There’s No Atheist Church ‘Schism’ No Matter What CNN Publishes

A report on CNN’s website by Katie Engelhart claims that there’s a schism in the “atheist church” (*cue dramatic music*) that could even lead to the collapse of the movement:

So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.

“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”

But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon.

In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.

The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.

Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult.”

This is a complete non-story, a media invention, just a personality conflict involving two conflicting views of what atheists may want out of a community.

Here’s the Venn diagram of people who may be interested in either one of these groups:

There aren’t a lot of people who would have to make a huge decision here.

Now, let’s take a broader view:

The number of atheists affected by this “schism” is roughly somewhere in the low double-digits.

Look: The Sunday Assembly organizers believe you’ll reach more people if you hold family-friendly gatherings that celebrate life without even bringing up religion. They’ve certainly stumbled upon a promising idea, given the number of headlines about them over the past couple of years, but it’s too early to tell (at least in America) if this will be an idea that survives long-term.

The Godless Revival organizers in New York City believe you’ll draw in more atheists if you’re not afraid of saying the A-word, something that might not appeal to people on the fence or those apathetic toward religion but could entice a more aggressively non-religious crowd.

For most atheists, the response has been a collective, “meh.” Organized-anything doesn’t sound very appealing to a lot of us, but for those who might like that sort of thing, these groups are helpful.

You rarely see headlines saying there’s a “schism” in the Christian community just because a university has both a Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group. They’re both Christian, they go about practicing and spreading their ideas in somewhat different ways, and if you don’t like it, you can just ignore them. I don’t see the difference here — if anything, it’s at a massively smaller scale.

But for whatever reason, CNN believes this minor difference of opinion between a couple of atheists is some “schism” worth discussing. It’s not.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dave

    Meh…

  • Cuttlefish
  • Andrew B.

    It’s gossipy journalism. Two groups of people decided to go their separate ways, and that’s portrayed as “HUGE BLOWOUT LEADS TO MONUMENTAL SHIFT IN ATHEIST MOVEMENT.” Gossipy gossipy gossipy.

    I’m waiting for the “HOT BEVERAGE SCHISM OF 2014” between those of us that prefer tea to those that prefer coffee.

  • Red

    Yay for writing any kind of bullshit that will sell, no matter how true or important it really is!! (/sarcasm)

  • WallofSleep

    McDonald’s didn’t get to “Over a billion sold” by selling a quality product. People love this shit. Garbage food and shoddy reporting have epic-level mass appeal, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why.

  • Rick McCrae

    Decaf or regular coffee? Instant, drip or press? With or without sugar? Cream, milk, skim or black?

  • WallofSleep

    No True Caffeinist drinks anything but black coffee, and I’ll see the entire lot of you boiling in the bubbling pits of Mr. Coffee for all eternity before I allow any kind of reformation to change that!

  • golaun

    Mr. COFFEE?! Coffee Press, you heathen! Why I bet you use Folger’s or pre-ground beans. For is it not written: “for a stronger Cup, allow the Grounds to steep for more than five minutes; a coarser Grind helps keep the Grounds in the Filter”?

  • WallofSleep

    Er… That’s the point. Mr. Coffee is the Supreme Evil that rules over the Eternal Pit of Burnt Coffee. So of course the blessed and devout use a coffee press.

    I’ll let this simple misunderstanding slide this time, but if you accuse me of such blasphemy as using pre-ground again, I will see you excommunicated. And you know what that means, don’t you? You’ll be forced to get all your future caffeine needs from Starbucks. *shudder*

  • golaun

    No! Not the Starbucks! Anything but the Starbucks! I’ll be good! I’m going to do five “Hell Yes That’s Good Stuff” s and give the Grinder a thorough cleaning under the Great Bean’s ever vigilant (after-the-first-cup’s) eye!

  • WallofSleep

    Heh, nuthin’ puts the fear of Bean in a man faster than the threat of Eternal Starbucks.

  • katiehippie

    Mmmm Gingerbread Latte…..

