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Atheists Together

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A friend brought my attention to an article from Time magazine earlier this month about atheist “churches.”  I was interested to learn that there is a new “freethought church” in Kansas City, MO.  I wonder if they know about the long tradition they belong to, about the “Church of This World” founded in 1897 by John Emerson Roberts.

From their website www.kcoasis.org

From their website http://www.kcoasis.org

So many of the  leaders among the atheist/agnostic communities have come out of the Christian denominations.  Leading a community is what they have been trained to do.  When their beliefs change, they take these skills to a new audience.

There are some who think these communities are a bad idea.  Bill Maher is quoted in the article as saying, “It undermines the whole point of atheism, because the reason why people need to get together in religion is precisely because it’s nonsensical.”

Would it parallel this statement to suggest that people attend football games in great numbers to support each other in the nonsensical belief that these games really matter?

If Maher can’t separate a belief system from the human desire for community, I wonder what he thinks the “whole point of atheism” is.  To reject the idea of god does not require one to be live in isolation.  To enjoy fellowship is not a crutch.  Nor is the idea of finding like-minded people to join in doing good in the world a statement of faith.

94933_CoverFrontI have a sneaking suspicion that when convinced atheists reject fellowship it is because they really would rather not put up with agnostics, who have not committed themselves to the understanding that there is no god.  This reflects another element which I think is characteristic of humanity: the desire to draw lines and strive for purity.

John Emerson Roberts, on the other hand, would be delighted to know there is a new community of freethinkers in Kansas City, MO.

115 Years ago today . . .

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On this date, June 9, 1897, John Emerson Roberts left the Unitarians to go out to lecture on his own.  He had met Robert Ingersoll, that famous agnostic, and they found themselves kindred spirits.  Ingersoll wrote to Roberts, “You are preaching a religion for this world.”  Roberts told a news reporter about Ingersoll, “He is the greatest apostle of liberty and reason and fraternity.”

Both men called themselves agnostics.  What did it mean in their time?  A religious man wrote “We must stand for faith in God as against atheism, and for faith in immortality as against agnosticism.”

Atheism is clear enough as not believing in God.  Isn’t agnosticism simply a refusal to make a claim where one has no knowledge?

In fact, neither Ingersoll nor Roberts ever challenged belief in immortality.  The desire to believe in a future life, even among educated people, was so strong at that time it might have hurt their careers to argue the matter.  Speeches at funerals, even freethinkers’ funerals, left the option open.

Roberts himself had no wish to challenge the belief.  He said in one lecture, give in 1909:

If this life ends all, then nature is the infinite deceiver, the colossal liar,. . . . and though I do not know it to be a fact and cannot prove it, yet I will trust that when the world is old and the sun is cold and the infinite future is unrolled, man shall yet continue conscious, intelligent, aspiring, deathless, having life and having it more abundantly.

Roberts envisions no traditional heaven, but he wants to believe that life goes on, and until science can persuade him it is impossible, as it could not 100 years ago, he chooses to believe that it will.

The science which underlies arguments about belief has changed significantly since Roberts’s time.

My biography, John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher, is available from Amazon, or from the author.  See more on the Books page.