Atheist Church: Good or Bad?


The media is abuzz with stories about atheist churches, whether it’s the Sunday Assembly gatherings around the country, Jerry DeWitt’s new group in Louisiana, the Houston Oasis or other such entities. My friend Jim Underdown, head of CFI Los Angeles, went to a Sunday Assembly and says pretty much exactly what I would say about them:

The meeting itself consisted of music, upbeat speaking, a dash of comedy, a little inspirational information, and some socializing. The positive tone was similar to that of a high school pep rally, and was devoid of any god or religion-bashing. Most people seemed to want to feel good, not angry.

Aside from some poor acoustics and being too close to the daycare area, I wouldn’t say anything negative about the gathering. The attendees seemed to be pleasant and happy to be there.

Would I go again? Probably not. I’m just not a pep rally kind of guy. Even as a football player, I rolled my eyes at too much rah rah talk. Too much optimism makes me uncomfortable. Besides, I already have wonderful friends and am not looking for anything more to do on Sunday mornings.

But I will say this: I hope the Sunday Assembly continues on. If non-believers want to gather and sing and feel good about themselves, more power to them. The secular among us should find as many ways to get together and be happy as they can. Just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean others shouldn’t participate.

Hear, hear. Though I enthusiastically believe that atheists and humanists should participate in interfaith gatherings (I’ll be speaking at one soon), I have pretty much zero interest in going to an atheist church. I have a nearly allergic reaction to group singalongs in any form. And I’m not getting up on a Sunday morning for virtually any reason. But I’m all for these groups popping up for those who want them. I am in favor of building a wide variety of atheist/humanist communities and activities because we have people with a wide variety of needs and preferences.

Comments

  1. says

    If I were to set up something like this, it would center on lectures about conservation, community service and the importance of liberal education and civic responsibility. But eh, to each their own.

  2. Trebuchet says

    If they want to do it, that’s fine. It just seems kind of pointless to me. Kind of like regular church. At least if it was the Church of the FSM they could have delicious pasta.

    I myself worship at the Church of the Flying Pumpkin. Our High Holy Days are, alas, just past. But they’ll be on the Science Channel come Thanksgiving, complete with Mythbusters. Because science is all about flinging pumpkins.

  3. Loqi says

    Nothing about an atheist church appeals to me. I don’t like the structure, I don’t like the forced awkward socializing, I don’t like the singing, etc. While I’m sure it gives some people the warm fuzzies, it gives me the cold irritateds. If I want to feel good on a Sunday morning, I’ll make waffles.

  4. magistramarla says

    Thanks to your posts I sought out a freethinkers group.
    We meet for breakfast at a local restaurant and have a lively discussion about the issues of the day.
    Once a month, there is a larger meeting downtown which is much like what Gregory in Seattle described.
    There are lectures with guests from the scientific or secular community and the lectures are open to the public. My husband calls the discussions his “mental health” days, since he works with several fundies and is annoyed at always having to bite his tongue at work.
    As for me, I’ve mad a couple of good friends among the ladies of the group, so I’m happy!

  5. Robert B. says

    I despised pep rallies in high school. I suppose I don’t mind too much if some atheists want to go to church, but every description I’ve seen of such things makes me go NOPE.

    (We can’t post images here, which is probably a good thing in general, so please find your own favorite gif to illustrate NOPE.)

  6. Synfandel says

    Why do they call it a “church”? Just because it meets on Sunday mornings? It clearly is not a church. Why not call it an atheists’ club or or call it by some other more apt name? Something I notice about the discussion among (especially American) atheists even in this blog is that it reveals a mindset that just can’t seem to break free of religious culture.

  7. eric says

    Agree with Mr. Underdown (and Ed). Its great that there’s an(other) option people have for socializing and spending their time. Is this an option I would be interested in using? No. But I like that its out there for others.

    Good or Bad?

    That it’s available? Good. Content-wise? Not my cup of tea.

    .

  8. RickR says

    Synfandel- I thought the same thing. Why “church”?
    A few years ago, a friend of mine (a Mormon) came out as gay, and left the church (or was de facto expelled, which is usually how that goes).
    Anyway, for a time, he was searching for another church to attend, and his inability to find one he liked was causing him a lot of anxiety. Apparently, the notion of just sleeping in on Sunday simply wasn’t an option.

    I’d be curious to know what percentage of people drawn to attending an “atheist church” consist of deconverts from other religions where churchgoing is considered mandatory and essential for a “good life”.

