Atheist Sunday: A Church Without A God





Photo credit: reuvenim (Creative Commons)

It sounds like a misnomer, or at least a mistake. A church without a God? What kind of incongruity is that? However, that is just what the Sunday Assembly is creating. They are working to spread this new kind of godless church throughout the world; and most shocking of all, it’s working.

Originally founded in January 2013 by Sandra Jones and Pippa Evans in London, the gathering has continually taken on new members. In a little more than a year, the Sunday Assembly has established over 30 satellite gatherings around the world. Grown from the idea of social capitalism from two stand-up comedians, the “church” calls to people’s need be around others who agree with them.

The service is very similar to what you would find in a religious ceremony, with a few glaring differences. They don’t sing hymns, but everyone does enjoy the covers of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Afterwards, they have their own type of sermon. Instead of the 7 Deadly Sins, their sermons are likely to be lectures on neuroscience or global warming. Everyone gathers to mingle and meet new friends.

So, what exactly is going on here? It’s not exactly offensive, but they do seem to be stepping on some toes. So far, these gatherings haven’t been likely to kick your Sunday service out. They are held elsewhere, in the lower levels of bars and restaurants and public meeting halls throughout the country. There are some, however, that have been held in desecrated churches.

The philosophy of the Sunday Assembly are surprisingly simple. They have music and a lecture on one topic or another, and they promote a sense of community. According to their website, their motto is to “live better, help often, wonder more.”

This alteration of the traditional values of the church leads to some important questions. How do Christians feel about the Sunday Assembly? Is it a religion, a fad, an honest gathering of individuals, or a ploy for attention?

Webster’s dictionary has a very broad definition of religion. It includes everything from a belief in a god to an interest or activity that is important to you or a group. From that, one would probably be led to believe that this is, in fact, a new kind of religion. The religion of science (insert Jaws soundtrack here).

Incredibly, Jones does not believe that there will be much backlash from the religious community. He expects that there will actually be much greater resistance from the atheist community, many of whom base their beliefs on the complete avoidance of anything resembling religion.

How do people adjust to new religions? If history is any indicator, the answer is not particularly well. Additionally, what happens to the children who are raised in a belief system like this? While there is no particular evidence that would indicate that the children would have a higher rate of drug or alcohol abuse, it is easy for these groupings to become cult-like very quickly (remember Tom Cruise and his Scientology campaign?)

The problem with these “new” religions is that they have no grounding. There is nothing for them to stick to, nothing that says “do this, not that”. Having one or two bad leaders can have a major impact on the overall organization, and they can turn it into something altogether unhealthy.

For now, the Sunday Assembly is focused mainly on adults who just want to hang out with others like them. However, the way the organization is exploding, and the very vague guiding doctrine, leaves plenty of room for people to take advantage. Hopefully, for the sake of basically everyone’s sanity, let us hope that doesn’t happen.

For now, as a fledgling community started by two stand-up comedians from England, there has been little attention drawn to it. Then again, there was little attention drawn to Amazon before it became a household name. Any start-up company that managed to open 30 satellite offices in its first year would be considered a staggering success. If this sort of growth continues, you may find the next Sunday Assembly is gathering in your neighborhood.

 

Adrienne Erin is a skeptical freelance writer and designer who is always turning a critical eye to the news. To see more of her work, check out her blog, Pongra.
Photo credit: reuvenim (Creative Commons)




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