how anomie due to suburban isolation fuels the megachurches.

    Akira, there’s a vast difference between not being Mr. Happy Perky Sunshine and being an asshole with genocidal feelings for people who relate to life differently than you do.

  191. 191
    richcon

    feralboy12:

    Nixon wasn’t Quaker in the sense that PZ’s referring, let me explain.

    There are two main sects of Quakers, the original being the non-”church” group that worships in silence at “meeting houses.” They’re called The Religious Society of Friends. That group has no priesthood and decisions are made democratically by committees of whichever members want to participate. There are no formal sermons given, no group prayer or singing, and everyone’s allowed to speak their mind during meeting. They’re officially termed Friends, not Quakers (which was a 15th century derogatory name for them in England after the founder claimed in a high-profile court trial to “tremble” in awe of God), though they’ve long-since accepted “Quaker” informally and use it themselves.

    That’s clearly the group that PZ’s referring to, and as a Friend/Quaker myself I think it’s a clever reference. The Society of Friends runs itself a very secular and democratic way and we’re all invited to make our own minds. We’re not very fond of priests or any other pious leader telling us what to think, what to do, or what to believe. When we need help or guidance, we’ll make our own mind as to whose advice to respect.

    The other is a more recent group that spun off in the midwestern United States and spread to the west coast, and reverted to a Methodist- or Baptist-style church structure complete with ministers and sermons. From my (possibly wrong) understanding it got started when some traveling Methodist priests were allowed to give sermons to a newish community of Quakers and successfully converted them. In that group you’ll find a lot more evangelizing, more firebrand sermons and Biblical literalism, and the Church structure you’ve come to expect from mainstream Christian sects. That’s the group that Richard Nixon’s mother belonged to. Nixon himself never claimed to be Quaker himself, but he admired his mom’s religion.

    That second group considers themselves more truthful to the original Quaker founder’s teachings than the Society of Friends, and so they are not shy calling themselves the true Quakers or arguing their belief that the Society of Friends has it all wrong. (Which is a familiar theme from almost every new religious group to come along in the history of religious groups.)

    If you see a “Friends Meetings House”, you’re looking at the first and older group. If you see a “Quaker Church”, it’s the second.

  192. 192
    James Croft

    Hi folks,

    I’m back for more punishment! ;) For those who don’t know me, I’m James Croft, the Research and Education Fellow at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, and someone who is partly responsible for the Humanist Community Project, the project which inspired the Boston Globe article that is being responded to by PZ here.

    I had to step out to attend a concert this evening, so please forgive the slow response. It does give me an opportunity to respond to a large number of issues at once, however. This response is going to be very long (for a thread like this, at least), and quite personal. It will lay out the broad argument behind the Humanist Community Project and why I think it’s important, and why some here have gotten the wrong end of the stick (we must take some responsibility for this,by the way – we need to be very clear about what we are doing, just as much as others have to be careful in reading and interpreting the information we provide). I will not be providing detailed citations to support each step of the argument in this space, because a reply on a thread like this is not an ideal place to do it, and because we have long articles on each section of this argument penned and ready to go once our new website is up in a couple of weeks.

    I hope this is of some value to those who are legitimately interested in understanding what we hope to achieve and why I am personally committed to the work.

    I’d like to start by telling people why I am spending so much time responding to the criticisms on this site and elsewhere regarding the Humanist Community Project. These issues are extremely important to me, and take up increasing amounts of my personal and professional life, and it might be valuable to know something about my motivation, so that you can better understand where I’m coming from when I write about these issues.

    The reason I care about this, and why I have been working with the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard on this project for some time, is because I believe the time for Humanism has come. When I moved from the UK to the USA four years ago, I was struck immediately by the extraordinary influence of religion on US society. I encountered, for the first time, someone who had literally never met a religious person, and who was incredulous at the idea that someone can live a good life without religion.

    As I got more involved with the Humanist Chaplaincy, I came into contact with egregious examples of discrimination and bigotry against nonreligious people. I couldn’t help noticing, too, that it is impossible to be elected to high office in this country as an atheist.

    At around the same time as I was becoming more embedded in the Humanist community at Harvard, I came out of the closet and accepted myself as a gay man. This was an extremely significant moment for me, and was partly made possible by the Humanist community I was lucky to have surrounding me. It wasn’t until I was surrounded by people who I knew – because of their Humanist values – would be accepting of me that I was able to finally accept myself, after ten years of struggle and real difficulty. My moment of self-acceptance occurred during a service trip with the Humanist Graduate Community here at Harvard, so as you can imagine, I love these people very much indeed.

    As I began to fuse my Humanist activism with gay rights work, I of course came face to face with religious privilege again, in the form of the consistent attacks and disparagement leveled at queer people by many religious communities.

    All this means that Humanism is far more than an intellectual position or philosophy for me. It is a way of life, an ethical tradition and practice to which I am committed to my very core. I powerfully believe that if the world were more Humanist it would also be very much better for billions of people. And obviously, believing this, I want to do everything I can to bring about the day (as Ingersoll put it),

    “when society shall cease producing millionaires and mendicants – gorged indolence and famished industry – truth in rags, and superstition robed and crowned… when REASON, throned upon the world’s brain, shall be the King of Kings, and God of Gods.”

    To achieve this triumph of reason will require, in my view, committed Humanist communities which are passionate and powerful enough to challenge the vested interests of tradition, superstition, and the worst aspects of religion. Looking at the current political landscape, I can’t help but feel that these communities do not yet exist. We are not yet the powerful lobbying and activist force I think will be needed to take on those who oppose us.

    Indeed, in my judgment we are losing ground. The religious right is resurgent, and has consistently been able to take over the language of values and decency and twist it to their own purposes. They have been so successful, over such a long period of time, in colonizing the language of value that even the very word “values” has a right-wing tinge to it in some American ears.

    I think we desperately need a countervailing force in US politics – a secular, progressive voice that lobbies consistently for broadly Humanist principles in the face of concerted opposition that seeks to turn the clock back and make our society less humane, less decent, and less reasonable. I think Humanist communities – real communities , not just discussion groups or pub brunches – could come to be that force.

    Further, I believe (along with numerous scholars in various disciplines all through recorded history) that human beings have real “existential” needs that don’t go away once they stop being religious. The need to spend time in community with others who share their values; the need to explore meaning in their life; the need to mark significant life events; the need for support in dark times; the need for beauty and passionate engagement with others.

    Religious institutions have traditionally provided a venue for satisfying such needs, with the obvious caveat that they have also cause enormous misery and grief.

    Although most of these needs can be fulfilled piecemeal by various existing secular institutions, there aren’t many spaces – I mean physical spaces (preferably architecturally stunning) on high streets or country roads – where secular Humanists can come together to share, explore and deepen their understanding of what it means to be a human being and a Humanist.

