The Inevitable Atheist Church

Katie Engelhart at Salon has a run-down of of an atheist organization that making some waves: the Sunday Assembly. Essentially billing itself as an atheist megachurch, the assembly focuses on self-improvement, community and ritual. Apparently it has found an audience:

The Assembly has come a long way in eight months: from scrappy East London community venture (motto: “Live Better, Help Often and Wonder More;” method: “part atheist church, part foot-stomping good time”) to the kind of organization that sends out embargoed press releases about global expansion projects. “The 3,000 percent growth rate might make this non-religious Assembly the fastest growing church in the world,” organizers boast.

There’s more to come: In October, the Sunday Assembly (SA) will launch a crowdfunded indiegogo campaign, with the ambitious goal of raising £500,000 (or, about $793,000). This will be followed by a second wave of openings. “ The effort reads as part quixotic hipster start-up, part Southern megachurch.

I’ve suggested that atheists try to form communities, but I’ve always steered clear of emulating churches. I like the idea of lyceums, reading groups, and booster societies better than church plantings. I’m not sure I’m on board with trying to copy a church structure and church functions for secular ends.

It’s a bit like all the faux-meat products I ate when I was a vegetarian. Things that tried to be meat without actually being meat always fell short. I didn’t mind things that filled the same role without trying to look and taste like meat. Give me a decent black bean burger over a synthetic hamburger any day.

Just the same, I like the idea of communities that provide services, charity and enrichment without trying to look like churches. I suspect that in America, where atheism is usually defined in opposition to our protestant Christian culture, the idea of aping a church will prove unpopular in the long run.

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