Celeste, the mother, has volunteered for my congregation. She’s basically an aunt to a senior member of our staff. So I cried for the two-sidedness: A member of our community lost her legs below the knees, and nearly lost her daughter. And, in one day, nearly 4,000 people donated more than $250,000 to support them. They seemed to be saying, through their gifts, “Please do this for me too if anything should ever happen to me or my family.”
As a chaplain, I’m struggling to make sense of this tragedy just like any other member of the clergy. And like faith communities across the country, the thousands of people I work with are doing what needs to be done when tragedy strikes close to home. We’re offering one another comfort. We’re calling around to the point of exhaustion, trying to figure out who needs help and how we can provide it.
The only difference is, we are a community of atheists — a congregation of Humanists.
You’ve probably read the statistics: With 18% of the nation’s population now nonreligious, America is less religious today than ever before. This especially applies to young Americans, up to a third of whom now have no religion. That number may be closer to half on many of the college campuses throughout Boston, like the one where I work.
What you may not have noticed, however, is that in addition to the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones” as sociologists have taken to calling them, a new and very significant group of Americans has been emerging — the nonreligiously affiliated. Relatively quietly, many thousands of mostly young Americans who identify as atheists and agnostics have been coming together to form civically active, thoughtful secular community groups that now dot nearly our whole nation.