    Sure, you can join a book club or meet friends in a pub, and these are great things to do. But if you feel rootless and alone, if you feel your sense of direction is lacking, if you feel like you don’t have a cause larger than yourself, if you don’t know how to make a difference, if you want to discuss difficult topics like death or love or the future, where do you go? Some might have a ready answer to this question – good for you! But it is my experience that many people do not. They want such a space – I cannot count the number of people who have told me so after I’ve given a talk about these matters at a local secular group – but they can’t find one.

    But all around the USA attempts are being made to provide such spaces. The attempts are often small-scale, underfunded, and disconnected with other such groups, but also vibrant, exciting, fresh. From Freethought ‘churches’ in Texas to the Sapulpa Fellowship of Reality in Oklahoma, there are little civic innovations springing up trying to give nonreligious people some of the same benefits that religious people can expect in almost any city they move to. And people are coming.

    These places are not “cults” or “weird” or “pseudo-religions” – they are simply innovative attempts to get the harness the best bits of religious communities for nonreligious purposes, often established by deep-thinking people who have thought hard about how to avoid the pitfalls of organized religion and about the demands of Humanist communities.

    So to the Humanist Community Project. We want to help out these efforts. That’s basically the whole idea. We want to research what works by going to visit such spaces – the best secular student groups, community organizations, skeptics groups etc. – interviewing leaders and members, and writing about what they’re doing which makes them so successful.

    Then we want to disseminate this information widely so that other groups can share in the success. We intend to do this through publishing books and guides, educational resources, websites, blogging, digital resources, training sessions for those who want them, etc. The vast majority of these resources will be free. We have already conducted a survey of existing resources (the SSA group-running guide, the AHA’s Humanist education booklets etc.) to ensure there isn’t too much overlap and that we don’t step on people’s toes.

    We also want to allow these communities to showcase themselves and their work in their own words, using our blog and magazine to host their work. Thus they can tell us what they think they’re doing brilliantly, and other groups can learn from that.

    In essence what we hope to produce is a collaborative expression of the collective wisdom of hundreds of Humanist communities across the world, so that every group can become like the best group. Sharing our organizational wealth.

    That way, we hope, these groups will become more and more successful, each inspiring the other, until we have large numbers of thriving, passionate, activist Humanist communities with big memberships.

    Then the fun begins – because when the lobbyists from CfI or the Secular Coalition for America go to lobby on our behalf, they will be able to point back to all these active, large communities and say “these are the voters who have our back”. And that will mean actual change for us – no more creationism in schools, no more attacks on a women’s right to choose, no more Proposition 8s.

    That’s the dream.

    Now, it’s clear that some of the posters here either A) don’t like that vision (which is fine – we don’t all have to have the same dreams), or B) haven’t really understood that this is what we’re trying to do (which is fine – it’s a pretty radical idea and it has lots of moving pieces).

    But I would appreciate it if people wouldn’t jump to wildly inaccurate and ungenerous conclusions about us or about our work. In the spirit of clearing up misconceptions, then, here are some things our project is not:

    1) An attempt to make atheism into a religion.
    2) An attempt to co-opt religious privilege for our own ends.
    3) A cult.
    4) An attempt to make all Humanist groups the same.
    5) An accreditation program for Humanist leaders.
    6) A replacement for existing Humanist communities.
    7) A slapdash effort.
    8) Anti New-Atheists.
    9) Naive when it comes to the potential dangers of group-think and irrationalism which might accompany rituals and ceremonies.
    10) (With much love to Greg) Really about Greg Epstein.

    Truly, the Humanist Community Project is about all of us – all human beings. It is an endeavor to work out how to grow and supercharge existing communities of Humanists to ensure we have a greater impact on the world stage than we have currently, and to defeat those forces who would demonize us, silence us, and impose their views upon us. It is a project that would benefit from your support. I recommend it to you.

  193. 193
    atheistpolitic

    PZ – My best guess is you’re closest to being (if at all) an atheistic Hicksite Quaker? Best description I’ve gotten on a Hicksite Quakerism is “non-Jesus-y, mystical Quakerism, very liberal”. Also – many Quaker meetings (including the one to which my school belongs) are populated by many who are really there for meeting and because they share the values that Quakers traditionally share, most commonly service, equality, simplicity, pacifism, silence, etc. Many of them are atheists otherwise, as far as I’ve been informed.

    I wouldn’t mind being called atheistic Quaker, mostly because the morals of the Quaker community (again, at least within the meeting that I’m familiar with) seem to be pretty cool, and I find that the Quakers I’ve met so far are also pretty cool (also, they as a rule do not force their religion upon others, and do not run around telling people to join them – seriously, it’s in the Peace Testimony, which I think is one of the most important parts).

    My hesitations lie mostly in the stuff that anyone would call religious; I don’t feel like the “Inner Light” business is my thing. Also, the Jesus-y stuff bothers me as an atheist. I’d much rather attend meeting to think, reflect, listen, and speak.

    And I live in NY, so any time that I can get silent time to think is a pretty good thing in my book.

  194. 194
    atheistpolitic

    Also, Quakers are majorly invested in education. Any school with the name Friends in it is almost guaranteed to be a Quaker school, and they’re all over the world. Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University – a Quaker. Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Guilford, Wilmington, Earlham – Quaker schools. And the list goes on. There are even schools that while not necessarily Quaker-affiliated now, have had some sort of affiliation with the Society of Friends in the past. This is actually one of the biggest reason I’m so impressed by the Quakers.

    (This was the thing I couldn’t figure out was left out of my last post – sorry.)

  195. 195
    pelamun

    James,

    so what’s your position on Epstein’s tweets regarding the requirements for Humanist Chaplains.

    Humanist chaplains are trained in freethought history & philosophy, ceremony & meeting facilitation, counseling, etc.

    Many people have asked you numerous times on both threads..

    (Cross-posting this on both threads)

  196. 196
    James Croft

    pelamun,

    I guess I don’t see what’s objectionable about it – it is a statement of fact about the qualifications that Humanist Chaplains have. It isn’t equivalent to saying “every group needs a Humanist Chaplain to run it”, which we don’t believe and have never said. It isn’t equivalent to saying “every group must have professional leadership”, which we don’t believe and have never said. It is not the same as saying “leadership of Humanist communities should fit a predetermined mold we have developed”, which we don’t believe and have never said. And it isn’t the same as saying “religious communities should be led in a top-down, authoritarian way”, which we don’t believe and have never said.

    We have said that, in our judgment, many groups would benefit from leaders and members who have some training in some useful skills for group development – the sorts of things the CfI already provides in their leadership conferences, for example. We also think there is a role for professional organizers in our movement, just like we have professional lobbyists, professional ad-people, professional lawyers, and other professionals who work for our cause. I don’t see why, if a group wants someone to work full time on their behalf, organizing events and dealing with administrative issues, why that would be a bad idea.

