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What #HumanistCommunity?

I wasted too much time in the #humanistcommunity debate on twitter, so I’ll briefly summarize: because I detest the church-like model of Epstein’s humanist chaplain concept, I must dislike organization, leadership, and community. It quickly became obvious that many people are incapable of recognizing anything other than chaplains and churches as a reasonable model for community.

This is annoying because we have quite a few models for godless organizations that avoid that pitfall. CFI. American Atheists. SSA. They don’t have “chaplains”! I wonder how they manage without collapsing?

This is particularly galling because what Epstein claims to be doing is gathering empirical data on how best to run a secular movement. As I pointed out, we’re doing this already by having diverse secular groups springing up all over the place, not by having Greg Epstein defining what a secular meeting is supposed to be. He managed to diss one such incredibly successful group in his interview:

That’s not to say there aren’t homes for atheists on campus. Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, said his organization now has 306 chapters nationwide, up from 195 two years ago.

But those groups are loose-knit. They have no official format for meetings; some do service projects while others are as likely to hold an “atheist prom.” Most are led by students, not chaplains, and they have no institutional memory, since their membership turns over every four years.

Epstein wants to create something more permanent with a carefully thought out infrastructure.

Here’s one of the fastest growing secular organizations in the country…so what’s wrong with being “loose-knit”? It seems to work. What’s wrong with an “atheist prom”, or whatever idea provokes and entices the group? Maybe a “carefully thought out infrastructure” would be exactly the thing to crush the spirit of the movement.

Anyway, the argument will never end. Some people will follow this strangely pseudo-religious pattern, some of us will be more anarchic and let the organization bubble up from the bottom. But if we’re looking for empirical examples that work, it seems to me that the secular organizations that are succeeding all seem to have a shortage of chaplains.

Comments

  1. susan says

    Hunh. If I ever get a solicitation letter from Epstein asking for a “tribute” to help his atheist mission in Africa, I’m going to puke on it and mail it back to him.

  2. ChasCPeterson says

    They have no official format for meetings

    *gasp!*

    Are these people barbarians?

    Can they really be unfamiliar with Robert’s Rules of Order??!

    Secular chaplains are trained in parliamentary procedure, you know, as well as in counseling, rite-and-ritual-running, and general, y’know, chaplaining and all.

  3. Joel Grant says

    I would only join an atheist organization with a chaplain if his name was Charlie, and then only for the obvious reason.

  4. says

    It would probably help to pretend to have a, oh I don’t know, sky-daddy that we come to worship periodically.

    That would give people either a purpose or, anyway, a pretend purpose for it.

    Now that’s the way to satisfy someone’s longing for the religious experience.

    Glen Davidson

  5. raven says

    One of the strengths of the NO!!! Religions movement is that it is a true grass roots mass movement. No leaders but self selected ones who gain a following or not.

    And one of the main motivators is….toxic religion, fundie xianity. US xianity is rapidly defining itself as a social problem but we don’t have to like it or them.

  6. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    One thing we have to remember about Epstein is he’s a professional chaplain. If he doesn’t have a bunch of followers attending his meetings, then he can become an ex-chaplain. This might color his opinions of “loose-knit” groups with “no institutional memory.”

  7. Brownian says

    But those groups are loose-knit. They have no official format for meetings; some do service projects while others are as likely to hold an “atheist prom.”

    What? Atheist organisations, engaging in projects that their local members and communities want? That’s exactly the kind of thing we’re trying to put a stop t—

    I mean, how very church-like. Some congregations collect clothes for the poor overseas, and others picket abortion clinics. And that’s just the Catholics.

    Sorry Greg; it doesn’t look like religion is the model you want for your atheist meetings. I’m thinking something slightly more centralised, yet progressive with regards to science and technology.

  8. says

    How about we try different stuff and keep what works?
    It’s like he thinks only intelligent design could possibly produce a successful movement. I disagree.

  9. anthrosciguy says

    I don’t see why some folks aren’t getting your point. One blog post I say said that his chaplain idea wasn’t like a chaplain because he was talking about asking the audience for questions instead of pounding the table. Come on. (And hasn’t he seen modern preachers in neighborhood churches, with their discussion groups etc.? They ask for questions too.)

    The thing is if some people want a churchy-style atheist group, great. Start one and run it and go to it. See if other people like it. But what’s wrong with this group or that group doing something else, and what the hell is wrong with a prom, a dance, a whatever?

  10. annesauer says

    The passage quoted above cinches it for me. I wasn’t inclined to think that churches were a good model for secular social organizations, for a few reasons; now here he goes and just gives me a few more!

    Why should different groups (or even affiliates of the same group, like SSA) follow the same official format for meetings? What’s wrong with student leaders? And I hardly see “institutional memory” as a big plus–institutional memory in the skeptic community is what’s making it so hard to get the conversation started on more relevant, contemporary issues not previously considered part of the canon.

    I liked what you said about leadership over on twitter, PZ. Leadership, and leadership training is crucial. We need strong voices and good ideas. Instituting a protected class of leaders is harmful.

    (By the way, the link to the interview just comes back to this post.)

  11. CardinalSmurf says

    It’s beginning to sound as though Epstein wants to ensure that in the absence of religion mind-control is maintained lest the proletariat masses begin thinking for themselves.

  12. m.entropy says

    Different models are going to work for different local groups in different areas of the country.

    The Harvard Chaplaincy has a vibrant community. AA, SSA, AHA, CFI, etc. all have great vibrant communities, too. But more can be done. Put all the models out there, the communities will use what works for them.

  13. says

    What is still be assumed here is that “chaplain” and “church” imply some sort of authoritarian structure. In my Church of Freethought, just try telling Freethinkers what to do, even if your title is “chaplain”. By the way, we don’t have that title. The organizers and leaders are called Directors. Big flipping deal. That just mean we do all the work that is necessary to operate the organizational structure.

    It also appears that PZ assumes Epstein wants every organization to be “his way”. I see no evidence of that. Since Epstein wants to try something new (well, not so new, we have been at it for 10+ years), why not let him? Instead, all I see are false assumptions and dogmatic superstition over two words.

    I extend the offer once again: if you are ever in Houston, Texas on the 2nd Sunday of the month, come by and see us. (Except that guy who wants to burn us down; he is not invited).

  14. Matt says

    Your point about the success of the SSA doesn’t make any sense. He clearly says that he wants something that he doesn’t think the SSA provides. Your argument that he shouldn’t want something different because they are so successful is like saying we shouldn’t want coffee shops because fast food restaurants are so successful.

    I think it’s really unfair to simply declare that any body who could possibly like the idea of an atheist “chaplain” must be yearning to be religious or something. I’ve never even been to a real church service but I kind of like the idea of someone who is trained to give sermons on interesting topics. It doesn’t have to be a priesthood situation where only “certified” people are allowed to talk.

    I think UU gives a good prototype for this, but doesn’t quite meet the criteria because it is explicitly religious (simply allowing every religion to have it’s turn to speak makes it tolerant, not secular).

  15. crowepps says

    Oh, geez. The groups don’t have structure, they don’t have an official format and so they’re not all doing the same things, they haven’t agreed on a mission statement, they are still changing and there isn’t an authority figure in charge to tell people what to think and do. Golly, the horror!

    Does this remind anyone else of the scene in Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I where some of the revolutionaries miss the storming of the Bastille because they’re locked up in a room somewhere arguing about exactly what to say in their declaration of revolution?

    The parts of religion that free, thinking people DON’T LIKE are the rigid dogma, the top down authority, the ‘same exact menu at all our locations’, and the ‘if people just do what they want how could things possibly work?’ It’s ridiculous to keep the authoritarianism and the ‘professional ethicist/chaplain’ to order everybody around, and the rituals and ceremonies after removing the ‘God’ which justifies their existence.

  16. Ichthyic says

    Most are led by students, not chaplains, and they have no institutional memory, since their membership turns over every four years.

    huh.

    oddly, I seem to picture another American institution whose membership turns over every four years…

    or at least comes up for a vote.

    I wonder if he would say the office of the President, or either house of congress has “no institutional memory”.

  17. John Morales says

    Jim Ashmore:

    In my Church of Freethought

    Jim, why do you keep evading the admission of your embracing of an oxymoron?

  18. Brownian says

    What is still be assumed here is that “chaplain” and “church” imply some sort of authoritarian structure. In my Church of Freethought, just try telling Freethinkers what to do, even if your title is “chaplain”. By the way, we don’t have that title.

    I fucking love this paragraph. I can’t stop reading it!

  19. Jesse Galef says

    Thanks for the praise, PZ et al! I’m really proud of the Secular Student Alliance.

    But before there’s too much confusion, I want to comment on the actual article and give some background. I don’t think Greg himself took a swipe at the Secular Student Alliance in any interviews.

    The journalist called and asked about the SSA for the story. I told her about our growth and how creative the students are – that we don’t have a cookie-cutter style and each group is unique.

    When she asked whether our groups cooperate with programs like the Humanist Community, I said yes – and that one thing off-campus groups can offer is institutional memory. We’ve talked about that before, urging student groups to reach out to other groups for networking, opportunities for collaboration, and general support.

    I think that the journalist used all this to present as much contrast between the Secular Student groups and Greg’s vision – it made sense to explain how the organizations are different. I doubt Greg himself took swipes at the SSA.

    Like PZ, I love the fact that the SSA is a bottom-up grassroots movement doing different things to suit their community and preferences. Hell yeah, Secular Students are doing service projects and hosting atheist proms!

    Long story short: I don’t think Greg deserves any blame for taking shots at the SSA, that passage was the journalist’s work. From that perspective, it’s not Greg asserting superiority, it’s the Boston Globe showing differences.

  20. John Morales says

    Jim, your joke smacks of persecution-complex:

    (Except that guy who wants to burn us down; he is not invited).

    (Misrepresentation is disingenuous)

  21. says

    Jim,

    you’ve followed the discussion on the other thread, you should be familiar with Epstein’s model by now.

    That wasn’t about you or your organisation, so arguing against PZ’s opposition to Epstein’s ideas based on what your organisation doesn’t really help here.

    Be it as it may, on the other thread, people already expressed bewilderment as to why you have to call your group a church and you need directors. I don’t know enough about it, but if the function of your directors is similar to that of chaplain as in Epstein’s, then they would just be priest by another name.

    Again, by contributing to the “atheism is just another religion” myth you’re hurting atheists. Why not call it something else?

  22. Bill Wade says

    No gods, no masters, no dogma, and no goddamned priests…not even atheist priests. — PZ Myers

  23. Brownian says

    That wasn’t about you or your organisation, so arguing against PZ’s opposition to Epstein’s ideas based on what your organisation doesn’t really help here.

    No, but it’s funny:

    In my Church of Freethought, just try telling Freethinkers what to do, even if your title is “chaplain”. By the way, we don’t have that title.

    ‘Nazi’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘jack-booted bigot'; just look at my knitting club. Also, we don’t call ourselves Nazis.

  24. jfigdor says

    We at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard love the Secular Student Alliance (www.secularstudents.org) and appreciate all their hard work supporting atheist and Humanist student groups around the country! But we also provide services the SSA doesn’t, such as performing ceremonies, on the ground/local community organizing, philosophical counseling (always providing referrals when appropriate to psychologists and other mental health care professionals), and providing direct support to student groups.

