Congregational Humanism

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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5 thoughts on “Congregational Humanism

      • 🙂 a smile back at you. In the economy of words, “natural phenomena that we don’t know about” would get boiled down to one word. What is a better word than supernatural? The challenge is to virtuously use what we do know while humbly seeking what is beyond our current understanding.

  1. Humanists may consider themselves secular or religious. Many of us who grew up in a church may miss the spiritual support it provides. In college, I often went to the Unitarian Coffee House, an area for talks, games, and snacks on Friday nights.

    When it was time to marry, we called on Reverend Gold from the UU church in Richmond who counseled us and performed the service in the park.

    A church, any church, provides spiritual support for moral people seeking to be good and to do good. The camaraderie, the music, the message, all contribute to maintaining a “holy spirit”, that is to say, “feeling good about doing good and being good”.

    And it helps to have that support in a world where the wicked often profit at the expense of the rest of us.

    But a formal church is not a necessity. We also have the camaraderie of the authors we read, the discussions with like-minded people, and even discussions with people who disagree but help us clarify our faith.

    And, yes, it is a matter of faith. All churches that claim to follow God, also declare God to be Good. And it is our faith in Good that sustains us.

    • Amen Marvin. I consider myself an eternal humanist, a formal member of a church that is an orgnaized disorganized religion ;), and an informal member of many faiths.

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