One of the things I miss about not being religious (call it atheism, or agnosticism, or non-religious, or what have you) is the lack of connection to my community. There is really no good alternative to church for non religious people. I’ve Googled the web a bit for some kind of secular church, and they are either weird or not available.
Why has some kind of “Secular Humanist” church never caught on? By church I mean a place you can go to, maybe Sunday mornings/afternoons, to gather with people in your community and discuss being moral, living up to an ideal, helping your fellow man, listening to someone speak, etc. I don’t have children yet, but some kind of “Sunday School” would be great too.
Volunteering can do part of this, but not all. It’s nice to not be self directed sometimes and make bonds in your own community.
I went to a Unitarian Universalist church randomly one Sunday, Guap, and it matched your discription fairly closely. Those folks tend to be more spiritual though, and I doubt that many athiests attend. It was a friendly place that was quite diverse and welcoming.
Most places these days have a local skeptical society if you’re looking for a group to get out and join and do things and crap without getting involved with an organized religious institution. Nationally, there’s TAM and any related local meetings.
Secular humanist churches have never caught on because they make no sense. The purpose of a church is to bring together people with a similar interest: their faith. Because the interest is so integral to the churchgoers’ identity, the community tends to be very close-knit.
Secular humanists have a wide variety of clubs that they can attend in order to meet people with similar interests. Rowing clubs, Trek conventions, Furry anime… whatever. The communities are rarely as close as a church-group, but that’s what you would expect: their interests are less integral to their identities.
I’ve often wondered this myself. In my idle moments I’ve even toyed with plans to start such a church.
I think the Unitarians have taken a step in the right direction here, but they haven’t quite done it right. The way I’d do it is a church that isn’t open to an array of varying religious viewpoints. Instead, it would be a church that doesn’t have any position at all in regards to the metaphysical for the same reason that traditional churches don’t have an official position on pretzels.
Dress it properly in the trappings of religion, give it a nice secular humanist philosophy so that churchgoers could get some enlightenment out of being preached at, and organize it to give people the right kind of good feelings and I bet it would spread like wildfire.
UU is the closest thing to what you’re looking for, save for the “belief in God” thing. If you’re not religious in the sense that you don’t believe in God/various gods, then UU won’t be your cup of tea. If you’re not religious in the sense that you have a sense of the existence of God/various gods, but you’re not sure what that entails nor do you really wish to feel trapped by a particular ideology, then UU would work out pretty well.
With respect to the Pastafarians, I’m Christian and I proclaim myself to be a Pastafarian whenever we have the perennial stupid debates about evolution being taught in schools. Science belongs in the science classroom. Theology doesn’t. I go nuts every time I hear someone complain that evolution is just a “theory.” It induces nerd rage.
Other options beside UU might be nearly any Buddhist group. You don’t have to believe in god/gods to be Buddhist. You do need to believe that there’s something after death, or, to be more precise, that life continues after death. That may be a sticking point for some folks.
UU congregations can vary, of course, and while they’re generally good eggs, they also point to why sometimes it’s just an approximate solution. Secular humanists have their biases as to what’s tolerable and not, or maybe better said, what’s a silly waste of time or not, and you can get some services with guest speakers going on about crystal friffery and positive and negative energies and whatnot. Right there you start losing the skeptic crowd, and it just snowballs from there.
Basically, secular humanists come pre-schismed. They can’t even agree on which door to nail a letter to.
I agree Unitarian Universalist congregations are your best bet for a secular humanist community. There’s a lot of variation in atmosphere between places, however, which is a dilemma that seems inherent in basic UU principles.
The good news is that I’d expect the DC area to have multiple congregations, so you can see where you feel most at ease. The Minneapolis-St Paul area has three UU groups (or at least, they did in the mid-to-late 90s), and that’s a much smaller population center than DC. The two Minneapolis congregations had very different vibes – one was very atheist friendly & services were somewhat like academic conferences. The one I attended had husband & wife copastors, drew on New Age thinking, & was very involved in social justice.
The UU pastor who married us here in SE Michigan is writing his doctoral dissertation from Harvard Divinity School on Nietzsche, & his view on God is “meh.” He frequently is at odds with the church board, though, because he digs mystical experiences, and the board are a bunch of retired professors who don’t want any of that fuzzy-headed claptrap from their pastor.
Buddhism would be my second choice for you, but you might want to avoid Tibetan/Vajrayana centers, since Vajrayana makes reference to deities more often than Theravada and other Mahayana (e.g., Zen) schools.
Another UU-attending atheist checking in. The one we go to hasn’t done any of the guest speaker and crystals stuff Drastic mentions; I’d quickly stop going if that stuff started coming up. I have heard it happens in other places.