  • WallofSleep

    What?!? That’s not even coffee?!?! I mean…

    Great Bean, give Your humble servant strength, for I am beset on all sides by heretics, blasphemers and fiends. The spirit is willing, Bean, but the flesh needs at least two more stiff cups to deal with this shit.

  • katiehippie

    Can I be the fiend? I like the sound of that.

  • bearclover

    That’s exactly what’s wrong with this country today. You young pups have forgotten that this country was founded by Folgers and Cuppa Joe. It is clearly written in the Holy Paper Napkin that all good coffee must be brewed in a stove top percolator and honey is the only acceptable sweetener. I don’t judge anyone else’s hot beverage choice and even some of my best friends drink Chai, but it’s gotten to the point that normal people like me cant get a cup of coffee that has decent family values.

  • golaun

    I’m afraid I reject the Holy Paper Napkinist interpretation for the new covenant in the Pressbeantarian: pure coffee straight from the bean with no sugar or other additives. To be fair, however- and perhaps risk being shunned- I am not a strict Pressbeantarian, as I do make exceptions for devil brews such as being forced to accept, say, a cup of Starbucks, where sugar and cream are required. But as far as i know, the Holy Paper Napkin interpretation was based on what we then knew about Beanology, and there are some obvious interpretational and translational errors in the texts.

  • Matthew Baker

    The only true coffee has been passed through a civet. Kopi luwak for life.

  • the moother

    You forgot: Paper or plastic?

    George Carlin is frowning at you… 😛

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    You coffee drinkers are clearly going to spend all eternity in a lake of fire that heats a pot of overroasted coffee!

  • Brie

    But… but… What if I like hot chocolate?!?! *sobs* *giggles*

  • Red

    Don’t worry. Not all of us hot beverage drinkers are closed-minded. While I personally favor tea, I believe that all hot drinks will ultimately bring one to a place of bliss, especially on a cold day. 😉

  • WallofSleep

    And that’s just the kind of wishy-washy, feel good, hippie, reformed Caffeinist heresy I’ve dedicated my life to eradicating. Though I must say I am not at all surprised to hear such talk from a Tea Totaler. Witch.

  • David Chipman

    Some of us like both hot chocolate and tea! Not at the same time, of course, but you get the idea.

  • KneadingNittles

    What??? You don’t drink coffee??? STOP OPPRESSING ME! You have, in effect, declared a WAR ON COFFEE! Oh, and by loose correlation, a war on coffee drinkers! I’m telling Fox!

  • Dan Robinson

    I like both but then I’m bi-beveragal.
    Once I had a group experience including ginger tea but this is a family site so no details.

  • Red

    Oh, I like to dabble in all kinds of hot beverages. Tea is my personal favorite, but I also like certain aspects of coffee, hot chocolate, and hot apple cider. I’ve even been known to enjoy a nice, steaming cup of sake, or just some plain hot water with lemon. Why shouldn’t we, as a society, treat all hot beverages as equal?

  • Randay

    The real question is, What hot beverage does the FSM drink? Irish coffee, hot spiced wine, or what?

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    Tea. Proper loose leaf tea, not the stuff they sell in those little pouches. Brewed in an actual teapot. (Infusers are OK if you must, but I prefer to pour through my tea strainer.) With milk and sugar please, thank you.

  • Jamalyn Rascher

    Adulterate-er!

  • NG

    I prefer herbal tea and my sister loves to point out that’s not real tea. I understand that, but I prefer twigs, herbs, bark and spices to a tea leaf. That just leaves more tea for everyone else, though.

  • baal

    I was with you until the milk and sugar. If you’re going that route, you’ll also have to say what kind of loose leaf. A lovely first blush from a single estate with half oxidized leaf would be a crime to adulterate.

  • Laurence

    With over 40000 denominations of Christianity, simple arithmetic dictates that several have been established in the past month.

  • Blacksheep

    There are 20,000 species of butterflies in the world, but they all share essentially the same make-up.

    If you break Christianity down by basic beliefs and key tenets, there are more like a dozen denominations. The way to test it is that based on doctrine, 99% of Christians would be fine attending services at one of the dozen or so representative churches.

