After Newtown, Where Were The Humanists? Just Look Harder

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?It has been a couple of weeks since the tragic mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school where 26 people were murdered by a man with a gun on December 14th. No one, who is human, can not feel sad at the loss of so many children. Even if you didn’t personally know the victims or their families we all have empathy for them. Not only has the murders brought guns back to the front of the public debate but it also is being used as a litmus test for those of use who are Humanists and non-religious.

There was an article in the New York Times on Friday 12/18 that asked where were the Humanists during the grieving process in Newtown:

The funerals and burials over the past two weeks have taken place in Catholic, Congregational, Mormon and United Methodist houses of worship, among others. They have been held in Protestant megachurches and in a Jewish cemetery. A black Christian youth group traveled from Alabama to perform “Amazing Grace” at several of the services.

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?

To raise these queries is not to play gotcha, or to be judgmental in a dire time. 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 University 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.”

In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent

Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, infers that we Humanists have “failed” to respond to the tragedy like the religious groups did and that failure was because we don’t have a community that offers people what they need during these times.


While I agree we should have caring communities and provide outreach to those who need it, I totally disagree with the article and Epstein’s comments. Humanists weren’t missing we just don’t go around and thump our chests or pat ourselves on the back in a public way like the religious do. We weren’t the ones who erected cartoon angels to represent the dead and other such public displays that don’t actually help the people who lost loved ones.

And as the NY Times article points out, Humanists weren’t invited to the interfaith service.

The thrust of the article and from comments like those from national Humanist leaders like Greg Epstein seems to infer that only the religious can provide community or comfort in tragedy.

I know from personal experience that is false. I have known many people in my Humanist community who have helped me in my down times and when I had a loved one die I got many messages of support from fellow Humanists. It was great comfort for me and I have reciprocated that support to others when needed.

The religious don’t have a monopoly on comfort and community and I am disappointed when Humanist leaders fall into that false talking point.

I get tired being told that just because we don’t flaunt ourselves in public that our beliefs are less valid than the religious.

We don’t need to be religious to give comfort or provide community in times of need. We also don’t need to create an “alternative form of community.” We just need to be there when needed and to offer support and comfort when we can. It isn’t hard to do and is a natural part of being Human.

Just because our support doesn’t have a PR firm sending out press releases and we aren’t seen on TV doesn’t mean we are missing from events like those that happened in Newtown, Connecticut. You just need to look harder.

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