Atheist 'mega-churches' take root across world

Services include everything you'd find in traditional Sunday service — except God
Associated Press
Nov 11, 2013

 

It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Dozens of gatherings dubbed "atheist mega-churches" by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.

On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted more than 400 attendees, all bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

The founders, British duo Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, are currently on a tongue-in-cheek "40 Dates, 40 Nights" tour around the U.S. and Australia to drum up donations and help launch dozens of Sunday Assemblies. They hope to raise more than $800,000 that will help atheists launch their pop-up congregations around the world.

They don't bash believers but want to find a new way to meet likeminded people, engage in the community and make their presence more visible in a landscape dominated by faith.

Jones got the first inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago.

"There was so much about it that I loved, but it's a shame because at the heart of it, it's something I don't believe in," Jones said. "If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?"

The movement dovetails with new studies showing an increasing number of Americans are drifting from any religious affiliation.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a study last year that found 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years. Pew researchers stressed, however, that the category also encompassed majorities of people who said they believed in God but had no ties with organized religion and people who consider themselves "spiritual" but not "religious."

Sunday Assembly — whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More — taps into that universe of people who left their faith but now miss the community church provided, said Phil Zuckerman, a professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont.

It also plays into a feeling among some atheists that they should make themselves more visible. For example, last December, an atheist in Santa Monica created an uproar — and triggered a lawsuit — when he set up a godless display amid Christian nativity scenes that were part of a beloved, decades-old tradition.

"In the U.S., there's a little bit of a feeling that if you're not religious, you're not patriotic. I think a lot of secular people say, 'Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we're good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we're going to start a church to prove it," said Zuckerman. "It's still a minority, but there's enough of them now."

That impulse, however, has raised the ire of those who have spent years pushing back against the idea that atheism itself is a religion.

"The idea that you're building an entire organization based on what you don't believe, to me, sounds like an offense against sensibility," said Michael Luciano, a self-described atheist who was raised Roman Catholic but left when he became disillusioned.

"There's something not OK with appropriating all of this religious language, imagery and ritual for atheism."

That sentiment didn't seem to detract from the excitement Sunday at the inaugural meeting in Los Angeles.

Hundreds of atheists and atheist-curious packed into a Hollywood auditorium for a boisterous service filled with live music, moments of reflection and an "inspirational talk, " and some stand-up comedy by Jones, the movement's co-founder.

During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of "Lean on Me," ''Here Comes the Sun" and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA.

At the end, volunteers passed cardboard boxes for donations as attendees mingled over coffee and pastries and children played on the floor.

For atheist Elijah Senn, the morning was perfect.

"I think the image that we have put forward in a lot of ways has been a scary, mean, we want to tear down the walls, we want to do destructive things kind of image is what a lot of people have of us," he said. "I'm really excited to be able to come together and show that it's not about destruction. It's about making things and making things better."

 

Comments

cracked

IN GOD WE TRUST

Contango
muec95

@sara Google is paying 80$ per hour! Just work for few hours & spend more time with friends and family. on sunday I bought themselves a Alfa Romeo from having made $5637 this month. its the best-job Ive ever had.It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out http://goo.gl/f6e95V

From the Grave

Hey, a lot of so called Christians in this country have gone out of their way to run Tim Tebow out of the NFL, not because he sucks, but because of his open religious display. He's no worse than Brandon Weeden, but BW doesn't praise the Lord after a touchdown. My point being, just because you say you believe in God, doesn't mean that you really do.

deertracker

.....and just because it is your dream to be a NFI quarterback, doesn't mean you have the skills to be one. Maybe God has something much better planned for him!

From the Grave

Like, spreading the word of God, maybe? On Sunday, of all days...

Informed

There are many Christian pro athletes. Look at Troy Polomalu. You see him praying on the sidelines constantly during games. Tim Tebow was never a pro-quality qb. People only gave him a chance because he was a nice guy of high character.

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

Yet another article highlighting the SR’s anti-Christian bias.

Good 2 B Me

Look around. Society is moving toward anit-religious beliefs. Change is happening.

Unassumer

I think we should get rid of churches of all kinds. Religion has caused more violence than any other venue. I believe in God but I also believe we have alot more to learn about the real story of our existence and the answers are not in the bible.

shucks

wrong

Unassumer

nope. not wrong.

shucks

yep , wrong

"I believe in God but I also believe we have alot more to learn about the real story of our existence and the answers are not in the bible."

