Bay Area Less Wrong Meetup Message Board › What do you think about atheist churches?

What do you think about atheist churches?

Josh S.
user 8356094
Santa Rosa, CA
Post #: 1
The prevailing purpose of an atheist church, in my mind, should be facilitating fellowship among the intelligentsia and fostering cross discipline collaboration. It would then function as both a cultural center and an adhoc academic institution.

I'll be honest, I haven't yet read the articles linked, but I will after I write this post, and I'll very likely follow up. I like to give myself the chance to play with the idea lacking context before diving into true understanding!
A former member
Post #: 6
Joshua, thanks for the reply. Don't worry about not having read the articles. A reply by somebody who hasn't read the articles is infinitely better than no reply at all.

I used to be a proud member of an atheist club (yeah, a club isn't a church but it's sort of like a small church, I really don't want to get into deep semantics of organizations) but then I realized that it wasn't fully rational. You see, my hypothesis is that churches exist to promote faith, if somebody is doubtful of their religion and goes to church, they will very likely come out more convinced that their religion is the true religion.

I don't need any assurance to be confident that there is no god. And if I want to discuss rationality with atheists I want them to be confident atheists, not people who might flake away into some other religion.
Phil
user 5722003
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 3
I don't like the idea myself. I agree that faith/unquestionable authority is the key issue with religion in general and making a church based on the premise of a god that doesn't exist at least borders the faith problem. One's atheistic position in itself really doesn't indicate that it's a product of a rational process.
Eric S.
Y.B.Normal
Palo Alto, CA
Post #: 1
I self identify as a Bright but also a Buddhist in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. "Brighthoodliness" is definitely not a religion as anyone with a naturalistic world view is welcome to self identify. Other Brights include Daniel Dennett, Margaret Downey, James 'The Amazing' Randi, Steven Pinker , Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Penn & Teller , Massimo Pigliucci, and Sue Blackmore To find out more, check out

http://the-brights.ne...­.



As for the Buddhist thing, the question arises as to whether it qualifies as a church and/or a religion (and I think this is a distinction that must be made). For tax purposes, it is obviously one or the other or both, whatever is required by the IRS -- but then so is the American Humanist Association and the Council for Secular Humanism. However, if religion requires unquestiond authority, then Buddhism doesn't make the cut (see below). Buddhist writings frequently refer to "gods", but since they are depicted as coming to the Buddha for advice, they clearly cannot be considered deities since the Buddha is not considered to be anything but a human being who got sick in old age, died, and was buried. And that was that. when his followers asked how they could do without him, he answered that since he did it (became enlightened) himself, so could they. When followers asked about life after death, reincarnation, etc., he always said, "We'll talk about that later; first let's discuss getting rid of the suffering of yourselves and others. This certainly sounds like a polite way of saying these were not issues of any relevance. In the Kalama Sutra ("sermon" delivered to the people of Kalama), the Buddha said:


  • Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
  • Do not believe in traditions simply because they have been handed down for many generations.
  • Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
  • Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
  • Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
  • But when, after observation and analysis, you find anything that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.


-- The Buddha's Kalama Sutra

Now that sounds entirely rational to me -- especially since it dates from around 2500 years ago. The first three of Thich Nhat Hanh's precepts are:

1. Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, I am determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help me learn to look deeply and to develop my understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill or die for.

2. Non-attachment to Views

Aware of suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, I am determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. I will learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences. I am aware that the knowledge I presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life and I will observe life within and around me in every moment, ready to learn throughout my life.

3. Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when I impose my views on others, I am committed not to force others, even my children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda or indoctrination – to adopt my views. I will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. I will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue.

Again, this seems eminently rational.

Now Buddhism isn't going to appeal to everyone, and I'm not trying to convince anyone (note 3. above). First there has been a lot of accretion over 2500 years, largely as a result of adoption by local cultures. There is a sexist strand left: the most junior Monk is considered senior to the most senior Nun. We'll just see how long that lasts now that Buddhism has a considerable following in the west. In fact, it is mostly honored in the breach even now. If you don't like the idea of learning to sit silently, stilling your mind for at least 30 minutes, this isn't your piece of cheese.

I read one of T.N.H.'s books, was mightily impressed, and went to a retreat, was more impressed, and the third retreat lasted for three weeks. When we were told that we would have the opportunity to be "anointed with the compassionate nectar of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, I almost freaked. I knew that Avalokiteshvara, also known as Quan Yin (easier to spell, but not as much fun to say) was a personification of compassion and not some supposedly supernaturally compassionate individual, but this anointing thing? And then the day came. There was a bowl of water and the branch of some special tree which had been brought from Vietnam to Vermont. This was followed by 30 minutes of chanting. "I'm not doing this.", said I to myself, as I kept myself from running out and catching a flight home. Then Thich Nhat Hanh picked up the bowl and said, "Remember, this is just water; the rest is all in your head." "O.K.", said I to myself, "half an hour of contemplating compassion every now and again is a good idea, and there is nothing at all spooky here." Can you imagine a Roman Catholic Priest going through the whole consecration thing with the wine and bread and then saying to the congregation, "Remember, this is just wine and bread; the rest is all in your head." (Actually, he'd have to say "bread and wine" to avoid the unfortunate rhyme. (Whoops! wine/rhyme; I did it myself.))

Anyway, for me Buddhism is more psychology than anything else. The Dalai Lama was recently asked what would happen if scientific findings conflicted with Buddhist dogma. He answered, "Well, Buddhist dogma would have to change."

So I suppose you can have atheist churches as long as they're not organized to proselytize atheism. But I really don't get "Christian" atheists. Saying you're Christian is way too strongly connected with the word, "God" which is far too tightly connected with some indefinable entity who created us and then had to break physical laws to have parthenogenesis produce a male who had some good things to say and was then systematically and deliberately tortured to death so the the rest of us would have some chance of staying out of hell -- but only 40,000 or something like that according to believers in the Rapture.

I think many otherwise rational people believe in word magic and feel the need to toss "God" into all their talk about ethics, morality, and the like. When you look at what they're saying, ignoring the use of that trigram, they're talking pure secular humanism. Folks, "forgive them, for they know not what they do." (with apologies to Luke 23:34)

It is finished. (with apologies to John 19:30
ASD mommy to K.
user 10423499
Davis, CA
Post #: 122
long story short, I don't believe in god and find no reason to join a group/church/organization to justify my belief. There are plenty of other groups/organizations out there that support my interests that warrant participation. :-) With that said I don't judge those who choose to participate in any group/church/organization.
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