    PZ, did you know that Campus Crusade for Christ spends millions of dollars a year providing multiple evangelizers who support and help run student grounds at colleges around the country? Don’t our students deserve the same resources? I don’t tell our students what to do or what to think, I try to give them the opportunity to shine. And they have. Sebastian Velez, a member of our graduate community won a service award from the AHA last year for his work on the Haiti earthquake relief. One of our students is the head of the interfaith program at Harvard and is making the organisation friendlier to Atheists and Humanists. Greg and I are not in charge of anything. We are facilitators who let the members of our community shine as our stars.

  25. says

    John Morales says: “Jim, why do you keep evading the admission of your embracing of an oxymoron?”

    I don’t agree with your interpretation. We take the a filet of service, community, charity and education from the word Church and apply Freethought to it. Oh, you can’t think whatever you want and call yourself a member, so we do insist on atheism or agnosticism. (Oh yeah, smell the dogma and authoritarianism. ;-)

    Don’t work to hard denigrating my organization. Paul Kurtz called it an “abuse of language” about 7 years ago. I have been insulted by the most distinguished Humanist.

    Oh, and I’ve married > 15 couples with 100% success rate and presided over four funerals. Thankfully, there are/were two other humanist ministers in the area or it would be an unpaid, full time job serving the Freethought community.

  26. Brownian says

    Oh, and I’ve married > 15 couples with 100% success rate

    Like, you’ve never once failed to marry a couple?

    “You may now kiss the—whoops, don’t. Failed my wisdom check. Sorry, everybody.”

  27. Z says

    I followed that whole exchange on twitter, and the part I still don’t get is why Epstein thinks I (or anyone else) would feel represented by such an organization. If he wants to found a “Church without God” he’s welcome to try, but he should by no means claim to speak for humanists/atheists/whatever in general.

  28. says

    ‘Nazi’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘jack-booted bigot’; just look at my knitting club. Also, we don’t call ourselves Nazis.

    And we demand that we are philosophers! Though we may not be.

  29. says

    Sorry everyone, I am not familiar with the fancy block quote structure. I hope this does not make it too difficult to read.

    pelamun says: “Be it as it may, on the other thread, people already expressed bewilderment as to why you have to call your group a church and you need directors. I don’t know enough about it, but if the function of your directors is similar to that of chaplain as in Epstein’s, then they would just be priest by another name.

    Again, by contributing to the “atheism is just another religion” myth you’re hurting atheists. Why not call it something else?”

    I did not have the time to ready all 174 comments including those that were addressed to me. I do have a full time job and a family (which I am neglecting right now).

    We call it a church because as I explained, we take the filet out of what has been traditionally a roll filled by churches and then throw out the stuff we don’t want. Like it or not, humans are social animals with social and community needs. It is encoded in our biology and our meme-ology (yeah not a word). Churches have traditionally filled that void. We take their place, without the superstition, dogma, and yes, without the authoritarianism. The assumption is that church and director automatically imply a pompous authoritarian organization. I assure you that is not the case or we would be talking to ourselves each month.

    We could have called it something else but “community” was not big enough, neither was society, and neither was association. Church is what we do. I’m not even sorry if anyone does not like it. We do things that Humanists don’t. We do things that the atheist meetups don’t. When people want to get married or plan a funeral or naming ceremony, they come to us. Thank goodness there are or were two Humanist Ministers (yes, their term) in town because the demand is so big.

    Our membership is voluntary. So are the donations. We don’t charge dues to anyone. Membership requirements are, well, minimal. If you are an atheist or agnostic, you want to be a member.

    I just think it is dogmatically superstitious to obsess over simple words like “chaplain” and “church” without understanding the concept as applied by the organization using it. That is all.

    And to anyone else who makes comments and I don’t reply, I can’t read everything and respond, there just is not enough time in my Freethought life.

  30. consciousness razor says

    In my Church of Freethought, just try telling Freethinkers what to do, even if your title is “chaplain”. By the way, we don’t have that title.

    ‘Nazi’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘jack-booted bigot’; just look at my knitting club. Also, we don’t call ourselves Nazis.

    Yes, and we should give them the benefit of that doubt even if they do. After all, words don’t mean anything, so it may well be the case that if some does call himself a “Nazi,” he may indeed be in a knitting club. I mean, sure if you don’t like the sound or appearance of the word “Nazi,” you could complain about it, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? No use in trying to talk about actual Nazis either, because there is no word for them, just like there’s no word for anything else.

  31. says

    “Brownian says:
    19 October 2011 at 12:52 am
    Oh, and I’ve married > 15 couples with 100% success rate

    Like, you’ve never once failed to marry a couple?

    “You may now kiss the—whoops, don’t. Failed my wisdom check. Sorry, everybody.”

    Sorry for the unclear nature of the comment. As far as I know, all the couples I’ve married are still together. It is hard to keep track of everyone as some have moved out of the area and others were non-member referrals.

  32. says

    “Chaplain” is a fraught term that deserves to be discarded. If “institutional memory” is a concern in terms of SSA (especially at the community college chapters where students may be gone in as little as two or three years), then two things are needed: (1) a system to help new members step into roles occupied by departing members and (2) faculty advisors from the tenured staff who are going to be around for a while. But those advisors don’t need to be called “chaplains” or wear lace surplices (unless they like lace surplices and tend to wear them all the time anyway).

  33. Bill Wade says

    This concept of an atheist “church” seems very regressive and doesn’t promote cultural changes that might be needed to better control our evolution. It appears to substitute one type of artificial authority structure for another.

    The stated primary benefit is to provide a proxy comfort offered by religious organizations. While certainly worthwhile to engage in charitable and community activities, not so sure we need more “comfort” as defined by an “instutional memory”.

  34. automatthew says

    I don’t see anything special about him being a chaplain other than getting a paycheck from Harvard every two weeks. If we could get universities to fund a permanent staff member to run our organizations devoted to evidence-based thinking then we could have continuity and institutional memory too.

  35. says

    I have no idea how to use the tags to do block quotes and links. I am not afraid to ask for help so the communication will be easier to understand. Help!

  36. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Brownian @24, yeah, that’s pretty piss-poor phrasing, but credible?

    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.

  37. says

    jfigdor,

    I think I’m beginning to understand, it’s all about the money. Yes, so tell me, why wouldn’t you just want those millions to go to the SSA. Tell me one good reason the chaplaincy has to take care of it??

  38. jose says

    Chaplains are there to tell people what to think and rituals are there to tell people what to do. A ritual is like some telepathic brainfucker. It’s like the ancient civilizations smoking peyote and going into a trance to the monotonous, regular sound of the drums.

    None of that fit in a group of people who supposedly are or should be independent minds, challengers.

    I understand people want to provide something similar to what religious communities offer: socialization. You make friends, you have picnics, things to do… but a church is just one kind of many. Why don’t they work to resemble the local fishing club instead, or any other kind of club?

  39. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Jim: <blockquote>I have no idea how to use the tags to do block quotes and links. I am not afraid to ask for help so the communication will be easier to understand. Help!</blockquote>

    No worries.

    Blockquote thus:

    <blockquote>That which is quoted</blockquote>

    Link thus:

    <a href="URL">Link text</a>

  40. says

    This thread is funny.

    PZ, did you know that Campus Crusade for Christ spends millions of dollars a year providing multiple evangelizers who support and help run student grounds at colleges around the country? Don’t our students deserve the same resources?

    Oh FFS.

  41. Chayanov says

    Jim Ashmore:
    “Oh, and I’ve married > 15 couples with 100% success rate…”

    And you think that has something to do with you? If you hadn’t been the one to marry them, their marriages probably would have ended by now? Thank Freethought they came to you!

  42. mirax says

    There’s a strong whiff of smugness and self-regard emanting from these selfstyled chaplains, jfigdor and Jim Ashmore.

    Figdor asserts “PZ, did you know that Campus Crusade for Christ spends millions of dollars a year providing multiple evangelizers who support and help run student grounds at colleges around the country? Don’t our students deserve the same resources”

    So religion is big business and a few controlling atheist types want in on a similar sort of action? No thought as to whether the kind of ‘help’ to be provided to students by all this organisation (and money!) is even necessary. Let’s just ape the christians and morph into something that has establishment power and voice. This appears to have direct benefit only for those who would swish around claiming to have a constituency they speak on behalf of. A priesthood.

    “We are facilitators who let the members of our community shine as our stars.”

    The irony of that ‘let’. Why do grown-up and smart people need you to let them do anything?

  43. eigenperson says

    #40 Jim Ashmore:

    <blockquote>A piece of quoted text</blockquote>
    produces the following:

    A piece of quoted text

    And
    <a href="http://www.example.com">Click here to go to example.com</a>
    produces the following: Click here to go to example.com

  44. says

    Jim

    Links

    [a href="INSERT HTML OF YOUR LINK HERE"]Text[/a]

    or just cut and paste

    Blockquote

    [blockquote] Text to be blockquoted[/blockquote]

    This being HTML, you have to replace the square brackets with angle brackets. (Is there a way to show angle brackets here?)

  45. consciousness razor says

    If “institutional memory” is a concern in terms of SSA (especially at the community college chapters where students may be gone in as little as two or three years), then two things are needed: (1) a system to help new members step into roles occupied by departing members and (2) faculty advisors from the tenured staff who are going to be around for a while.

    I’d add a few more, if they are available. Support from alumni, and support from a similar organization in the community at large. Also, support from the college itself is sometimes an option (besides a faculty advisor, I mean things like financial and logistical support). For college groups especially, it does sometimes help to have people who know the ropes, or who are in some external group which is more stable. Fraternities, sororities and other student groups have some problems with institutional memory, but there are lots of existing resources and strategies they can use to mitigate them. Most also have no need for “chaplains” of any kind. I don’t see what makes freethought, atheist, or humanist groups any different, except for dealing with a lot of bigotry.

  46. John Morales says

    Jim:

    I don’t agree with your interpretation. We take the a filet of service, community, charity and education from the word Church and apply Freethought to it.

    Just as well — else you’d be a hypocrite, to boot!

    Care to define ‘Church’ and ‘Freethought’, then to argue why their conjoinment is not oxymoronic?

  47. Bill Wade says

    @43 Jose

    That’s the way it seems to me. To have the value of the socialization parts, we don’t to have the labels or rituals. The human need for rituals, repeatability, and arbitary emotional signficance is a result of the same cognitive limitations that are associated with “faith”.

  48. usagichan says

    Jim @ 40

    You start blockquotes with the word blockquote enclosed in angle brackets (the greater than and less than symbols) and end with the word blockquote preceded by a forward slash (/) also in angle brackets.

    As for the objections, to toss in a “Lord of the Rings” allusion, my objection would be along the lines of Gandalf and Galadriels rejection of the ring when Frodo offers it – The priesthood/ Chaplaincy is our world’s Ring – The artefact in which the Power of religion is embodied. However good our intentions, the power intrinsic in the cultural instution will corrupt…

  49. Gus Snarp says

    You know, I’m not even sure I really want an atheist/humanist/whatever community. Not defined as such. Certainly not with any structure. Reading atheist blogs and commenting occasionally is close to enough for me. Yes, occasionally I would like to know that the people I’m around think like I do, that I’m not going to get a ton of dirty looks if I say something blasphemous. But as a general rule the communities I belong to are not based on religion. There’s the community of parents at my son’s school, there’s my in-laws, a lot of whom are religious, but not all, and we’re a community because we’re family, not because of our beliefs. There are the people I work with, my friends from various stages of my life, the Democratic activists I’ve volunteered with. These people represent a diversity of beliefs, and like anything in my life, the communities are not defined by religion (or lack thereof). I just want religion and all its trappings to go away and leave me alone.

