American Humanism and Buddhism: Seeking Community and Culture

I haven’t posted to this blog much in the last few months, mainly because news about the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard now gets posted on our new newsfeed section, and my own editorial commentary I now mostly post at “On Faith“, the Newsweek magazine and Washington Post site on religion.

But occasionally I do come across articles I just want to make a brief comment about. Here is a great one at a very interesting site,

The article details the predicament of American Buddhism, as it too often finds itself disconnected from community, lacking cultural frameworks that would make it sustainable, and failing to connect to a new generation. I find it interesting first because this could very well have been my predicament had I continued with my interest, around age 18-20 or so, of becoming a Buddhist Priest. But also because the situation in many ways mirrors that of Humanism, and of where the current rise in atheism will end up a generation from now unless we develop more sustainable Humanist and atheist community institutions.

Perhaps more on this topic to come, from me. But what do you think? Do you see any parallels between American Buddhists as depicted here, and Humanists and/or atheists? Any lessons for us to learn?


  1. ReligionWriter

    September 24, 2007 @ 10:11 pm



    Interesting that you see parallels between American Buddhism and the atheist/humanist community. The interesting problem to face is the one I asked Clark Strand about: Can you really get Buddhists — or in this case humanists — to act more like a religious community, when many adherents are in fact very disillusioned with the idea of religious community in the first place?

    It’s the same kind of paradox I find in the Pagan community. As they grow, there are more moves toward organization. And then it all starts to look like the “organized religion” that many Pagans are trying to leave behind.

    So is there a method of organizing around spiritual beliefs and deeply held values that avoids some of the pitfalls of organized religion? That’s one for you all to work out! Keep me posted.

  2. Katherine

    September 25, 2007 @ 11:09 pm


    I think that there already are institutions in place that mimic Humanistic communities, although the do not acknowledge themselves as such. For instance, there is the American Psychological Association which explicitly states that not only should psychologists “do no harm”, but also be the best person they can be, the most ethical person, and also adovcate for their patients’ best interests. The medical field also has the Hyperion oath that states that they should do no harm. Police officers actually (believe it or not) have their own ethics code. I think these policies are a way to increase Humanistic practices without causing people to feel like they are conforming to an organized religion.
    The interesting point in time will be if and when Humanism is seen as as a religion instead of just a value system. I know that when I speak of Humanism, people often recoil because they associate any talk of a value system as a type of organized religion. When the realize that there are no formal rules other than being a great person, they relax and are more interested and more open to listening.
    I am looking forward to the day when Humanism is seen as a formal “religion” or belief system, because hopefully it will then be as well known and as prominant as Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism.

  3. Katherine

    September 25, 2007 @ 11:11 pm


    ps I apologize for my spelling errors, it is late and I am a bit tired. I didn’t notice until after I submitted my comment. Oops!

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  5. bobhull

    July 11, 2011 @ 4:40 pm


    Such an interesting take on such a unique paradoxial review…

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