First Church of Atheism

I still say atheism is not a religion.

But Paul and Jacki McMaster have started the First Church of Atheism. It’s a way to ordain atheist “ministers” who can preside over things like weddings, funerals, and commitment ceremonies.

It’s legal and free to get ordained.

Why did they start it?

When Paul and Jacki were wed in 2006, they hired a non-denominational minister to perform the ceremony. They requested that the ceremony be entirely faith neutral, as they were both devout atheists. To their dismay, the ceremony that the minister submitted for their approval was littered with references to, and direct statements about, god. They pulled out a red pen and started editing, paring down the ceremony into a 2 minute long affair.

For the next year, they would laugh about that story, telling their friends about the “non-denominational” minister who read them their vows in a Friar Tuck shirt, complete with collar. While funny, this also says something tragic about the state of our society when it comes to atheists. Non-denominational means generally Christian. For atheists, this is impossible to accept.

So the couple decided to form a society to provide others with what they did not get for their wedding.

I’m not sure how this is better than being a Humanist Celebrant, or getting ordained with the Universal Life Church, but kudos to Paul and Jacki for setting up another venue for atheists to run these services.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    So are you going to get ordained Hemant? I still remember you saying that you’d love to be an atheist pastor! :)

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant

    You know, I actually got ordained with ULC during college along with my roommate :) But I did sign up to be ordained at this church as well. I just have to be approved!

    “Atheist Pastor Hemant” is coming soon.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    We can start calling you the Reverend Mehta!

  • Mriana

    I have my doubts as to whether or not the ULC is legit, even for Christian ministers. However, the AHA, the Humanist Celebrant link you gave, has Humanist Celebrants that are legit and they do have non-religious services.

  • Richard Wade

    Shouldn’t we be calling him the Irreverend Mehta? Or the Unreverend? Will he wear a funny collar? Maybe backwards? Hey Hemant, if you really get up there in the Atheist Church hierarchy we could address you as Your Unholiness (Nonholiness?) and kiss your secret atheist decoder ring. Then when we get enough of the unflock going to the atheist churches where we all gather to not worship or to worship Not and to not listen to unsermons and not sing stuff unless it’s purely secular like “Look For the Union Label” or Monty Python’s “The Galaxy Song” or Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements” or whatever the heck we’ll do or not do, we can start accusing each other of not being “real” atheists because of differences in how we don’t believe or how our faith isn’t weak enough. We could have corruption and self serving practices build up until the Great Atheism Schism and non-religious war spreads across the globe.

    Or not.

  • Siamang

    Hey, I wouldn’t mind officiating at weddings!

    That is, if someone would WANT me officiating at their wedding!

  • Richard Wade

    Aww, Siamang I’d have you officiate at my wedding, except I got married before the Earth solidified.

  • http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com Joel Sax

    Hmm., Well, for some people this will fill a need.

  • Daniel Boese

    Unfortunately, the form for ordination seems unoperational at the moment – once your data is entered and you click the button, the site gives an error page that reads “TDOMF: Bad data submitted. Please return to the previous page and reload it. Then try submitting your request again.”

  • Michael B.

    My wife and I got married in a very small boat in San Fran Bay by the captain. She did a wonderful job of keeping god out of the ceremony. The funny thing is, I don’t think that anyone on either side of the family really knows that we are atheists but no questions were asked about the lack of god. Self denial is a funny thing.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Is this true? Really? Hamant as a pastor? I can never tell if you guys are being sarcastic or serious… :[ I’m just too naive, I guess. Oh well…

    But when I heard that, I got this brilliant idea! I want to arrange a round-table friendly discussion/debate sort of thing, with pastors (my own pastor included) and other religious leaders in my area, as well as an enlightened man (not a Christian) whose words I truly admire. I will be meeting him at the end of this month. (I can’t wait!)

    Anyway, if I set something up, will you come, Hemant? And maybe Richard Wade can come too! That would be the most wonderful honor ever!! We can invite the media.

    It’s good to dream big… :)

  • http://firstchurchofatheism.com Jacki McMaster

    First, I’d like to say thanks for reviewing my site! Everyone who has signed up will be approved for their ordainment today, it’s typically a 24 hour wait. Also, I wanted to tell you exactly what it is that makes us different from the ULC and Humanist Celebrants. If you would like to become a Humanist Celebrant, you must first join the AHA and be a member for 1 year. And to be ordained by the ULC, you are professing to a belief in God, and becoming ordained at a church with a cross on it. Well, thanks again for your interest! You’ll be officially ordained today, and you will be an atheist minister for life!

  • John

    We used a judge for our wedding, and he was fantastic.

  • Vincent

    I don’t see the point, but then I was married at the courthouse by a judge, so it was completely secular.

