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The Non-Church for Non-Believers
'We Make Our Own Heaven'
Atheist Minority Finds Spiritual Home in Palo Alto
By JOHN DONVAN and STEVEN BAKER
March 28, 2008—
It is hard not to notice the bells that ring on Sunday morning. But at churches, synagogues and mosques around the globe there are some for whom that religion is lost. This group is part of America's atheist minority.
While Christians, Muslims and Jews can celebrate their beliefs, and fellowship in the company of others in churches, mosques and synagogues, where can non-believers find a spiritual home?
One answer lies in Palo Alto, Calif., if you spot the sign by the roadside. It's at the Humanist Community, where for a few hours every Sunday the humanists, as they call themselves, come together in what one might call a congregation. It even has its own Sunday school.
Without church bells, but with music, this group of humanists believe in a lot of things but God isn't one of them.
Eight-year-old: "I Like To Think Freely&
They get together and, with lectures for the older congregants and stories and games for the younger ones, discuss not their faith, but the opposite of faith -- the idea that truth arises from reason, from science, from free thought.
"I like to think freely, but still I can really think freely whenever I want 'cause I think thinking freely is good," said eight-year-old Jane Kovak, one of the humanists' younger congregants. Jane's parents, John and Kimberly teach in the community.
"I don't believe there is a God," Jane continues, "but there is a possibility that there can be. I don't really think there is."
When Time magazine wrote up their version of the Humanist Center and called it Atheist Sunday School, some at the center took issue at the description, because humanism, they say, is so much more than atheism.
The Atheist Named Bishop
Peter Bishop is the group's intellectual guide. "People are the force for good in the world and so I believe in people that their goodness will create the goodness that we have in the world," he says.
Bishop is an MIT graduate who works now as a software writer in Silicon Valley. His parents encouraged the idea of free thought during his childhood.
What's interesting about this non-church is some of its churchlike aspects. There's a hymn book, talks that sound like homilies and, at one point, an actual collection plate passed through the aisles after one song.
And of course, there's the atheist named Bishop. The manner in which he teaches is similar to how some fired-up preachers preach. But if he's not preaching faith and he has a Sunday school, what is Bishop teaching?
"Community," he said, "a sense of community, that they get to know other kids& It's a place where, I don't know, Jane, what do you think?"
"It's cool 'cause you can, like, think freely by yourself," she said.
Too Young to Not Believe?
Some outside the church might take issue with the humanist teachings being taught to a child as young as Jane.
One congregant disagrees. "I do believe that this is important to start when they are very, very young," said Beverly Crowell, a member of the congregation. "Because our culture, especially now, is so permeated with religion views, and so in order to counteract that with children that are malleable and very impressive or impressionable, it's good to get them early and teach them that they can be individuals on their own."
But if people want to believe in God, why not?
"Oh absolutely, if they get comfort from that... more power to them, I think that's wonderful, I don't get anything from that," said Crowell. "The way they do, I'm not impressed. I believe we make our own heaven right here, or hell, and I said, I'm going to come back in an afterlife as a leaf on a tree."
Religious Decision up to Humanist
As for Jane, her parents believe that her religious beliefs, or lack thereof, should be up to her.
"They have had many discussions about this, and we've had our discussions too," said her mother. "I think that we just give our view, I always tell Jane that she has to make up her own mind, she has to experience her experiences -- figure it out for herself."
And Jane is doing just that -- trying to figure out for herself the answers to life's difficult questions, like what happens when people die. "Well, usually you kind of go in the earth, but I don't believe that heaven's not really real," she says. "It would be cool if it was real. But there is a possibility that it is real, but I don't think so. "
[Captured: 31 March 2008 00:12:15]
There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:
1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?
I think the journalists, while seemingly attempting to publish a human interest article, caused a lot of damage just in the headlines. Then they went on later and mentioned how members of the congregration took issue with Time Magazine's description of the sunday school...
There has to be a way to disassociate Atheism with Humanism in the public mind. Judging from many of the replies to the article, it seems the first step would be to educate many of the athiests out there what Humanism actually is. I'll claim guilt there though, I didn't know even a few years back.
I don't agree with the group singing hymns and the like though. It seems to me to be a lot like what the Christians did when converting other cultures. Absorb some of the other group's traditions to make the change more palpatable. I don't think its the best way, it creates a serious religious undertone... but I understand I may be in the minority on this.
Agreed, Wattsll. Atheism, at best, is only a starting point-- a lack of belief of the existence of God(s) and the supernatural. Humanism, on the other hand, is a positive value-- it it more a matter of affirmation rather than negation. Atheism is merely the absence of belief, whereas humanism is an actual positive value (or set of values). Atheism, by itself, isn't really of much use.wattsll wrote:There has to be a way to disassociate Atheism with Humanism in the public mind. Judging from many of the replies to the article, it seems the first step would be to educate many of the athiests out there what Humanism actually is. I'll claim guilt there though, I didn't know even a few years back.
For me, communal singing is an important part of human culture, and it saddens me hugely that it seems to be so strongly associated with religion. I'd love to have the opportunity to sing secular songs with a large group of people. Having said that, I can't say that I'm particularly impressed with their choice of "anthem", "Unique and Unrepeatable", sung to the tune of "Ten Little Indians":wattsll wrote:I don't agree with the group singing hymns and the like though. It seems to me to be a lot like what the Christians did when converting other cultures. Absorb some of the other group's traditions to make the change more [palatable]. I don't think its the best way, it creates a serious religious undertone... but I understand I may be in the minority on this.
A bit naff, innit? Mind you, one has to admire the irony of having them sing "unrepeatable" nine times.I'm unique and unrepeatable (x3). I’m glad to be me.
You're unique and unrepeatable (x3). I’m glad that you’re you.
We're unique and unrepeatable (x3). I’m glad that we’re us.
I should have listened to my gut and looked up the spelling on that...Emma W wrote: [palatable]
You have me thinking on why I associate communal singing with religion. Perhaps because, in my memory, the only time I've ever seen it done is in a church or church affilliated context.Emma W wrote: For me, communal singing is an important part of human culture, and it saddens me hugely that it seems to be so strongly associated with religion.
The UU congregration that I attend with my wife sings frequent hymns. For the most part they're the hymns I heard when I attended church as a young'un, rewritten to be more neutral and non-denominational. A similar attempt (in my opinion) to make the 'transition' smoother.
*runs off to find out what 'naff' means*
American Heritage Dictionary -
naff 1 (nāf) Pronunciation Key
adj. Chiefly British Slang
Unstylish, clichéd, or outmoded.
Used in the imperative as a signal of angry dismissal.
Usually used in place of the F word.
But then on the other, I don't want humanism to turn into a pseudo-religion. I know things like communal singing and 'sermons' and the word 'spiritual' aren't strictly religious things, religion has just had a monopoly over them for so long, but at the same time I'd like to disassociate humanism from religion somewhat more than they appear to be doing there.
If you're wrong, call me ... I'll have one for you!
Critical Thinking - http://www.skepdic.com/refuge/ctlessons.html