    But maybe one of these days I’ll go to a local atheist meetup. Maybe. But not because I want anything remotely resembling church. I don’t like the church’s ceremonies. They make me nervous. All those forms and rituals and rites just look exactly like the cult bad guys in any movie. Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Mormons, I’ve been to all their services and they all practice the same arcane forms with call and response and constant muttering and those forms are all designed to make people feel like part of an in group and to exclude those who don’t know the forms, while cementing in the mind the authority of the leader and the infallibility of the mumbled doctrine. Anything that remotely resembles that I want nothing to do with.

    There is one other kind of grass roots community that I haven’t noticed mentioned much in this debate, and that’s an online community. These are not always just shabby stand ins for real social interaction, they are a part of modern social interaction. Pharyngula itself is a community. It even has some periodic rituals as some critics of PZ pointed out, but they missed the point. Pharyngula is entirely organic, people come here because they respect PZ’s ideas, not his authority, and PZ isn’t getting paid to have that authority. Some people come here to argue with PZ and others, and they’re part of the community too. And Pharyngula is part of a large community, Freethought Blogs, and a yet large community of secular, scientific, and atheist bloggers. Hell even Chris Mooney might be considered part of the community at the largest level, we don’t always agree with or even like everyone in the community when it gets big enough. And sometimes online communities spill over into the real world at conferences and events for other more physical based communities, and sometimes just in the pub. So I’m also a member of some online communities, this one, to some extent, and of course Nerdfighteria and the Sports Racers.

  50. Bill Wade says

    @51 conciousness razor

    Unfortunately, the “chaplains” comments smell more like what @48 mirax is saying than what you are saying.

  51. mirax says

    And the priestly boastings of ashmore – words fail me.

    Appears that you cant take the instinct to dominate and control and claim fake success over others out of even putatively atheist people.

  52. Brownian says

    Sorry for the unclear nature of the comment. As far as I know, all the couples I’ve married are still together. It is hard to keep track of everyone as some have moved out of the area and others were non-member referrals.

    Oh, I know what you meant, Jim. My version was funnier.

    @John Morales: I think Jim is somewhat new here. I seem to think I’ve read many a reasonable comment from Akira previously, so I’m inclined to cut him some slack. But I don’t think Jim has that experience, and I don’t think he’s at all out of line to be taken aback at that rather inflammatory comment.

  53. Brownian says

    This being HTML, you have to replace the square brackets with angle brackets. (Is there a way to show angle brackets here?)

    Yes. Use &lt; and &gt; to produce < and >, respectively.

  54. John Morales says

    [meta + OT]

    (Is there a way to show angle brackets here?)

    Yes, there is (built-in, even).

    HTML entities.

    e.g. the < sign is made thus: &lt;

    (*As a linguist, this stuff should be like milk to an infant)

    * I made the & sign in that portion of syntax by utilising the entity &amp; — coding it as a simple & would’ve flummoxed the parser.

  55. says

    John Morales says:
    Care to define ‘Church’ and ‘Freethought’, then to argue why their conjoinment is not oxymoronic?

    I have already given my explanation why my organization uses the word. It is obvious that you object to the extraction of the religious/superstition/authoritarian parts of the traditional use of Church and adaptation to use in a Freethought context. That does not change the fact that the organization serves the needs of the Freethought community and what we do has value.

    Like I said, come on by Houston Church of Freethought the 2nd Sunday of each month. You’ll see what me mean by our actions, not words.

  56. Gus Snarp says

    Oh, and now I’ve scrolled around enough to see that everyone already effectively answered the damn blockquote question I look like an ass who comments without reading first, because that’s exactly what I did.

  57. says

    ZenDruid says:
    19 October 2011 at 1:28 am
    Jim, would you consider performing a naked ceremony?

    You would not want that, trust me.

    I would like to perform the first legal, gay wedding in Texas. That would be wonderful.

  58. says

    [OFF TOPIC]

    (*As a linguist, this stuff should be like milk to an infant)

    Angle brackets? In linguistics? I fail to see the connection. I haven’t done anything with HTML in ages.. The last coding I did was Python, but most linguists wouldn’t know anything about coding. In the age of Unicode, you don’t even have to think about IPA fonts anymore

  59. John Morales says

    Jim, so, it’s not an oxymoron because
    (a) You arbitrarily redefine the terms away from their normal semantic implications; and
    (b) You practice has to be seen to be appreciated.

    (I hear you.

    (Thanks, but no, thanks))

  60. gould1865 says

    The priests and preachers are the problem, not the building and not the scheduling. Myself, I detest chaplains too, even the four who went down into the sea, for being chaplains. As persons they may be quite acceptable, till they act chaplain, a role, a ruse, which is priest or preacher or rabbi or mullah under another name with some slightly different activities.

    Chaplains are on the wrong side of the two types of education— education for freedom and responsibility, education for bullying and subordination, howsoever gentle in approach they may be or try to be. They are on the side of catechisms, requirements, and spiritual leaders. They can’t get out of that by fooling some people. Myself I care nothing for chaplains, in name nor in person, tis plain.

    Melchizideck, Abraham, Robespierre, Father Murphy or Kelly, or Pastor Fred of Landover, or a chaplain, would lead me? They have screwed up millions of times, so I won’t, don’t, can’t trust them. My readiest defense is to remember how much I detest them, and detest the idea of them. How about I lead them?

    Now this person Epstein would that he himself were a chaplain, true? Though atheist. Well rub me with an echidna. PZ is telling us, among other things, that that chaplaincy won’t work, that it’s the same song, second verse, which plainly it is, still a chaplaincy. Where Ep meets would have to really be the chapel, slip sliding backwards into the same edemic cesspit as now and ever been.

    (Education dichotomy phrasing above is from Aldous Huxley, Ways and Means, page 213, so broadly fitting as to deserve repeating.)

  61. Bill Wade says

    @65 Jim

    For sure you are providing a “comfort” and a service to parts of the “Freethought” community but is it the best way to proceed? I’m reminded of the saying about teaching someone to fish rather than giving them a fish.

    Wouldn’t the effort and emotional investment of your principle organizers be better spent building and supporting more grass roots and more innovative programs? Rather than just re-packaging the historical structure?

  62. says

    Brownian says:

    @John Morales: I think Jim is somewhat new here. I seem to think I’ve read many a reasonable comment from Akira previously, so I’m inclined to cut him some slack. But I don’t think Jim has that experience, and I don’t think he’s at all out of line to be taken aback at that rather inflammatory comment.

    Actually, I think Akira was trying to be dramatic and I was attempting to insert a joke about him not being invited. I would find it highly unlikely that HCoF would invoke arson from a Freethinker, especially since we have been operating in Houston for 10+ years with absolutely no incidents from theists.

    Another poster thought I was smug. I am a strong advocate for my organization. If that is being smug, so be it. Our Church is a vibrant part of the Houston Freethought community. There is nothing wrong with serving the community and then being proud of it.

    Really, I’ll have to say good night.

  63. says

    John Morales says:
    19 October 2011 at 1:48 am
    Jim, so, it’s not an oxymoron because
    (a) You arbitrarily redefine the terms away from their normal semantic implications; and
    (b) You practice has to be seen to be appreciated.

    (I hear you.

    (Thanks, but no, thanks))

    I am not arbitrarily breaking up terms. I am very specifically breaking up terms into their meaningful parts.

    Perhaps I am playing word games. If that is the worst I do, then guilty.

  64. John Morales says

    [OT + meta]

    Pelamun, Angle brackets? In linguistics?

    Indeed.

    (The ampersand is the escape character; how do you denote it by using escape character? ;)

    Perhaps consider why the need to use &amp; just to refer to & in that grammar)

  65. The Ys says

    Appears that you cant take the instinct to dominate and control and claim fake success over others out of even putatively atheist people.

    Well, yeah.

    When do we colonise Mars?

  66. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Jim,

    Actually, I think Akira was trying to be dramatic and I was attempting to insert a joke about him not being invited.

    Agreed, and I did (and do) grant you that much.

  67. DemetriusOfPharos says

    The local atheist org is split into several sub-groups – atheists, freethinkers, student orgs, etc – and spread out across the state. At the city level where I live, there are two main groups: one is a more structured groups, meets once a month, invites a speaker or shows a video and tends to meet in a banquet room; the other is an informal coffee group.

    Group 1 trends in the >60 range, while Group 2 trends <40 (I don't know where the rest go). Interestingly, there is nearly zero overlap, and we only ever see each other at parties (essentially, high-holy days, I guess).

    So, I wonder if it has something to do with age, generally speaking?

  68. konradzielinski says

    I have to agree with you PZ.

    There simply is no point in aping religion. But then again I’m not from the US, and the education system I went through did not have organised campus clubs in the same way as the US seems to have.

    At the high school level there simply was no such thing. Occasionally a special interest group would pop up, and then dissolve again as interest waned, usually lasting less then a year.

    Even at the University level the clubs I was a part of had very minimal faculty involvement, and certainly didn’t have any kind of overarching structure and formality. Even the Buddhist club, was entirely run by students without anything resembling a Chaplin in sight.

  69. John Morales says

    DemetriusOfPharos,

    So, I wonder if it has something to do with age, generally speaking?

    One would be hard-put to try to argue that the demographics haven’t changed as a function of time, nor that the latest aren’t better than the earliest (near monotonically so).

    (Hey — when did the ‘New Atheism’ become prominent?

    (<blinkenlight> here))

  70. Dianegram says

    I’ve been reading here for a couple of years. I am agape, as it were, to learn that some folks would like a Church of Atheism…and chaplains, no less. Do they wear robes and such? Starched collars? Have some special touch???

    It took me 60 years to totally comprehend that I’ve been an atheist since the age of 16….and to become somewhat comfortable with that understanding. There are so many ways to socialize, give honor/joy to others at special events, share thoughts and ideas and support. Why ever would one want to squiggle back into a ‘church’? I just don’t get it.

  71. says

    mirax says:
    19 October 2011 at 1:33 am
    And the priestly boastings of ashmore – words fail me.

    Appears that you cant take the instinct to dominate and control and claim fake success over others out of even putatively atheist people.

    Chayanov says:
    19 October 2011 at 1:27 am
    Jim Ashmore:
    “Oh, and I’ve married > 15 couples with 100% success rate…”

    And you think that has something to do with you? If you hadn’t been the one to marry them, their marriages probably would have ended by now? Thank Freethought they came to you!

    It appears that people will go out of their way to infer something that was not implied. [joke] start So yes, I claim all credit for these people staying together and keeping their marriage strong, because without my authoritarian powers granted to me by the holy Church of Freethought, their marriages would end at the standard 50% failure rate. [joke]

  72. newname says

    Don’t you get it, PZ? You have to conform to a standardized template and listen to someone trained in freethought in order to be a good skeptic!

  73. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    To paraphrase Irina Dunn: An atheist needs a chaplain just like a fish needs a bicycle.

  74. Cassius Corodes says

    I don’t see why it has to be some kind of prescribed model for atheism. If people want church sans god that’s great. If people want something else sans god that’s great. Religion has been highly successful in the US partially due to really good grass-roots religious organisations that competed against each other for followers. I would think a similar competition between atheist groups would result in the best assortment of groups.

