Boston’s weekly alternative paper, The Phoenix, has an article entitled Greg Epstein, Atheist Superstar. There is a lot to chew on in this article, but I’d like to particularly highlight this criticism by Tom Flynn
“Greg lays a strong emphasis on denominational life, but a lot of folks on the other side of the tracks are strong individualists,” Flynn explains. “They moved out of traditional religious backgrounds to move away from supernatural belief, but also as a way of emancipating themselves from a web of tight community control — and they’re not eager to step back into a local community.”
and this discussion at P.Z. Myers blog, Pharyngula
I do find it puzzling that some atheists react so negatively against the concept of community. I would think that pretty much everyone wants to have friends and a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself. But to each his/her own.
The first rule of our Humanist community is that it’s voluntary. No one has belong if they don’t want to. It’s not like a religion, where you are obligated to show up on holy days, etc.
For myself, one thing I enjoy about being part of a community is that you can get to know a person slowly, and perhaps become friends over time. When I was a kid, I could become friends “at first sight” but now I find that it generally takes repeated encounters with another individual to get over the initial reserve that’s expected in New England. Being part of a community allows one the slow exposure to other people. In school, that happens all the time, but in the working world less so.
Another aspect of the article I would take issue with is that I think it overemphasizes ritual compared to what we actual do in the Harvard community, which is pretty much no rituals. Some of us meditate together as part of the Humanist Contemplative Group, but meditation is a sort of mental exercise, not a ritual with magical powers. The only rituals we’re on board with is the life cycle rituals like weddings and funerals. These need not be elaborate, but it’s nice to have some sort of ceremony to memorialize important life stages. None of these things need have a supernatural aspect about them.
I also wouldn’t say our ultimate aim is to cozily co-exist with religion. Rather, we aim to provide an alternative so that people who participate in religion to fulfill their emotional needs will find an avenue that also fulfills these needs without requiring intellectual compromises. But our rivalry with religious moderates is friendly, more like a Red Sox-Orioles game than a game against the Yankees, and we can collaborate with them on charity and service projects.