The October/November edition of Free Inquiry focuses on religious humanism today, and emphasizes a phenomenon that Editor Tom Flynn calls congregational humanism.
Flynn defines congregational humanists “as persons who unconditionally reject supernaturalism, yet enthusiastically embrace forms and rituals drawn from the community life of the church, synagogue, temple, or mosque.” This sort of humanism is growing strongly, and may “even eclipse religious humanism as we have known it” (p. 18).
Jennifer Kalmanson article reports that the newer humanist communities are “[m]ore than just a ragtag collection of philosophically minded curmudgeons meeting once a month at a library …” (p. 41). (What an unflattering stereotype!)
One of the most important articles is by James Croft and Greg Epstein, who write that “atheists are coming together not to debate but to celebrate. Moving beyond discussions of the existence of God and the evils of religion, groups of nonbelievers are meeting to ask the big questions that animate human life: Who are we? Why are we here? How should we live? They listen, discuss, and exchange ideas. They share the joys and struggles of their lives. They deepen their relationships. They affirm existence as they listen to poetry or music; some even sing together. But most of all they seek, together, to live fuller, richer, more meaningful lives: lives informed by reason, infused with compassion, and guided by hope for the future of humankind” (p. 24).
My colleague in Unitarian Universalist ministry, the Rev. Bill Murry, analyzes the differences between religious and secular humanism. “Just as we can be good without God,” he writes, “so we can have spirituality without spirits” (p. 39). “I am a religious humanist because I believe life is best lived in community with those who share similar values, purposes, and goals. I am a religious humanist because I believe we need one another to help diminish our sorrows and increase our joys, and I find it especially meaningful to celebrate life’s passages with people who believe as I do” (p. 38).
If you want to find common ground between theism and atheism, consider learning more about religious humanism and liberal theism (e.g., naturalistic theism, deism, and process theology). These philosophies of life go beyond the standard theist-vs.-atheist stereotypes. Even when you don’t agree with their conclusions, their explorations will stimulate your personal reflections.
Roger Christan Schriner
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