Since the Newtown massacre on Dec. 14, the tableau of grief and mourning
has provided a vivid lesson in the religious variety of America.
This illustration of religious belief in action, of faith expressed in extremis
, an example at once so heart-rending and so affirming, has left behind one prickly question: Where were the humanists? At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent?
In fact, some leaders within the humanist movement — an umbrella term for those who call themselves atheists, agnostics, secularists and freethinkers, among other terms — are ruefully and self-critically saying the same thing themselves.
“It is a failure of community, and that’s where the answer for the future has to lie,” said Greg M. Epstein, 35, the humanist chaplain at Harvard and author of the book Good Without God
. “What religion has to offer to people at moments like this — more than theology, more than divine presence — is community. And we need to provide an alternative form of community if we’re going to matter for the increasing number of people who say they are not believers.”
“A lot of humanist rhetoric of previous generations revolved around reason,” he said. “We’d say, ‘We’re people of reason rather than people of faith.’ But I’ve always been uncomfortable with that as the banner under which we march. We need to think of reason in the service of compassion — caring, being cared-about, a life of meaningful connection. Reason itself is the tool. When we see it as the end-product we miss the point.”
Reason itself is the tool -- to develop faith?