    Me, I was raised without church of any kind. (I supposed I’d be labeled as “unchurched”, probably with a sneer, by the pious.) The idea of attending an atheist church is just mystifying to me.
    Sunday mornings are when I hit netflix and catch up on episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. I’m up to season 4 now.

  9. anne says

    Long time lurker here.
    If you are ever in Arizona, please look up Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix. We have our own community center. We do meet on alternate Sunday mornings but there is nothing churchy about it. Don’t expect to sing. We generally have a lecture on a topic of interest to the membership. Tom Flynn of CFI is speaking to us this Sunday. Prior to the rise of Sunday Assemblies, I used to jokingly refer to it as Atheist Church, but we have very little in common. Acquiring our own facility was a source of friction within the membership because it was perceived as too churchy. Churchs have walls, roofs and utility bills and so do we. So does the Rotary Club. What we don’t have is dogma or doctrine or fake “services”. What we do have is space that we control to meet not just on Sundays, but for book club, humanities art project, games night, science night, a children’s program, a large library, a discussion group and classes.
    Sometimes we host ecumenical events such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster Dinner, sauce be upon you.
    My point is that the non-theistic community can find ways to find each other and cultivate relationships. If you want more singing, join us and form a singing group. We have a piano. *
    *Accepting the gift of a piano took hours of debate: Why? churchs have music, we wouldn’t want to be confused with a church. Music lovers eventually won.

  10. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I’m down with Skeptics in the Pub, that’s a fun night of interesting conversion, good food and booze. But I am violently opposed to attending an atheist “church”. If you’d like a data point for your pondering there RickR, I’m a deconvert who attending church several times a week growing up. Church is synonymous for much of the unpleasantness of my youth.

    If that format works for some people, great, go for it. But I really don’t want the word church attached to atheist gatherings. It has too much negative baggage, and gives ammo to those who want to push the “atheism is a religion too” agenda.

  11. Doug Little says

    A few of us from work get together on a Sunday morning and play golf. We call it church, does that count?

  12. jonathangray says

    There’s a thought — if it wasn’t for Christianity you’d probably have to work Sundays.

    Christianity has granted you the freedom to draw dirty pictures!

  13. jonathangray says

    (As for the atheist church …

    I resolved that my Ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.)

  14. says

    The word that doesn’t belong is church. I understand that this is mostly an artifact of media coverage, because reporters can’t simply call it Sunday “assemblies” when it’s so much more fun to call it “atheist churches.” But it’s just a social occasion, not a “church” gathering. Refuse to use the word “church” in this context and it sounds much better.

  15. says

    When I went to Al-Anon on a regular basis (about 12 years in toto) I took their suggestion about “take what you like and leave the rest” to heart. I left the JESUS part out.

    Ed:

    Three atheist “sacraments” must be observed in order for the Church of TRUE Atheism (TM) to be legit.

    Drinking, poker and um, good barbecue.

  16. Hatchetfish says

    eeurgh. Pretty much every aspect of these things gives me the willies. Singalongs, scheduled socializing, all of it.

    Above all any group of more than five people facing the same direction, focused on a single person, and not laughing or arguing. That goes double if they kneel, so at least there’s that. (Presumably no kneeling at these things.)

    All I can really think when I hear about these is that someone heard it was easy to get rich starting a church, and went for the biggest potential market without quite understanding what the word ‘atheist’ means.

    I’ll be honest: Bad. Find better ways to socialize; ways that aren’t scheduled and choreographed. There’s a tag on the “Stuff Christian Culture Likes” blog: “Doing Things and Avoiding Relationship”, meaning going through motions with others, with no meaningful connection. “Relationship Theater”, if you will. I think it applies here as well.

  17. says

    magistramarla and Dave have the right of it, I think: if you are going to do a once-a-week thing, do it over a pot luck or at a restaurant or in a pub. If you really have to do music, form a jazz band or meet in a karaoke club.

  18. matty1 says

    I know this is an unprovoked insult but I’m loving the fact that Jonathangray uses a jester as his avatar. Because amusing and mediaeval is how I find many of the views he offers.

  19. jonathangray says

    matty1:

    I know this is an unprovoked insult but I’m loving the fact that Jonathangray uses a jester as his avatar. Because amusing and mediaeval is how I find many of the views he offers.

    “Amusing”? “Mediaeval”? I’m not seeing the insult here.

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