A Home of Our Own: The Need for Humanist Societies

There are many benefits of being in community together as freethinkers, and a number of disadvantages that come with being dispersed.

Some polling has indicated that nonreligious people may make up the largest minority in America. Yet polls famously show that an openly atheistic presidential candidate simply isn’t electable. Worse, the word “godless” is still hurled as a slur, meaning “completely devoid of morals,” when people who don’t believe in any sort of deity tend to take great pride in the amount of time and thought they put into developing their own ethical views. So why is “atheist” still a dirty word when there are so many more people now who do not identify as religious? In part, it’s because the number of atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and freethinkers remains largely invisible.

Since we appear to be isolated individuals scattered about without a unifying creed, the vast amount we have in common when it comes to our beliefs and values often goes unnoticed––even among ourselves. This makes it difficult for us to recognize and communicate our shared visions for the world, and act together to bring them into reality. Freethinkers are politically weak as a group. No politicians are spending as much time courting “the Humanist vote” as the Catholic vote or the Jewish one. But it doesn’t have to stay that way forever.

On the microcredit lending site, Kiva, secular do-gooders have organized a “lending team” for self-identified atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and freethinkers to make small loans to poor entrepreneurs in the developing world in response to the group called “Kiva Christians.” Not only has the secular group now made more loans to help lift people out of poverty than the Christian group but it has also made the most loans out of all the teams on the site, coming to over 6.2 million dollars. Think of what else Humanists could accomplish as an organized group! Notice too, in this example, that the tension we’ve come to expect between atheists and Christians in society was transformed into friendly competition and that the two groups were united in the cause of lifting people out of poverty.

Organizing ourselves makes us a powerful force for progress, and working with others across our differences helps us turn our hopes for the world into reality. A true religiously pluralistic global community has room for theists and nontheists of all stripes, and encourages them to work together to make the world a more just, equitable, and compassionate place.

For far too long, skeptics and freethinkers have been unable to enjoy the benefits of being in meaningful community with one another as they promote their worldviews. Think of all the nominal Christians who only go to church on Christmas, and privately doubt the veracity of the Virgin Birth and Jesus’ Resurrection. I know many nominal Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists who are still affiliated with their religious backgrounds but no longer identify with them and have not yet found another spiritual, philosophical, or ethical home. These people often retain their ties with their religious background, despite their skepticism, because of their relationships with other good-hearted people from the group and the sense of community they feel. That’s how powerful fellowship is to us, as social creatures. We yearn to belong. We want to have company on the journey of our lives, as we try to make sense of them. So much so that we sometimes humor explanations that are no longer compatible with our worldview. Since nominally religious people often hold Humanistic beliefs, they could benefit from being part of an explicitly Humanist community.

Those who put more distance between themselves and their religious background or were raised in atheist households often float about on their own, without the support of the vast network of atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and freethinkers. This means most of them don’t come together in intentional community, to search for truth and meaning and share their lives with one another, the way members of religious groups do. This also means they lose out on an opportunity to promote their collective vision for the world. In the end, some people who were skeptics and freethinkers during their lives are given religious funerals which inappropriately represent them because there was no meaningful secular community to which they could belong. Like nominally religious people, free-floating skeptics could benefit from coming together in Humanist community.

Imagine if there were as many Humanist societies as there are churches, synagogues, mosques, or temples. Imagine that they were as well-respected by the general public as these organizations, and that they had cooperative relationships with them. Picture each one being a center for lifelong learning and meaningful community, made up of people who encouraged you in your personal growth and supported you during hard times

This would be a place where you could celebrate births in the family and weddings with secular ceremonies, gather for Humanist holidays like Human Light Day and other holidays that have meaning to you, and hold memorials for lost loved ones. Humanist chaplains would be available to you, to help you sort things out in life.

These societies would also promote a Humanist vision for the world. Like their religious counterparts, they might raise money for local charities, engage in community service projects, organize food drives, provide affordable daycare programs for low-income people, function as a homeless shelter at night, energize and register voters, or perform a wide range of other vital services. Kids could develop critical thinking skills, learn about Humanist history and values, and explore what it means to live a good life in their Humanist Education classes, so they grow up grounded in Humanism.

This would be a home of our own.

If you like the idea, maybe it’s time to get involved with a Humanist group or maybe it’s time to start one. You might:

  • Join a Humanist community
  • Host a Humanist meeting
  • Start a Humanist congregation

I invite you to continue reading this series for practical advice on each.

About Crystal Alburger

Crystal Alburger is a candidate for a Master of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. As a Spiritual Activist Fellow with the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California from 2011 to 2012, she lobbied for the Human Right to Water and designed a program for young adults to reflect on the relationship between their values and actions. She is interested in promoting religiously pluralistic community and bringing theists and nontheists together around shared Humanist values. She considers talking to people, reading, going to church, riding her motorcycle, and cooking to be some of her most spiritually fulfilling practices.

2 comments on “A Home of Our Own: The Need for Humanist Societies

  1. Pingback: Finding a Humanist Community: Part 1 | The Humanist Community Project

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