Religion for atheists? A community roundtable

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The eye of God, or the majestic universe?Religions have accrued wisdom about community and human flourishing that can be especially valuable to atheists. Consider the fact that attending religious services is associated with a boost in longevity of up to six years, equivalent to the boost from regular exercise or being a non-smoker. Partly this has to do with religion improving self-control and steering people toward healthier habits, but there are other key factors. Religions provide a caring community that staves off loneliness, gives people a sense of belonging, and provides a safety net. Religious thought also provides hope for the long-term future, a coherent worldview, and relaxing rituals such as prayer. The benefits of community and optimism may help explain findings that religiously active people are slightly happier on average; that they generally have healthier immune function and fewer hospital admissions; and they even when they get cancer or AIDS, they have lower levels of stress hormones and they survive longer.

With the wisdom of religion in mind, this roundtable discussion brings together three clerical leaders in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to delve into the nature of spirituality and the benefits of community. Join us for a unique and animated exchange! Download the podcast here.

Marion Hirsch has directed Religious Education for twelve years at the Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist, and she is the Campus Ministry Director of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at UNC Chapel Hill. She works with hundreds of youth ranging from elementary school to college. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious group, increasingly popular among students, that emphasizes the individual search for meaning and is devoted to basic principles of dignity, justice, peace and respect.

Susan Steinberg is the Associate Pastor for Children’s Ministries at United Church of Chapel Hill and she has a Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt University. The United Church of Christ is a diverse Protestant Christian denomination espousing the motto, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

Randy Best has been the Leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle since 2008. He is a graduate of Grinnel, Harvard and the Humanist Institute, and he is certified as a Mediator and as a Pastoral Counselor. The Ethical Culture movement in the United States is based on the idea that humanist ethical principles are the bedrock of the meaningful and fulfilled life.