You believe in God ? What does that mean?
Believe in God about what?
What is the "real" story? What does it matter if you're going to die anyway?
God reveals Himself in the bible.
If the answers are not in the bible , where are they then?

freethinker1

Correct. Religion has caused more deaths than any other entity,

O'Heritage

You obviously have attended college, the bastion of atheist thought in this country.

Atheism is not an intellectual stance, but a moral one. It's the rejection of God and any moral code. Unfortunately, what your college professors forgot to tell you was that every time this has been tried on a large scale, the society has quickly crumbled in response.

"The fool in his heart says there is no God".

Contango

Re: "the society has quickly crumbled in response."

A fallacy.

And you would prefer a theocracy?

History has adequately demonstrated that religious authoritarian-totalitarianism can be as equally oppressive and brutal as atheistic statism.

O'Heritage

You've been educated beyond your intelligence.

Contango

Re: "You've..."

A nonsensical statement.

Obviously you know nothing of History.

Informed

Where do you get this? Most colleges that aren't religious-based have students of all faiths and activities and organizations for those faiths as well.

O'Heritage

Yes, and statistics show that as many as 80% of religious college students lose their faith before their 4 years is up. I would agree, however, that this is just as much the church's doing as it is the college's.

Informed

Define "lose their faith". Maybe it's more due to the fact that they are no longer doing what their parents made them do because they are away from home. Or maybe they have their faith, just not their religion. The two are very different.
The older I get, the more organized religion leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And I am a Christian.

Contango

Re: "statistics show that as many as 80% of religious college students lose their faith before their 4 years is up."

Any documentation for that nonsense?

shucks

What do you care? It's all a fairytale any way - right Contango?

Contango

Re: "fairytale (sp)"?

shucks

Want to answer the question instead of dodging it ?

No guts?

Contango

Thanks.

A rather specious article.

When, where, why, how and by whom were these "recent surveys" conducted?

O'Heritage

Contango I think you're just a scoffer.

Contango

Re: "scoffer"

Your “proof” is anecdotal, not factual or empirically based.

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."

- Lucius Annaeus Seneca

shucks

philosophical twaddle

Contango

Re: "philosophical twaddle"

You mean like your ridiculous faith and belief in a gluttonous, unsanitary, drunken party god like Jesus?

“Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (JN: 2:10)

The guy musta been a scream at parties.

shucks

I love it!
Keep demonstrating your ignorance.

"You've been educated beyond your intelligence."

-O'Heritage

Contango

Re: "ignorance."

You mean like your “ignorance” with your ridiculous faith and belief in a gluttonous, unsanitary, drunken, party god like Jesus? :)

Do you figure that He and Mary Magdalene did the "dirty"?

shucks

LOL ! Keep it up ! I love it !

Keep showing everybody what a fool you are.

"You've been educated beyond your intelligence."

-O'Heritage

Contango

Only a fool would believe that the secrets of life and death were told over 2000 yrs. ago.

Enjoy your programming Cupcake.

FINI

shucks

But yet you quote the philosophical twaddle of Lucius Annaeus Seneca , a man who lived 2000 yrs ago.

"Obviously you know nothing of History."

You're such a laughable , ignorant , fool.

freethinker1

Actually, yes. I recently read that that the religious group showing the most growth over the last 10 years are " non-believers". The age group with the largest number of non-believers are those under age 28.

RUKidding

To not believe in God, does not mean a person doesn't have any moral code. I know quite a few people that are willing to call themselves Atheist and they are of much greater moral quality than many of the people I know that call themselves Christians.

freethinker1

RU: Thank you! You are SO correct. Many Christians behave poorly on occasion because they know they can get forgiveness later, by simply asking for it.

Peninsula Pundit

'It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church.'
You can't say that about a conventional church.
That's why it is so easy to make a 'mega-church' without God.
He's hardly there in the first place.
And the 'worship' is more the worship of 'self' than God.

Huron_1969

Render unto Caesar what is Caeser's

Contango

Re: "He's hardly there in the first place."

"However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:" (Acts: 7:48)

Dr. Information

More anti Christ topics……No more Obamacare topics……yup SR is a trash rag of a paper.

Red Right88

Thank you SR for running this article. There are alot of people in this country that do not understand that freedom OF religion also includes freedom FROM religion.

Hmmm...

Seems this may prove the very existence of what we say we don't believe. The implanted need to worship is so deep in us that we have do it even if we don't believe there is anything to worship. The need to worship points to God like hunger point to food.

