Religion & Beliefs

Atheists Go To Church (and Shul)

I heart this article from last week in the Washington Post: Believers in Community Atheists Enjoying Social Benefits of Church Even if They Don't Believe in Religious Rituals By Jonathan Mummolo Omar Latiri is an atheist. But the former Muslim … Read More

By / January 8, 2008

I heart this article from last week in the Washington Post:

Believers in Community Atheists Enjoying Social Benefits of Church Even if They Don't Believe in Religious Rituals By Jonathan Mummolo Omar Latiri is an atheist. But the former Muslim has begun going to church and even decorated a Christmas tree, albeit a plastic one, this year. "I don't believe," said Latiri, an Air Force reservist who is a member of a Unitarian Universalist church in Bethesda with his wife. "But that doesn't mean I don't see the benefit of something that is from the Bible in terms of humility, caring for other people, forgiveness, charity." In a society filled with religious references — the Pledge of Allegiance with its "one nation under God," weddings, funerals and other events — some atheists such as Latiri attend houses of worship and enjoy the traditions and sense of community they provide, minus the sacred interpretations. Other atheists have adopted alternatives to rituals such as baptisms. "I was looking for a place with a sense of community without any animosity toward people of other faiths," Latiri, 32, of Silver Spring said. Latiri, and atheists like him, are choosing to personalize religion rather than abandon it. They like the congregations, the moral codes and the food and festivities that religious communities offer. They say that just because they can't accept the idea of God, they don't see the need to throw the rest away. ad_icon "Sometimes if the atheist looks upon what's going on as a cultural experience, it's more palatable,'' said Carole Rayburn, a psychologist in Silver Spring and former head of the American Psychological Association's division that researches the role of religion in people's lives. "Intellectually, one could disagree . . . but could say that emotionally, this has a certain appeal." Brenda Platt, 44, a Takoma Park atheist of Jewish ancestry who was raised secular, is a member of Machar, the Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, a nontheistic group that retains Jewish culture, education and celebrations. The group, which she joined about seven years ago, has a cultural school, holds monthly Shabbat services and celebrates High Holidays, although a deity is never invoked. Platt said she has found simple but meaningful benefits: "The food, the music, the dancing and the feeling that that's my heritage, that's my tribe, that's my blood."

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I think this is completely awesome. For a long time I’ve been saying that my biggest beef with atheism is that it leaves people without a network to fall back on in times of crisis and joy, and these people have said, “Okay, I think this whole God thing is a crock, but I want a community, and I want to have something in my life reinforcing humanistic values, so here’s how I’m going to get those things without praising any Almighty anything.” I mean, of course I believe in God pretty intensely, but I think it’s really great that people have come up with a way to embrace their heritage (in the case of Machar) and/or to embrace values like “humility, caring for other people, forgiveness, charity” without feeling like they have to sign on to a theology they don’t believe in. Finally, some solid options! Also check out this article from Time magazine about atheist Sunday schools.