Atheist Church Comes to America This Week

Being faithless opens us up to a whole range of human experiences free of theistic baggage. But once you’ve shrugged off religion and any semblance of a belief in the supernatural, what comes next?  For many, it’s not enough to just not believe in any gods; many want something more.

(via Sanderson Jones)

And now, for some atheists, many of the biggest pieces missing from their lives (and from the larger atheist movement) are being filled by the Sunday Assembly, the godless gathering out of London nicknamed “the Atheist Church.”

The whole idea is centered around the desire to celebrate life, enjoy the a rich community, and make the world a better place bit by bit. Created by Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, the Sunday Assembly quickly exploded in popularity and its creators were flooded with requests from people around the world asking for help to create similar events in their area, leading them to do just that.

Their success is due to their dynamic format. Assemblies involve live music, group singing, inspirational talks about the awesomeness of the universe and life, interactive discussions, and a strong investment in community, followed by tea and cake. They’ve managed to tap into people’s hunger for inspiration, connection, and a sense of purpose by celebrating  the positive things atheism brings to our lives: an exuberant delight with this life, the freedom to pursue our own meaning & purpose, and the joy of helping others as its own reward.

Right this instant, Jones is here in the US to help local groups start their own Sunday Assemblies. He just visited San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Seattle and will be in Chicago today (to plan Assemblies) and New York later this weekend (to conduct one).

Their motto is simple and beautiful:

Live better.
Help often.
Wonder more.

Now that’s a motto I can get behind.

About Ericka M. Johnson

As a lover of science and reason, Ericka M. Johnson has an affinity for evolutionary biology and is the president of Seattle Atheists. She revels in any opportunity for a thoughtful debate on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything (especially over a pint.) Follow her on twitter @ErickaMJohnson

  • Connie Kane

    I want to know where that diving board is? Any body know??

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    Love the idea, the motto, but the nickname, no. Ugh. Getting defined and labeled by the religious is so frustrating. I think of myself as a secular humanist, but no, to others, I’m an atheist, because everything is all about their god. It’s called Sunday Assembly, but no, others have to call it a church, so the religious can kind of grasp it while still missing the point. It’s not that I’m offended, just so tired of not being understood. Using their words to describe ourselves, when their words don’t even apply, does not help us be understood.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

      I agree. “Atheist church” is an immediate turnoff to me, though I’m not the type to participate in this sort of thing anyway. The description of what actually happens there makes it somewhat more appealing, though it’s certainly a mixed bag.

      • kelemi

        Atheist meeting place?

  • disqus_K29vzian2O

    And after the tea and cake, a few recalcitrants go for beer and Sunday lunch. It’s awesome.

  • meekinheritance

    Please let’s stop calling it (whatever it is) a “church”, because that has clearly religious overtones. An “assembly” or “congregation” is arguably generic/secular.

    • 100meters

      I see several folks have beaten me the comment section to implore that we NOT call this “church.” Sunday Assembly has just the right tone, to my ear, and I can’t wait !

  • JHusk

    Not a fan of this sort of thing at all. There are so many other ways for one to be involved in the community and to meet people. There are better ways to fill the social void that is left when you stop going to church without creating church-lite.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      A nice feature of such a secular assembly is nobody minds if it’s not your cup of tea. :) You don’t have to turn in your atheist / freethinker / humanist card if you get your dose of community in other ways.

  • Keyra

    “For many, it’s not enough to just not believe in any gods; many want something more.”, seems rather pathetic and desperate to me. If there is such a thing, I would attend “atheist church” just to spread the word of Jesus and God’s grace

    • Gordon Duffy

      trust me everyone has heard your “news”

    • Robster

      God’s grace? Who’d actually want it? No thanks.

      • Blacksheep

        If Christianity were proven to be true, then everybody would.

        (I don’t mean that everyone would like it – I mean if it were proven to be true).

        • Nathan Vaughn

          Fair enough. Waiting for said proof…

    • kelemi

      I heard that an atheist is someone with no invisible means of support.

    • meekinheritance

      Most of us have heard the word, and that’s why we are atheists.
      If you did attend, you might say that you would be preaching to the choir,

      but not the way you think.
      It’s not pathetic and desperate–it’s the natural human need for community. Many atheists are shunned by their families and friends–*that* is pathetic.

      • Blacksheep

        “Many atheists are shunned by their families and friends–*that* is pathetic.”

        I agree wholeheartedly – that is pathetic.

  • ErickaMJohnson

    While here in Seattle, Sanderson made a great analogy. If you’ve found a pair of really great shoes, shoes that fit you well and look great but happen to have a stone tucked inside, are you going to just throw the shoes away? No, you’re going to throw out the stone and forget about it while you enjoy the shoes.

  • freespeechfan

    The overwhelming benefit of calling it a church is the tax benefits that go along with it! Want to get the religious panties in a twist? Start advocating for equal rights/environment/abortion rights with tithing donations while taking a tax break. They’ll be livid. Let’s go!

  • Tobias2772

    I could get around the word church if we had such an assembly near me, but lots of christians want to label atheism as a religion to try to put us in the same box as them. I think that weakens our position tremendously and I think using the word church gives them ammunition to obfuscate the real issues.

  • jdm8

    Sometimes life is the rocks on the way down.

    • AskAnAtheistBecky

      and isn’t it nice to have a celebratory, joyous, compassionate community to help you when you scrape your knee or twist your ankle?

  • Seattle Atheist Vicki

    If I told you I went to a gathering Sunday morning where we sang some songs, there were some readings, an inspirational talk, time for quiet reflections, more singing, and then we hung about afterwards and shared coffee and cookies – you would think I went to church.

    The word church conveys a significant amount of information regarding the types of activities and structure you can expect to find. Are there problems with the word? Of course. But, with the modifier “Atheist” I see little to no danger of people being confused and thinking we will be worshiping Jesus.

    Also, as much as some established atheists may be uncomfortable with the concept of church, there are plenty who miss it and many, many more (as evidenced by Sunday Assembly’s wild success) non-religious people who have never set foot in an atheist gathering for whom this concept is deeply appealing. The word “church” seems like it could be a powerful marketing tool in reaching an audience we haven’t reached before.

    And for those who don’t like it – that’s ok. I hope the atheist community is already meeting your needs and I have complete respect for your lack of interest. Feel free to roll your eyes and walk on in much the same way I do when I walk past a sports stadium.

  • Blacksheep

    Funny, I was about to say that i was still confused by the word “atheist” as a thing, and that one wouldn’t call a Christian Church an “anti-Catholic” church – but in fact that’s what Protestant means.

    Still seems odd, though, to use a negative as a title for a movement/organization/meeting.

  • Robert M

    Great idea. Let’s have one here.

  • Mutazilites Freethinker

    very positive move indeed, to overcome lonelysomeliness one encounters for being a freethinker. a community of the fellow-minded is needed, a Maslow human need indeed..!
    great idea…

  • Matthew Langley

    Though I like the idea and actually wouldn’t mind finding some sort of gathering like this in my area, why would an atheist group do group singing? Personally I think atheist assemblies and get togethers should start their own style of groupings rather than trying to mimic religious ones. Group singing for example, when I was religious, was all about “praising” your deity. As an atheist it seems like it would be a bit silly.

    Maybe I’d change my mind if I showed up and I do think this is a good start if nothing else. Leaving religious circles often leaves you cut off from a social group you spent a lot of time with and I can see the appeal of sharing your thoughts and organizing with other atheists… My instincts tell me this should be something that doesn’t feel at all like Church.


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