Participating in Humanist Communities Makes a Difference

Like many humanists I was raised religious. In the years that followed my apostasy, sometimes I missed the camaraderie and community: church potlucks, theatrical plays, holiday celebrations, and charitable volunteering and fundraising.

Studies show that community is important for pro-social behavior, volunteerism, health, happiness, and well-being.

Community connection can be complicated in today’s society, though, with the ubiquity of social media. Participating in communities in person can instill a sense of belonging that one may not get online.

Humanist communities provide a place for fellowship and solidarity for growing numbers of Americans who are disaffiliating from faith-based institutions — myself included. Many humanist communities meet weekly to hear fascinating talks, discuss legislation, and plan events.

Humanist communities also present opportunities for generosity, like churches often do. Humanist groups are often focused on volunteer efforts like assisting unhoused people and feeding people in need.

As humanists we strive to help other humans, and our interaction with one another involves doing just that: volunteering, fundraising, giving.

Strong social networks influence generosity. For example, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley found that people with more friends engage in more volunteering, charitable giving, and blood donations.

As humanists, we can unite and experience that sense of community and feel like together we can make a difference, and go out and make it happen.

Many religious communities seem to have it down.

Community group Humanists Doing Good volunteering at a Colorado food bank

Community is what inspires generosity.

Local religious congregations are often on the front lines of providing charitable services to people living in poverty through food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters.

Although three-quarters of charity given by highly religious Americans is channeled through religion, sociologists found that the most religious Americans give more to secular causes than secular people do.

Donations to religious charities were hardly affected during the recession, though secular giving fell. That may be because of social networks formed at churches, synagogues and mosques.

Sociologists David Campbell and Robert Putnam studied how religiosity impacts behavior, finding that religious Americans are about 4 times as generous as secular Americans.

Their studies found that while religious people give more, such generosity isn’t tied to what religion or even how religious people are, or if they believe in being rewarded for their good deeds; their giving is associated with their involvement in the church community.

It isn’t religious belief itself that inspires giving, but community is what motivates and inspires religious people to be more generous.

The sociologists’ studies also found that people who are active in religious communities are systematically also better neighbors, more likely to work on community projects, more likely to give blood, and even more likely to let a stranger cut in front of them in line. They’re good at being part of a community.

How closely integrated into their community of faith a person is determines their level of religious giving, too.

It’s not so much faith as communities of faith that inspire religious people to give.

Community group Humanist Alliance Philippines, International

Communities without faith can inspire generosity, too.

Humanist communities can come together to work on community projects and mobilize to assist our neighbors. We can gather with one another and experience that camaraderie and companionship as a united group, too.

Foundation Beyond Belief’s volunteer network is currently made up of about 100 teams across the U.S. and around the world. Our teams work to put compassionate humanism into action through community volunteering and charitable fundraising. To date, team members have donated over 195,000 hours of community service.

Find a humanist community to join near you on our BBN Team Page.

You can also donate to help support our teams here.