Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Atheist Church

My father recently sent me an article about an unlikely movement called “Sunday Assembly.”  Colloquially referred to as the “atheist church,” the Sunday Assembly movement is the brainchild of British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans and consists of groups of like-minded individuals congregating on Sunday mornings to “Live Better, Help Often, and Wonder More.”  They market the fact that they are “marrying the best parts of religion with modern science” and the monthly services normally consist of sing-alongs to popular artists like Journey or Stevie Wonder followed by the “Talk” delivered by that service’s chosen speaker. There is also a moment of silent reflection, a time to greet fellow attendees, and refreshments afterward. 
Sanderson and Pippa

Sunday Assemblies have been established in over 30 cities nationwide including London, New York, Dublin, San Diego, and Nashville. Their operational guidelines appear in a succinct charter posted to their website:
  • 100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.
  • Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.
  • Has no deity. We don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.
  • Is radically inclusive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.
  • Is free to attend, not-for-profit and volunteer run. We ask for donations to cover our costs and support our community work.
  • Has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good.
  • Is independent. We do not accept sponsorship or promote outside businesses, organisations or services.
  • Is here to stay. With your involvement, The Sunday Assembly will make the world a better place.
  • We won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can
  • And remember point 1… The Sunday Assembly is a celebration of the one life we know we have.

As my father astutely observed, one of the most appealing characteristics of atheism was the fact that you were not required to wake up on a Sunday morning in order to attend services so they are certainly taking a bold step. If the movement continues to grow and the local assemblies increase their attendance they may find themselves in need of a permanent facility. This would of course require capital in the form of a “building fund” endowed by congregants. Realizing it would be unwise to entrust the money to a single person, a committee would be formed to provide an acceptable level of accountability. Once the required amount of capital is reached and the construction completed, trustees will need to be chosen and an administrative council formed in order to author and enforce acceptable parameters of use for said facilities.

By this time, attendance will have reached a point that necessitated full-time staff in order to secure speakers, lead music, and prepare the obligatory post-fellowship refreshments. Inevitably, the autonomy enjoyed by the satellite assemblies will begin conflicting with one or more of the constraints set forth in the original charter. Hoping to avoid an irreparable schism, a hierarchical structure will be created at the regional, national, and international levels to interpret the charter and resolve internal disputes. The untenable bureaucracy created by this system will spread disillusionment throughout the organization until someone reaches a breaking point and decides to create an entirely new organization called Progressive Sunday Assemblies to differentiate itself from the newly-rechristened United Sunday Assemblies.Welcome to the family atheists!

I must admit that it is humbling to have an atheist organization utilize “radical inclusion” as a way to differentiate their philosophy from that of the existing church. As a Christian, I find it troubling how easily and convincingly this mantle can be taken from followers of Jesus. Instead of being scandalized by who we fellowship with, we are allowing ourselves to be defined by who we denounce. Christ was notorious for fraternizing with the immoral and the marginalized. He did so not to validate their choices, but to remind them (and us) that our poor decisions and missteps are powerless against the grace and love of Almighty God.

Christians claim to follow one of history’s most radical inclusionists, so perhaps it should serve as a wake-up call that our entire philosophy has been reduced to a negative prefix routinely added to another group. Personally, I would much rather be rebuked for befriending a Muslim than cheered for being anti-Islamic. I would rather be admonished for dinning with homosexuals than lauded as anti-gay. I would rather be criticized for showing compassion toward someone who made a difficult decision than admired for being dismissively anti-abortion. If I am honest with myself, I have an assigned seat at the sinner’s table, but I can take comfort knowing that is where Jesus routinely took his meals.


  1. The atheist church is just a fad - just wait until the ATHEIST church "splits" over the use of bluegrass music.
    And by the way - ain't nobody gonna tell me what NOT TO BELIEVE ~~~~


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