Atheist Church in Mass. Focuses on Community, Not God

A “church” meets in Cambridge, Massachusetts every Sunday morning where a few dozen attenders listen to a speech about the importance of compassion and community. This “congregation” is a meeting of the Humanist Community at Harvard University, the idea of Greg Epstein, a humanist chaplain. Epstein’s plan is to glean the good aspects of church and apply them to his gathering.

“We decided recently that we want to use the word ‘congregation’ more and more often because that is a word that strongly evokes a certain kind of community — a really close knit, strong community that can make strong change happen in the world,” he said. “It doesn’t require and it doesn’t even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”

Even kids are invited to a meeting of their own, where an MIT biologist teaches them about evolution, DNA and cell biology.

By formalizing meetings and building a strong community, the Harvard group hopes it can be a model for other atheist congregations forming around the country. “Being an atheist is something we want people to come out and be,” said the Humanist chaplain. “There are so many people, probably millions, who are humanists or atheists or nonreligious in private and nobody knows.”

Starting in the fall, the Humanist Community at Harvard will begin meeting in a nearly 3,000-square-foot community center with an event space for nearly 100 people.

“Our community is like a work of art,” he said. “Hopefully people will respond to that work of art and it will garner controversy and discussion like a work of art.”

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