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

Contango

Re: "You look down on drinking."

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

4shizzle

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.

4shizzle

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.

4shizzle

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.

4shizzle

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?

4shizzle

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.

Pages