    I mean, I’m open to the idea that it would be a bad idea, but at the moment I don’t understand what the animosity is against the idea.

  197. 197
    Otrame

    Akira, I am old, fat, and though not ugly, no one ever raved about how beautiful I was (well, except for that one guy, but even at 14 I knew he just wanted in my pants). My life is far from perfect. I have troubles and a few regrets and have had to bury more than a few dreams. It’s been more than ten years since I had sex with anyone but my imagination. I have dealt with clinical depression my entire adult life. My finances are screwed. My youngest son is an alcoholic with no job and 2 kids to raise. Yet I am comfortable in my life. Though there are troubles, I am about as happy as a human my age in chronic pain can expect to be.

    There is nothing so insidious as the pleasures of wallowing in self pity. We all do it, but there are levels that become toxic and I suggest that this has happened to you. Several people have already said what I am going to say now. You don’t have to live like that.. You sound like a reasonably well educated person, so you already know what you need to do. I’m pretty sure you won’t, though. You are enjoying your misery just a little too much. Self pity can be like a drug. You can get hooked on it.

    So, why did I just spend this time typing this out? Because the things you write are echoes of things I once felt. I understand your pain a little too well. I hate to see someone suffer when they don’t ave to. You don’t have to.

  198. 198
    Inaji

    James Croft:

    I’m back for more punishment! ;)

    No, you’re punishing us. For fuck’s sake, before you type another word, go figure out the appropriate length for a blog comment. I am not wading through 20+screens of the same old crap from you.

    This is not your blog, so get over yourself. If you must write insanely long screeds, do it at your blog and provide a link. You are utterly exhausting.

  199. 199
    Otrame

    And about paying James to lead us into the bright atheist future: no, thank you. I’ve suspect James going to have to go get a real job.

  200. 200
    Inaji

    Otrame:

    And about paying James to lead us into the bright atheist future: no, thank you.

    I’m with you.

  201. 201
    James Croft

    And about paying James to lead us into the bright atheist future: no, thank you. I’ve suspect James going to have to go get a real job.

    Hah! I’m afraid I do this for love, mostly. My “real job” is philosophy. Does that mean I’m doubly screwed? =D

  202. 202
    mirax

    Mrs Daisycutter got it in #191.

    “I’ve got to say that Epstein, Stedman, and Croft all have that distinctive Cantabrigian and especially Harvardian odor of “We have been appointed as Lights Unto The Unwashed Masses, and all of you are doing it wrong and should be grateful that someone is doing it right.”

    They are reeking of it.

  203. 203
    Ichthyic

    Hah! I’m afraid I do this for love, mostly. My “real job” is philosophy. Does that mean I’m doubly screwed? =D

    actually?

    yeah. It kinda does.

    learn to let go?

  204. 204
    macallan

    If they want to play godless church – let them, I don’t care. The closest to ‘church’ I’ve ever been was going to the pub with the gang twice a week. nd that’s as close as I’ll ever be.

  205. 205
    consciousness razor

    #192:
    Gah, that’s a boatload of information. Too much, I would say. It sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you. Again, too much, I would say.

    I think we desperately need a countervailing force in US politics – a secular, progressive voice that lobbies consistently for broadly Humanist principles in the face of concerted opposition that seeks to turn the clock back and make our society less humane, less decent, and less reasonable. I think Humanist communities – real communities , not just discussion groups or pub brunches – could come to be that force.

    That’s rather condescending. Do you know what real communities have? Discussion groups and pub brunches, along with porn shops and hot dog vendors and gang violence. We don’t need atheist or humanist versions of those, even if religious gangs and hot dog vendors and porn shops start popping up and competing with “our” business. Perhaps what you want, rather than some kind of self-contained “Humanist community,” is to become the pillars of a community. You want to be seen as respectable, like your religious counterparts — or more accurately, rather than your counterparts — but respectable or not, you don’t do that by trying to replace or overtake the whole community.

    Sure, that’s what religions do, and I wouldn’t deny they’re successful at it, thereby gaining additional warm bodies in the pews. Your defense on this point so far is apparently that this is about humanism, not atheism. In that case, you can’t pretend to have the same goals as atheists. To the extent you wish to copy religion or distinguish humanism from atheism, to that extent you can expect a lot of atheists aren’t going be along for the ride, especially not with the condescending attitude to boot.

    Personally, I really despise religions involving themselves in nearly every aspect of life. Charities, weddings, politics, counseling, what happens in your bedroom, and the list goes on and on. Sure, I want it to end, but that doesn’t mean we have to start doing it ourselves! It gets more nauseating the more I think about it.

    Perhaps you don’t care what happens in someone’s bedroom: good for you! I still think you have to explain why humanists should try to fill that supposedly church-shaped hole in every other aspect of life. People can and should get involved in charities and politics, and go to weddings if they like, or real counseling if they need it, without anything resembling a religion. And no one organization, not even a religion, is fit to provide all of these services, try as it might. So you’re in way over your head if you honestly think this project can accomplish all of that in your lifetime, and that we’ll have to thank for it.

  206. 206
    madtom1999

    This has all been explained in detail before:
    “Repeat after me ‘We are all individuals’”.

  207. 207
    John Morales

    James Croft:

    These places are not “cults” or “weird” or “pseudo-religions” – they are simply innovative attempts to get the harness the best bits of religious communities for nonreligious purposes, often established by deep-thinking people who have thought hard about how to avoid the pitfalls of organized religion and about the demands of Humanist communities.

    The only deep thinking you’re doing is of the wishful kind.

    I don’t see why, if a group wants someone to work full time on their behalf, organizing events and dealing with administrative issues, why that would be a bad idea.

    That would be due to your cognitive depth, at which apparently everything becomes blurry.

  208. 208
    nesetalis

    Forget church.. who needs some old fuddy duddy telling /you/ what to believe and think… We don’t /need/ social leaders.

    If you want one, thats fine, but trying to enforce that model is silly.

  209. 209
    Matt Penfold

    On the one hand, it’s probably unfair for PZ to call churches a “bad idea” in this context. There is a good reason atheists are a minority just about everywhere. There are 15 different religious sects in PZ’s town: Whatever churches are doing, it works.

    The evidence does not support you. Look at North East Europe, where the number of people identifying as non-believers is large, and increasing. Even hose who still claim to have a religious faith have pretty much stopped going to church on a regular basis. The number of regular church goers in the UK is now only around 6% for example.

    There has been no demand for atheist or humanist replacements for regular church attendance. Those who stop believing, or stop attending, do not see to have a church shaped hole in their lives that they need filling.

  210. 210
    Caek Noms

    I’m in total agreement on the topic of chaplains/priests/jujumen. Any organisation run under Epstein’s structure would turn into a church proxy in the wink of an eye, by enforcing specialised rules and forms of superstitution around the privilaged few. The description given sounds IDENTICAL to church groups, just minus the god. The belief in existance of a god isn’t the entire problem with religion; the Epsteinian structures are as big, and likely even bigger. cf Catholic church.

