Atheist Street Preacher Will Head Up ‘Church’ Service

Last October, Simon Clare decided to try his hand at street-preaching. A pretty interesting idea considering he was preaching atheism:

Simon is now starting up a local chapter of the Sunday Assembly in Brighton (UK). (His “preaching” might actually get an audience now!)

“Often you hear atheists complain about what churches do,” says Simon, “but then they don’t do anything about it!

“What I have learned over the past couple years is that you can make these things happen if you just do it, rather than moaning about it.”

“I want to provide an alternative, set these things up, and show people there is a way of doing it without the involvement of God,” continues Simon.

“Atheists are very good at telling people how naturally good and naturally happy they are, but they don’t demonstrate it or display it much.

“We are terribly miserable — that grumpy lot!

“And I think it is time to show people that our view of the world can provide consolation and be a source of joy.”

However, a caveat follows: “Not that kind of ecstatic joy that is based upon false promises,” he says.

This is the point that gets lost in all the frustration with the “atheist church” language — one of the benefits of the assembly is to show others that you can be godless and happy, and we rarely have an opportunity to show that side of us to the world.

Clare’s first service will be held on September 22 in East Sussex, England.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Lorinda Pike

    Oh, I like this man. This is good. He should be out there again when it isn’t as drizzly, so more people might stop and listen. I know the sun shines in Brighton occasionally!

  • LizzyJessie

    He needs something. Some props like a book and pamphlets or a billboard to stand next to. Watching this video felt about as awkward as his demeanor during the presentation. Though I can understand the trepidation in speaking openly to the public, perhaps his delivery would have been better were he to be able to relax.

    While I think it is a good idea I also believe that the execution in this case could have been better. But how can someone emulate a street preacher that’s armed with a bible and fliers to his church? Is it possible to hold up The God Delusion and not look like a madman? Could someone pass out pamphlets to the local Natural History museum while preaching about atheism and not have the museum itself wish you to stop?

  • flyb

    It did seem awkward. He definitely needs some sort of props like you described, maybe even a stool to stand on. All the street preachers I’ve seen usually preach for hours at a time, repeating the same stuff over and over until someone starts arguing with them. That’s what this guy needs to do… perfect his delivery and just repeat some pre-rehearsed bits. I’d like to see more of it!

  • Guest

    Atheist preachers and atheist churches, proving once and for all what thinking people have always known: atheism is simply one of many religious alternatives and religious beliefs systems having its own beliefs about the question of the divine. Thanks for the confirmation.

  • randomfactor

    Atheism is an alternative TO religion. Like turning the set off is an alternative to watching cartoons or the news.

    As for confirmation, I gave mine back to the Catholics. If I’d known you wanted one, I’d have saved it for you.

  • LesterBallard

    Atheism offers no reward or punishment after death. I don’t think this will ever catch on the way non-atheists churches do.

  • Houndentenor

    If you’ve never lived in a big city and had to walk past these ranting crazies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Fundies, the “Black Jews” or whatever else…PLEASE PLEASE don’t annoy people like this. But up a billboard. Write a book. Have a blog or website. But people don’t annoy people on their way to work. Ugh ugh ugh. No thanks.

  • Houndentenor

    it just proves that some atheists can be assholes just like some theists. I had to walk past people like this every day when I lived in nyc. Never atheists. That might have been a nice change. Just people selling some brand of nonsense. I wish atheists wouldn’t engage in the same annoying behavior as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Fundamentalist Christians and others, but people have free speech rights and get to be be annoying just like everyone else.

  • chicago dyke

    that was damn cute.

  • Mario Strada

    I am very amused by the negative characterization of atheism by the religious as “just another religion”. If being a “religion” is such an insult, why do you guys take so much pride in it?

  • ardegas

    His approach is wrong: Atheist self help bullshit can’t compete with religious bullshit. You don’t reach atheism looking for consolation, you reach atheism searching for truth. But in the case of atheism the truth is shocking and ugly when you first hear it. It’s not appealing unless you are going through a crisis of faith and you are ready to see things in a new perspective.

  • LL

    I’m actually with you, and I’m somewhat on the side of theists (I hope that never comes out of my mouth ever again) who are critical of the atheist use of religiously-affiliated practices. Church serves and evangelization – it just feels like a really wrong direction. I know people enjoy it, so I have no right to say they shouldn’t do so… I just see this going down a bad road, where communities and “preachers” are going to fall into exactly the same traps that religious ones do.

    But perhaps I’m totally wrong. Who knows? But if an atheist preacher ever knocks on my door, I’m going to threaten them with my dad’s rifle the same way I do Mormon missionaries.

