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.