  211. 211
    Species8472

    Well, I was at the pub with both PZ and Epstein in Oslo in August, and I did notice they didn’t speak to each other :)

    But I have to agree with PZ on this one. By all means, Epstein is a nice guy, but a lot irked me about the whole Chaplain thing he’s got going on. I can see the value of many of the elements, but can’t accept the wrapping of it all.

    I grew up with authoritarian leaders in evangelical churches. They represent all that is bad about churches. Organizations and causes, sure but not this shit.

    I’m a member of the Norwegian Humanist Association. They keep the perfect balance. They’re a public voice for the non-believers when it comes to matters of faith and religion in society, and they perform the key ceremonies in life without the religious aspect. They also print books and gives out a newspaper about freethought. That is what such organizations ought to do. Not emulate church.

  212. 212
    PhilipW

    makes me think of Wonse,
    in Terry Pratchetts Guards! Guards!

  213. 213
    mirax

    There are billions of people out there in the rest of the world who dont have a church-like structure in their religious lives (no compulsion to go to the temple regularly and not for fellowship anyway) and certainly their priesthood is restricted to performing a purely perfunctory role in ceremonies and not having the wider role of community leaders or advisors. So all of these people who are or become atheists are going to be utterly bewildered by this American habit of being non-believers and yet clinging desperately to church. I am one of those people. I find it so unbelievable that so many atheists go to the UU for example.

  214. 214
    sailor1031

    “Humanist chaplains are trained in freethought history & philosophy, ceremony & meeting facilitation, counseling, etc.”

    But, but…….I’m not actually interested in freethought history, still less in freethought philosophy. I don’t want to have ceremonies – what possible purpose could they serve? And meetings? Fine if you want to have regular meetings with other freethinkers go for it – I couldn’t care less! For counselling I’ll find a qualified counsellor thanks. I just want to get on with not believing in gods and godly magic, just as I have been doing for decades, and I’m simply not interested in making a religion out of it.

  215. 215
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    James Croft:

    I mean, I’m open to the idea that it would be a bad idea, but at the moment I don’t understand what the animosity is against the idea.

    There are several reasons I’m against the idea. Wait — I’m not against the idea. If some people feel the need to have an ignorant, power-hungry narcissist leading them in prayer deep thought, more power to them. If that fills a void in their sheep-like hunger for leadership, I have no overt objections.

    What I dislike is the assumption that these new structures are necessary, that somehow the current evolving social structure is not only insufficient, but counter-productive — or even unproductive. This flies in the face of all evidence, both anecdotal and empirical.

    Churches and religious structure have done some amazing things. Look at any cathedral and weep at the beauty, at the misdirected love and devotion, at the monument to fantasy. It seems Epstein’s focus is on the first bit of that, the beauty and laser-like coherence of religious churches. He’s neglecting the fact that the accomplishments of churches, their cohesion, is built on lies, on a fantasy, on a leadership bent on maintaining power over those of lesser godly knowledge. This is true of the most rapacious pope, or the kindliest Baptist pastor in Frog Bottom Louisiana.

    The reason preachers and pastors and popes are needed is due to the nature of their epistemology. You can’t have revelation without a revelator and a revelatee. Religious leaders get to fill both roles, through selective interpretation of their religious texts. Their leadership is based entirely on the fact that their epistemology is based on revelation.

    And that is the primary difference between religion and atheism. While not all atheists lack belief due to rational thought and a dedication to reality, many do. I’d say the vast majority of regular Pharyngula commenters certainly do. The epistemology to which we dedicate ourselves has no room for revelation. It has no room for self-proclaimed wise men. It has no room for top-down leadership.

    You want political cohesion? Then we need a political party, not a church structure. You want social cohesion? Then we need groups like Pharyngula, or the CFI, or even just groups of freethinkers who get together at the local pub every Friday night for chili cheese dogs and a bottle of New Glarus Spotted Cow and good lively discussion.

    The church structure of religion is part of the problem of religion. What Epstein suggests is weaning people off meth by introducing them to crack. Sure, it’s not as bad, but it doesn’t get rid of the underlying problem.

    Quite frankly, social groups are constructed around a common interest. Atheism, and even secularism, simply isn’t an interest. It’s a lack of an interest — the lack of an interest in the perpetual study of the properties and desires of a fictional character. You can’t sit around speculating endlessly on the undefined magical qualities of atheism because there simply aren’t any.

    That’s why I’m generally against the idea, and why I’m against the specific idea that the current evolving social structures merely lack a church-like structure.

    Sorry for the wall of text.

  216. 216
    Mark

    Have these guys ever heard of a pub?

  217. 217
    James Croft

    @Species 8472:

    I’m a member of the Norwegian Humanist Association. They keep the perfect balance. They’re a public voice for the non-believers when it comes to matters of faith and religion in society, and they perform the key ceremonies in life without the religious aspect. They also print books and gives out a newspaper about freethought. That is what such organizations ought to do. Not emulate church.

    First, welcome! We are hugely inspired by the Norwegian Humanist Association. We want Humanist communities to be able to do all the things you mention. But don’t forget salient aspects of your own community: the Norwegian Humanist Association has a choir (as does the very successful BHA – and this is an idea some in this discussion have ridiculed) and runs a civil confirmation ceremony for young people that more than 15% of young people in the country do annually, by some measures. Go to their website, and you’ll see prominent mention of the “rites-of-passage” they offer (“rites” is obviously etymologically linked to the word “ritual”), and their “ideology and aims”.

    These things have clear religious antecedents. The fact that Human-Etisk Forbund is both wildly successful and does many of the things we are advocating US Humanist communities consider is, I think, a significant point in our favor.

  218. 218
    James Croft

    @nigelTheBold:

    I appreciate you have laid out an actual argument! I think the first part is mis-targeted, frankly. We obviously don’t want groups being led by ignorant, power-hungry narcissists. Nor do we think that what is evolving is counter-productive – nothing I wrote about the exciting and valuable nature of these evolving groups should give you that impression.

    I think this is quite a good paragraph:

    The reason preachers and pastors and popes are needed is due to the nature of their epistemology. You can’t have revelation without a revelator and a revelatee. Religious leaders get to fill both roles, through selective interpretation of their religious texts. Their leadership is based entirely on the fact that their epistemology is based on revelation.

    Sure – which is why we want to explore what leadership might look like in Humanist communities. We see this as an institutional design problem, which is why we have the research component of the project up-front. Don’t assume that because we’re open to taking good ideas from religious communities that A) we want to model our community on religious communities, B) we want to take ideas indiscriminately from religious communities, or C) we want to take the bad parts of religious communities.

