About our community
The Boston Atheists organization seeks to provide for its members the same sort of community that religious people find in their places of worship, but without any of the supernaturalist baggage. Our social events include monthly Sunday brunches and pub nights where members can come together and enjoy one another's company, as well as intellectual and cultural programs like philosophy discussions, book club meetings, holiday cocktail parties, and museum outings.
If you live in the Boston area and would like to get involved in our group (or are simply curious) you are very welcome to attend any of our public events, where you can meet some people, make some friends, and get a sense of the kind of atmosphere we're striving to operate with. You can sign-up for event updates at our Meetup page, or join our group on Facebook. If you join the BA mailing list, you'll receive our monthly newsletter and notifications of special programs. And if you'd like to speak with someone from the leadership team before you attend, feel free to contact us with your questions.
So you're a club or a gang or what?
Officially, the Boston Atheists is a social organization. Plans are underway for the group (with more than 1,000 members) to file as an official non-profit, in the first quarter of 2017. Boston Atheists is among the largest of the secular membership organizations in New England. The group is a member of the Boston Coalition of Reason; an endorser of the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts; and an official affiliate of American Atheists.
Isn't a "community" of "atheists" an oxymoron?
Well, we know what you mean. For a very long time, the traditional forms of social and civic participation have often been religious in nature. When people got together with their neighbors, it was often in churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious buildings; and their purpose in coming together was often religious as well -- to study the scriptures, to have the doctrines of the faith explained or expounded upon, and so on.
Let's imagine a group of people who 1) live near one another and 2) come together in person for the purpose of a) exploring shared values, b) confronting common challenges, c) and for the pleasure of one another's company. If you asked many people to name the sort of social institution this definition describes, they'd very likely say, Oh -- you're talking about church! Ah, but what if those people are atheists, who don't profess belief in a higher power and who aren't coming together as people with a shared faith? It's interesting to note that our social consciousness doesn't have a ready word for such an institution. For various reasons, the phrase "atheist church" strikes many as misleading or downright silly.
Semantics aside, why shouldn't atheists come together as a community? If you find yourself thinking that such a thing sounds strange, you might ask yourself what assumptions you're making about atheists that could be contributing to that feeling.
Atheists are not a homogenous group. We have no creeds or doctrines. In fact, if we were to have a doctrine, it would be to think for oneself, and to not have a doctrine (you see, Zen Buddhism doesn't have a monopoly on paradoxical heuristics). This independence of thought and diversity has led some to say that organizing atheists is like herding cats. But we are not cats; we are human animals, and as a species we're genetically inclined to socialize. Our brains evolved to navigate social spaces and even the most introverted among us crave companionship and a sense of community. In many societies, churches and temples do double duty as community centers. Where that is the case, religion has a kind of privileged monopoly on social and communal functions like socializing with friends and peers, bringing together romantic prospects, experiencing or witnessing rites of passage, articulating and exploring personal values, mutual aid in times of crisis, and bingo on Wednesday nights. What we're trying to do with our Boston Atheists organization is engender the kinds of personal and social relationships that lead to all these forms of social and civic participation. When you have a group of people that are regularly engaging with each other in these ways, there's only one word to describe what you see: community.
Well, why don't you call yourselves Humanists then?
Because some of us aren't Humanists! (Though many of us do happen to identify that way.) It's the case that atheists are often dissatisfied with being labeled "mere" atheists; and true enough, this is a terrifically limited label. Why should we be defined by our absence of belief? So we adopt other labels as a way to identify themselves to each other and to announce their values to other: freethinker, nonbeliever, skeptic, secularist, secular humanist, Humanist. We use the word "atheist" in the name of our organization, simply because this term is the most basic. The word "atheist" doesn't entail agreement with any manifesto or charter; it isn't a point of contention for our community members. This allows our group to be as large a tent as possible, with room for a great deal of epistemological, temperamental, and philosophical diversity. What brings us together is not the minimal fact of our shared disbelief. Rather, it is our common interest in finding out how to move beyond mere disbelief, now that we've realized there are a great number of us wanting to engage each other as a community.