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Jan 13 2014

Let’s Laugh At The Atheists (Or, Motes And Beams)

The atheist churches, where folks get together
And kinda do atheist things
Where one week you might hear a poetry reading;
The next week a music group sings
Where some discuss books, or see movies, or plays,
And agree, without god, that’s enough—
Let’s all point and laugh with derision at them,
Cos some like to do different stuff!

Some atheists want to have talks about science
While others, perhaps, find that boring
Some want to trade recipes, gardening tips,
Or some something this verse is ignoring
The range of opinions is varied and vast
Like a spectrum released by a prism
Let’s all point and laugh at their differing views
And we’ll call it an atheist schism!

A Christian’s a Christian, as everyone knows,
Cos we worship the very same Lord—
There’s maybe a difference or two in beliefs
But that’s something that’s best left ignored
Well, ok, there are thousands of differing sects—
Tens of thousands, some reckon, have grown—
But let’s laugh at the mote in the atheists’ eye
While ignoring the beam in our own

The good Catholic Christians at the Creative Minority Report (we laugh because we believe) are laughing at atheists. It’s just a brief report on the story that hit the atheist blogosphere last week about the “schism” in the new “Atheist Church”. Titled “Ha! Atheist Church Already Has a Schism!”, it begins:

This is just too funny. The first atheist Church started up a few months ago…and it already has a schism -a breakoff group that’s blasting the original atheist Church as a cult. Seriously.

I don’t know how exactly one atheist judges other atheists. “He doesn’t believe in nothingness enough!” or “Even though there aren’t any objective standards, I’m living up to them a lot better than that guy!”

So, to summarize: a gathering of atheists, the “Sunday Assembly” (note the lack of the word “church”) is termed a church by people in the media and in churches, and is then then assumed to have all of the qualities of other things that share the label “church”, whether self- or other-imposed. Like atheist invocations (who are they praising?), atheist chaplains (what god do they serve?), or atheist memorials (which god do they represent?), there is a frankly magical fascination with one definition of a word (and always the religious definition) rather than an honest understanding of the function of the action, position, or thing, which invariably is broader than the definition focused on (which, by the way, is why the dictionary includes other definitions as well).

A gathering of atheists, by definition and function, is a gathering of people who are defined by what they are not. For the most part, people continue to gather with one another when they have something in common. It is completely to be expected, then, that large groups of atheists will contain smaller groups of people who have things in common that may not be shared by other of the smaller groups. The larger group, after all, is not organized around one positively-defined belief.

On the other hand, there are (in theory) groups that are organized around a shared common belief in God. Whenever atheists must be put in their place and called the minority view that they are, “believers in God” are lumped together. So it must be the same god, don’t you think? So, large groups of believers do, in theory, share something terribly important (and especially important for the purposes of joining together as a church)… So while there is every reason to expect groups of atheists, brought together artificially, to naturally divide into mutually interested groups, groups of believers, brought together for the purpose of whatever it is their God wants them to do, should have every reason to agree on stuff (mind you, as individuals they may still disagree on anything else–there is no reason that they should have to cheer for the same football teams, or vote for the same parties, or like the same foods–but when they have gathered together for the purposes of their belief, they should be expected to agree).

The most generous number of Christian denominations I know of is roughly 41,000. Because this estimate includes nation-specific information, most international churches are counted multiple times (which sometimes matters, and sometimes does not). On the other hand, it only counts Christian sects, and Christians are only about a third of the global population. When the other Abrahamic faiths, the Indian and East Asian religions, the African and American indigenous religions, and many many more, are taken into account, we could very nearly conclude that religious people don’t agree on what God is. But let’s be generous, and just cut the number of Christian faiths by an order of magnitude. Dividing by the number of years Christianity has existed, we find that Christianity has averaged two new denominations a year… every year for nearly 2,000 years.

I’d refer the writers of the Creative Minority Report to Matthew 7:3, but my goodness, different denominations even use different versions of the bible, and I would hate to offend them…

3 comments

  1. 1
    grumpyoldfart

    The instant I heard about the Sunday Assembly I knew it would be called a church and I knew the Christians would take the piss at every opportunity. I hope the whole thing disappears as quickly as that idea about calling atheists Brights.

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    Oh, Grumps, the Brights weren’t (just) atheists, they were skeptics and evidence-minded…. oh, never mind, it was a horrible idea, I agree. Hated it from the beginning.

    On the plus side, it is possible that you and I are in the minority on this (note: we are not in the minority on this): after all, my Mother-In-Law is a card-carrying Bright. In other words, it was good for at least one person.

  3. 3
    Al Dente

    atheist chaplains (what god do they serve?)

    You should be asking that question to Greg Epstein, the Harvard Humanist Chaplain (real title). His buddy, assistant chaplain James Croft, runs a blog called Temple of the Future. These folks are trying to set up atheist churches.

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