The question: what if secularists--atheists, agnostics, humanists, rationalists--had an analog to a community church, a venue where they could congregate on a weekly basis, learn of philosophy, religion, history, and science from community leaders, direct concurrent programs of instruction for their children, and support community initiatives or charitable organizations in accord with their values? What if secularists could call upon one another when in need? What if they were able to strengthen their beliefs through a communal elevation of rationalism, and strengthen their communities by their leadership and coordinated action?
I have had this idea for only a short while. I have a great deal of respect for organized religion as a social institution. It provides counseling, sanctuary, charity, and community. When properly implemented, it stabilizes families and helps socialize children and adults to act responsibly and honorably. It educates, enlightens, and imparts wisdom to its congregation. It connects people to a shared past and provides identity. If not for the egregious flaw of relying on the invocation of a fictitious omnipotent being, through whose agents are His will, edicts, and knowledge imparted, I might almost be persuaded to join a religion.
There are also a multitude of pitfalls to asserting that a church's position is backed up by an incontrovertible authority; I need not enunciate these here. Much blood has been spilt in His name.
What we secularists need is a Secular Forum. Maybe a Secular Sunday School, a place for our children to be imbued with a sense of wonder for the world, and equipped with curiosity, knowledge, and skepticism so they may better understand its wonder. A place where tolerance, respect, responsibility, health, scholarliness, and love are promoted. We have too much xenophobia and hate in our world. Too much credulity and ignorance.
My son recently attended a summer camp sponsored by a church. In addition to the watersports, campouts, and sing-songs, the kids were also treated to about one hour of religious instruction a day. My son was taught that "Only fools don't believe in God," a sentiment he disagreed with but did not dispute. I know that my son is too well supported at home to believe that atheists are fools. I expect that most other children there are not, and accepted this truth without reservation.
Such is the danger and the promise of educating children.