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Sunday School for Atheists

I realize that community is important. Mormonism has always provided me and my family a ready-made community—a quirky, somewhat dysfunctional community, but no human community is flawless after all. Leaving Mormonism has meant leaving that community behind (in spirit at least since I attend Sunday services to support my family).

A recent Time article, Sunday School for Atheists, highlights the growing trend of atheistic parents banding together to support each other in teaching and living their values. The most consistently held values among the diverse atheist population seem to be free and critical thinking. Parents find it challenging to cultivate these values in the midst of a culture that instead values faith in traditional ideas at the expense of personal exploration and determination. This would probably be a non-issue in a largely non-religious culture.

As a parent, I worry that community (or the lack thereof) might be the determining factor in my children’s choices regarding their belief systems. Human beings are social animals. Going it alone is difficult for most. People like to fit in to a group, if possible. Thinking like your peers is a good way to fit in, so stray thoughts and doubts may be subconsciously pruned when they seem too aberrant from cultural norms. I don’t want that for my girls, but I do want them to have a community.

So I’m in the market for a community that supports human development without restricting free thought, exploration, and expression of what it means to be human. I intend to visit the local Unitarian Universalist congregation after New Years when my family’s LDS ward will presumably change its meeting schedule. The UU congregation seems like a good place to start my search.

In the meantime, I like what I heard in these videos that I found through their website (from the UU FAQ website). The first is a bit cheesy, but it gives me a flavor.

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  1. Lincoln Cannon said,

    November 26, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

    “So I’m in the market for a community that supports human development without restricting free thought, exploration, and expression of what it means to be human.”

    So far as I am concerned, Mormonism should be this. Unfortunately, in practice it sometimes fails. However, until I am persuaded that it is superseded, I’ll try to contribute toward more successes. You could, too.

  2. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 10:01 am

    My break with my former self was so utterly complete that—beyond some good memories, good friends, and a fondness for some of the hymns—I feel no connection to Mormonism as a religion. It’s like my brain was rewired.

    LDS Inc. is a big ship that’s going to take a while to turn itself around. I’m not talking about a minor course correction. It would need to radically change direction for me to find it acceptable. If I had my way, it would probably look a lot more like UU when I was done. When I attend sacrament meetings, I have to studiously ignore what is being said so that I don’t get worked up.

    In short, I don’t find any doctrine or culture in Mormonism that I value enough to do the hard work of salvaging it. If I work for change, it will probably always be as an outsider.

  3. Anonymous said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 12:06 pm


    I was just thinking about this the other day when I realized that my son is missing out on important human connection because I have made a decision to become inactive.
    So, should I go back to church just so my son can have a play mate? Am I hindering his social skills because his mother no longer believes? Ugh, the joys of parenting.

  4. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 12:27 pm


    I personally wouldn’t take my (hypothetical) son to church just so he can find a playmate, especially since you have decided to leave activity in the church. It sounds like you have deliberate reasons for not going to church, so there must be some other place to find playmates for your son.

  5. the individual voice said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 3:38 pm

    The Unitarians always appealed to me, but being Jewish, though agnostic, not religious, I always wished there was some form of Jewish Unitarianism. I never felt comfortable in any of the Jewish communities I tried to join. All too religious, even Reform. Wasn’t sure if I should leave this comment here or over at Lubab’s, where I found your blog. Interesting hearing the not-Mormon perspective.

  6. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

    I worry that the Protestant flavor of UU services might be off-putting, but I guess I’ll see. I’ve only been to one Reform service (whatever the jargon is) and one Orthodox Seder. I can see why you might something that feels more like home, if that makes sense.

  7. Wayne said,

    November 28, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

    You have, as far as I am concerned, described a typical American Zen sangha. Sadly a lot of zen centers don’t have room for kids.

  8. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 29, 2007 @ 7:17 am


    I plan to also visit a sangha sometime. I’m thinking first about a sangha associated with Kwan Um Zen. Any thoughts or suggestions about what to look for in a sangha?

  9. Peter said,

    November 29, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

    The Humanist Community’s website is:

    we don’t have commercials or anything (yet?), but we do have some google videos up:

  10. Seth R. said,

    November 30, 2007 @ 8:16 am

    The problem is to form a group that has any sort of meaning or claim, such that it can form a cohesive entity, you need to adhere to a set of principles that will, by necessity, be somewhat exclusive.

    One has to ask the realistic question – what principles or ideas will a group defined by unbelief rally around? It seems to me that the moment someone tries to impose some universal norms upon the members of the group, it will immediately fracture and dissolve.

    I guess I’m still having a hard time seeing atheism as anything other than the mere absence of belief. You can’t form a real lasting group around the absence of something. You have to rally around a positive, otherwise there won’t be any practical draw or appeal to group membership.

  11. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 30, 2007 @ 8:35 am

    You’re exactly right. Atheism is a rather poor banner to rally around. Atheists, however, generally find common cause in the U.S. in separation of church and state issues but not much else.

    Humanism is another story. Most atheists that I know subscribe to some form of humanism, but the two philosophies are not identical by any means. UU embodies very humanistic ideals which are compatible but not synonymous with atheism:

    There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations [which are members of the UU Association of Congregations] affirm and promote:

    * The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    * Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    * Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    * A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    * The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    * The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    * Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

    (UUA: Our Principles)

    Those, I believe, are ties that can bind.

  12. Stephen Merino said,

    December 4, 2007 @ 11:22 am


    I hope you do go check out a UU congregation. I have been attending one now for almost a year and I really enjoy it. I agree with you on the seven principles – there is room for different kinds of beliefs, but the principles bring people together on what’s most important. Every congregation is different, so I don’t know what yours will be like. Mine is pretty humanist, and sometimes even anti-religious. That latter aspect bugs me a bit, as it does the minister based on some conservations I’ve had with him. But it’s a wonderful community of questioning, caring, free-thinking people that see good in religion.

    That Time article you mentioned made me think of a recent book called Parenting Beyond Belief. I’ve been thinking of buying it.

    We’ve got to completely dispel the myth that atheists and agnostics have an empty spot in their hearts and minds where religion supposedly exists. I’m getting tired of it. Now that I’ve “come out” as an agnostic and stopped going to LDS services, I actually feel like I have a deeper sense of moral urgency and conviction, partly because I arrived at my conclusions myself and see that like-minded people have, too.

  13. Jonathan Blake said,

    December 4, 2007 @ 11:57 am

    I’ve read PBB and highly recommend it. I sometimes think it would be nice to review books here, but I need to work on my book review skills.

    I also feel a greater sense of morality and urgency. It’s funny how that works.

  14. Wayne said,

    December 5, 2007 @ 2:34 pm


    I ended up with the group I did because they are close to my house and had a daily Zazen schedule that I could work with.

    I ended up staying because I like the teacher and the fairly traditional services. (chants, bowing, time keeping). We also just started a kids program.

    I might have stayed even if I did not like the teacher, immediately, simply because of my interest in the practice; Teachers have a lot of influence over the community so, if you find you do not like them you might not like the rest of the Sangha…….. does this help?

  15. Jonathan Blake said,

    December 11, 2007 @ 7:36 am

    I thought I had responded, but somehow I guess I hadn’t.

    Thank you, Wayne. That is helpful.

  16. Is It Naptime Yet » Blog Archive » Three times the charm said,

    February 3, 2008 @ 10:29 am

    [...] TV and I wanted to stay and cuddle with her rather than get up.) I’m letting Jon visit the Unitarian Church today. It just seems easier to have it happen on a day where I don’t have to explain why my [...]

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