Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Community Isn't Enough

Sociologist Peter Berger has a good post about humanist funerals (or lack thereof) over at his blog. It is worth reading in full, but here are the highlights.

The central question is this:

Why don’t people think of turning to [humanists] when seeking comfort in the midst of grief?

Greg Epstein, the “humanist chaplain” at Harvard, gives an answer:

It’s a failure of community….What religion has to offer to people—more than theology, more than divine presence—is community. And we [humanists] 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.

In today's Christian climate, this actually amounts to an orthodox answer. "Community" is the goal of Christianity, with the assumption being that we know what we're talking about when we talk about community - it's common sense. Chris Huebner think Christians should operate with a different assumption, however: "the church determines what we mean by community and not the other way around." Because this is so, we cannot divorce divine presence, or even theology, from community.

Berger goes on to give an excellent reply to Epstein:

Where is Epstein right? Yes, community helps people cope with grief—any community—even a few neighbors coming over with some hugs and a meal. Of course a group of humanists can serve the same purpose. But this will hardly make their message more plausible, though it may make a particular group of humanists more likable. Activity on behalf of a good cause can divert the mind from sorrow; there is nothing wrong with that. Also, it is possible for individuals without faith to face tragedy with stoic dignity. But one does not need a humanist church for that. 
Where is Epstein wrong? Yes, of course a religious community can offer comfort of the same kind as any other community. But religion offers something much more central than community in the abstract: It offers a community gathered around the message that death is not the final word about an individual life and nothingness not the final destiny of the universe. At any rate this is the message shared by the Abrahamic faiths that came to Newtown. Whether this message is true or not, humanism in the sense of “no faith” cannot offer a plausible alternative.

No comments:

Post a Comment