    I’ve always been somewhat suspicious of organisations that purport to speak for me so I’m unlikely to join any model but if you find something that floats your boat then go for it. As an aside I think its delicious that Jim and others are hijacking ideas like church and giving them a novel meaning.

    I would just caution that they don’t adopt some of the negative traits associated with religious churches such as fraud and child abuse, and keep the iron law of oligarchy in mind.

  75. newname says

    We already have an issue with these chaplains when they (mis)represent the rest of us. Their “churches” haven’t even gotten off the ground, and they’re already belittling the SSA?

  76. Dianegram says

    And for those who need ritual to celebrate a birthday….for god’s sake (smirk) just light some candles on the cake. BTW, I never went to a religious birthday party…and I doubt I missed anything. Well, Christmas, there is that.

  77. TV200 says

    I don’t think one can remove the millennia of accumulated baggage from the words “church”,”temple”,”chaplain”,”priest”, etc. by simply embroidering these terms with something more palatable to me. It seems to me that co-opting religious terms and structure, if only nominally, gives religion a credibility and value that is just not there.
    I can’t see the weakness is something like the SSA having no official structure and a reasonably high turnover. Each one is going to reflect the people in that particular time and place. It is unlikely that it will get stagnant.

  78. madscientist says

    It sounds like Epstein has some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s probably the same disorder that many politicians get – somehow everything has to have a set of rules and it’s got to be *their* rules. I give Epstein a big wet raspberry and the bird.

  79. DLC says

    PZ iz a Poopyhead, clearly. I mean, Everybody knows that non-believers are just Aching for a time of ceremonies and a system of ranks, just like the real church, because after all, we’re all just being willful children, denying God even though we desperately want God’s Love and Acceptance!
    We want and need special officers, special rules, special days and ceremonies, just like the religious do, because after all, we really do believe in God, we just refuse to admit it.
    Are we really not above all that foo-fraw ? do we really need chaplains, masters, rituals and youngsters in funny clothing ?
    Haven’t we grown up past all that ?

  80. Bill Wade says

    @84 Cassius Corodes

    Your comment voices some of my concern. Think like a priest, talk like a priest, OMG act like a priest.

    There is this element both in the reporting of Greg Epstein’s church and Jim’s comments above, that seem a little too similar to the original not-so-good-for-humanity’s-evolution of traditional churches.

  81. DemetriusOfPharos says

    @John Morales:

    Yeah, I was admittedly generalizing. It occurred to me some time ago that the more recently de-converted someone is, the more they tend to reject the ritualistic stuff. Of course, I’m speaking from my own experiences and I tend to reject ritual and authority out of habit, so my own opinion may be clouding what I see in others.

  82. cheesehasselberger says

    Did John Morales just threaten to burn down churches? That’s how you settle a disagreement with folks you agree with on nearly everything? by burning down the meeting places?

    Hey, here’s a simple solution: Epstein opens up a facility in your neighborhood and begins holding meetings (please note, Epstein clarified earlier he never called it a church or service, that was the boston.com reporter). Instead of going over and BURNING THEM OUT, don’t go at all. Stay home and huff and puff on the internet instead.

    It’s really sad, some of you seem to advocate many of the same crazy fundamentalist intolerance as those you oppose.

  83. John Morales says

    cheesehasselberger:

    Did John Morales just threaten to burn down churches?

    (Stupid question is stupid)

  84. Brownian says

    Did John Morales just threaten to burn down churches? That’s how you settle a disagreement with folks you agree with on nearly everything? by burning down the meeting places?

    Don’t be fatuous: of course he didn’t. Akira Mackenzie did.

    It’s really sad, some of you seem to advocate many of the same crazy fundamentalist intolerance as those you oppose.

    Christ, not this shit again.

    You know, there’s no admitting procedure to become an atheist. We kind of have to accept everyone who doesn’t believe in gods. You get all kinds with those sorts of lack of standards. Sometimes people can become a little unglued.

    What is it exactly that you find sad, again? That we’re not born in clone vats on Kamino?

  85. cheesehasselberger says

    More that you have to reference Star Wars (and the prequels even, for fuck’s sake) to make a point.

    Sorry about the misquote, I didn’t get the reference.

  86. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    It’s really sad, some of you seem to advocate many of the same crazy fundamentalist intolerance as those you oppose.

    Those damn some of you seeming to do things.

  87. Carol says

    Having watched the SSA group at Yale come and go over the years, his complaint of the lack of organizational memory from year-to-year is unfortunately spot-on. Sure, he’s coming across as too heavy-handed, but if you actually pay attention to the success of organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ and compare it to organizations like the SSA, you’ll come away seriously wondering what our side needs to do to compete.

    But then, we’re doing the typical thing we do on our side of the fence. We can’t seem to say to each other, “I don’t completely agree with you, but I still fully support you.”

    I think the chaplain model is a good one for some people. It’s a bad one for others. I think we should encourage both to flourish. The Methodists, Catholics and Quakers are all competing for members. I think we’re idiots to think we’re all going to be happy in one kind of organization as our numbers grow. Different strokes for different folks. I support all of the different styles of non-theistic organizations and wish all of us the greatest success.

  88. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Like I said, come on by Houston Church of Freethought the 2nd Sunday of each month. You’ll see what me mean by our actions, not words.

    yeah like that doesn’t sound religious

    no thanks.

  89. Island Adolescent says

    [blockquote] It appears that people will go out of their way to infer something that was not implied. [joke] start So yes, I claim all credit for these people staying together and keeping their marriage strong, because without my authoritarian powers granted to me by the holy Church of Freethought, their marriages would end at the standard 50% failure rate. [joke][/blockquote]

    Then why the hell would you even bring that up when bragging about all the things you’ve done in the bloody first place, Jim? Hmmm? Enlighten us. What ELSE is there to infer, other than you wanting to be smug about you’re oxymoronic organization, and being incredibly bad at such an attempt?

  90. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    Do they get the same tax break as a religious church? That could explain some of the reason for the name and organization.
    As for telling everyone else we’re doing it wrong, not so much.

  91. Island Adolescent says

    Also, I just realized I used “you’re” instead of “your” for some damn reason, and I am incredibly sorry.

    May my sin be cleansed by the god of grammar.

  92. Mattir says

    I am way exhausted and haven’t read any of these several threads, but might I suggest what my non-affiliated Jewish congregation does: we have a coordinator. That person is paid to handle the logistics of managing the physical space, the announcements, the phone list, and the list of who has volunteered for what. All the rest – leading whatever services occur, planning volunteer projects, teaching classes, running any kid programs, decorating for holidays, coordinating potlucks and after-event snacks, visiting the sick, conducting funeral and mourning rituals (even the preparation of bodies for burial) – is done by regular people in the community. There are several people who have official poo-bah pieces of paper declaring them to be rabbis, but they don’t have special privileges, titles, or whatever. They do the same things everyone else does, and the only difference is that people might pay slightly more attention to their talks because some of them have a track record of giving interesting talks. Then again, some of the folks without the fancy poo-bah pieces of paper have the same sort of track record.

    I identify myself as a humanist. While I’d like to have a designated space for activities and a tiny bit of institutional memory, I have no need for a chaplain, with the associated hierarchy and ritual silliness. Why can’t we just use an egalitarian (if also more disorganized) model, with a coordinator and no professional humanist poo-bahs?

  93. Brownian says

    More that you have to reference Star Wars (and the prequels even, for fuck’s sake) to make a point.

    Well, I didn’t have to, but touché.

  94. Autumn says

    It’s just that the word “chaplain”, whatever the institutional context, implies a sort of religious leadership. Harvard still uses the term because of tradition, but that tradition is rooted in religion, and has not yet fully seperated from it’s religious history.
    While “Tradition” may be a great song from a great musical, the rest of the musical aptly demonstrates that tradition,or “institutional memory”, however benevolently motivated, squelches legitimate questioning.

  95. Brownian says

    Why can’t we just use an egalitarian (if also more disorganized) model, with a coordinator and no professional humanist poo-bahs?

    What, and force people like Epstein to get real jobs? I think you know Epstein’s answer to that.

  96. says

    Before we can have an atheist church, we need some commandments. Can’t found a church on nothing. Need rules.

    I’ll start.

    Commandment I: Thou shalt not go to atheist church.

  97. Mattir says

    @Autumn – institutional memory can also mean things like “what happened last time we tried to plug in 3 hot plates on that circuit?” and “where can we buy 17 cans of purple paint for our cephalopod float on short notice?” and “hey, didn’t the zoning board fine us for putting that giant A on the roof ten years back?” That’s what I mean by institutional memory. Not who gets to marry whom and which magic books are acceptable and the like.

  98. consciousness razor says

    More that you have to [X] to make a point.

    So, it’s not that his point is wrong, but as if you think he couldn’t have made it another way. Okay, but that isn’t true. For example, a Borg reference would’ve been just as appropriate. All better?

    Sorry about the misquote, I didn’t get the reference.

    Next time you feel like jumping in and whining about something, when you haven’t been following the conversation, don’t.

  99. Mattir says

    @ Brownian – Epstein could be a professional guest lecturer, write books to his heart’s content, and do whatever else he wants to do. Those are real jobs. Sort of like, oh, everyone who writes for FtB. I have absolutely no problem with him as a guest lecturer and rather like his book. I just think the whole “make up institutions and rules and official certifications” thing is bullshit.

  100. Mattir says

    @Anath – yes, but if one called the organizational resource a coordinator and not a chaplain, people might not be getting all pissed off.

    And why would we want to take lessons from authoritarian fundamentalist cults anyway? That’s a way stupid argument.

  101. says

    Would the staying together of an unhappy marriage be considered a success or a failure.

    *@Jim Ashmore: I’m not trying to imply anything about the marriages you’ve presided over. I’m just interested in the method we should use to quantify success in marriage.

  102. Anath says

    @Anath – yes, but if one called the organizational resource a coordinator and not a chaplain, people might not be getting all pissed off.

    I agree.

    The focus on terminology is making the discussion incredibly boring.

  103. Azkyroth says

    Here’s one of the fastest growing secular organizations in the country…so what’s wrong with being “loose-knit”? It seems to work. What’s wrong with an “atheist prom”, or whatever idea provokes and entices the group? Maybe a “carefully thought out infrastructure” would be exactly the thing to crush the spirit of the movement.

    Why am I suddenly reminded of John Mill’s comments on “they grow PUMPKINS if they’re left to their own devices!” as an argument against slave emancipation?

  104. says

    The point about institutional memory seems valid. One serious issue with student run groups in both colleges and highschools is lack of institutional memory for what works and what doesn’t work. And this is the sort of problem that you won’t see for a relatively new organization. In this context it seems slightly self-serving for Epstein to bring up this issue and propose a solution that involves his own type of job, but the basic point is valid. There are ways of improving institutional memory in such organizations. Writing down what works and what doesn’t work helps a lot. Also, since we are now in the age of the internet, different chapters can easily look to see what others have done that has succeeded. Overall, I’m not terribly worried by this issue.

  105. Brownian says

    I just think the whole “make up institutions and rules and official certifications” thing is bullshit.

    That doesn’t bother me. Ignoring that institutions and rules and official certifications already exist for the purpose of claiming that his institution and rules and certifications are the only way to fill the institution-and-rule-and-official-certification-shaped holes in all our hearts bothers me.