    Currently, as part of our laboratory phase, we are exploring with different ways of orgainizing group meetings, for example, with one eye very much on the fact that we don’t want one individual to dominate discussion or become a de facto leader of the group. We’ve experimented with different ways of engaging speakers in discussion, so that they are asked to provide discussion questions instead of a long talk, so that we can make our group more egalitarian. In other words, we take concerns like yours very seriously and are consciously working to explore how we can build the most effective freethinking community we can.

    Quite frankly, social groups are constructed around a common interest. Atheism, and even secularism, simply isn’t an interest. It’s a lack of an interest — the lack of an interest in the perpetual study of the properties and desires of a fictional character. You can’t sit around speculating endlessly on the undefined magical qualities of atheism because there simply aren’t any.

    I think this comment articulates a real misunderstanding of or core interests. We are not building the Atheist Community Project. We are looking to promote Humanism, which is a worldview and life stance that’s capable of supporting social groups dedicated to the ideals which constitute it.

  219. 219
    Species8472

    @218 James Croft

    First, welcome!

    I’m not new here, but thanks anyway.

    We are hugely inspired by the Norwegian Humanist Association. We want Humanist communities to be able to do all the things you mention. But don’t forget salient aspects of your own community: the Norwegian Humanist Association has a choir (as does the very successful BHA – and this is an idea some in this discussion have ridiculed)

    So does the national TV station, the student unions at the universities and a multitude of organisations and political parties. I fail to see the problem. Choirs are not trademarked by religious institutions. Especially not here.

    and runs a civil confirmation ceremony for young people that more than 15% of young people in the country do annually, by some measures.

    It is a significant part of our nation’s tradition to have such a ceremony. It is only a confirmation if performed by the Lutheran church, but many other churches has alternatives, there is a non-religious ceremony as well available as well as the one provided by the Humanists.

    For most young people this is a significant event that has been adopted into our culture and is no longer a strictly religious ceremony. On the contrary actually. So it falls under the same category as weddings and funerals and name-days.

    These things have clear religious antecedents.

    Not in the way you seem to think.

    Many countries have traditions that stick even when the reasons for them are gone, or people no longer care about the original reasons. This is such a tradition in Norway. That is the only reason I don’t oppose this tradition. For the average 15 year old, this ceremony is all about receiving large sums of money from family.

  220. 220
    Species8472

    Fucking blocquote tags. Get a button for it!

    @218 James Croft

    First, welcome!

    I’m not new here, but thanks anyway.

    We are hugely inspired by the Norwegian Humanist Association. We want Humanist communities to be able to do all the things you mention. But don’t forget salient aspects of your own community: the Norwegian Humanist Association has a choir (as does the very successful BHA – and this is an idea some in this discussion have ridiculed)

    So does the national TV station, the student unions at the universities and a multitude of organisations and political parties. I fail to see the problem. Choirs are not trademarked by religious institutions. Especially not here.

    and runs a civil confirmation ceremony for young people that more than 15% of young people in the country do annually, by some measures.

    It is a significant part of our nation’s tradition to have such a ceremony. It is only a confirmation if performed by the Lutheran church, but many other churches has alternatives, there is a non-religious ceremony as well available as well as the one provided by the Humanists.

    For most young people this is a significant event that has been adopted into our culture and is no longer a strictly religious ceremony. On the contrary actually. So it falls under the same category as weddings and funerals and name-days.

    These things have clear religious antecedents.

    Not in the way you seem to think.

    Many countries have traditions that stick even when the reasons for them are gone, or people no longer care about the original reasons. This is such a tradition in Norway. That is the only reason I don’t oppose this tradition. For the average 15 year old, this ceremony is all about receiving large sums of money from family.

  221. 221
    pelamun

    James,

    I mean, I’m open to the idea that it would be a bad idea, but at the moment I don’t understand what the animosity is against the idea.

    you just don’t get it. Your attempts to coopt the Norwegian Humanists won’t fool most of the people here. Most people here actually fully embrace Humanist ideas here.

    Many people also understand that rituals are a part of human life, and would support ceremonies like the secular confirmation one. Again, not the thing people object to wrt your organisation.

    Most people here object to your ideas of how to groom leaders. The framework of the Harvard Chaplaincy is elitism, plain and simple. Most of us don’t want priests by another name, but democratically elected leaders, if any.
    (On a less important note: You might also want to work on your condescending attitude, as raised by SC in 141 (I will refrain from using the Harvard stereotype, as I’ve only spent a summer there, and that’s not enough, but there was a Bostonian here who brought that up too) )

    The second point is the confusing usage of religious terms such as “chaplain” (or in the case of the other fellow) “church”. You don’t get to change the meanings of words in the English language just because you say so. Doing so will lead to confusion, and give the theists yet another opportunity to paint atheism as just another religion.

    But there is another issue, which you seem to miss completely, regarding your newest attempt at obfuscation:

    I think this comment articulates a real misunderstanding of or core interests. We are not building the Atheist Community Project. We are looking to promote Humanism, which is a worldview and life stance that’s capable of supporting social groups dedicated to the ideals which constitute it.

    Why then, does your Dear Leader behave like he is the Second Coming of Atheism? You should read what Rieux had to say in comment 142 on the other thread. There you have someone who admits to being open to rituals, maybe even on a weekly basis, but yet is repelled by the way your organisation, especially your Dear Leaders Epstein and Stedman, have harmed the cause of atheism in the United States. (This is also the difference to that fellow from Texas. He may be guilty of the semantic confusion issue, but not so much of this)

    No wonder people here don’t like your organisation.

  222. 222
    Travis

    Brownian,

    But maybe that’s just my privilege showing. I live in Alberta, religious asshole redneck capital of Canada, and I haven’t been to a marriage presided over an actual, practising member of the clergy in years. (Okay, I was at one presided over by a retired SDA minister in May. But the bride was his daughter, so it doesn’t really count.) Hell, I was at a lesbian wedding in July, for crying out loud. So, we’re not hurting for secular alternatives to churchy weddings. We have them all the time.

    But I understand that Harvard isn’t nearly as progressive as Alberta. Must be all that conservatism that universities are hotbeds of.

    It is at times like this that I am reminded how different things seem to be south of the border at times. In some ways we are so similar but when it comes to religion I am reminded over and over how much more important it appears to be in people’s daily lives and the apparent difficulty in finding secular alternatives. I have never had a hard time finding like minded folk and keeping myself fairly far away from churches (except for the occasional wedding and even then the people have done it in a church because of some feeling of tradition).

    The idea of an atheist church to replace the social and officiating needs of atheists is just so unusual sound to me, I just could not see the role of such a thing here.

  223. 223
    Celeste

    This.

    It’s un-egalitarian, it’s non-secular, it implies a special knowledge possessed by a Head Bozo.

    And this.

    When someone argues that there needs to be a hierarchy, you can pretty well guess just where they imagine themselves in that hierarchy.

    When someone says that there needs to be ritual, you can easily guess who they imagine will be leading that ritual.

    It truly does scream patriarchy.