    Of course, after that comes individual congregations, some good, some bad, but that’s no different from anything else in the world.

  • A3Kr0n

    You know how new Alcoholics Anonymous meetings start? Two people, a coffee pot, and a bitch (about another group).

  • John A.

    Just waiting for the crusades to start where one group tries to covert the other and killing each other in the process. Oh wait, I’m thinking of actual religions…my bad.

  • Arthur Dent

    There’s a problem with co-opting the word “atheist” for movements, especially movements like this. If you want to have a Sunday Assembly, build that around a belief (maybe a “humanist church” or a “rationalist church”). Atheism is the LACK of belief. When I tell people that I’m an atheist, they shouldn’t equate that with any belief system or Sunday service. It just means that I don’t buy what god believers are selling.

  • Alcari

    Size doesn’t matter in Venn-Diagrams. The way you drew it, it could theoretically still meant there’s only 1 person who doesn’t belong to either group.

    /Nitpick

  • WallofSleep

    The more they learn about real atheists, the less interesting and more mundane we become. Why, most folk are no longer surprised to learn that we don’t have horns.

    But a headline like “More Boring Shit Ordinary People Do” doesn’t sell as well as “Atheist Church Schism”.

  • Jeff See

    It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘gossipy’ or not. The fact that humans squabble, is exactly the type of negative that some of us expressed towards the whole idea, and one that we were rightly expecting. The fact that they’re reporting about a small one, (or the first noticeable one), is irrelevant; the same human faults that befall one group, will surely f up another. The reason it’s bad in relation to ‘atheist church’, (the term makes me nauseous), is that the whole time, it’s reinforcing the idea that atheism, (aka: nature’s default setting), is a religion, and any and all similarities between the two will only build up that reinforcement.

    That basic part of humanity, is one of the examples that I like to use to express my belief that the internet ‘community’ is a purer, more functional form; drama exists, but your involvement is purely intellectual. When I’m done here, I’m going to tab away from this whole thing. I won’t run into ANY of you at the corner store later, where you might ream my ass because I didn’t come to last week’s service, or didn’t sing along when it was time to karaoke to Styx.

  • emblues

    ” ‘atheist church’, (the term makes me nauseous)”

    Ditto!

  • Pofarmer

    Two different viewpoints? I really wish these Atheist groups would get it together. I mean, it’s not like there’s 30,000 Christian denominations or anything.

  • Castilliano

    42,000 FWIW
    Cheers
    Edit to add: It was 41,000 only a year or two ago…

  • Emmet

    What’s your definition of “Christian denomination”?

  • Castilliano

    The surveys aren’t based on my definition, which was probably similar to yours until I realized I don’t have a stake in it and now let anybody self-described as Christian count. (Even the wacky ones that interweave lots of New Age woo, but I don’t think those are counted due to lack of organization.)

    Wiki still has the count at 41K, and they make note that who’s Christian or not is subject to debate:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations

    This blog lists it at 43K a year ago:
    http://theway21stcentury.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/how-many-christian-denominations-worldwide/
    Given the 9K bump since 2000, you could add nearly 1,000 more by their methods.
    (The link they provided led to a messy PDF.)

    The Center for the Study of Global Christianity has it at 41K also, but it dates from 2011.
    http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm

    I saw the 42K in the last few weeks, but forget the source. Given the 2-3 years since that last survey, I find it reasonable.

    Reminds me of an excellent question Hitchens posed to Craig asking Craig to name a Christianity that he disagreed with and why. (Fuzzy, but I believe he chose Calvinism for its lack of free will.)

    Emmet, how do you describe “Christian denomination”?
    What about if they use “faith” and “Christ”, on what authority could they be called non-Christian? What if they use that same authority to call you non-Christian?

    SInce Yahweh’s remaining silent, one has to wonder why he would want such chaos. Unless, of course, he’s man-made, then it makes sense.

    Cheers.

    P.S. I didn’t downvote you. I find your question legitimate, even if it hints at the “True Scotsman” fallacy.
    P.P.S. I may not return to check your answer. :)

  • Emmet

    What’s your definition of “denomination”?