  106. says

    The SANE group over at UC Berkeley seems to be doing just fine without a chaplain, or even a chapel to call its own.

    What those kids have is cupcakes. Cupcakes acclaimed by discerning locals of many persuasions. Cupcakes for which I once personally sold my soul, and carried a proxy from my Dearly Beloved to sell his too. Cupcakes praised by people who not only are usenet veterans, but have email addresses @well.com.

    It’s perfectly clear what the Atheist Community(tm) needs: more and better cupcakes.

  107. consciousness razor says

    The focus on terminology is making the discussion incredibly boring.

    Well, if it’s boring, have fun discussing things no one else understands.

    Anyway, I don’t think this is really about terminology. Jim Ashmore aside (since his pseudo-“church” wasn’t being discussed until he brought it up), the main issue is with the roles these people intend to take in their organizations. They have given themselves apt descriptions with “chaplain” and such, but their basic argument is that it’s just a term they’re trying to co-opt without any of the religious baggage (as if that could happen). The point is that they are bringing in that baggage with all the ritual and authoritarian crap, and they’re keeping the terms. At least if they hid behind a title like “coordinator,” they’d have a fighting chance of not raising a lot of suspicion among a bunch of atheists.

  108. says

    Seriously, a “meh” has turned to “I fucking hate this”, PZ?

    You do not want to see a “churchization” of atheists, which at this point is simply somebody wanting to call himself “Chaplain” and feeling important.

    Look at FTB. It is a blog for atheists and/or the scientifically inclined, and yet it is somehow appropriate to have the trimmings of a regular blog. With ads on theistic fantasies. The ads “proving” that we are not a secular nation, that we should buy a “silver investment kit”, or a host of other woo/idiocy you rail against because that is how a blog collection could be successful and make money or advance its purpose or … whatever.

    Let it go. Atheists who feel comfortable in having a chaplain, let ‘em have it.

    If you can ignore the silly ads here, you can ignore what someone advertises without paying you.

    Ignore the religious ads, but not the atheists wanting the seduction of quasi-religious norms in a voluntary community?

    Ask yourself this: If Greg Epstein were to place an “ad” asking atheists to join his “church” with him as the “Pastor” would you object to it, or would you ask your minions to just ignore it, and justify that “that is different”?

    Go back to “Meh.” It is the appropriate response.

  109. echidna says

    The only reason I can see for an organisation of Atheists is to promote the secularisation of society. Purposes like charitable work and so on have their own purpose – the atheist angle is really to gather like-minded people for a particular activity.

    Making atheist organisations that look and feel like churches (without the imaginary deity) seems to miss the point.

  110. ikesolem says

    Mr. Epstein was apparently never introduced to the basic scientific methodology of alternative working hypothesis. It’s kind of like considering all those different religions at the same time, while not really believing in any of them – not without some solid experimental/observational evidence and the demonstration of at least some level of theoretical predictive power.

    All religions fail that test.

    Metaphysics (of which all religions are a subset) doesn’t have to be based on any experimental evidence, however, and people seem to enjoy that kind of thing, so whatever. This leads to the philosophical question: can mathematics be a religion? Let’s ask Kurt Godel & Georg Cantor! Watch out, that way leads madness.

    P.S. Here’s the list of chaplains at Harvard:

    http://chaplains.harvard.edu/chaplains.php

    I’m irritated, looking at this. Why? Because the list of acceptable religions is pretty weak – what about Cthulhu worshipers and Satanists – don’t they deserve a spot? Likewise, the Native American Peyote Church is excluded, there’s no Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime representative, and nobody from any of the ayahuasca-ingesting Amazonian belief systems either. You think they’d at least have some of the West African / native American / Catholic blends, like Santeria and vodoun – but no. Not even a Rastafarian, for crying out loud.

    There must be some Harvard students interested in that kind of thing, I’d guess.

    Thankfully, there are no Biology, Chemistry, or Physics Chaplains. If there were, it would be extremely disturbing.

    P.P.S. As a metaphysical belief system, Biospherism is preferable to Humanism, because it’s more inclusive, and more interesting. Anthropocentrism would be a better name for Humanism. In many individual cases, Eurocentrism is an even more accurate moniker.

  111. says

    Hi folks,

    I posted this same response to another of PZ’s articles about our project, and I thought it might clear some things up here too. 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.

  112. says

    ikesolem,

    be it far from me to defend Epstein, but where does he proclaim atheism/humanism to be a religion? He is an atheist, after all.

    The problem many here have with him is that he wants to vest atheism with the trappings of religion, i.e. rituals and priests. But no-one was accusing him of introducing a belief system.

    So I guess I don’t get your comment

  113. says

    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)

  114. Matt says

    @PZ, Perhaps people have already mentioned this, but I have to wonder if Epstein’s motivations for the church-model are based more on practicality in a political sense?

    It’s no news to any of us that getting Atheists to do anything en masse is tantamount to “herding cats” as it’s so often creatively put. This (nearly) %20 percent of the population (including everything but actual god-affirmers)has almost no power politically because we are, by definition, free-thinkers. We, by our very nature, do not need the sort of constant group re-enforcement that there’s nothing wrong with us, lol!

    However, I think there is a desire by those of us that are very recent converts from religion, to still have something in our life that is very similar. Given that, and the advantages of a more organized political machine, -I can see why Epstein’s position has a lot of pull with people.

    Cheers!

  115. says

    pelamun,

    I responded on the other thread since it seems livelier =)

    Matt,

    If you didn’t see my epic response above, I think you might be interested in some parts of it, which address what we see as the political need for this Project.

  116. Mick says

    It seems particularly strange to claim that an organization can have no “institutional memory” if it’s leaders change every four years or so. Does this mean that most representative democracies also lack “institutional memory?”

  117. mirax says

    Dont you have an institutional memory when you write things down and keep proper records and then ,hopefully, have new members who gasp, can read? what more institutional memoery does an organisation in the 21st century need?

    It was in the dark age of mass illiteracy that the priesthood was most prevalent and powerful.

  118. mirax says

    Come on James, tells us exactly what you mean by institutional memory then? Succinctly if you will.

  119. William R. Dickson says

    many people are incapable of recognizing anything other than chaplains and churches as a reasonable model for community

    Absolutely. I know a number of atheists in the boomer generation (my mother among them) who goes to Uniterian church because they were raised in a church and, for whatever reason, miss it terribly.

    Happily, she did better by me than her mother did by her, and I have no interest in that sort of community. It’s entirely alien to me; I’ve had to sit through a few services (even an entirely secular Uniterian service) for the sake of friends and family, and the whole setup is just creepy. I get the impression Epstein comes from a similar tradition himself; if it works for him, that’s fine, but I don’t think he’ll have a great deal of luck getting people to join him.

    I’m perfectly happy with the setup with have in Columbia, MO right now: a Meetup group that gets together at a decent pub once a week for food, beer, and entirely unstructured conversation. I don’t want any more, and many weeks, I want less. I could be wrong, but I think I’m reasonably typical in this regard.

  120. Teshi says

    Epstein knows what L. Ron Hubbard knew: the best way to make money is to start a religion.

    If Epstein has an idea, he should implement it at his local level, not try to impose his concept of a movement on others. Of course groups can be organic and relaxed. They should be. We don’t have to belong to a club in order to be an proper atheist and the moment we do the whole movement is tainted for millions of atheist individuals because someone, somewhere, wants to decide how we go about being an atheist.

  121. Cassius Corodes says

    mirax: You can easily look up institutional memory on wikipedia. Its a legitimate concept that is quite important to get right. I’ve done a little bit of work in this area professionally.

    “Dont you have an institutional memory when you write things down and keep proper records and then ,hopefully, have new members who gasp, can read? what more institutional memoery does an organisation in the 21st century need? ”

    This makes me cry as I cannot tell you know hard it is to get past this attitude in most organisations.

    “Does this mean that most representative democracies also lack “institutional memory?””

    Things like congress etc, generally don’t suffer much from it as their membership is extremely unlikely to do a complete turnover, and there are lots of concurrent periods where the new group can absorb lessons learned from the old group. Presidencies suffer quite a bit from this as they usually abhor to take on board advice from the outgoing (and usually opposite party) president and there is no concurrent period. As such you can see many mistakes being repeated from president to president.

  122. Great American Satan says

    This concept of an atheist “church” seems very regressive and doesn’t promote cultural changes that might be needed to better control our evolution. It appears to substitute one type of artificial authority structure for another.

    Bill Wade @38 and elsewhere- Controlling evolution? Who is the control freak in this discussion?

      I love PZ’s kind of godless fire and brimstone, so I keep coming here (it takes me too long to compose so I can’t get involved in discussion often), but I feel like there’s a lot of assumptions coming from the idealistic atheist side, in this and other threads.

      Big bad assumption of note: Everyone of normal intelligence is capable of thinking clearly enough to see the light, if they free their minds from dogma (etc etc). No need for leadership. Anarchy rules!
      Most people act on emotions first, and reason comes and very distant second if it comes at all. And I don’t believe that is something about H. sapiens that’s going to change anytime soon.
      It helps to have the facts on my side when I tangle with theists (so much fun), but at the age of 6 as at the age of 35, I’m an atheist because theism feels wrong, not because of observation and reason.
      And when I talk to people of almost any faithy/faithless stripe, I find they lack conviction about pretty much EVERYTHING. I can convince a theist he’s really an agnostic on Monday and he’s gone back to being a Baptist on Tuesday. I’ve worked in fast food and gone to art school and ridden the bus for all those years that bizarro universe moneyed G.A.S would have been getting his PhD. I know what Jim Bob and Lurleen are capable of intellectually, and it ain’t much.
      And if Jim Bob and Lurleen are incapable or unwilling to think scientifically about everything, why shame them for it? It’s like making fun of the mentally impaired. Not very progressive, baby.
      If people find Xtianity distasteful but miss having someone to reassure them about hope and humanity and soothe their fear of death and whatever, why not have a qualified guy offer those services? Your world of evolved enlightened atheist intelligentsia is fine and dandy, but you aren’t the only atheists around and some of us might now and then appreciate a sermon from a like-minded chappy, maybe even a chaplain.

      Which is, after all, what I come here for. Hahaha! Hell, somebody else probably already made that joke. Whatever.

      That’s it for my participation in this discussion, but y’all may see me rear my trollish head and advocate for “Atheism for Dummies” again one day. It’s something I’m fairly passionate about. You don’t have to be thoughtful, reasonable, or independent-minded to be an atheist. Just look at libertarians!

    -

  123. says

    James, I’m sorta gobsmacked by the idea that you’ve lived in the UK, yet still appear to think that a church-like organisation is the only way to organise a society, given how little influence the church has on how we Brits make social connections.

    I personally have friends I’ve made through music-based subcultures, motorcycle ownership, choice of reading (SF) and many other shared interests—yes, even including atheism/humanism. These people, being friends, have helped me at times, and I’ve helped them. We’ve shared joys, sorrows, all the usual stuff that you seem to feel is only presently offered to members of church congregations. I can’t for the life of me see why you feel that atheism/humanism needs to offer things that are provided by normal friends made in the normal way.

  124. Ichthyic says

    The point about institutional memory seems valid. One serious issue with student run groups in both colleges and highschools is lack of institutional memory for what works and what doesn’t work.

    no, it’s not.

    it’s fucking ridiculous.

    why?

    student groups continually get NEW MEMBERS as NEW STUDENTS enroll as freshman, etc.

    so, it’s not like there is one cohort that simply entirely disappears after 4 years, leaving a fucking vacuum.