  224. 224
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    James Croft:

    I think the first part is mis-targeted, frankly. We obviously don’t want groups being led by ignorant, power-hungry narcissists.

    Fair enough. That conclusion is probably just me reading too much into some of the vague words and phrases used in promotion of the chaplaincy idea, and the baggage that goes along with the label “chaplain.”

    I’ll try to separate the two

    I do realize I used provocative language. This was intentional, not to be a troll, but to lead into the issues I have with pastor leadership, the exploitation of their revelatory epistemology. I’m not entirely certain the role a humanist chaplain would play in a humanist church, nor am I certain what the role of a humanist church would be within the community.

    Nor do we think that what is evolving is counter-productive – nothing I wrote about the exciting and valuable nature of these evolving groups should give you that impression.

    Excellent! That’s a relief. I have perhaps read far more into the rationale given for promoting the atheist-church idea. It had seemed fundamentally critical of the current social structure, as if this structure was fundamentally flawed by lack of ritualization, tradition, or historical context.

    Sure – which is why we want to explore what leadership might look like in Humanist communities. We see this as an institutional design problem, which is why we have the research component of the project up-front.

    It seems the shape of the leadership would be predicated on the desired properties of the communities. What assumptions are being made there? What’s the desired goal? Perhaps I’m a bit dense, but I haven’t figured that bit out yet.

    Don’t assume that because we’re open to taking good ideas from religious communities that A) we want to model our community on religious communities,

    Excellent. That seemed to be an underlying thread in Epstein’s writing, but perhaps I’m assuming too much.

    B) we want to take ideas indiscriminately from religious communities,

    So, what is the discrimination used? What is the rubrik used to judge which properties of religious communities are applicable to a humanist community?

    or C) we want to take the bad parts of religious communities.

    Oh, I certainly didn’t think you’d want to take the bad parts of religious communities. It just seems that so much of what is trivially admirable about religious communities (their sense of belonging to a group, their ability to build beautiful monuments to silliness, and so on) are driven by a shared desired illusion. It’s this shared illusion that also drives the worst of organized religion, fueled in part by their irrational epistemology.

    What is going to form the cohesive force behind a humanist community? And how is that cohesive force going to be immune to the same sorts of corruption as shared religious belief?

    We’ve experimented with different ways of engaging speakers in discussion, so that they are asked to provide discussion questions instead of a long talk, so that we can make our group more egalitarian. In other words, we take concerns like yours very seriously and are consciously working to explore how we can build the most effective freethinking community we can.

    That is very good to hear.

    It does raise the question: why the allusions to religious community, and co-option of religious words, such as “chaplain?” It seems that framing the discussion in this way merely causes confusion and misunderstanding. Why the covert appeal to spirituality?

    I think this comment articulates a real misunderstanding of or core interests. We are not building the Atheist Community Project. We are looking to promote Humanism, which is a worldview and life stance that’s capable of supporting social groups dedicated to the ideals which constitute it.

    I realized after I submitted (and re-read) my post that I was specifically focusing on atheism, rather than humanism. I guess that’s probably because my acceptance of humanism was a natural outcome of my recognition that god most likely does not exist. Humanism is merely the logical conclusion that, since my life was essentially a lottery, the best society is one in which I would be comfortable having drawn any lot.

    I’m still not sure how humanism will provide the same cohesiveness as the consensual communal fantasy shared by religious groups. The only two things I’ve seen that rival that community-building power are sports teams and political convictions.

    I do hope your research is productive. Spreading humanism is an admirable goal. We could certainly do with more humanism and less dogmatic adherence to arbitrary interpretations of ancient myths.

  225. 225
    James Croft

    @nigelTheBold:

    Thank you for your response. It seems there’s a lot more common ground here than might have been anticipated initially, which is what I tend to find when people are willing to look at what we are actually proposing with an open mind, as you have done.

    I’m not entirely certain the role a humanist chaplain would play in a humanist church

    I just want to make this clear again – we are not out to create Humanist churches or (necessarily) Humanist Chaplains. The Globe article is misleading in this respect. We NEVER use the term “church” to describe our work at the Chaplaincy, and we use the term “Chaplain” and “Chaplaincy” for historical reasons we have little control over (although there has been some discussion of a name change). I would not recommend others using either term, myself. It just confuses things.

    I think there is something very interesting in what you say here:

    I realized after I submitted (and re-read) my post that I was specifically focusing on atheism, rather than humanism. I guess that’s probably because my acceptance of humanism was a natural outcome of my recognition that god most likely does not exist. Humanism is merely the logical conclusion that, since my life was essentially a lottery, the best society is one in which I would be comfortable having drawn any lot.

    For me it’s the other way round: my atheism is simply a logical outcome of my Humanism. The commitment to rationalism and skepticism which are significant parts of the Humanist tradition lead me to conclude that there is no god, but that’s only a relatively minor outcome of a positive commitment to lots of other (essentially epistemic) beliefs. This may help understand why there seems sometimes to be a big divide here in emphasis: for me, the fact that god doesn’t exist is a relatively uninteresting outcome of a broader set of commitments. But that’s a long and rather orthogonal discussion!

    So, what is the discrimination used? What is the rubrik used to judge which properties of religious communities are applicable to a humanist community?

    Great question. Basically, the answer (at the moment – we’re very much in the opening stages of asking this sort of question), is that we’re looking for those aspects which make people want to come to meetings, help forge significant connections between members, give them a sense that they can rely on each other in times of difficulty, ensure everyone has a voice in decision making, enable presenters to present ideas (while maintaining room for criticism and discussion), encourage an exploration of community and individual values, and promote active commitment to those values the community decides they share. All this while being very carefully on the lookout for elements which might promote group-think, stifle dissent, encourage conformity etc.

    We recognize that on some level there will be trade-offs here – there are in every single group or community that exists trade-offs between individual and community needs. This is precisely why we want to be conscious about those practices we introduce, and trial them (and document the results), in a way that religious communities generally can’t (because they are hidebound by tradition).

    So, what does this look like in practice? It means going to religious services, business meetings, sports practices, the Occupy protests and other communal gatherings and seeing if something might work well. For instance, the other day I attended a women’s discussion group which addresses feminist issues weekly. They had a situation in which, each week, they had an invited speaker who was introduced by a member of the community on a rotating basis, so everyone gets a go. The community member talks about why the topic, and the speaker, is important to them and their lives. We’re going to steal that and trial it in our community and see if people like it.

    Another time I went to a Quaker meeting, and there were some aspects of the form of dialogue and community I found there that I thought were interesting. We might try some of those, too.

    The key point here is that just because a practice originated in or is used primarily by religious communities does not mean it should be off-limits for experimentation by Humanists. Some of the responses here have been in that vein – an intense, immediate dislike for an idea simply because it has some religious basis. That is simply irrational. There is no good reason to believe that all practices used in religious communities are going to be valuable. But there is good reason to think that some might be, and we’re willing to try them out and submit them to empirical test.