  • Daniel Boese

    Good news – whatever was broken on the site is now fixed. Ordain away. :)

  • http://joshuamcharles.com/blog Josh Charles

    The Universal Life Church seems to be pretty full of woo. Check out their ‘prayer requests’ page.

    http://www.ulc.net/index.php?page=prayer

    Something that is whole rational is more of my sort of thing. My dad is an ordained minister, for a christian church. It would be nice to follow in his footsteps, although perhaps in a way he wouldn’t really approve of.

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  • http://musings.meanderwithme.com Allison

    Love it!

    My dh and I married nearly a year ago (anniversary on 11/24) by a good friend of mine who happens to be Wiccan — but who is also quite respectful of our non-belief. There were a few references to the Universe (capital “U”) in there, but we both approved, and in some ways, “coincidence” could be subbed for “universe” if you like. (ie, the Universe has brought you together)

    At some point, I thought my father’s head would explode due to the lack of Jesusiness. My super-duper-Baptist sister-in-law decided to hang out in the kids’ activity room rather than listen to our ceremony. Bah, whatever. We thoroughly enjoyed our “big party, interrupted by a few minutes of talking” and got some great positive feedback from those who weren’t so xian-inclined.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane. It’s cool to realize that for a wedding we threw together in 2ish months, I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Now, if I can just find a good way for a sense of community once we move to Vienna…anyone know of any good organizations there?

  • JoshH

    Personally, I think they should use a different word for it (something other than “church”). This is only going to play into the false apologist argument that “atheism is a religion too.”

  • Mriana

    Josh Charles said,

    November 10, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    The Universal Life Church seems to be pretty full of woo. Check out their ‘prayer requests’ page.

    That’s another reason why I say it is questionable. They seem more like Universalists than Unitarians, much less Humanists. These people have no training in ministering to anyone- secularly or religiously. The AHA puts people through classes, just as any other type of ministry does. I think to be legit you have to have some understanding of people, as well as the philosophy/religion you are a minister of. I’m sure Epstein had years of training to be a Humanist minister. However, knowledge of religious texts of any kind is not required to be a Humanist minister. I know, because I asked the AHA.

  • Mriana

    Jacki McMaster said,

    November 10, 2007 at 8:41 am

    First, I’d like to say thanks for reviewing my site! Everyone who has signed up will be approved for their ordainment today, it’s typically a 24 hour wait. Also, I wanted to tell you exactly what it is that makes us different from the ULC and Humanist Celebrants. If you would like to become a Humanist Celebrant, you must first join the AHA and be a member for 1 year. And to be ordained by the ULC, you are professing to a belief in God, and becoming ordained at a church with a cross on it. Well, thanks again for your interest! You’ll be officially ordained today, and you will be an atheist minister for life!

    Yes, with no training. Ma’am, I’ve paid my dues at the AHA. All I have to do is take their classes. Maybe they aren’t free and I have to go to N.Y., but IF I ever do come up with the money and the transprotation to take their classes, at least I know I will be legit and not another crooked scheister. The last thing we need is more phoney Evangelists. I’d give some of the religious ministers who have been through seminary and paid their dues (in any religion or non-religion) more credit.

  • Mriana

    The AHA requirements (besides one year membership):

    Having a theological degree is not a prerequisite to becoming a Humanist Celebrant, nor is having a doctoral degree. But they do help, of course.

    As a special representative of the American Humanist Association (the Humanist Society is an adjunct of the AHA), one of the requirements for becoming a Celebrant is that one of your references be an AHA member. If you can’t obtain a reference that is an AHA member, we may be able to make alternative arrangements.

    If you’d like to find out more on Humanism–being well-versed in the Humanist Philosophy is an important component of being a Celebrant, you can do so at http://www.americanhumanist.org/humanism/; we also have a wide selection of books, and I’ve attached a pdf of our book catalogue.

    the process to becoming a Humanist Celebrant is fairly open-ended at this point, aside from the minimum requirements we ask you for; we do expect a person who can represent the Humanist philosophy well and who will do a good job in officiating weddings and other rites of passage. This is the main reason we ask for four references, as we glean much of that information from those references.

    This was an aside and I think they would be beneficial:

    If you’d like to deepen your education on Humanism, I would suggest the Humanist Institute, whose website can be found at http://www.humanistinstitute.org/.

    IMHO, it would be far better to learn something about what one is doing than to have a piece of paper handed to them that says they can do various celebrations. I don’t see how that piece of paper, without an education, gives them any credentials.

  • Darryl

    These people have no training in ministering to anyone- secularly or religiously. The AHA puts people through classes, just as any other type of ministry does. I think to be legit you have to have some understanding of people, as well as the philosophy/religion you are a minister of.

    IMHO, it would be far better to learn something about what one is doing than to have a piece of paper handed to them that says they can do various celebrations. I don’t see how that piece of paper, without an education, gives them any credentials.