    No, you constantly get new people, that are informed by the old people what’s what, and they then carry that on.

    Fuck me, but for no OTHER reason, I would reject this whole “humanist church” crap because the people pushing it seem to be poor thinkers, and WAY too vested in the idea.

  125. says

    I’m starting up a vegan slaughterhouse. I’m taking just a filet of meat and leaving behind the slaughter and cruelty part and…

    oh fuck. Church of Freethought is such a fucking stupid idea that it’s boring to even try to make fun of it. It makes fun of itself.

    They’re happy and they like it? Well whoopee. The world is full of dumb shits happily doing dumb shit. What makes these dumb shits so special?

  126. Rieux says

    James @126: look, in the face of all of that, the response pretty much has to be “Knock yourself out, guys”; you go give this Humanist Community a shot, and see if there exists a significant demand for such an animal in the nonbelieving sector of the American populace. I’m skeptical that you’ll find much interest, not least because I strongly suspect that the vast majority of atheists/Humanists who would be potential Community members are already attending UU or Ethical Culture fellowships. Unless you can peel off the handful of staunchly Humanist UU congregations en masse, I just don’t think there’s much of an available market for what you’re selling.*

    Ironically, though, in theory I personally could be a counterexample. As I mentioned on the previous thread, I’m an atheist who could conceivably be interested in the kinds of programs a Humanist Community in my area could offer. In contrast to what I gather is the majority perspective among Pharyngulites, I have sometimes found personal value in quasi-religious community and ritual; until recently, I was a(n atheist) UU. In short, unlike PZ, I don’t “detest the church-like model of Epstein’s humanist chaplain concept.”

    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.

    * I also don’t think the political goals you describe are at all realistic, given that they would require overwhelming buy-in from the atheist community for these kinds of Communities. That seems to me severely implausible.

  127. says

    One thing I find annoying about this whole thing is that people keep saying that the Chaplain position at Harvard is a traditional position, which is why this model is used.

    Well, so what if it is traditional? Shouldn’t we rather be working on getting rid of such religion-based positions in institutions of higher learning, rather than use it?

  128. Moggie says

    Jim Ashmore:

    I would like to perform the first legal, gay wedding in Texas. That would be wonderful.

    You seem rather prideful, Jim. Somehow the prospect of gay marriage coming to Texas becomes about you and your chance to be first, to elbow your way into the spotlight. I can see why you like your “church”.

  129. Moggie says

    Mattir:

    institutional memory can also mean things like “what happened last time we tried to plug in 3 hot plates on that circuit?” and “where can we buy 17 cans of purple paint for our cephalopod float on short notice?” and “hey, didn’t the zoning board fine us for putting that giant A on the roof ten years back?” That’s what I mean by institutional memory. Not who gets to marry whom and which magic books are acceptable and the like.

    So, some sort of wiki, perhaps?

  130. mouthyb, whose brain is currently melon-balled says

    No, no, no and HELL NO! I came to these kinds of spaces to get away from the pervasive, shitty models of Xtianity which carry racism, sexism and behavior that anyone even mildly self-conscious would be ashamed of, and encode them as an organizational feature.

    Why in the fuck would you choose to associate yourself, even for the money or for the sake of easing people into free-thinking, with that horrific history?

    That’s not even wrong, it’s so far out to fuck.

  131. psanity says

    I’ve only read a little of this thread, so forgive me if I’ve missed something essential; but, why does this guy seem to think he’s inventing sliced bread?

    If folks want to be all church-like-group-y, join or start a chapter of AHA, or Ethical Culture Society, both of which have been around longer than I’ve been alive. Maybe they’re not church-like enough for his particular notion of church-like.

    And another thing — the guy’s at Hahvahd, and a mentor of impressionable young people, and doesn’t know the difference between “role” and “roll”? I know this is the internet and all, but I expect literacy from an academic writing as an academic and choosing his own terminology.

    The whole thing makes me very grouchy. He better stay off my lawn. And that “role-roll” thing always makes my teeth hurt.

  132. Ichthyic says

    The whole thing makes me very grouchy. He better stay off my lawn. And that “role-roll” thing always makes my teeth hurt.

    perfectly said.

  133. says

    I’m sure my sister’s table tennis federation and my choral intervarsity organisation would be most intrigued to hear that they will be falling apart due to the lack of a chaplain. Any day now, I’m sure. They’ve only managed 60 odd years or so without one.

    Seriously, these interest-based groups ARE communities. They are places where people make life-long friends. Why would you not model communities on already-existing secular groups?

    These ones already have
    * Weekly meetings (matches, rehearsals) with social events (pub after!)
    * Annual rituals (formal dinners, elections of officeholders, prize-givings etc etc)
    * Opportunities to volunteer (coaching, music typesetting, general organisational work).

    I think the main problem is that this supposed “humanist community” has nothing meaningful to do, and substituting some tedious pseudo-gospel reading and fake-prayers and fake-hymns will not improve that. Make it a book group, if you want it intellectual or philosophical. Join amnesty international or the green party if you want it more political. Join a ukelele band. Take up contra dancing. Get involved with historical reenactments. Join a sports team. Just go and do something in company with other people, and bingo! community.

  134. mirax says

    Keep crying, Cassius. I read up on the rather thin wiki article you pointed to. So what you mean by institutional memory turns out to be not much more than what most of us non-experts believe it to be.

  135. cassius corodes says

    mirax: If you are interested have a look at organisational memory on the wiki:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_memory

    Its for the same thing but for some reason the wiki has two articles for it and this one has actual content.

    “So what you mean by institutional memory turns out to be not much more than what most of us non-experts believe it to be.”

    Its not exactly secret super knowledge as to the definition. The hard part as with everything is to apply it properly.

  136. Thor says

    I don’t think I ever commented here before; I’ve been a long-time lurker. PZ, I agree with you. I don’t want humanist ‘chaplains’. Why does this joker think I want someone to stand over me and tell me what I should (or shouldn’t?) believe? That’s how religions start.

    Look, I wanted to say more but I’ve got to leave it there because this has got me incensed and I might say something I regret.

  137. pureone says

    we certainly don’t want any secular humanist officiants or chaplains to perform services in life’s usual rituals such as weddings or funerals, or have them available at hospitals to comfort those with no religious affiliation who might need some support. nah, not at all. No “chaplains”- F”em.

  138. Dancing Monk says

    This all smacks of “The One True Church”. Just look how diverse & divisive the hundreds of Christians churches are. Once we let a small cadre of people tell us how to think the atheist community will divide & descend in to schism very quickly & then the benefits of the structure are lost.

  139. Matt Penfold says

    I have been over at The Friendly Atheist, where the likes of John C Welch, Justicar and others who think Rebecca Watson is [insert sexist insult here]

    What decent person is happy being on the same planet as such odious individuals, let alone would want to meet regularly with them ?

    Simply not believing in god is not enough to bring people together. Getting together with like minded people who share my views on issues such as equality, that is another matter. But rules out getting together with a fair few atheists.

  140. says

    Why do we need a “community” or a “church?” I just came back from a weekend spent with 20-some other atheists from this board and we had an amazing time. I have friends in the area I can call and meet up with should I want a drink, or if I’m in some kind of situation that needs a bit of talking through. Heck, I’d be willing to believe that probably most if not all the Pharyngulites in the immediate area would take me in if I lost my job and needed somewhere to stay for a while. It’s the old adage “home is where the heart is” only more like “community is where you are with friends.”

    Meh… I’ve never been good with trite sayings.

    OT:

    @James Croft:

    If you’re still around, can you comment on the fact you just gave the Humanist of the Year Award to a person whose body of work he’s most well-known for portrays misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia in an acceptable manner?

  141. Akira MacKenzie says

    And as I stated a few posts later, my comment about wanting to burn down atheist church was “facetious grumbling.” It was meant to show my contempt for the oxymoronic idea of churchy atheism specifically and the totalitarian aspects of all “communities” in general. What amazes and annoys me is just many people took that quote seriously. Has bluster and satire truly died leaving us with a bunch of handwringing pearl clutchers who take anything other than passionless rhetoric as a intention of “violence.”

    If so, then I’d invite you to hang out with my my friends at my games store; however, I fear some would need a fainting couch within the first five minutes of any discussions that occurred. Now, based on previous conversations I’ve had while painting miniature or playing 40k, do any of my friends really want to invade Illinios and enslave it’s population, or behead the Pope and stick his head up on a pike?

    Well, from what I’ve seen here, apparently those comments MUST be taken literally.

  142. gc says

    Replace churches with secular meeting halls for secular, topical discussion groups instead of “sunday school”, concerts, plays or sing alongs instead of “hymns”, lectures or debates by qualified speakers instead of “sermons” by pastors with junior high level education. Free university style, open to the public, meaningful programs. Whenever I see a church I think “What a waste! That building could be better used to host real science lectures, discussion groups, or debates!” Just imagine that! This may be happening already in larger metro areas, but it hasn’t filtered down to rural communities. Some day, I’d like to have to choose between attending an interesting astronomy lecture or a global warming discussion group on Sunday morning or afternoon. Many organizations purposely do not schedule meetings on Sunday but perhaps the way to build a more secular community is to purposely schedule interesting alternatives to “going to church” and see if people will attend the lecture or the sermon.

  143. iasasai says

    The problem with freethought or atheist or humanist churches is only partially the use of various terms and their associated baggage. The biggest problem, to my mind, is that they will have the appearance, whether intended or not, that they speak for others outside of their little enclave. They might very well be taking every conceivable precaution against seeming to speak for all, but that won’t change the fact that people, especially the religiously inclined, will come to associate any such church with atheists as a whole. I think THAT’s why so many people respond negatively, even vitriolically. I know some people want rituals and ceremonies and that’s fine, though personally I abhor ceremony and ritual. I know some people want a community they can get together with on a regular basis and that’s fine as well. BUT if you’re going to call it a church or use the term chaplain, or indeed any other religiously weighted term, know that eventually people will come to associate that “church” with the movement as a whole. It’s not right that they should do so, but it IS predictable. Frankly, I don’t want ANY group to have even the appearance of speaking on my behalf just as those people would likely not want ME having the appearance of speaking on THEIR behalf. Imagine their (possibly even your) apoplexy if I had an “atheist church” which condemned all ritual and ceremony out of hand – no graduation ceremonies, no singing “Happy Birthday”, no gesundheit after a sneeze, weddings consisting entirely of signing documentation, etc. On the surface it’s “Sure. Whatever. Knock yourself out.” but what will be the reaction when later on someone assumes that YOU feel the same because you’re an atheist and thus must belong to my church of Atheists Without Ceremony or Ritual? All because, whether we like it or not, churches and their priests/chaplains have acquired this property of purporting to speak for everyone with a similar identity.

    To summarize the (non-existent) summary of the (non-existent) summary: I neither want an atheist church to speak for me nor to have the appearance of speaking for me. And unfortunately, by choosing religiously-weighted terms, you WILL eventually have the appearance of speaking for me, whether I want it and whether such a “church” wants it.