    @Species8472:

    I forgot to say before – great to see another Trek fan. I recently met George Takei and it was an awesome time! =D

    You say regarding choirs that some Humanist groups have:

    So does the national TV station, the student unions at the universities and a multitude of organisations and political parties. I fail to see the problem. Choirs are not trademarked by religious institutions. Especially not here.

    I am not articulating a problem – I am very supportive of the idea of Humanist choirs. I was merely pointing out that some people in the discussion over the Project have been distinctly “anti” the idea, and I wanted to make it clear that some of the most successful Humanist organizations out there actually, as a matter of fact, do have them. So I think we agree here.

    Regarding the confirmation ceremony, you say:

    It is a significant part of our nation’s tradition to have such a ceremony. It is only a confirmation if performed by the Lutheran church, but many other churches has alternatives, there is a non-religious ceremony as well available as well as the one provided by the Humanists.

    For most young people this is a significant event that has been adopted into our culture and is no longer a strictly religious ceremony. On the contrary actually. So it falls under the same category as weddings and funerals and name-days.

    I don’t disagree with any of this – it’s in fact precisely my point. These things do not have to have a religious antecedent, but in some cases might, but can have significant cultural and social significance nonetheless. I’m all for finding ways to incorporate significant experiences like these into our culture, (reasonably) regardless of their roots, so that people can, if they wish, have the benefit of them. I don’t think I see any disagreement here with anything I posted.

    @pelamun:

    First, it isn’t helpful to assume I am attempting to “fool” people or “obfuscate. I’m not. I’m trying to give you the clearest description of what we’re trying to do, because it is in all our interests to have a reasonable discussion about this based on the facts. Stop the insinuations of bad faith: they are inaccurate, they don’t do your argument any favors, and they aren’t justified. Some people are complaining I’m responding in too great detail, not that I’m trying to hide details from you – they are closer to correct than you.

    Most people here object to your ideas of how to groom leaders. The framework of the Harvard Chaplaincy is elitism, plain and simple. Most of us don’t want priests by another name, but democratically elected leaders, if any.

    Then they object to something we aren’t suggesting. We are not suggesting that Humanist communities should be led by individuals who are put in place through undemocratic processes and have been trained as Chaplains in Divinity Schools. You need to target your critique at our proposal, not at your nightmare of what our proposal might be. We won’t get anywhere if you can’t accept that our intentions are not as you describe them.

    The second point is the confusing usage of religious terms such as “chaplain” (or in the case of the other fellow) “church”.

    I actually agree with you on both points – see above where I say (again) that we don’t use religious terminology to describe our work – that was the article author’s attempt to generate some interest (she succeeded). We don’t have much control over the word “Chaplain”, but I’d not shed a tear if it went.

    I can’t find Rieux’s comment that you directed me towards, but I know that there have been significant disagreements between Epstein and other figures. I think that’s healthy – saying that you think others are doing valuable work, but that there’s more to be done, is not, I think, a form of “bashing” or an unreasonable thing to say. It’s a call to more excellent work.

    But you,re right, in a sense, that we think that the process of building a more humane society shouldn’t end with writing The End of Faith or Even The Moral Landscape. We need to actually get people out there living in accordance with Humanist values, voting for Humanist causes etc. So we do think there is more to be done, and that it wouldn’t be great just to stop here. That’s why we’re launching this project.

  226. 226
    Species8472

    @227 James Croft

    So we agree that choirs is as little a church trademark as a band is. We also seem to agree that ceremonies are important to people regardless of faith or lack thereof. But then we’re back with what PZ is saying in the original post.

    So where exactly was your disagreement with my initial post about the Norwegian H. A.? None of these points impact what I said there.

  227. 227
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    James Croft:

    The Globe article is misleading in this respect. We NEVER use the term “church” to describe our work at the Chaplaincy, and we use the term “Chaplain” and “Chaplaincy” for historical reasons we have little control over (although there has been some discussion of a name change). I would not recommend others using either term, myself. It just confuses things.

    Okay. After a long reading of the Twitter hash, I think I have a better understanding. I look forward to the new website, to see if it helps clear up my understanding of the direction you hope to take this.

    Still, though, the question remains: what are the goals? Greg Epstein mentioned the ceremony of death, the funeral, as an archetype for the kinds of things he’d like addressed. I’m assuming he’s seen the documentary, A Family Undertaking. (If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it highly.) In response to this movie, my wife has been investigating ways to become a counselor, someone who helps families plan and carry out personal funerals — not by following a ritual, but by creating a ritual, one specific to the situation. Is that the kind of thing you and Epstein have in mind?

    The other thing Epstein stressed was organization. Is the goal here homogeneity in leadership? What is are the roles and responsibilities of the leadership (we’ll ignore the label of the leaders for now, though I’m very happy you agree chaplain is an unfortunate title.)

    I apologize for all the questions. I’m truly interested, though I must admit for full disclosure that I’m very much sympathetic to PZ’s position right now.

    For me it’s the other way round: my atheism is simply a logical outcome of my Humanism. … for me, the fact that god doesn’t exist is a relatively uninteresting outcome of a broader set of commitments. But that’s a long and rather orthogonal discussion!

    Oh, I disagree. I don’t think it’s orthogonal at all. It’s a long discussion, certainly, and probably not one for this thread. Perhaps it’s not coincidence that both our expectations of the utility of the Humanist Community Project, and the disagreements about legitimate organizational structures, parallel our inverted relationship between atheism and humanism.

    But then again, it could just be upbringing. I never much attended church, and when I did, I tended to ask uncomfortable questions. I never much saw the utility of the ceremonies and rituals and terrible, terrible community music.

  228. 228
    pelamun

    James,

    you are obfuscating regarding the issues of “chaplain” and the “atheism/humanism”.

    It took you over 500 posts on two threads to suddenly proclaim that you personally are opposed to the usage of “chaplain”, whereas the object had been raised by many here hundreds of posts ago. This really seems a tad disingenuous.

    Then, at one point you said that your group was a Humanist one, not an atheist one, but what is that supposed to mean? You seem to include atheists, and apparently your members are all at least agnostic, right? So the overlap is quite large, I’d say. By pushing the “atheism is just another religion” meme, you are hurting atheists. Now, you claim that you don’t like the use of the word “chaplain”, then do something about it! As long as your website has sections such as “Meet the chaplain”, I find it hard to believe that you really mean that. Harvard doesn’t care what you call your leaders on your own website, just give the position another name!