  • Guest

    This image came to mind…

  • EvolutionKills

    Please don’t, and if you do feel compelled to fight fire with fire, then do so with a positive affirmation like Humanism or Rationalsim. Atheism is just lack of belief in gods, it has no doctrine or dogma. Now once you take gods out of the picture, and the religious built around them, then it opens the door to things like feminism, atheism+, free-thought, skepticism, etc.

    I wish him the best, but I fear that he’s going to be interpreted badly and the whole thing will backfire.

  • Lothars Sohn

    Reading this post confirms my impression that anti-theism is just a new religion in denial. It would be great if those folks would stop speaking in the name of all atheists.

    ““And I think it is time to show people that our view of the world can provide consolation and be a source of joy.”

    I certainly agree that atheism is COMPATIBLE with (temporal) consolation and joy.

    But I fail to see how it can provide joy and consolation to a person having formerly believed in a good God.

    Kind regards.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • Dave

    Yep I’m with you. The things religious people do are dumb. Please don’t copy them. Atheist chaplains, Atheist church, you are just making Atheism another me too in their silly world, stay away from their customs and language, and please don’t preach.

  • Dave

    No more.

  • Seth

    Time for a “brain in a vat” street preacher with quality props!

  • dandaman62

    It’s no more annoying than the traffic passing by, perhaps more entertaining, it’s not like they’re strolling down a country lane listening to the birds chirping.

  • Houndentenor

    I’m guessing you were never accosted by such people in the street. Yes, it’s more annoying than the traffic.

  • Houndentenor

    I can see a need for secular (not necessarily atheist) counselors. I object to calling them chaplains but that might be a necessity to have them there, so that people in the service can talk to someone without having to listen to a lot of superstitious nonsense in lieu of real advice and counsel on whatever they are going through. I can also see a real need for atheist/secular/humanist communities that offer classes, discussion groups, guest speakers, etc. Those are real goods. I just don’t want to see us fall into the same kinds of bad behavior that religious people often use.

  • Goape

    Atheism isn’t a religious alternative; it’s an alternative to religion. But, if “the question of the divine” pertains to the existence of gods, you’re right that atheists have their own belief (i.e., one not indoctrinated at a young age).

  • Agni Ashwin

    On the other hand, atheism might be preferable if someone formerly believed in a wrathful deity.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Reading this post confirms my impression that anti-theism is just a new religion in denial.

    “Reading this post confirms my impression that education is just a new form of ignorance in denial.”

    “Reading this post confirms my impression that prosecuting rapists is just a new form of rape in denial.”

    “Reading this post confirms my impression that telling kids to avoid drugs is just a new drug in denial.”

    “Reading this post confirms my impression that sex ed is just pulling out in denial.”

    But I fail to see how it can provide joy and consolation to a person having formerly believed in a good God.

    Interestingly, not everyone thinks or prioritizes the way that you do.

  • Ian Dodd

    My admiration to you, Simon Clare. I’m working to launch the Sunday Assembly-Los Angeles. Here in Tinsel Town we have access to a gaggle of talented comedians, cosmologists, musicians, magicians and the like, so I won’t have to resort to the sort of street tactics you’ve used here. But I admire your determination to tell it like it is out on the streets of Brighton.

  • Thin-ice

    I really doubt whether many atheists who are genuine de-converts from religion will warm to this idea. Soon after my de-conversion I tried to attend a Sunday morning gathering of humanists, but the rows of chairs, main speaker, and guest music spot really set off some flashbacks, and I never returned. Not many of us want to be reminded of where we used to sit for decades worth of Sunday mornings.

  • Guest

    See, I don’t think people in the UK need to be shown that you can be godless and happy. People of no religion are a quarter of the population here. We aren’t stereotyped in the same way as atheists are in America. The deputy prime minister is an ‘out’ atheist and no-one holds that against him (they hold his spineless selling out of his party’s principles against him, but that’s a different story). The leader of the opposition is also an atheist; no-one gives a toss. Religion is mocked, freely. Well, Christianity is…people are a bit more careful about Islam.

    Not saying the UK is perfect, we have unelected bishops in the house of Lords and humanist weddings don’t count, but I really don’t think anti-atheist prejudice is a ‘thing’ here.
    Also, street preaching is deeply embarrasing and annoying no matter who is doing it. I prefer people to mind their own business in public. We’re all better off that way.

  • Guest

    Most Christians feel uncomfortable around Christian street preachers. It’s an activity only for the most obnoxious people. So, there’s no way for an atheist to do it without looking like an ass. Except maybe if you did a lecture somewhere like speaker’s corner in London, where people expect to hear speeches. Or be an atheist busker and send your message through song. Or hand out free samples, everyone loves free samples.

  • Guest