    Trust me, you DO NOT want me speaking for you or appearing to speak for you, despite the fact that I suppose I sort of am by making large sweeping statements as above…

  144. cunninglingus says

    It appears to me that Epstein is more concerned about having the title of ‘Supreme Atheist Chaplain Leader’ or some such, with all the trappings that may entail, money, power, money, influence, did I mention money? Of course he will need a private jet to travel to various meetings around the world, to construct a ‘cathedral’ to free thought, and a mansion to live in, to impress the rubes of course. Funny how his idea for an atheist movement sounds remarkably like a freaking religion, just with him as pope.

  145. Matt Penfold says

    Houston Church of Freethought lists two reasons to use the term “church”, instant tax free status and instant acceptance:

    Neither would seem a very good reason.

    The first is taking advantage of an aspect of US tax law I imagine many in that “church” would want to see abolished. Rather hypocritical to make use of it I would say.

    The second is just plain not very honest, since it is relying on people think the word church is being the traditional meaning, whereas it is not. It is deliberately allowing people to form a false impression though your careful use of words. When the Catholic Church does we call it Mental Reservation and decent people find it unacceptable.

  146. Rich says

    “Epstein wants to create something more permanent with a carefully thought out infrastructure.”

    All I can think is why?

  147. John Morales says

    Matt, I suppose that adopting the mantle to gain access to the undue respect and privileges society grants religion is a good reason in terms of short-sighted self-interest — and the price seems nice and cheap.

    (Scruples are cheap, to some)

  148. mirax says

    Pureone at #153

    So many of us out here in the rest of the world which is not the terribly christian one that you seem to have grown up in dont have “chaplains” of any variety in our hospitals and we do fine relying on friends and relatives in our moments of stress and grief.
    As for weddings and funerals, let me tell you that even in the sixties, my parents had a non-religious wedding and it is not at all difficult to organise one. What many humans find essential is having frends and relatives to share joy and sorrow with, not having a grand poobah to stand around directing us on how to behave and “çomforting” us. So, yeah, fuck the priests.

  149. mirax says

    It is a shame that some atheists are doing what the charlatan RL Hubbard did – take advantage of the tax laws to call oneself a church.

  150. says

    Most are led by students, not chaplains, and they have no institutional memory, since their membership turns over every four years.

    What a fuckload of bullshit. The student organisation I’m a member of has over 150 years of tradition and history. Student turnover has never been a problem for an organisation. Firstly, there are papers. We can write on them. Secondly, there is substantial overlap in such organisations. Not all members are replaced every four years. Also a lot of students stay for longer than for an undergrad degree, many through to their PhD which can be up to a decade.

    Maybe these get a clue about student organisations before making up such silly and transparent arguments?

  151. mirax says

    Species 8472.

    Exactly. I led one uni student union. Once the elections were over, there was a handover period when the old exco was still around and not swiped magically off the face of the earth.Even if they hadnt been there were such papery bits like constitutions, financial reports, minutes of meetings, photographs etc lying around in the student union building. Just no chaplain. Or genie in a bottle. But we made do.

  152. MichelleZB says

    Humanist Canada has this problem solved pretty well with the “Officiant” program. They people within the organization that are officially ordained as clergy, at least legally. They are allowed to legally perform ceremonies such as weddings, so they’re on call to do completely atheist weddings. I had my wedding performed by one such Officiant.

    The Officiants, however, have no other duties or leadership responsibilities within the organization.

  153. Matt Penfold says

    What a lovely place Hemant Mehta’s place has become.

    The ERV brigade have turned up in force. One of the little darlings has just accused me of being a rapist.

  154. says

    MichelleZB:

    Humanist Canada has this problem solved pretty well with the “Officiant” program. They people within the organization that are officially ordained as clergy, at least legally. They are allowed to legally perform ceremonies such as weddings, so they’re on call to do completely atheist weddings. I had my wedding performed by one such Officiant.

    Alaska has that licked even better. Anyone can perform a wedding. They just have to apply for the appropriate temporary license. This gives folks the ability to have, say, their best friend perform the wedding.

    That’s far preferable to having someone who is essentially a stranger perform the ceremony. At least, for me.

  155. captainchaos says

    These people need to remember that in “organised religion” it’s the “organised” that is the source of most of the evil, not the “religion”.

  156. says

    Does a humanist chaplain Greg Epstein take time to read to the gathered humanist congregation humanist scripture from AC Grayling’s Humanist Bible?

    I’m noticing this is all driven by men. I’ve got a copy of Grayling’s book and while I haven’t read it through yet, but I have read contains an lot of Man As Default language. So even though an atheist/humanist “church” held no interest to me before, all these men grabbing for positions of authority have changed my attitude from apathy to antipathy.

  157. Matt Penfold says

    The ERV gang are mobbing Hemant’s place? Oh, great……

    I think that might have been my fault. I mentioned that the way Rebecca Watson was treated tells me there are people in the atheist community with which I seem to have nothing in common other than a lack of belief in god, and that I had no desire to associate with those that attacked Rebecca.

  158. mouthyb, whose brain is currently melon-balled says

    I’m going to leave this here:

    Why would I, as a woman, volunteer to go spend time in an organizational mode which has the same ‘active, central cadre of professional speakers whose job it is to interpret reality’ as a church?

    Why would I volunteer to spend time in an organization which has the same ‘my, we can’t imagine why there are so few women and PoC in this organization, must be their fault, despite the fact that the cadre of speakers is overwhelmingly white dudes, must be a coincidence’ model for authority?

    Why would I volunteer to take on the same ‘passive listener/active speaker’ dicotomy, wherein I am structurally encouraged to ignore my interpretation of reality and adopt another?

    Why would I want to be thrown into the same grouping as people whose beliefs I despise because they murder in the name of their god?

    These things are ORGANIZATIONAL FEATURES, not hiccups in the structure. They are intentional parts of hegemonic domination, for the purposes of allowing social control. It’s not semantics, it’s fucking panic and disgust that anyone would desire to re-enact those structures and then be willfully ignorant of the effect.

    No. no and HELL NO.

  159. you_monster says

    Epstein wants to lose the supernatural shit but keep the whole being a dependent-sheep-who requires-shepherding thing.

  160. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    seriously wonder if these sorts of atheists who crave this crap actually ever left religion? I’m increasing left with the impression that this is primarily an American phenomenon. I believe that this whole ordeal has convinced me that America is more backwards than I thought.

    I disagree so strongly with this idea of atheist churches because I was not inculturated in church-going. It seems a great many people (here, at least) weren’t, or rejected religion and church-going along with god-belief. Epstein et al., stop trying to sell us on an idea we’ve flat out rejected. I think a replacement for religion is a deeply flawed idea and entirely unnecessary. For me, there’s no religion shaped hole in my nonexistent soul.

    (I actually begin to feel cringingly sorry for those with that hole -it’s pathetic.)

  161. Naked Bunny with a Whip says

    They have no official format for meetings

    Sure. We can hand out missalettes to the congregants while the priests lead the service, so the rank and file can follow along. Maybe the atheist pope will stop by my local parish some day!

  162. mouthyb, whose brain is currently melon-balled says

    Also, we have this drinking event, locally. We get drunk and talk. It’s not organized other than that it happens every other Tuesday at a dive bar.

    Fills our collective need to talk without any of the churchy crap. It’s amazing how a group of us can get together and have a good time where everyone can talk.

    If I proposed a clergy, I’m pretty sure the obscene jokes would be hilarious, and I’d deserve it.

  163. says

    Matt (# 178) – omigod you didn’t. Well obviously that demands a flooding of Hemant’s thread!

    Miranda Celeste Hale says you give her a goddamn headache. She says it on the ERV thread full of cunting and bitching. Funny standards some people have.

  164. pureone says

    Mirax 166.

    I didn’t know EVERYONE had a family! I don’t! Tell me how to get one so I don’t have to ask for the humanist chaplain. Actually, I do have extended family, all super-conservative baptists one step away from Phelps. So It’s awesome to hear them preach at me during my more difficult moments of life, which comforts them, not me. :/

    I also don’t like telling my close friends all my medical or life problems that are going on, nor do I always They are there for me, but I don’t always want to share with them.

    I live and work in the worlds premier medical destination city, where people can pay for health care. I’m sure many come without family or friends, many would like to see someone besides a health care professional come visit. Someone who understands and to ask to take the crucifix off the wall in their room because they know they will get a real smile and no funny looks.

    My freethought group has a humanist celebrant in it’s midst. We all support that. The celebrant is booked for services like crazy, so there must be a demand.

    Good to know all you heartless bastards are out there with your family and friends not wanting anyone without such to get the basic human support they want and need.

  165. screechy monkey says

    Everyone please turn off your irony meters for a moment, lest they be damaged.

    Chris Stedman tweeted:

    why drum up division btwn orgs?

    Yes, Stedman, one of the leading “ur doin it rong, Gnu Atheists” guys, suddenly starts crying out for a live and let live approach when it’s his ox being gored.

  166. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    Pureone, you’re not even wrong. Also, it’s sad that you’re lonely. *shrug*

  167. pureone says

    To continue my rant, having a Humanist celebrant in the hospital would be a great thing, providing support and resources to those who may not have someone or only one person close, also a stranger in a strange city. I’d donate my entire freethought/science/sceptic/biblical criticism collection for the Celebrant to bring into the hospital to share with those that are in town and would like some materials to while away the long hours, help while away the unexpected extended stay.

    Hospitals usually require counseling training before anyone can be in such a support role. so yeah, F’it. We don’t want to be able to provide such services.

  168. says

    so, I’ve read through the two posts on this topic, and my impression of this humanist chaplain shit is as follows:

    1)criticisms of structurelessness and lack of hierarchy in humanist/atheist organizations remind me of the whining about how Occupy Wall Street has no uniform message and no leaders. IOW, it sounds a bit like “get off my lawn” directed at 21C organizational patterns.

    2)I have to agree that this seems to be an American thing; back home, not even the Christians go to church anymore, and the rare atheists with needs for traditions and ritual simply join atheist Christian congregations.

    3)it’s pretty obvious that the people involved in this really do want to turn humanism into “religion, just without the woo”; every comparison to why this is needed seems to be “well, the churches are doing it, and look at how powerful that’s made them! Humanists need that much power/resources in society, too”, ignoring the existence and non-religion-based structure of other social justice movements.

    4)this move also ignores that every conversation about including more minorities has included people asking to move away from the speaker/listener, leader/follower formats, and instead do more interactive workshops and (moderated) discussions. this chaplaincy idea is moving in exactly the opposite direction. Anyone wants to guess what the consequence in regards to the diversity of atheist/humanist groups will be?

  169. Doug Kirk says

    I wonder if it even needs to be said, but Epstein’s shtick appears to me just a way to legitimitize a career that nobody should be going into. ‘Chaplain’ is not a legitimate career. It’s a career if you run a non-profit; it’s a career is you are a counselor or therapist; it’s a career if you are organizing groups of people for a non-profit. Standing up and giving sermons while the people around you prop you up with their donations without being qualified to offer anything legitimately, professionally helpful? Not a career. That’s preying on other people’s gullibility.

  170. says

    To continue my rant, having a Humanist celebrant in the hospital would be a great thing, providing support and resources to those who may not have someone or only one person close, also a stranger in a strange city. I’d donate my entire freethought/science/sceptic/biblical criticism collection for the Celebrant to bring into the hospital to share with those that are in town and would like some materials to while away the long hours, help while away the unexpected extended stay.

    instead of adding to the insanity of letting non-counselors/non-therapists into hospitals to perform the role of counselors and therapists, wouldn’t it make more sense to try to abolish that absurdity altogether, and instead provide funding for sufficient in-hospital mental-health provision?