    Of course, I’m all for a healthy debate, and I wasn’t really a party to these great rifts, but it should give you pause nevertheless, if people like Rieux write things like this

    But that merely points up the other serious problem with the Humanist Community effort: the fact that its two most prominent leaders and exponents have engaged in years’ worth of outrageous attacks on atheists who dare to defy the suffocating religious privilege enforced in the society we live in by speaking plainly, forthrightly, and critically about the severe problems with religious faith and authority. Greg Epstein and Chris Stedman have directly made life more difficult for American nonbelievers by providing their enthusiastic support, in widely public fora, to disgusting stereotypes of scummy atheists. Epstein and Stedman have personally reinforced the religious privilege that keeps the rest of us a despised and marginalized majority in this country. That is inexcusable.

    As I’ve mentioned, I left UUism because I couldn’t in good conscience be a part of an organization run by ugly atheophobes who continually blast and bait nonbelievers for violating the rules of religious privilege. I can’t join the Humanist Community you describe for exactly the same reason.

    Finally, about this:

    Then they object to something we aren’t suggesting. We are not suggesting that Humanist communities should be led by individuals who are put in place through undemocratic processes and have been trained as Chaplains in Divinity Schools. You need to target your critique at our proposal, not at your nightmare of what our proposal might be. We won’t get anywhere if you can’t accept that our intentions are not as you describe them.

    I don’t have nightmares about Harvard chaplains, rest assured. But no, I don’t just have to look at the proposal, I also have to look at the organisation making the proposal. And I see an elitist organisation with leaders chosen in an undemocratic or at least intransparent process. This affects the perception people will have about your proposal.

    Imagine the Roman Catholic Church did this. They would study how community groups could work best, and make this available, in a neutral format, and also of use to secular groups. Most people would still not take this at face value, just due to the fact that the RCC is behind it, an organisation with certain institutional values.

    The newspaper article did also say

    Everything the Harvard chapter does will be carefully documented, spread to sister groups by social media, and eventually written up as a book that will be more how-to manual than Bible.

    So again, it seems that what you’re saying is only legalistically correct. For all intents and purposes, the Harvard model is the one your organisation seems intent on pushing, which should include the wise leadership of the Great Chaplain. Or, if the press is misrepresenting you that much, instead of welcoming Boston Globe readers on your website, you should probably put some corrections there.

  229. 229
    Myles

    Agreed. I want a t shirt that says “Im an atheist. My church is outside.” Or maybe “im an atheist, join me for sunday service. Bring beer.”

  230. 230
    Walker

    “I don’t care what label you call them, creating a hierarchy of privilege is not acceptable to me.”

    Is being trained in counseling, community organizing, and philosophy a matter of “privilege”? How is it any different than saying a scientific organization is unacceptable because they institute a hierarchy of privilege for those with advanced degrees?

  231. 231
    khms

    But then, I didn’t grow up in one of these “hey, maybe there’s a god, maybe there’s not; let’s hug in tough times” church. I grew up in a real one; a tithing, sing on cue, shun the homosexuals, unwed mothers, miscegenators and divorcees kind. I really don’t know where these people get this kumbaya bullshit. You didn’t go to my church on Sunday because you really missed the comeraderie; you went every Sunday because to not go was to invite rumour and innuendo down upon the entire family, such that the primary school kids (like me) got in shit from their teachers at the affiliated school the next week. As a seven-year-old, how do you explain to your teacher that whatever the reason Mom and Dad didn’t take you to church on Sunday it probably wasn’t that they wanted you to rot in Hell and can you please be allowed to go to the bathroom now?

    But, that’s just my experience. And I think I went to a pretty moderate church.

    You think? Because to my German sensibilities that sounds like deep creepy cult territory.

  232. 232
    anon atheist

    You have largely backpedaled from your original critique which is understandable since you cannot one day demand that atheist groups should cater more to the needs of women by, well, being more social and then the next day complain about atheist groups being too social.

    But, in contrast to the OP there is a need for atheist groups with structure, with continuity, and with reliability. And there is a need for rituals. Like this crazy ritual that you visit a member of the group at the hospital. A ritual church groups are pretty good at and atheist groups suck at.

    The irony is that you cannot prevent Epstein from doing what he’s doing, so all you can do whine about how wrong you think that is. That pretty much mirrors the situation with exchanged roles when the accommodatioinists complain about the other atheists being too offensive.

  233. 233
    John Morales

    Dim Atheist:

    [1] But, in contrast to the OP there is a need for atheist groups with structure, with continuity, and with reliability. [2] And there is a need for rituals. [3] Like this crazy ritual that you visit a member of the group at the hospital.

    1. For the sheeple, perhaps.

    2. For some people, perhaps.

    3. You’re ignorantly equivocating between senses of ‘ritual’ and ‘custom’.

    The irony is that you cannot prevent Epstein from doing what he’s doing, so all you can do whine about how wrong you think that is.

    You misuse words egregiously.

    (Sneering ≠ whining)

    That pretty much mirrors the situation with exchanged roles when the accommodatioinists complain about the other atheists being too offensive.

    Your stupid dishonesty is evident.

  234. 234
    abb3w

    I’d have some slight disagreement with PZ’s apparent position.

    While yes, it’s un-egalitarian, and considered anti-egalitarian to say so, Head Bozos can have special knowledge. PZ should recognize this, since as a biology professor, his job involves conveying knowledge to others that he has, and that they don’t. Perhaps where he’s objecting is that others can acquire that knowledge, and thus in that sense the knowledge isn’t all that special. However, social specialization means not every human bothers to acquire all the knowledge to do every job in society. He certainly could figure out how to change the timing belt in his car’s engine, but I suspect that like most people, he’d rather have a professional auto mechanic do the job.

    Yes, most atheist groups function without someone formally trained in counseling, meeting facilitation, and whatnot. However, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that they might function more effectively with such a person. The role of priests evolved to take on these social functions; copying evolution is a cheap design shortcut. (It’s possible the prevalence of the role in so many human societies is from neutral drift rather than adaptive pressure, but this seems unlikely.)

    I think he’s right to be concerned about the prospect for a heirarchy of privilege. Unfortunately, that seems a by-product of social specialization. The hazard could be reduced if a mechanism could be developed to limit people’s deference to prestige to the sphere of specialized competence; a by-product of which might be that it might spread elsewhere, so that no-one would care anymore what Hollywood has-beens say about vaccination.

  235. 235
    truthspeaker

    khms says:
    20 October 2011 at 6:53 am

    You think? Because to my German sensibilities that sounds like deep creepy cult territory.

    Here in the US, that’s moderate, mainstream Christianity.

  236. 236
    lpetrich

    Reminds me of early 19th cy. French philosopher Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity. It was a ripoff of Roman Catholicism, with rituals, sacraments, and a calendar of saints, er, heroes of human progress. It never was very successful, though it had a modest vogue in Brazil.

  237. 237
    Anon

    Just as an FYI – It is true that to be part of the Harvard Chaplaincy, your leaders need to be called Chaplains but there is another office at Harvard for non-religious groups: The Office for Student Life. It would seem then that perhaps a more fitting location for the Humanist “Chaplaincy” is to be registered through the Office for Student Life.

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