  • Anymouse

    Being possessed by a denom.

  • Randay

    30,001: don’t forget “Commies for Christ”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elr0JmB7Ac8

  • Mario Strada

    There is obviously someone at CNN that wishes to point out how the atheists are just as fucked up as the churches. “See, they are atheists but they too have different opinions on how things should work”.

    Quite frankly, atheists are the only ones that have a serious right at having unique and very personal interpretations of life and humanity.
    The other guys are supposed to have an immutable, single God. Our diversity is an asset, theirs is heretical.

    An extension of the news media false equivalency.

  • Brian K

    Not gossipy journalism, just gossip.

  • newavocation

    Oh God! Atheism is DEAD!

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    This is what has become of journalism. How sad for our country. CNN is pretty much like this on every story. Shallow, uninformed, lazy and smug.

    The reason this isn’t like religion is that no one believes anything will happen to people who go to a different atheist meeting or no atheist meeting at all. Contrast that to the religions (most of them) who think the people threaten the ones who left their church to eternal damnation. Are any families ostracizing the people who formed a different atheist meeting? This is so not the same thing. But it seems that there are some theists in the news media who are desperate for the atheist “fad” to run its course. #facepalm

  • IDK

    The real problem in the movement is sexism.

    Did you see where J T Eberhard said he felt like “firebombing things” after seeing Ophah’s woo woo interview with Diana Nyad.

    Can you imagine if an atheist has said he felt like “firebombing things” after seeing an interview by a Black Woman that he did not like?

    It would have gone viral. People would still be talking about it.

  • TCC

    I think you’re confusing “got outraged at someone you dislike” and “got outraged because something stupid and outrageous was said.” Your comment has absolutely no merit and is a waste of the digital space it now takes up in the ether.

  • Rachel Warner

    Isn’t the term ” Atheist Church ” an oxymoron ?

  • James Wesy

    So on a site where a pastafarian taking an oath with a colander on his head is a story, you think that this is a non-story.

    Ok…

  • Emmet

    :)

  • cyb pauli

    Not this crap again.

  • Damon Icke

    The comedians/atheist preachers who wrote this bit are just ripping off that South Park episode.

  • WallofSleep
  • PrimateZero

    I’m backing the otters.

  • Ion Ionescu

    It’s really impressive how theistic can atheists be in their daily lives.

    So the purpose is to show other people there can be a community without religion. So anything goes. Yet some discover a better interpretation of the gospel. And the original group stands by its original interpretation of the gospel. So we have a split.

    Gosh! This is more about silly rednecks getting so terrible when away from Ma and Pa that they even have the guts to say G-o-d does not exist.

    Maybe it’s time to tweak the law before more clowns are up to build up their own churches and scam more people.

  • Njen

    That’s the great thing about atheism, there is no gospel, so there is no interpretations of it.

  • TCC

    I think you’re confusing “theistic” with “religious,” and even then, this kind of thing isn’t exactly limited to religions.

  • $925105

    Shoot, and here I was loading my rifles reading to go on a Crusade and kill the infidel Infidels. Now I’ll just sit here and pout.

  • Rod Haney

    Whatever, I won’t be a part of either group.
    That’s the whole point, I don’t need a group.

  • lilyannerose

    The religious really do try and make a religion of atheism.

  • Anymouse

    It is part of their world view. I think that some truly cannot conceive the idea of there not being *some* kind of mystical higher power.

  • Dan Robinson
  • Blacksheep

    As more and more people become atheists (I’m assuming the trend will continue), you will have to deal with your very own version of “no true Scotsman.”
    (I’m not saying it will be logical or make sense – it’s just human nature).

  • baal

    Thankfully, being an ‘atheist’ is a really narrow position. Most of what we fight over are actually other things like which type of feminism is better or how should we limit the abuses (witting and unwitting) that the religious foist upon us.

  • JWH

    If I were interested in Sunday church-style services that de-emphasize religion, I would become a Unitarian.