I previously posted about my complaints about some Humanists forming ‘churches’ or creating ‘congregations’. My concern has always been about using warmed over religious words like ‘congregation’ or having ‘services’ on a Sunday. I explained that using religious words for non-religious activities causes confusion and doesn’t explain what we Humanists are really about. So in this post I want to explain how being honest in the terms we use will actually lead more people joining us.
…if you want to serve the needs of atheists why does it have to be on a Sunday, in the form of a religious service, with washed up ministers, and warmed over religious words and rituals. If someone can explain that to me then maybe I might come around.
The claim that people “demand” it seems to point more to culture indoctrination than something that is unique to atheist people.
My words, quoted above, was concerning a report on the CNN website of a Humanist holding services on a Sunday and calling it a ‘congregation’. I also posted on this blog a similar essay about the same issue back in May.
99% of believers don’t differentiate between a theistic ‘congregation’ and a non-theistic one. People tend to take shortcuts to understanding and use labels or patterns to make it clear in their own mind even if that ‘understanding’ is factually wrong. Hearing a Humanist ‘congregation’ is meeting on a Sunday doesn’t make that person investigate Humanists to see what is different. THAT is the problem.
One important principle of advertising, I retained from college, is that a brand must differentiate itself from other brands in the category if it hopes to grow market share:
The ultimate goal of any brand effort is differentiation. Setting your product apart from its competitors is an essential first step toward creating preference and loyalty. According to research firm, Millward Brown, “Brands that are perceived as being different have a much higher potential for growth than do other brands.” Consequently, identifying and communicating meaningful points of difference has become the focus of much strategic branding work.
You have to give people a reason to change and using warmed over religious words and activities don’t give a reason to change to Humanism. We need to point out why people should become a Humanist and meeting in a ‘church’ on a ‘Sunday’ isn’t a point we should be making.
You can’t ignore the common meaning of having a ‘church’ and services on a ‘Sunday’. A believer sees that and they falsely think “Oh, they are just like us…” while a potential new Humanist sees it and falsely thinks “They are just like the group I want to leave [or have nothing to do with]”.
Having services on a Sunday as a ‘congregation’ says nothing about what we believe or what we do as Humanists.
If we need to label a gathering of Humanists, I much prefer to call it a ‘community’. It’s a more positive inclusive label that doesn’t start out confusing outsiders. They may check us out or investigate what we are about. Sure, they may turn and run away screaming but they would at least be making that choice on factual information of what we are about. I think the use of warmed over religious talk is far more harmful to growing a non-theistic movement than a concern about an ‘ugly’ monument in Florida.
I’ve always thought one of the best parts of Humanism, and the reason I am a Humanist rather than just an atheist, is because of the community. A community can meet anywhere, at anytime, for any reason. I have as much fun meeting new people at our local Humanist group’s booth at Columbus’ Comfest each year as I do meeting once a month in a room to hear a lecture. Having services on a Sunday unnecessarily limits what you can do as a group. If you are looking to grow you need to go where the people are and you can’t do that holed up in a building on a Sunday.
I also think we need to spend more time expressing what we are about – like the 10 Points of Humanism – and less time trying to be like the theists with a Sunday service.
Just think how we could grow if we spent our resources promoting how we are different rather than waste resources trying to mimic believers.