    Mriana, I think I see where you’re coming from, but having an education in religion may mean little in the end, and a person who has nothing but life experience, but is a solid individual, may have something to offer as a minister. I’ve met people with little or no higher education that I’ve thought would make great counselors or mentors. One of the advantages of religion is that you don’t have to really have any qualification for membership except belief. That’s part of the appeal. Religion is an organization that anyone can join without qualification.

    When you go down the road of requiring “credentials” then you raise the issue of having the right ones, or enough of them, or the right kind. And to what purpose? Is religion like medicine, where there’s a danger of malpractice? Depending upon the theology, the whole damned thing is a malpractice; having a degree in advanced whimsy is senseless.

    Ministerial credentials are not like science credentials–where pedigree matters, except to other members of your religious group. That a minister has a D.D. from some seminary means little to me: it means that he or she can martial an impressive array of arguments to support whatever cockeyed notion they hold, complete with footnotes. Becoming ideologically confirmed in a theology by years of study won’t matter to some couple just wanting to get married without the officiant throwing around a lot of God-language.

    And yes, I would say that the ULC is universalist. But I think that we could use a bit more of that philosophy right about now. People like Epstein have come to understand that humanists, agnostics, atheists, or what-have-yous are going to have to embrace each other, and also willing theists, if we’re going to make our suffering world any better. If a ULC minister believes in God, but is willing to live and let live, he’s my kind of minister.

  • Mriana

    A Humanist minister doesn’t need to have an education in religion, but s/he does need to have a working knowledge of Humanism- preferably a through understanding.

    As for religious ministers, I think it is malpractice if they do not have a strong knowledge of religion. There is more to religion then just skimming over the Bible. What good is it, when someone like me, a non-theist, could trample them in matters of philosophy and religion? Please! I’d rather debate Mike. He’s not so easy, I’m sure. Thing is, we don’t need more people filling others with BS concerning what is in religious texts. We need more people like Bob Price or even Spong.

    We also need educated Humanists ministers too. Not necessarily in religion, but educated none the less. Psychology would be an excellent area of education as far as relating to people.

    We don’t need more people in it just for the money. If you aren’t a theologian of some sort, then I personally would not go to you with religious questions. If you don’t have a psych degree, then IMHO, it’s worthless to go to you for my mental health.

  • Darryl

    Mriana, if all you want is an ordination to do weddings, then no credentials, degrees, or even training are needed. The more lay ministers the better. The more non-professional god-people the better. Look at it this way: when an average Joe (or Joanne) can become a minister without any qualifications and without kissing anybody’s ring, it demystifies religion and removes the hypocritical halo of superiority from the brow of all ministers–I like that. Educated people need no defense, nor does competency in your field. When everyone can be a minister, then no one needs to be.

  • Mriana

    When everyone can be a minister, then no one needs to be.

    However, there is another value to ministers. People go to them for emotional support too and IMHO, it helps to have some knowledge of the human condition, be it sociology or psychology. There is more to be a minister than JUST weddings, baptism/naming ceremonies, and funerals/ funeral celebrations. Yes, they could go to a psychologist for that, but sometimes they want a minister of some sort- even if it’s a Humanist minister.

    At the same time, the average Joe or Joanne, with no knowledge of what they are talking about can corrupt just as badly as one who knows how to use for corrupt means. Would you want someone who has no knowledge of Humanism to be a Humanist minister?

  • Darryl

    Dang, this writers’ strike is taking its toll.

  • Richard Wade

    LOL! Darryl, are you having withdrawals from Desperate Housewives already, or are you out of work because of it? If I missed your joke you can play Foghorn Legorn and tell me “That’s Ah say, that’s a joke, son!”

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    When I got married 13 years ago, we just got a minister for hire out of the local “style magazine” who basically just filed the “justice of the peace” paperwork and presided over a very generic non-denominational ceremony at a local historic mansion (where we also had the reception) with some basic religious language for the benefit of the people attending. Personally, I would have preferred an actual humanist wedding… My wife probably would have preferred something a bit more religious… all in all a good compromise.

  • Soop

    We had a Court Commisioner and she was great. Had a pre-set document that she just read off and inserted our names into. My brother had never been to a secular wedding before and said he was impressed.

    Best part was the ceremony was 10 minutes long tops. I can’t count how many people came up to me afterwards and said how they loved how short it was. I even had a few people come up and say they were envious and wished they could have had a non-religious wedding but they had to have it at a church for their parents’ sake.

    We definitely had our share of super religious folk in attendance but they didn’t even notice the absence…. or they did and were very nice about not pointing it out.

  • agnostic and slipping

    I just found this site and I have to say that I am glad to know that there is a church of atheism (silly contradiction though it is).
    When I got married, I ended up (under parental pressure) with 2 preachers…. don’t ask. Anyway, ever since I have had an almost visceral reaction to wedding ceremonies and funerals and Christian services in general. I sit there trying as hard as I can to remain poised and passive and not get irritated but it getting harder.
    Soon I have to be the best man at my very religious brother’s wedding. I hope that I don’t start screaming.

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