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Can churches for non-believers survive?

April 2, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Can churches for non-believers survive?

There are some new local humanist centers springing up and they resemble churches in many ways, according to an article by USA Today. What do they do?

[They meet] monthly with about 10 families. Acosta says trips to museums and a parenting course called “Compassionate Communication” are planned. The Harvard chaplaincy also hosts “Humanist Small Group” biweekly Sunday brunch discussion and buys drinks at biweekly “Humanist Community Pub Nights.” Last month, it hosted holiday-style celebrations around Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and is hosting a talk by humanist writer and director Joss Whedon of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame.

What is the long-term outlook for such groups? I have always assumed that there was something about traditional churches that would help keep the group intact, something having to do with a solution to the fear of death. Churches work hard to play up both the fear and the solution. Non-believers tend to have a different focus: the here and now.

The USA Today article quotes Richard Lints, a professor of philosophical theology who

doubts humanism can sustain itself in the local congregations Epstein envisions because community is not a natural part of humanism, where the individual is the ultimate source of meaning. If humanism becomes concerned with the “greater good,” and a sort of natural moral order that implies, it starts to resemble religion and humanists will back away, he said. “At the heart of the humanist project is deep individualism,” Lints said. “It’s always going to be difficult to sustain a real robust community.”

Certainly one of model of such a community has been successful, that of the Ethical Societies such as this one. Also, consider that many religions are not traditionally religious–they run along a continuum. As proof, consider the scorn heaped on Unitarian Churches by right wing fundamentalists. Here’s one dramatic example.

Can non-theistic “churches” hold together? Time will tell.


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