Centauri

"Sunday Assembly — whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More"

Seems like a good motto to live by. There are many Agnostics and Atheists who may not believe in God but they live by the Golden Rule and also live by the 10 Commandments. These Agnostic people and Atheists will not cheat on their spouses or go to court and bear false witness against others. Empathy, honesty, integrity and helping others are some of their traits. There are many hypocrites within many religions. A good example are militant Muslims, Christians and Jews. Of course there are some Atheists who care nothing about others and have no tolerance for those who believe in God.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jes...
"The Jesus movement was a movement in Christianity"

Decades ago, I belonged to a small group of "Jesus Freaks" as some referred to us. I left the group because of the hypocrisy within the group. They tended to judge and criticize others yet they made excuses for themselves.

Unassumer

I have found too that many people are judgmental and critical and that if you don't believe as they do, you should be shunned or corrected (that you are wrong). People have been killed because of their religious convictions and to me that is hypocritical. How can you purport to know God or be a good Christian or whatever and be judgmental or violent? And the bible is not the word of God-it was written by men and its interpretations are still up for debate.

shucks

You resent being disagreed with?

You don't know God or the bible.

Contango

Re: "People have been killed because of their religious convictions"

Got to appreciate those "Jesus lovin'" Medieval Christians killing the heretics and Jews by the thousands.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Med...

Peninsula Pundit

In contrast, many on these boards and across this nation have little problem with things like 'turning the desert into glass' and 'let the Israelis take care of themselves'.
But let's not have an association with religion in accomplishing those goals.
In one sense, that is a very true statement. God shouldn't be associated with killing.
These folks have a problem if God is associated with killing heretics and jews, but it's OK when it's done in a secular manner?
Hmmmm.

Contango

Re: "the bible is not the word of God,"

Outside of the Bible there is no historical proof that Jesus even existed.

BTW: In Hinduism, the gods have taken on human form thousands of times. They're called avatars.

Sad that the Christians can only afford one.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar

shucks

Outside of the Bible there IS historical proof that Jesus existed.

http://www.gotquestions.org/did-...

Contango

Not “proof,” second hand and hearsay.

"The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and people say, ‘Look at him! He eats too much and drinks too much wine, and he is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’" (MT: 11:19)

Reads like a gluttonous partying drunk. Nice god ya picked.

shucks

You look down on drinking. There's a difference--You're a drunk !

Contango

Re: "is there a problem with that?"

So you have no problem with your god being a gluttonous, partying drunk?

shucks

You look down on drinking. There's a difference--You're a drunk !

shucks

Christ's critics were hateful,envious , liars-- just like you.

Contango

Re: "liars"

So Jesus was lying about eating and drinking to excess as well as being friends to tax collectors and sinners?

shucks

"So Jesus was lying?"

.....????????? about what?

Contango

".....????????? about what?"

"The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and people say, ‘Look at him! He eats too much and drinks too much wine, and he is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’" (MT: 11:19)

So your god didn't mean what He said? i.e. lie.

Contango

Re: "You look down on drinking."

Again: So you have no problem with your god being a gluttonous, partying drunk?

shucks

Christ's critics were hateful,envious , liars-- just like you.

Contango

Re: "liars"

So the Bible is wrong?

If you want a gluttonous, partying drunk as your god, that's OK with me.

shucks

If want to be a critical,uneducated, hateful,envious , liar- that's OK with me too.

Contango

Re: "that's OK with me,"

Good to read that you're OK with your gluttonous, partying drunken god.

"Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread?" (MT: 15:2)

Obviously He wasn't very sanitary either.

shucks

PS

The Bible is accurate.
It recorded what Christ's critics said about Him.

Contango

Re: "It recorded what Christ's critics said about Him."

Jesus' words, NOT his critics.

PS: The Bible is a collection of stories chosen by Church councils.

shucks

Get educated.

FINI

Contango

Re: "Get educated."

Have a nice day of religious mental programming Cupcake.

Nemesis

Wow, Shizzle, you actually responded on point. A little lacking in clarity, but good job.

The strange thing is, when someone insults or contradicts Jesus, you are able to stay calm and responsive. When someone insults or contradicts Obama, your passion gets the better of you and you can't control your rage enough to do anything but name calling. Interesting priorities - are you sure you are straight on who you really worship?

Just asking....

Contango

Re: "you actually responded on point"

At least there is independent historical evidence that Pres. Obama ACTUALLY exists, unlike the magical Jew.

Other than name calling, he/she/it has no proof, just infantile belief in a mythology presented in a book (NT) that was compiled by bureaucrats seeking power and control.

Nemesis

The Roman historian Heroditus mentioned Jesus' minstry, crucifixion, and the subsequent resurrection claims from the perspective of a non-believer.
Orthodox rabbis retain records of multiple messianic claimants, including Jesus. Archaeologists have found the ossuary of one of the apostles (James, if I recall correctly) the inscription on which mentions his relationship to Jesus. While one might debate the questions of divinity, miracles, and the resurrection, Jesus historical existence is pretty well supported.

