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.