  171. Amphigorey says

    Cupcakes praised by people who not only are usenet veterans, but have email addresses @well.com.

    I do miss my well account, but I just couldn’t justify the $15 per month any more. I cancelled it in February after fifteen years. Nice place, but too expensive these days.

  172. Ing says

    it’s pretty obvious that the people involved in this really do want to turn humanism into “religion, just without the woo”; every comparison to why this is needed seems to be “well, the churches are doing it, and look at how powerful that’s made them! Humanists need that much power/resources in society, too”, ignoring the existence and non-religion-based structure of other social justice movements.

    I propose we dub these types of people with the slur/lable “Sea Otters”; inspired from the Richard Dawkins South Park episode

  173. nazani14 says

    Other groups might try the leadership model of the Society for Creative Anachronism: People hit each other with rattan staves in a series of fights until one emerges as the best fighter, and he becomes king for a year. We haven’t had a queen by right of arms yet, but it’s bound to happen. I think armored atheists bonking each other would draw more attention than a prom. Email me if you’d like to borrow some marshals, pennons, drummers, etc.

  174. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    Finally, someone else saw the connection to that South Park episode (Go God Go) 5 years thence. Thank you, Ing.

  175. The Ys says

    Other groups might try the leadership model of the Society for Creative Anachronism: People hit each other with rattan staves in a series of fights until one emerges as the best fighter, and he becomes king for a year. We haven’t had a queen by right of arms yet, but it’s bound to happen.

    Ansteorra has had a queen by right of arms. :)

    Yay, SCAdians!

  176. The Ys says

    Also, the SCAdian model tends to be: win Crown tournament, spend 6 months as Prince/Princess and heir, then 6 months as King/Queen. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    One kingdom runs through its cycle every 4 months, however.

  177. pureone says

    189. No, I have been in situations in the past such as moving to a new city or such where I’ve not had any support group nearby. I am certainly not lonely.

    There are alone and lonely people out there.. *shrug*

  178. says

    Epstein isn’t creating the wheel. Why didn’t he use CFI as an example? We do have close-knit communities and institutional memory. We just don’t have ‘chaplains’ or use religious exemptions.

  179. John Morales says

    [meta]

    NonProphet Status above amuses me; I looked at the pingback source and basically the claim is that he fails to understand PZ’s point.

    (Asking for clarification here would be a bit much to ask, apparently)

  180. Merridol says

    I support a stronger social and philosophical network for humanists. I reject the notion of a Humanist Chaplaincy or other trappings of religion. Completely, and with prejudice.

    I’m an atheist now, but I grew up Quaker and value many things I learned in that community. Even though I have given up on “that of God in every person,” Quakers are a powerful testimony to the value of hearing every person’s voice.

    For example, setting yourself up to speak for God is ridiculous if you believe (as Quakers do) everyone has direct access to the divine. Similarly, setting yourself up as a chaplain, setting up a position of authority that way, is preposterous if what we value are ideas. And a chaplain is necessarily viewed as an authority, a moral authority at that. The holder of the keys to the community, or the performer of the comforting rituals, whichever clerical role you assume, all of these wield power over the congregation. This is exactly the thinking that I rejected first, when comparing my Baptist grandfather’s religion to my father’s Quaker faith.

    If you are not trying to claim the mantle of authority that comes with “chaplain,” then it is particularly disingenuous to use the term; it announces that you are choosing to adopt the very power structures and organizational systems that have led to so many abuses in religious communities. I don’t mean just the obvious abuses, the ones that make headlines, but also the everyday abuses of silencing people who you do not represent- either because you refuse to, or you haven’t noticed that you don’t represent them (privilege being pretty hard to spot), or because you simply haven’t asked. By calling yourself a chaplain, you are affiliating yourself with a system that is so broken it drives many people away even before they start thinking seriously about the existence or relevance of God.

    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.

    I agree with all of this passionately. But this does not lead to “therefore, chaplains.” I want to know that the organizational systems that bring this about are NOT the same ones that enforce the nastier side of religion. Setting up any class of people as a moral authority, by giving them the title chaplain, undermines the fair trade of ideas. This is repugnant.

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

    And by setting up a chaplaincy, you are recreating the conditions for that misery and grief. If you want a simply organizational function, then call it what it is. It is not a chaplaincy. If you start to treat the position like a chaplaincy, it has ceased to create a safe place for humanists. It has only created another nasty tribe.
    Please don’t think that I am fighting against the idea of a humanist community. Everything you have said about the need for building such a community rings true for me. But the way you are going about it is actually harmful to your stated goals: to leave the worst parts of religion behind. What you are adopting is a model so toxic that even other theists have objected to the point of schism.

    I’ll add one more thing, since I really should go to bed:

    In case you want to point out that the Humanist chaplains are trained in all sorts of lovely things (yay! Philosophy, history, counseling), I will also point out that this is the main argument for maintaining a clergy. A Christian classmate of mine claimed that her flock only looked to their priest because he had spent more time studying theology, not that people actually thought that he was any, y’know, real authority. This is dangerous.

    Sorry about the wall-o-text, I hope I’m not too late to the party.

  181. Merridol says

    Aaaaand, I wrote all of that before scrolling down to look at PZ’s last post. Oh, well. Back to lurking for me. If only I could delete that and just say “this friend speaks my mind!”

  182. julian says

    I propose we dub these types of people with the slur/lable “Sea Otters”

    I am almost positive we’re supposed to be the Sea Otters in that.

  183. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    Are you talking to me, pureone?

    Very well, it’s sad that you’re alone. Frankly, I couldn’t spot the difference going by what you wrote. That has mostly to do with the fact that you can’t confide deeply in those whom you consider somewhat close to you and (I infer from your post) that you don’t have any close family in whom you can confide. Also, the part where you say, ‘any one without such [family and friends]‘.

    It’s really great that you decided to pick on my interpretation of your situation based on your post and not the substantive, if short, sentence preceding that. I might have thought you’d have a bone to pick with my dismissal of your bizarre non sequitur. Perhaps, though, you actually stand by that last sentence of yours? You remember it? It’s the one where you name-call and make an inferred conclusion based on sweeping statements and invented positions? This one:

    Good to know all you heartless bastards are out there with your family and friends not wanting anyone without such to get the basic human support they want and need.

    Or, maybe you were being hyperbolic. After all, I still ‘need to lean (sic) the difference between alone and lonely.’

  184. pureone says

    #208 Tomathy- my apologies- yes, that was snarky hyperbole. I didn’t respond because I think you and others people are missing my point, easy enough, since I couched it vaguely in that same snark. Thanks though for getting me to rethink my phrasing and try to elucidate- funny enough, I told my GF (theist) what I had said (minus snark) and she understood right away what I was trying to convey.

    On the personal side, I am neither alone,nor lonely, but thank you for the empathy. Sure, I can talk to family and friends about stuff, but again, the family will be supportive; it will all come back to the conversion and mumbling stuff to the magical dood. No thanks. Friends will be mentally there, supportive, talk, but not physically around to provide other sorts of support.

    My point is more that the humanist celebrant can add the placebo effect. Someone suggested replacing all religious and non-religious support staff with qualified mental health professionals in a hospital setting. Good idea, but I think people want that religious comfort, not talking about their problems but just talking to someone who knows and understands their beliefs. Same for me, but not religious.

    So say I’m far from my support base in a strange city in the hospital for an extended stay, I do have my GF with me. My mental health is fine, i’m coping great with it. Maybe the hospital likes to throw in the placebo effect of having someone come by to see how I’m doing- a mental health professional. Maybe the mental health professional is a devout christian. They will have little understanding of where I am coming from. They won’t know who the people are that I read or listen to, they wont want to or be able to do the same discussions. They wont know anything about the vibe of local freethought group. Sure, I can internets some stuff, but there is something to be said, I think, for the option of having a person outside of the physical care staff available to come if someone would like that and provide a human face and human interaction for the freethought community- yes,just like the priests and preachers do for their communities.
    Placebo effect.

    There are alone and lonely people out there without support that we have, but with the same lack of belief. Billboards and bus signs are great for reaching some of them, I see nothing wrong with adding a more personable and personal approach.

    Again, pardon my being a jerk-face.

  185. pureone says

    one more thing on the “alone” meme. Do atheist groups not already have those above mentioned ads that say “You are not alone”? That’s another type of alone I’m referring to as well.

  186. pureone says

    to continue my rant ;) with some personal observation and anecdote- It’s great that we have people like PZ and Hitch and Dawkins speaking at conferences, but we lack people down amongst the common people, people who have no idea about this community or that critical thinking and being an atheist is an option. I have worked in the downtown of a city and have seen people come into town for VA treatment or whatnot. People that were alone, no family, no friends. Many I talked with were unbelievers, fence sitters or never thought about it-ers. We know the churches are trying hard to get them, trying to convert. I think I would prefer a humanist celebrant talking to these people, helping to educate instead of filling their head with nonsense.

    So while us kids sit here and discuss this in our online community that is not really visible to the outside world unless one seeks it out, while you enjoy your awesome family and friends, some person who really is feeling alone/lonely just got snookered for jeebus, lost a chance to be approached and introduced to a world of reality and thought, to better themselves.

  187. The Ys says

    People that were alone, no family, no friends. Many I talked with were unbelievers, fence sitters or never thought about it-ers. We know the churches are trying hard to get them, trying to convert. I think I would prefer a humanist celebrant talking to these people, helping to educate instead of filling their head with nonsense.

    Prefer away. I would rather be alone in a hospital than have some idiot try to convince me of what I need to think or believe…no matter what it was.

    And I’ve been alone in a hospital – several times – in spite of having a huge family, because I can’t stand having their religious bullshit around me. My own thoughts are much better company.

    I’m usually an outlier, though, so I’d accept that this isn’t how most people would deal with the situation.

  188. says

    Forgive me – there’s a lot to respond to here and I’m on a trip. There have been a number of strong points made here that I think are worth a full response, though most people clearly have not read our numerous clarifications regarding the nature of our new project. I do not feel it is my responsibility to defend a position we have never taken. So, for the last time (and before I get the chance to more fully respond), here is a clarification which I hope will stop people criticising a fantastical version of our project which does not exist:

    For those still under the misapprehension that this new project is about training Chaplains, or enforcing a single organizational model on local Humanist groups – IT AIN’T.

    For those who think we want to take on the language and trappings of a church, WE DON’T (we don’t use that word ever to describe our own work, and we were quite clear about this in the interview that formed the basis of the article).

    For those who wonder about the use of the term Chaplain, we initially had no choice in the matter, and have considered recently changing the name to address precisely the sorts of concerns some have raised here. Harvard is not an institution that is easy to change.

    I hope this will prevent people from spreading flat-out falsehoods regarding our intentions.

  189. Cheron22 says

    So near everything in the article was wrong and all this name calling and such is due to a the red tape of Harvard and poor editing/writing of a reporter… I remain skeptical.

  190. says

    Well, the article is actually quite misleading, but if you read it carefully and pick out those bits which talk concretely about our proposal (and not the bits which use relies language I expressly stated we do not use to talk about our own work), then it’s reasonably close. But since I’m in a position to know about this, having worked on the project for some time, I don’t think my clarification warrants skepticism.