The Rise of Godless Congregations Examined in 'Free Inquiry'

Humanists of all stripes reject the supernatural teachings of churches, but a growing segment isn't quite ready to let go of all of the trappings of religion. The latest issue of Free Inquiry explores a new split among the humanist ranks – as secular humanists, who have washed their hands of sectarian life, share the stage with the burgeoning congregational humanists, who find value in many of religion's structures and rituals.

Greg Epstein and James Croft of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy are among those who celebrate the rise of "godless congregations" as "an entrepreneurial social project," which they see as giving atheists and other freethinkers a chance celebrate life and find a community of support. "We strenuously reject the negative aspects of many religious faiths and would be horrified to replicate them," write Croft and Epstein. "Yet we also understand that the human animal has a yearning for meaningful community that, for many, was satisfied to some degree in church, synagogue, mosque, or temple."

Free Inquiry editor Tom Flynn sticks up for a strictly secular humanism. He writes that for those on his side of the divide, "the need for 'congregational' experiences—much like the need to, say, believe that their souls will survive into eternity—is just another facet of all they gladly left behind when they left behind religion." Flynn also examines the waning impact of religious humanism (one which embraces "transcendental" ideas), in the face of congregational humanism's ascent.

This special section also includes insightful pieces from John Shook on the humanism of John Dewey; William R. Murry on the ethos of religious humanism, and Jennifer Kalmanson on what she sees as the secular movement's duty to provide the kind community offered by congregational humanism. And there’s much more.

The October-November edition of Free Inquiry, the flagship journal of the Council for Secular Humanism, is available on newsstands now. Get more information at

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Free Inquiry is a bimonthly magazine featuring thoughtful and provocative commentary from such leading political and social commentators as Richard Dawkins, Arthur Caplan, Wendy Kaminer, and Nat Hentoff. Launched in 1980, Free Inquiry has a paid circulation of approximately 34,000 worldwide. The Free Inquiry website is at

The Council for Secular Humanism—housed at the Center for Inquiry—is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization promoting rational inquiry, secular values, and positive human development through the advancement of secular humanism. The Council, publisher of the bimonthly journal Free Inquiry, has a website at

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is