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There was a nice article from the Associated Press yesterday that talked about Humanist “congregations”, focusing on Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein

One part of the article raised a point about the words we use when describing our atheist communities:

Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, is building a God-free model of community that he hopes helps humanists increase in numbers and influence.

Epstein wants to plant local humanist centers nationwide that perform many of the community-building functions of a church, only in service of the humanist creed…

While many humanists reject anything that hints at organized religion, Epstein is freely borrowing from it — from the ”small group” format familiar in evangelical churches to calling his group a ”congregation.”

Paul Kurtz, founder of the Council for Secular Humanism, disagrees with that approach, saying humanists are building secular communities that show people don’t need religion to get together ”in a joyful mood and do good works.” But that’s undermined when religious words are used to describe those communities.

”I don’t think we should use the language of religion, that’s very confusing,” Kurtz said.

It’s only confusing to someone who puts little or no thought into what the “congregation” is saying or doing and only looks at the word choice. If you’re part of that group, you’re probably not a Humanist, anyway. Obviously, there’s a difference between a church group and a Humanist group in those areas.

I personally like the idea. It provides a useful transition for people who want to leave God but not necessarily the idea of a church (and all the benefits that come with one).

If you can have small groups to discuss your beliefs, be part of a congregation, sing, rejuvenate yourself weekly, teach your children about the basic realities of life — all outside the confines of a church and God — more power to the Humanist communities who are co-opting the words.

Is the “religious wording” fine by you, or would you prefer using words that have no religious context whatsoever?

It seems to be working, for what it’s worth:

To those who say [building a Humanist community] can’t be done, Epstein points to his community at Harvard, and nonstop requests for more services, as a rebuttal. He believes humanists are responsible to make sure their community grows more.

”Salvation is here on earth,” he said. ”We have evolved over 14 billion years without purpose. Now we want purpose, we need to build it into our own lives.”