In any event, I seem to have discovered a way to shut down Shizzle.

Contango

Re: "Heroditus"

Believe that you meant Josephus - hearsay and second hand.

The "Jesus" mentioned on the ossuary cannot be proven to be the Biblical Jesus.

Nemesis

Josephus as well, but I figured you would discount him for being Jewish, rather than Roman.

99% of what is known about history up to a few centuries ago is hearsay and second hand.

But where is Shizzle? Why isn't he here to call us names?

freethinker1

Correct. Written by men, 2000 years ago. Men who were uneducated, illiterate and with literally no scientific understanding of how/why things work the way they do in our world.

themomx6

"They tended to judge and criticize others yet they made excuses for themselves."

Sounds just like the Democrats! :)

Unassumer

you see how upset people get when you don't agree with their religion?

shucks

You get upset when people don't agree with you?

Good 2 B Me

True Story. Speak out against their God once and people lose their minds! They believe that their God is the only one and all others are wrong.

tk

First you need to define "church". Church isn't a building nor is it a group of people who meet together one or twice a week. There is only one Church and it is made up of believers in Jesus Christ. The building, denomination, skin color, none of that matters. If you believe in Christ then you are a member of The Church. Athiests can call their meetings whatever they want, but they are not and never will be a church.

Dr. Information

So these people are getting together to preach about nothing or how they don't believe in something? Wow, makes total sense, said no one ever. They could do this at the local Applebees.

freethinker1

What makes no sense is the idea of a deity that defies all natural laws of physics, and the silly idea of life after death. Grow up, people. You get one life, and that's it.

Dr. Information

tk, spot on. A CHURCH is more of belief than a structure. The building is nothing more than a meeting spot for believers in Christ to get together, learn and have Jesus work in them and through them. The human body is a vessel to take the message of Christ with them everyday.

I could care less if people get together and want to hold meetings about not believing even though my opinion is its wasting time on their part.

Centauri
Good 2 B Me

No matter what you do or do not believe, it is not important to gather and give money in order to be a good person.

The choices that you make in your everyday life define what kind of person that you are, not a God in any religion. If you kill, you kill. Your God will judge you accordingly. If you do not believe in a God, well then, you will have to live with your mistakes and figure out how to fix them or accept them and move on.

A Church does not make any of this an easier proposition, not matter what you do or do not believe!

OMG.LOL.WT_

I think they just want the benefits of tax-exempt status.

indolent indiff...

Fighting over who's imaginary friend is the best. I have many questions about the so called religion, if there is unconditional love why does he burn babys. If he created perfect people in his image why did he destroy them for their imperfection. Why did he need to drown the animals too. When you say gave his life for the sins, why did he get to come back to life as a god. That's a pretty sweet deal right? Crucified, three days dead and you get to come back a God? more selfish than sacrificial.

Dr. Information

You obviously have not read the bible at all or you wouldn't ask such simple to answer questions.

freethinker1

So, God created man and woman with original sin. Once alive, he killed himself as a sacrifice to himself, to save you for the he sin he created.

So, Christianity is the same as a doctor who cuts your hand, then sells you a band-aid. But what makes it bad is that some people actually believe this bunk, and some of them are people who decide the policy and direction of our country.

We are all atheists. I just believe in one less god than Christians. As soon as Christians understand why they don't believe in the Norse, Greek and Roman gods of antiquity, they will understand why atheists don't believe in the Christian god.

RU_KIDDING_ME

Oh ye of little faith. What harm can come from acknowledging that The Superior Force exists? More harm can come from NOT believing than believing only to be wrong. There is much we like to think that we know. There is much more that we don't. A society that has turned it's back on The Superior Force is just one more sign that mankind's time is running out. I don't know about you, but I'm going to fill my swimming pool with concrete and make it a bomb shelter.

freethinker1

What harm can come of believing in God? That's easy. George Bush is on record as saying she felt justified in his two wars because "God spoke to him". When out country's policy is based in part because of an imaginary sky daddy, I have a problem with that.

My question for Christians: If Bush would have said God talked to him through his hairdryer, we all would have said that he is nuts. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes it any more/less nutty.

Ned Mandingo

freethinker, i think George Bush mistook Dick Cheney for god.
Judge less not you be judged. Any true christian or religious person should not judge these people but support their right to worship whatever they want. That is clearly not the case, i wouldn't be surprised if some religious christian nut tries to blow one of these places up or kill innocent people in the name of god.